My great grandfather Emanuel served our nation fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War. He enlisted in Company E, Pennsylvania 99th Infantry Regiment on August 24, 1861. He was mustered out on March 15, 1864. His name is engraved on the Pennsylvania Monument on the Gettysburg Battlefield.
My mother is a lover of history. She was insistent that I know and understand the sacrifices that were made in order for me to have this life of freedom in these United States of America. In the 1960s she signed my father up to be a part of a Pennsylvania re-enactment group from Lancaster, PA known as the Lancaster Fencibles. My Father was not a lover of history—at least not Civil War history. He could talk for days about his WWII adventures and how his little minesweeper swept the English Channel on the morning of D-Day and if it weren’t for him and his crewmates D-Day would have never been a success! But—when the letter came, and he understood that he would be wearing a wool uniform, carrying a heavy rifle, and marching in the summer heat—he was not a happy man. But we went, because it was something Mother wanted to experience, and you know the old saying: “ If Momma isn’t happy…”
I was eleven when all this 100 year celebration of the Civil War was taking place. We drove to Virginia and participated in the re-enactment of the Battle of Bull Run. We drove to Maryland and participated in the Battle of Antietam, and we drove to Gettysburg and re-enacted the Battle of Gettysburg. I didn’t really get the significance; I only knew I was camping on Battlefields, digging for bullets, playing with horses, singing around campfires, climbing on rocks. It was a tom girl’s dream vacation. Every once in a while my Mother would insist I put on this long dress with these little hoops with white pantaloons and these little white gloves and pretend I was waving to my Daddy going off to war! I knew there was no sense in even thinking of saying no, so, I did as I was told. It was a sight, I can tell you that…
The last night we were in Gettysburg in July of 1963 my Mother took me by the hand and we went for a little walk. In 1963 the re-enactors were allowed to camp on the original Gettysburg Battlefield. They wanted it to be as authentic as possible, so there was no electric, only tents and campfires. There were showers bathrooms set up for us to use. But—on this night—Mother wanted me to experience this whole Civil War thing. So we set off on a little walk. She stopped walking on a little hill and told me to look and listen.
Fifty years later I can still see and hear the sights that were in front of me that evening. It was hot and humid—it was July in Pennsylvania! There were campfires everywhere burning softly in the night sky. I could see muskets stacked up by tents that were silhouetted in the glow of the fires. I could hear music—harmonicas and guitars—softly being played and I heard singing. Aura Lee, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Dixie. I could smell coffee and cigars and I could hear the horses softly settling in for the night. There was no gunfire in the evening, only the glow of the fires and the sounds of people gathering and remembering and wondering what it would have really been like 100 years earlier.
I didn’t know then that my great grandfather was on the same Battlefield 100 years to the day that I was. Perhaps on that evening with my mother I walked where he had walked, I saw the sights of the campfires as he would have had to have seen. I know now that the sights of the Battle that he must have seen would have stayed with him forever. The sounds of the cannons and the guns must have been horrific, and his work with the Ambulance Corps must have drained every ounce of compassion he might have had. I wish I could have known him. I wish I could have asked him questions. I wish I could have told him how very proud I am to be his great granddaughter.
Happy Veterans Day Great Grandpa Emanuel.