Pennsylvania is home to many iconic events, and one of the most well-known is the annual reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg held each July.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, as well as the bloodiest battle of the war, and was fought from July 1-3, 1863. Over the years, the battlefield has become one of the most visited places in Pennsylvania, and visitors come from around the world to learn about the events that happened here.
In an effort to help tell this story, every year a large Civil War reenactment is held on the anniversary of the battle.
For several decades, this event was held on the main battlefield by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee. However, starting in 2020, the event was moved to an auxiliary part of the battlefield (an area not owned by the National Park Service) and is now administered by the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association.
As a history buff, seeing the Gettysburg reenactment has been on my list of things to do in Gettysburg for many years. Finally, in 2021, I had the opportunity to check out the event.
The Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment is now held at the Daniel Lady Farm. This farmland was used by the Confederates as a planning and staging area for attacks on nearby Culp’s Hill and as a place for their cannons to fire on the Union.
The farmhouse (which still stands today) and the area around it were also heavily used as a field hospital. In fact, you can still see Confederate blood on the floorboards of the house.
This usage has led to some considering the Daniel Lady Farm to be the most haunted place in Gettysburg.
The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, which owns the farm, puts on several large reenactments each year, including the Gettysburg Reenactment that I took in early July 2021.
They also have plans to host reenactments of the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg on September 18, 2021, and a World War 2 reenactment on October 23, 2021.
What It’s Like to Experience the Gettysburg Reenactment
During the Gettysburg Reenactment, the entirety of the Daniel Lady Farm is turned into a Civil War village.
As you walk through the grounds, you’ll see plenty of reenactor tents, living history displays, and talks about the Civil War. All around you, men and women dressed in period uniforms and clothing walk the grounds, taking in the talks and demonstrating what life was like for both soldiers and civillians in July 1863.
Without a doubt, the highlights of the event are the battle reenactments and military demonstrations.
On both days of the event, there are several military demonstrations and battle reenactments to be seen.
When I visited, I had a chance to see a Cavalry Demonstration and an Artillery Demonstration, as well as a battle.
The Artillery Demonstration was the more basic of the two demonstrations as it simply consisted of an explanation of how a cannon was fired, followed by the cannon being fired several times.
The Cavalry Demonstration consisted of a group of horse-riding reenactors going through a variety of moves and showing how cavalry units would more on a battlefield. This demonstration lasted about 30 minutes and was quite interesting to watch.
I also had a chance to see what the program called a “Full Scale Skirmish”. In this skirmish, the two sides were set up several hundred yards from each other across along a large field. Spectators started setting up over an hour early (some even came prepared with chairs). So, if you want a front-row seat, make sure to arrive at the battlefield early.
The skirmish lasted about 45-60 minutes and started with a large number of cannons firing back and forth. I’d definitely recommend bringing some sort of ear protection, especially for children, as the cannons can get quite loud.
After the initial bombardment, infantry and cavalry troops made their way onto the field of battle. While the number of reenactors across the giant field isn’t huge, it’s still quite interesting to watch their movements as they reenact a specific portion of the Gettysburg Battle (In my case, the Wheatfield), and I felt that there were enough soldiers to make the action interesting.
In addition to the military demonstrations and skirmishes, there are many other things to do during the Gettysburg reenactment.
A small village is set up around Daniel Lady’s farmhouse and barn which includes camping reenactors, and tents that demonstrate different aspects of Civil War history and 19th-century life.
Strolling through the area, you can learn about everything from what camp life was like to Civil War medicine and the weapons that soldiers carried into battle.
There is also a large tent set up that has special talks and events throughout the reenactment. On the day I visited, this included a Civil War-era church service, a talk with reenactors discussing their plans for the battle, and a larger discussion of Civil War medicine.
Self-guided tours of the Lady house and barn are also offered. While I’d love to go back at some point and take a guided tour so I can really learn about the story of this land, the self-guided tour featured a few signs around the home that offered the chance to learn about the role that it played during the battle.
If I had one criticism of the 2021 Gettysburg Reenactment, it would be related to the vendors that were set up on the edge of the site.
While it represented only a small portion of the area, several of these vendors were selling items that were, even given the setting, inappropriate for general sale including many items that featured the Confederate battle flag.
The most egregious tent, however, was covered in signs attempting to whitewash the racist history of the Confederacy, and, in particular, Nathan Bedford Forest, the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and the perpetrator of the Fort Pillow Massacre.
While it can be debated whether certain imagery worn by ticket holders should be subject to enforcement, there is zero reason why a vendor should be able to display such racist and historically inaccurate information prominently on their tent.
Not only is it inappropriate for such material to be on display at an event that tries to teach visitors about the history of the Civil War and strives to be historically accurate, but it also has the potential to make visitors feel less welcome when the racism and atrocities of the Confederacy are glossed over with false narratives.
In the future, I hope that the organizers will do a better job making sure that the vendors that come to the reenactment display only appropriate signage and only sell items that are fit for general sale so that everyone can feel comfortable attending this fun event and those that visit can learn historically accurate information.
All that being said, despite this stain on the event that I feel is important to note, this vendor area is easily avoidable, and I believe that the overall reenactment is a lot of fun and a family-friendly way to learn about the history of the United States if you avoid that part of the grounds.
So, if you’re looking for something fun to do in July in Pennsylvania, the Gettysburg Reenactment is a fantastic way to spend the day.
You can find out more about the Gettysburg Reenactment and the other reenactments held on the Daniel Lady Farm by visiting GBPA.org.
FAQs about the Gettysburg Reenactment
Yes! It has been held annually for many years in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment is held every year over the battle’s anniversary in early July.
The Gettysburg reenactment is held on the Daniel Lady Farm, an auxiliary site located near the National Military Park.
While the reenactment is no longer held on land owned by the National Park Service, the reenactment is still held on the battlefield. The land here was used by Confederate artillery, as a hospital, and as a staging area for attacks on Culp’s Hill.
During the reenactment, visitors can see military demonstrations, watch reenactments of skirmishes that occurred during the battle, learn about Civil War life, and tour the Daniel Lady Farm.
Tickets for the Gettysburg Reenactment are $25 for a one-day ticket and $45 for a two-day ticket if purchased in advance. Child tickets are $10.