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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
1 Jul 2023


NextImg:Snapshots of Gettysburg, on the Anniversary of the Civil War Battle

At the site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, history enthusiasts, descendants of Civil War soldiers, and curious visitors alike descend upon Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, every year. Volunteers don Civil War-era uniforms, some adopting real personas from history, to reenact the most decisive battle of the nation’s most painful conflict. They are not just playing roles but trying to understand what it was like to be living during a time when the country’s divisions were at their worst, when the very existence of our republic was in jeopardy.

Zach Lane, who was portraying a Union sergeant during the 2022 event, reflected on the possibility that two brothers could be fighting on opposite sides of the war. The tragic reality dawned on him. He hopes the country doesn’t repeat the same mistake. “At the end of the day, you can realistically disagree with somebody but still get along with them,” he said. He was part of a group that camped outside throughout the weekend—just like the soldiers who began their campaign on July 1, 1863, amid sweltering temperatures. The group, representing a cavalry regiment from West Virginia, said they wanted to endure the same suffering as the soldiers did.

(Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Re-enactors fire replica rifles while in battle. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

(Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

When you ask the question of what the Civil War was fought over, everyone has a different answer here. But what is unequivocal is the feeling that the price of freedom Americans on both sides had to pay was far too heavy—too much carnage and destruction. At the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the sheer number of tombstones brings to bear how many families lost their loved ones. Here, where a breeze occasionally comes through and birds chirp in the background, is such a stark contrast to the bloodshed that occurred 160 years ago. Peace is hard-won.

Union soldier re-enactors marching. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

(Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Ladies in fashionable Victorian-era dress. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

(Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Dirty Billy’s Hats supplies most of the reenactors’ headgear. Bill Wickham is one of the country’s few hatmakers who reproduces historically accurate headpieces. Though known for his Civil War collection, he makes hats from the Colonial period onward. “I celebrate this country’s history, from the Colonial era, military or civilian,” he said. His creations have been worn by A-list actors like Martin Sheen, Russell Crowe, and Matthew McConaughey, and they have appeared in period films including “Titanic,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” and “Lincoln.”

Wickham’s shop is filled with bits and bobs for creating hats from different eras: buckles, buttons, molds, stamps galore. He is meticulous about every detail, down to the type of thread and the way it was twisted during a particular time period. Like many people who live in this town, he has a personal connection to the Civil War: his great-grandma’s brother was a guard for a hospital in Frederick, Maryland, that served Confederate soldiers.

Bill Wickham is one of the country’s few hatmakers who make historical reproductions. Dirty Bill’s Hats has been open in Gettysburg, Penn., since 1981. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

An eagle insignia that would have been typical of 1880s-era cavalry. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Wickham loved wearing hats as a young boy and started collecting them when he was 11. He often asked his grandmother to fix them, and when she grew tired of his requests, she decided to teach him how to fix them himself. Thus began his lifelong passion.

For him, a lover of history who collects trilobite fossils for fun, “the past is the key to the future,” he said. “Where are we going? What’s all this for? Why do we do this?” Those are the lessons learned.

Bill Wickham’s reproduction of a dragoon shako hat that would have been worn by Charleston, S.C., mounted militia, circa 1833. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The shop is full of historical memorabilia, including photos of Confederate soldiers and Civil War families. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The reenactment weekend also features living history booths where attendees can learn about daily life during the 1860s. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.