Salena Zito

GETTYSBURG – On a crisp November afternoon, people line the sidewalks of Baltimore Street and Steinwehr Avenue, waiting for the annual Remembrance Day Parade to begin.

Hundreds and hundreds of Civil War re-enactors somberly line-up, unit upon unit, behind the town’s high school, to march the same path that President Abraham Lincoln traveled the day he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

The 14th Brooklyn, known as the “The Red-Legged Devils” for their vivid red pantaloons, march proudly with other Union regiments, a healthy number of Confederate soldiers and members of a “U.S. Colored Troops” brigade.

Civil War historian Michael Kraus, a curator at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh and the military coordinator for the film "Gettysburg,” says he never loses the thrill of following Lincoln’s footsteps.

“I’ve been re-enacting since 1966,” he says, explaining that you “not only learn history in a three-dimensional way, you can literally feel a part of it.”

Most Civil War re-enactors who look forward to the pageantry of this day, he says, don’t do so just out of a love of history but “also a profound love of country.”

Down through the generations, profound love of country has rarely abated in America – although we always have been at odds with anything remotely resembling a profound love of government.

Our temperament as a people – we want to trust our government; we want to believe our leaders are doing the right thing – has been shocked by successive traumas: the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the two wars that followed, the constant threat of terrorism, the invasions of our privacy and, most recently, crushing economic troubles.

“Think of it this way,” says U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa. “If you told someone in 2000 that all of these things would happen in the next ten years, they would not believe you.”

Casey says our confidence has been shaken. Yet he sees evidence “that we are regaining that confidence, in the passion that has been inspired by the Tea Party.”

Americans have concluded that the only people they can trust right now are themselves. They've wakened up, shaken off their fears, and decided that leadership must come from within.

Those Tea Party sentiments always have been within most of us, to one degree or another, which makes all the more interesting the contempt that is often used to frame people who sympathize with Tea Partiers’ frustrations.

Kraus says the guys in his regiment of re-enactors rarely talk politics. “But given the historical backdrop of the original tea party, you probably aren't going to find many (re-enactors) strongly attacking people who like … small government.”


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.