A Time to Remember

Salena Zito
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Posted: Nov 28, 2010 12:01 AM
A Time to Remember

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.”

After the parade, hundreds of re-enactors pack O’Rorke’s Pub; period music spills out onto the street while, inside, heaping plates of shepherd's pie and generous rounds of Guinness are passed.

Across the street, the American History Store’s charming appeal beckons. Through its windows, books can be seen stacked high on wooden shelves alongside toy soldiers, Civil War replica swords – and Gadsden flags, the Tea Party’s adopted symbol.

Behind the store’s cash register, Deric Bardo doles out change and disdain for the intelligence of Tea Party supporters.

Hearing of it, Kraus is disappointed: “That is really uncalled for. Many people go to Gettysburg for history. Well, a lot of people equate the Tea Party movement as reliving history.”

Bardo’s dismissal, delivered in a crisp British accent, is in sync with every intellectual elite who cannot comprehend why anyone wants to align themselves with the Tea Party rabble.

Yet Sen. Casey says such dismissal is foolish. “The anxiety and the passion that are part of that movement are more widely shared than we realize,” he says.

The latest USA TODAY/Gallup poll shows that just about as many Americans want Tea Party-backed members of Congress to take the lead in setting policy during the next year as want President Obama to do so.

As for the intelligence of Tea Partiers, which Bardo questioned, a CNN poll last summer showed that nearly three-quarters of them attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans – while a New York Times/CBS News poll revealed they are wealthier and better educated than the general populace.