Gettysburg Memories: Devil’s Den 125!

Posing for pictures as Devil's Den is a time-honored tradition.
Posing for pictures as Devil’s Den is a time-honored tradition.

As California Civil War reenctors, we all had a lot to prove, especially to the perfectos on the East Coast. We got our chance twenty-five years ago at the 125th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

I think we did well–at least we weren’t run out of town. We all had a great time, and after our reenacting chores were over, several friends got together for a driving tour of the battlefield whose memory we had just, hopefully, honored.

DevilsDen-sharpshooterAs do most battlefield observers, we got to Devil’s Den, that sad stack of rocks made famous by Timothy O’Sullivan’s staged photograph of an alleged Confederate sharpshooter. It was late afternoon, and finally cooling off as we piled out of our rented SUV (well, maybe it was a mini-van–25 years ago, you know!)

DevilsDen-sharpshooterNowThe guys scrambled for the rocks, and I, the only female among this particular group of men, got out of the driver’s seat and stretched. I looked around at the battlefield and thought some high-flown historical thoughts, reflecting on the significance of my surrounding. For just a few seconds the yells and excited conversations of my group of friends faded into the distance.

. . . but not for long. Like a large litter of tumbling puppies, they all came back. The youngest was eight years old, here with his father and uncle to see Gettysburg and drum for the Confederates. The oldest was maybe in his fifties, with a grey beard as grand as any Civil War general’s. Then Steve said, “Let’s pose at Devil’s Den!”

Now, I do not for a moment make a claim that this was an original idea–no indeed. From O’Sullivan onward, folks have been posing at Devil’s Den. But this was our time, apparently. We all trooped over to the small, dugout portion of the rocks and considered our options. It had to have been Bill’s idea to pose as that long-ago sharpshooter, because Bill’s ideas were twisted like that, for the most part. It–the idea–met with great enthusiasm.

And just who took all those photos? Not Mr. O’Sullivan, that was certain. I must have taken upwards of fifty “dead Confederate” versions that afternoon. Most were dead Yankees, but we had a few comrades in gray with us. Each posed, lying in the dirt and bloating gracefully, hoping my timing was good. No cell phones then–I had to learn a variety of cameras in just seconds.

I gave it my best. Old guys, kids, teenagers who wanted a variety of poses; you name it and I tried to make it happen. I saw many of the images the next month at the August Fort Tejon reenactment, where we all talked nonstop about our experiences “back East.”

Those experiences were fresh in our minds then, in 1988. They have faded now, like the photos themselves. One thing that shall never fade, for me, is the memory of that afternoon: the pure joy at being on the battlefield itself, the letdown of anxieties after the event, and the wonderful, caring, laughing, men who accepted me as a fellow reenactor, and depended on me to take the pictures.

My most memorable Gettysburg moments indeed!


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