Farm Bears Brunt of Battle

7/13/2013 7:00 AM
By Philip Gruber Staff Writer

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Cavalry soldiers ornately uniformed in blue and gray charged across an Adams County farm last week. Newly promoted Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer led the Union forces, protected by cannon fire, against Wade Hampton’s soldiers carrying the rebel flag.

As if that sight were not unusual enough for a modern farm, the battle was also flanked by two large grandstands that had been built on the hay farm over the previous month.

The July 5 engagement, on the second day of a four-day re-enactment commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, portrayed the July 2, 1863, battle of Hunterstown, the third-largest all-cavalry battle in the Civil War. Hunterstown lies about five miles north of Gettysburg.

Because the National Park Service does not allow re-enactments on its grounds, the event had to be held on private farmland. In other words, the re-enactment of Pickett’s charge did not take place on the actual field where Gen. George Pickett hit the high-water mark of the Confederacy. The re-enactment took place a few miles away on C. David Redding’s 400-acre farm.

Hosting the re-enactments has been the latest evolution of Redding’s business model. His parents bought the farm in 1949, and C. David, the oldest of 15 children, expanded it by about 150 acres. With his son, he runs an auction service specializing in firearms sales. Two sons and a daughter work for Redding full time.

Redding first hosted a battle re-enactment in 2003 during Gettysburg’s 140th anniversary celebration. He also hosted the 145th and other smaller gatherings.

Redding has had to simplify his farming operations significantly to accommodate the massive number of spectators and re-enactors. He got rid of the chickens that were allowed free range of the chicken barn because “Mom wouldn’t tolerate” cages. He now grows mostly hay, which can easily be cut and removed by the July festivities.

Simplification actually allowed Redding to get into the re-enactment business. He decided to sell his herds of cattle after he had a fight with one of his bulls.

“He put me in the hospital, and I put him in hamburg,” Redding said, laughing.

Caring for the cattle, from the moving of the animals to the carrying of freezing water, was getting to be too much work. After the encounter with the sire, Redding cleared out his high-tensile fences and let the re-enactors do the fighting.

The re-enactment essentially puts all other farm tasks on hold. The Reddings closed the auction service for about two weeks to handle all of the re-enactment activities.

Redding makes money from the use of his land, but he declined to discuss specifics.

He said as many as 11,000 re-enactors came to town for the event, with tens of thousands more spectators. The grandstands were sold out for weeks, and the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee sold tickets for a year and a half.

Attendance comparisons with previous gatherings are difficult to make because another re-enactment was held the week before the July 4-7 event at a different site to reduce the traffic gridlock, Redding said.

Around 400 anniversary committee members were at the Redding farm to ensure things went smoothly.

Some 400 horses and 130 artillery pieces were brought in, some from as far as California. The event also attracted a sea of vendors, known as sutlers, selling authentic and reproduction Civil War gear. Living history actors demonstrated medical, cooking and living practices from the period. Modern food service trucks were on hand, too.

To handle demand, the re-enactment, which usually runs three days, was extended to four.

Hosting the re-enactment is “tough on your land,” Redding said. “A city comes, and a city goes.”

The event required three full-time trash crews, daily maintenance for the almost 300 portable toilets and replenishment for the eight full-size water tankers.

He estimated he put in 3 to 3!-W miles of hard-based gravel roads on his property. His grounds crew sprayed the roads with water several times a day to keep the dust down, “but it doesn’t last long,” Redding said.

Even with the size of his land, he had to rent and mow adjacent land for re-enactment parking and the Confederate campsite.

Redding’s team buzzed around the farm on Redding’s fleet of 60 four-wheelers and golf carts. Six of his Gators carried nothing but ice. His staff was responsible for restocking firewood, which they had been bringing in since last fall, and hay, which arrived on three tractor-trailer trucks. The bales towered over the Confederate parking area.

From a neighbor, Redding borrowed hay wagons to shuttle the re-enactors from their camps to the grandstands. Visitors were not allowed on the rides to avoid increasing the farm’s liability coverage more than he already had for the event, Redding said.

The farm also had several hospitality transports for older and handicapped people. Penn State Hershey Medical Center brought in its LionReach clinic, and emergency medical tents were set up in both armies’ camps and in the main public area.

The farm had round-the-clock security by federal, state and local authorities, starting June 30. Uniformed and plainclothes officers, mounted police and drug dogs were on site. Between events, personnel checked the grandstands for suspicious materials and kept people out until the next event.

The 150th was a special year. “The enthusiasm is about as good as it can get” among the re-enactors, Redding said.

He said he expects he will not see many of the re-enactors back in future years, with many of the older ones hoping to conclude their careers with the century-and-a-half anniversary.

This year’s event also drew far more media attention than previous encampments.

The farm will go back to more recognizable farming operations soon.

While the grandstands are still up, the farm will host its first-ever concert July 12-13, featuring Craig Morgan, Montgomery Gentry and several other country acts.

Redding has found still other ways to make money hosting events on his farm. He hosts tracking dog trials and has hosted the National Sheepdog Finals. Judges from Scotland and Ireland told Redding they liked the layout of his property. The rolling hills required different skills than the flatter courses in the western states, they said.

“I’m kind of proud of the old place,” Redding said. “There’s a lot of people that want to see open space.”

For Redding, one of the most moving parts about hosting the re-enactment is seeing the camps at night. Campfires illuminate the campsites, and bugles and guitars evoke a long-gone era.

Cleanup after the re-enactment is a massive process, even beyond the initial removal of the tents and fences. Redding plans to run an aerator over his land, angling the spikes so that he can break the soil up somewhat after the re-enactment traffic compacted it. Last fall he also planted timothy hay.

For a year, Redding likes to get in a planting of silage corn, which he can take off early. Then he puts in wheat and, after that, grass. He plants some soybeans, but he said his red shale is not the best soil for them because it does hold water well.

“I’ve seen it go from bog to drought in 30 days,” he said.

Parts of the battlefield were even designated for destruction. For the battle of the Wheat Field, organizers requested that Redding leave a tract of grass uncut to preserve the historical accuracy. The acre or so he left was not wheat, but the foot-high grass would be all trampled by the end of the evening on July 5, he said.

A rail fence and a rock wall were built for the climactic staging of Pickett’s charge on July 7. The 40,000 or so spectators Redding expected would watch the thousands of re-enactors destroy the fence during the battle, he said.

The damage to Redding’s farm was not as severe, however, as what happened to the Gettysburg region 150 years ago, when the ground is said to have been covered with several inches of blood.

Pennsylvania’s agricultural success was “definitely one of the reasons” Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania, said Katie Lawhon, of the National Park Service.

A lot of fighting in the first two years of the Civil War occurred in Virginia, which caused major problems for farmers trying to grow and harvest crops there. The incursion into Pennsylvania gave Virginia farmers a break.

Pennsylvania farms were also attractive because they “had a reputation for being plentiful,” Lawhon said.

Farms in the Gettysburg area saw “extreme damage” during the campaign, she said. Moving infantry, cavalry and artillery damaged field crops, and farmland was also taken out of production to bury the 7,000-10,000 soldiers who died on the battlefield.

The soldiers would also have taken horses, livestock and possibly even tools, Lawhon said.

The situation was especially bad for the African-American farmers in the area, who mostly fled during the battle. If captured, Lawhon said, the blacks would have been taken south and sold as slaves.

The armies also destroyed physical property, she said. Two barns were burned during the battle.

Gettysburg National Military Park includes about 6,000 acres of land, including the main battlefields from the three-day conflict. A dozen farmers with permits still grow crops or pasture livestock on park land, she said.

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