Local Civil War Re-enactors Ready to Bring History to Life at Gettysburg
If there’s one thing that Civil War re-enactor Dave Felice dislikes about recreating historic events, it’s when there’s a lack of authenticity.
“If we want to re-enact the 1860's, we don’t want to see 2013,” he says. “When people stop by, the last thing they want to see is a Pepsi can out.”
Felice, a State College native and co-founder of the Company C Civil War Re-enactment Group, says that keeping the experience accurate is a definite goal for re-enactors. This week, Felice and others in Company C will be traveling to Gettysburg for a four day re-enactment event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Most of Company C, which was one of 10 companies in the 148th Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, was made up of soldiers from the area that is now State College. Felice says more than 700 soldiers from Centre County were in the 148th regiment, which is why it is also fittingly known as the Centre County regiment.
“If you think about it, the largest battle in the northern hemisphere took place two hours and 20 minutes away from Centre County,” he says. “It’s mind-boggling.”
The group of more than 20 re-enactors travels to Gettysburg every five years for the anniversary events of the battle. This year, they will join more than 10,000 re-enactors from all 50 states and 14 countries.
Felice, who co-founded the Company C Re-enactment Group in 1992, says he’s been attending the event since the 130th anniversary in 1993. His love of history is what got him into re-enacting, he says, and it is also what keeps him going back after 20-plus years of performing.
“I like keeping history alive,” he says. “How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from.”
From July 4 to July 7, the re-enactors from Company C will take part in recreating battles that the actual company fought. On Friday evening, Felice says the group will walk the same steps as those soldiers who fought in the Battle of Wheatfield. Felice will be acting as one of the commanding officers for the company that was part of a brigade ordered to help a retreating group of soldiers. It all happened so fast, Felice says, that the reinforcing brigade made an inverted maneuver much different from its normal movement to get to the action.
“And they pulled it off perfectly,” he says. “That’s just a testament to how hard they drilled.” Felice plans to work with his troops to perfect the inverted movement before the re-enactment.
Company C has planning meetings once a month to go over events and to make sure their work is accurate by doing drills. They use a variety of historical writings and reference materials, Felice says, but the most helpful resources are letters written by soldiers and civilians from the time period.
“It’s well-documented, that’s for sure,” he says about the war.
Felice says State College is surrounded by Civil War history. The colonel of the 148th Pennsylvania volunteers, for instance, was James A. Beaver – the 20th Governor of Pennsylvania and a president of Penn State (Beaver Stadium is named after him). Felice says Beaver was at the Battle of Gettysburg with the troops from the 148th regiment, but he couldn’t fight because of injuries from an earlier battle. Beaver almost died a few times during the war, which could have meant a very different fate for Penn State.
“I really don’t think there would be a Nittany Lion or Penn State today without Colonel Beaver,” Felice says.
Another aspect of re-enacting that Felice enjoys is teaching. He says that more and more schools around the country are dropping Civil War history from their curriculum, which is a “huge mistake” because of what the event meant for the country.
“There’s no reason to be doing that,” he says. “That’s where we came from. That’s how we got to be what we are today.”
“It was a pivotal time in history. After the war, you could really call us the United States. It made our country one.”