I just can't happen to think of them right now.
What? The Civil War Institute? What the heck is that all about?
I tried to explain this to a colleague the other day just before leaving for my 23rd Institute, which is usually held close to the anniversary dates of the actual battle (July 1, 2 and 3). The conversation didn't go particularly well.
"Institute?" she asked. "What do you do there? Do you get all dressed up and march around the battlefield eating crackers and sleeping in tents? Iddn't it hot and sticky?"
"Nope," I replied. "I don't reenact. The Institute is a bunch of seminars and lectures and field trips. We listen to authors, professors and battlefield guides, stuff like that. If you're into the Civil War, it's really a lot of fun."
"Lectures?" she asked. I could see her eyes starting to glaze over. "You go to lectures on your vacation? That doesn't sound like much fun to me."
|Licensed Battlefield Guide Charlie Fennell tells us what happened here.|
"And you don't get all dressed up?"
"Well, why do you go to lectures? Don't you already know who won the battle?" she asked.
I smiled. "Civil War scholarship is constantly changing," I said. "They're always finding letters or documents or artifacts that shed new light on the battle and giving you new interpretations. It's fascinating."
By this point, her eyes had stopped glazing over. Now they were actually starting to cross. I mean it. I thought I could actually see her eyeballs trading places in their sockets. I took this as my cue to cut this thing short. We were nothing more than ships passing blindly in the night on this one.
"I go with the same three guys every year," I said. "We stay in a dorm room on the campus of Gettysburg College for five days, and we've been the same roommates for all those years. It's kind of like boys' week out."
That seemed to be a good way to end the conversation without having to explain myself any further. It made it something she could relate to. It sounded more like a bunch of guys renting a condo at the beach than a bunch of nerds needing to find some lives.
"Well, you have a good time," she said. "So you don't get dressed up, huh?"
This year, being the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, our focus was very tight. An evening field trip marched us across Pickett's Charge. Another replicated a military staff ride that condensed the three-day battle into eight hours on a day that reached 91 degrees. Yet another field trip took us out to the pastures of the 13th Vermont.
I'm already starting to look forward to next year. We'll be looking at the 150th anniversary of the battles of 1864: the Wilderness, Spotsylvainia, North Anna, Cold Harbor, places like that.
Sigh. I can hardly wait. My eyes are already starting to glaze over.