470th MI Brigade Soldier relives historic battle
July 31, 2013
After Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Kantor reported for duty in Pennsylvania June 27, he was assigned to a tent in which he was to sleep for the night. When he awoke the next morning, he stepped out of the tent … into 1863.
Or at least as close as he and his fellow history enthusiasts could make it. Kantor had become part of a major historical recreation of arguably the most famous battle of that bloody conflict most commonly known as the American Civil War. For three days in June he and an estimated 10,000 other kindred spirits would submerge themselves into the history of the Battle of Gettysburg and related military actions fought 150 years ago this July.
Everything was to be as authentic as possible for the re-enactors, including uniforms, weapons, equipment and rations.
"Even the conversation was period," said Kantor, who explained they could talk about the weather, or their food or their muskets or even the constitutionality of secession, but nothing anachronistic. While many participants obviously ate well before transporting themselves back in time, some actually fasted to more accurately reflect the undernourished condition of the soldiers two years into the war.
"Just about everyone grew a beard and let it get all scraggly," said Kantor, who nevertheless kept his face clean shaven and his hair short in accordance to modern military standards. Kantor, after all, serves in the 401st Military Intelligence Company, a subordinate unit of the 470th MI Brigade, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
While deployed to Afghanistan, the young warrant officer met a contractor who shared his interest in the Civil War. While Kantor was primarily interested in drawing Confederate and Union soldiers for a card game he was designing, his new friend was interested in re-enactments and said he would invite Kantor to an event some time. Then one recent day Kantor received an invitation to a re-enactment organized by the Blue Grey Alliance at Gettysburg. If he could get away and get up there for a few days, he would have his uniform and all the other necessities ready for him, to include a fully functional musket, which Kantor had to rent for $50.
Kantor was assigned to the 2nd Florida Infantry Volunteers, a historical Confederate unit.
"Of course, we ultimately lost the battles," said Kantor, whose unit was among those involved in the Battle of Little Round Top, part of the greater Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederate soldiers unsuccessfully charged the hill three times before Union soldiers finally drove them away from the strategic position by bayonet.
During the Battle of Wheatfield re-enactment, Kantor was among players directed to "die" under a volley of cannon fire. They were later congratulated by the artillerymen for their realism and, like other "dead" re-enactors, returned to life in time for the next activity.
Although the big battle re-enactments took place on Bushey Farm to the west of the historic battle site, Kantor and his unit were privileged to march -- with weapons but without ammunition -- the actual route of Pickett's Charge, an attack that almost carried the day for the Confederacy.
Another highlight for the unit involved an exhausting march through a forest and a four-foot stream, over cow fields and up a hill to a period medical station. There they joined non-re-enactors to observe a shockingly realistic demonstration of period surgery along with other medical care.
While Kantor admired the realism, he also marveled at the fact that real-world injuries were few.
"Everyone worked together -- to include Union and Confederate re-enactors -- to ensure everyone was safe," he observed. "That's risk management."
Looking at the re-enactment as a whole, Kantor said it reinforced in his mind the value of leadership and teamwork.
"That's a clear takeaway from any sort of exercise, and this was no exception," Kantor said. "Frankly, it would make an excellent team-building exercise."
Kantor, who is working on a master's degree in history, explained that he enjoys learning how people got to where they are from previous generations.
"From a historical perspective, the re-enactment provided me with an in-depth look at how Union and Confederate soldiers fought 'the first modern war' -- as it is sometimes called -- using Napoleonic era tactics," he said. "The Civil War is an excellent study on changes to more modern tactics, such as trench warfare, that characterized World War I.
"If you consider how we have completely modified our combat style from the Soviet era -- from a military doctrine of tanks on the battlefield to the modified counter-insurgency operations to fight the War on Terror -- you can find parallels in combat modifications from an earlier era to a newer one in the Civil War."
Kantor also said he found the re-enactment "a lot of fun" and would like to participate in another one.
"I have been invited to come back and participate in the next big national event, the Battle of Appomattox Court House [in Virginia]," said Kantor. "Of course, that isn't until April 9, 1865 -- I mean 2015."