Gettysburg National Military Park owes a huge debt of gratitude to the countless hours of work performed by our dedicated crew of volunteers. From the Visitor Center to the Cannon Shop, the Education Center to the farthest corners of the battlefield, volunteers are an indispensable part of the inner workings of the National Park at Gettysburg. Black Powder Specialist Thomas Holbrook works with literally thousands of “living history volunteers” every year. These dedicated individuals, many of whom travel hundreds of miles to be here, help bring to life the material culture and visual history of the battle of Gettysburg for the throngs of visitors who come to these hallowed fields. Below Tom offers an overview of the living history program at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Beginning in the 1970’s, Gettysburg National Military Park has been presenting programs where individuals dress in period attire and interpret some aspect of the American Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg. At the start, Park Rangers were responsible for the development and implementation of “Living History” programs on the battlefield. Always very popular with our visitors, living history was at the same time very expensive. Staff had to be hired and trained, and reproduction Civil War clothing, equipment, and weapons had to be purchased. By the mid-1980’s as National Park Service budgets started to shrink, living history performed by NPS Interpretive Rangers became more difficult. One solution was to allow volunteers to take over the living history programs at Gettysburg NMP. Closely monitored by NPS staff, volunteer groups from the Civil War reenacting community were invited to the park on selected weekends. Almost immediately our volunteers had a positive impact with our visitors. “Living History Weekends” became an event and drew large crowds to the battlefield.
In 1988, living history volunteers played a large role in helping the National Park Service in commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Nearly 500 volunteers were invited and participated in our 125th Anniversary programming.
In 1992, due to its popularity, “Living History Weekends” were expanded from 4 to 5 weekends a year to 10 to 12 weekends per year. The same year we expanded the number of groups to be allowed to perform living history at GNMP. The NPS staff put these groups through a rigorous selection process and 10 groups were selected.
Since 1992 the volunteer living history program has expanded to include over 1,000 individuals in 68 groups, (military and civilian) coming on over 28 weekends from April 1 to November 1 each year.
In 2013 the National Park Service commemorated the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg with over 500 volunteer living history participants. Interpretive programs and historic weapons firing provided for our visitors important insight into the lives of the soldiers who “gave their last measure of devotion” on the battlefield of Gettysburg in 1863.
Thanks to our volunteers our living history demonstrations are the most popular and well attended interpretive programs offered at GNMP. We invite you to travel to Gettysburg National Military Park in 2015 to see them for yourself.
Thomas Holbrook, Park Ranger