American Battlefield Trust and Bowe Stewart Foundation commit to multiyear support 

In his Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln challenged all Americans to advance the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, saying, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us.”

It was in the spirit of those lines that Gettysburg National Military Park created the Great Task Youth Leadership Program in 2017. Geared for at-risk student and youth organizations from grade levels 7 to 12, the Great Task program offers intensive leadership and character-building experiences that go beyond traditional curriculum-based field trips. By utilizing the battlefield as an outdoor classroom, participants are immersed in the stories of leadership, heroism and civic responsibility embodied by those involved in, and affected by, the battle.

Now, thanks to a new partnership with the American Battlefield Trust and the multi-year financial commitment of the Bowe Stewart Foundation, this already successful and award-winning program will be substantially expanded—virtually, geographically and thematically—between 2020 and 2025.

Said Peter Bowe of the Bowe Stewart Foundation: “The mission of these two great organizations is so clear, the opportunity so valuable, and their teams so strong, that we are fortunate to partner with them.”

Applications for the program will be accepted through April 30 for one or two-day excursions from July through October, customized to match the mission and objectives of each youth organization. Limited travel and accommodation scholarships will be available through the financial support of the American Battlefield Trust and the Bowe Stewart Foundation. To learn more about these opportunities, group leaders and teachers can email the Education Office at Gettysburg National Military Park at gett_education@nps.gov or visit the American Battlefield Trust at www.battlefields.org/great-task.

Craig Braswell to Surrender to Yankees—Again

When Craig Braswell returns to Bennett Place State Historic Site to portray Gen. Joe Johnston at the April 25-26 Civil War surrender negotiations reenactment, it will mark 35 years since he first took the role of the capitulating Confederate. In fact, Braswell will have acted as Johnston in negotiations for longer than the actual negotiations lasted.

Craig Braswell of Princeton, N.C., will don a Confederate general’s uniform to portray General Joseph Johnson at the April 25-26 reenactment of the surrender of Johnston’s army at Bennett Place, N.C. (N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources)

General Joseph E. Johnson surrendered his army to Union General William T. Sherman. (Library of Congress)

“I first did it at Bennett Place in 1985,” Braswell, of Princeton, N.C., recalled recently in a news release. “They thought I looked like him, we were about the same height, but my eyes are blue, his were brown. They also had to make my hair gray back then.”

The site’s commemoration of the 155th anniversary of the South’s surrender is part of the observance of the war’s last days by several North Carolina State Historic Sites. The surrender at Bennett Place effectively ended the Civil War.

For one weekend every five years since April 1985, Braswell has donned the full uniform of the Confederate general who wanted to end the Civil War. Like his Northern counterpart in the negotiations, Gen. William T. Sherman, Johnston attended West Point, and was in the class of 1829 with Gen. Robert E. Lee. He surrendered his commission as quartermaster in the Federal Army with the outbreak of the war.

“I enjoy it, it’s just part of history,” Braswell explains. “Knowing old Joe as I do, I think he would be proud and honored to know that someone wanted to portray him.”

FBI Believes Anti-Fascist Group Was Framed

After an undetonated pipe bomb was discovered at the 2017 annual reenactment of the Battle at Cedar Creek—a chilling circumstance that came on the heels of letters threatening bombings, shootings and worse—the 2018 event was canceled for the safety of participants. At the time, the reenactment seemed like another casualty in the culture wars.

The evidence initially seemed to point to far-left Antifa movement, because the letters were sent in envelopes carrying the Antifa logo represented by black and red flags inside a white circle. The missives themselves contained virulent language calling the events a celebration of slavery and “atrocity of history,” one even promising “We will make Charlottesville look like a Sunday picnic.”

Now, it appears the whole thing was a set-up perpetuated by a troubled Civil War reenactor. A 37-page federal search warrant unsealed in February reveals that the FBI believes the threats and the pipe bomb were the work of a onetime member of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation itself.

Gerald Leonard Drake, a 61-year-old Virginia man, was ousted as a reenactor in 2014 after a dispute with another member. Evidence in the warrant indicates Drake drew a picture of a bomb that resembled the pipe bomb found in 2017 while serving time for a 2004 sex crime. Investigators discovered details in some of the letters that only someone with inside knowledge of the organization would know.

Drake has not yet been charged with any crimes.

Meanwhile the 156th Anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek reenactment has gotten new life, and will be held Oct. 14-18, 2020.

A Bomb and a Bust

February was an explosive month in Charleston, S.C., this year as wayward Civil War ordnance seemed to be turning up with regularity.

First, early in the month, multiple roads in the city’s historic district were closed for several hours after construction workers unearthed an unexploded artillery shell near famed Rainbow Row, so named for the colorful historic homes, and close by the site of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.

An Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team from the U.S. Air Force took possession of the shell, which a facilities manager for the Old Exchange told The State newspaper that the shell “looked like an 8-inch round for a Parrott rifle.”

Then, little more than a week later, what was thought to be a Civil War cannonball was uncovered when excavators were digging a new swimming pool in the downtown area. After examination, though, the Charleston Police Department determined the object was a wooden buoy. This time, however, no roads were closed during the incident.

Gettysburg Civil War Reenactment Canceled for 2020

After a 25-year run, it looks like the 2020 Gettysburg Civil War Reenactment will be canceled. The event drew thousands over the years, but changing demographics—an aging population and less interest from young people—made it too difficult to continue, according to organizers.

When the announcement was first made back in September, veteran Civil War reenactor Dustin Heisey said he would step in to take over planning the 2020 reenactment.

However, it became clear that was going to be problematic once it was learned that talk show host Glenn Beck plans to hold a three-day event in Gettysburg at the same time, drawing huge crowds who will compete for hotel rooms and other services, along with traffic congestion.

Not to be daunted, though, Helsey says he is looking forward to 2021 for a reenactment and commemoration of the battle during what will be its 158th anniversary.

2020 Events with the American Battlefield Trust

The American Battlefield Trust has announced its 2020 slate of member and educational events. From its acclaimed National Teacher Institute to exclusive member gatherings to public access and living history demonstrations at important historic structures, the Trust offers something for everyone in the coming year.

Highlights include:

Park Day at sites nationwide, April 4, 2020: Join fellow volunteers at a battlefield, museum or historic site near you to help perform critical maintenance projects.

Annual Conference in Chantilly, Va., June 3–7, 2020: Hundreds of history lovers come together for a weekend of exciting tours and exclusive speakers.

National Teacher Institute in Mobile, Ala., July 9-12, 2020: Some 160 educators gather for an acclaimed continuing education and training conference, provided free of charge with travel scholarships available.

In addition, an array of informal pop-up battlefield tours, family-friendly generational events and the opening of Lee’s Headquarters in Gettysburg, purchased and restored by the Trust, are also planned for 2020. See the full list and how to register at www.battlefields.org/events.