Landis Valley Museum MAG

By Sierra G., New Ringgold, PA

      The crunching of gravel beneath Army boots welcomes us as we step through the gates to the Civil War encampment at Landis Valley. A troop of soldiers marches to “Yankee Doodle” pattered on drums and tooted on whistles. Their guns are upright and their bayonets flash in the sun, bobbing above their caps to their rhythmic step. Lieutenants follow regally on horseback. “Beyond this point you will be in the year 1863,” a sign reminds.

This is Landis Valley Museum’s Civil War Village, where hundreds of authentically dressed re-enactors transport visitors back to the days just after the Battle of Gettysburg. Landis Valley Museum was originally a crossroads village founded by two brothers, Henry and George Landis, in the 1920s. Today it is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting Pennsylvania-German culture.

Beneath the ancient trees, canvas pup tents (called “pup” because they are only large enough for a dog) are lined up like rows of pointed teeth. The tents look identical from a distance, but visitors can peer inside to view the soldier’s lifestyle more intimately.

Outside, rifles stand in a teepee-like tripod called a stack, their gleaming bayonets intermeshed. Men in brass-buttoned jackets tend cauldrons of stew and invite us to take a swig from their canteens as they explain their activities. Children play croquet in the yard of one of the larger houses and braid each other’s hair on the porch. Young ladies in hoop skirts stroll with parasols, stirring the heavy air with lace fans. Snores come from behind an old oak, where one soldier is stealing an afternoon nap. Landis Valley is one of the few places that gives you a feel for what life was like not only for the soldiers, but also in a town during that period.

Along the street, visitors can duck into the print shop, cooper’s shop, cabinetmaker’s shop, leather shop or the blacksmith’s to see these vital trades. In addition to these permanent structures, there are also the mobile stations to serve the army set up in the meadows. At the Company Commissary, we see where the regiment comes for rations. Historically, their diet would have consisted of salted meat and hardtack, plus coffee (which they would roast in a pan). If they were lucky, they might get figs or raisins.

“They only got enough vegetables to save them from dying of scurvy,” a re-enactor laughs.

Down the lane the generals are having lunch. They ladle beef stew into bowls and carve a pork loin, sitting at little pop-up field desks arranged on ornate rugs.

“The generals didn’t always eat this well either,” one admits. “One of the perks of staying in town is all the livestock that’s available.”

At the surgeon’s station, a field doctor is extracting a musket ball from a soldier’s eye socket, digging in the cavity with a metal probe. Blood bubbles out and streams over the surgeon’s fingers. He wipes his bloodstained hands on his apron and swishes the tweezers in a bucket of murky water.

“Hang on, I got it,” he exclaims. With a pair of forceps, he lifts a small metal ball, then places the eyeball in a bowl. “Now, we compact the eye with lint,” the surgeon explains, shoving gauze into the hole. This gory and too-realistic surgery is reenacted continuously on a cooperative dummy and with an array of special effects.

The few women who traveled with the Army (often to be with their husbands) were reduced to scrubbing clothes on washboards. The company laundress was responsible for 200-300 soldiers’ laundry, so she had a very full-time job and was paid six dollars a month by the government. This was one of the few ways women could serve.

There were many more logistics involved in running an army that we had never considered. For example, to copy maps, generals used a machine in which they took specially treated light-sensitive paper in water, and set it to dry in the sun. Topographic engineers were responsible for preceding the army to survey the land. Often their instruments were inadequate; they had to rely on compasses and count the steps their horses took. Telegraph wires had to be strung to keep in touch with President Lincoln as the Union Army traveled.

In the afternoon, a parade travels through town. For sustenance, visitors can purchase barbecued pork and ice cream, take a break from the heat, and listen to guitar and accordion music; you’ll be sure to hear many familiar marches. You are also likely at some point to be harassed by one of the young boys recruiting soldiers. They wander the streets hollering, “Make your mark! Sign up now. Make $13 a month, $10 bonus if you sign up today!”

Though you may leave 1863 and walk through the gates back into the twenty-first century, you won’t soon forget your experience at the Landis Valley Civil War Village. In the weeks that follow, you may recall a soldier’s face, hear the creaking of wagon wheels, or smell the fumes of gunpowder, and for just another moment, the past will feel real.

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