GETTYSBURG, PA--Civil War reenactors have gathered this week at Gettysburg National Memorial Park for a three-day long reenactment in celebration of the battle's 150th Anniversary. All week, participants will authentically live the life of a Civil War soldier, in an effort to remember a time when brother fought against brother, a house stood divided against itself, and when the N.S.A. wasn't illegally compiling phone and internet records of hundreds of millions of Americans.
"It really is the full experience, minus the blood and gore," said Union actor Jeff Richman, 29. "We're wearing replica uniforms, eating the same type of terrible food, sleeping in shoddy tents, and not worrying that the government is recording all of our communications. It really takes you back in time."
The program, which forbids internet and cell phone use until the battle reenactment is complete, has been widely lauded for creating the atmosphere of an antiquated epoch, where spy agencies didn't construct billion-dollar complexes to collect information on innocent Americans.
"You read about what life was like back then, what they endured, and you think you understand it, but you really have to go through a program like this to really get it," commented Confederate Lieutenant Dan Greengrass. "There's always that first moment when you say, 'Holy crap: the federal government couldn't possibly have continuously monitored the activities of anyone back then.' It's kind of humbling, actually."
"Seriously, I'm playing a guy who's taking up arms against the United States, and not for a tenth of a second would it ever occur to him that Abraham Lincoln would personally order his assassination, or his family's, via UAV. It was a simpler time, you know?" Greengrass added.
"Our mission has always been to create as realistic an atmosphere as possible," said program director Steven Kensey. "Obviously, there isn't any risk of getting shot, or of contracting a disease and dying, but the day-to-day atmosphere of Civil War life that we create here is the best available. Team leaders speak in period dialogue, actors carry authentic rifles, and anyone who comments that privacy is dead and the N.S.A. is listening in on us is laughingly dismissed as a lunatic. It's as far removed from the 21st Century as it gets."
"It's interesting, in 2013, for me to think that having a black president 150 years ago was completely unthinkable," reflected Union actor Craig Canston, 26. "It really gives you pause as to how far we as a nation have come. Of course, 150 years ago, the government didn't ship people off to foreign countries to be held without trial, wasn't wiretapping friendly nations, and wasn't using tax collection agencies to target political opponents."
"One step forward, two steps back, I suppose," shrugged Canston.
Overall, participants seemed ambivalent about living a 19th Century life permanently. Confederate actor Michael Trittle, 30, echoed the sentiments of many when he said that he "wouldn't want to live like that forever."
"Obviously, it's interesting. Who hasn't wondered what it would be like to live in an era before the government obtruded into your life under the guise of national security? At the same time, however, I don't think anybody who's lived modern life could really stand to do this for too long. I'm so used to modern comforts like running water, heat, cars, and illegal domestic surveillance programs, that I don't really think I could live without them.
"After all, people in 1860 had the right to privacy, and look where that got them."