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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. One hundred fifty years ago in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a three-day battle was coming to an end. Robert E. Lee had led the Confederate Army north of the Mason Dixon Line - over 70,000 strong. Some 90,000 Union troops confronted and repelled them. Well, this week, thousands of tourists went to Gettysburg to remember that battle. NPR's Christopher Connelly was there, too.

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CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: About three dozen men dressed in Confederate Army uniforms woke this morning on the iconic battlefield. Soggy from the night's rain, they warmed themselves up by the fire, cooking bacon and potatoes.

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CONNELLY: They joined hundreds of other re-enactors, out to show visitors what life was like for Civil War soldiers. It's part of a huge display the National Park Service put on to mark the anniversary. There are heavy artillery demonstrations...

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CONNELLY: ...and infantry units firing muskets.

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PETE BENROSSIAN: For re-enactors, it's nirvana.

CONNELLY: Pete Benrossian camped across the battlefield dressed as a Union soldier. He's here to honor those who died in the Civil War's bloodiest battle.

BENROSSIAN: No one can speak for these people, so we hopefully, if we can presume the arrogance to do so, we speak on their behalf.

CONNELLY: Mike Litterist of the National Park Service says Gettysburg was far from planned. Confederate troops marching down from Harrisburg ran into what they thought were militiamen.

MIKE LITTERIST: Lo and behold, it was the army of the Potomac, not Pennsylvania militia, and quite by accident, the Confederate and Union armies begin to clash northwest of Gettysburg on the morning of July 1st.

CONNELLY: Two days later, Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was defeated and more than 50,000 soldiers from both sides were dead and thousands were wounded.

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CONNELLY: Sparrows have made nests in historic barn just east of the battlefield.

TREVOR STEINBACH: Let's get our next patient up here.

CONNELLY: But in 1863, as the historical actors show today, the Confederate army used it as a field hospital.

STEINBACH: So, you can imagine 400 men in here, some of them groaning, some of them dying, some of them with a death rattle in there, next to somebody else who might just be slightly wounded.

CONNELLY: Trevor Steinbach, a medical unit re-enactor, says Civil War battlefield medicine was actually pretty good for the time, except it was missing one crucial thing.

STEINBACH: We didn't know anything about germ theory until we start to see the research coming out of Europe in 1866.

CONNELLY: He says most Civil War soldiers actually died of illness compounded by poor nutrition and exposure to the elements. What makes Gettysburg notable is the sheer number who died of battle wounds.

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CONNELLY: It's not just all re-enactments - there are ghost tours and horse-drawn buggy rides, and even the chance to buy period items. Gettysburg and the surrounding economy expect to make $100 million dollars from anniversary events.

WARREN STEVENS: Fifty years ago this week, I was here on vacation with my mother and father.

CONNELLY: That's Warren Stevens. Now, at 58, he's back as a re-enactor hoping to teach a little history to today's children.

STEVENS: It's nice to see the kids put down the iPads for a couple of hours and see what's in the real world around them.

CONNELLY: And that world will continue to be on display through this holiday weekend with more historical demonstrations and re-enactments planned. Christopher Connelly, NPR News.

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