Gettysburg Living History Authenticity Standards

Living history performers on horseback.
A group of living history performers on horseback.

NPS Photo


Living history programs can be an effective tool to capture public interest and encourage understanding of the primary interpretive themes of Gettysburg National Military Park. Participants in living history programs at Gettysburg National Military Park as volunteers representing the National Park Service (NPS), will present informal interpretive programs wearing period clothing, and sometimes demonstrating the use of historic weapons and equipment. All living history programs and demonstrations will have themes, goals, and objectives defined by the National Park Service and the Living History Coordinator.

A uniformed Park Ranger will be assigned as the supervisor of the living history activity. Additionally, a National Park Service Historic Weapons Firing Supervisor will oversee all activities involving weapons. These two roles may be performed by the same employee.


The safety of participants and the public is a primary concern for all interpretive programs. The demonstrations of historic weapons and equipment can contribute significantly to visitor understanding and appreciation of the park’s resources and themes. Equipment designed for use in warfare, including weapons, present unique hazards that must be mitigated by adhering to all applicable safety standards including a rigorous training regimen and constant awareness of hazardous situations during living history programs.

Interpretive Themes

Living history programs will generally interpret the following time period:
 May – July 1863 – The Campaign and Battle of Gettysburg
 November 1863 – Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery
 1867 - 1938 – Commemorative Era of the Park, GAR visits, Veterans Reunions

Historic weapons demonstrations generally focus on the battle and campaign. A campaign style camp with minimal equipment will be utilized tell the story of soldier life during the Gettysburg Campaign.

All formal and informal living history programs will contribute to visitor understanding of one or more of the following themes:
  1. The Civil War was the result of decades of increasing divisiveness caused primarily by the issue of slavery that pulled the nation apart economically, socially, and politically.
  2. The Gettysburg Campaign was directly influenced and shaped by the 1863 strategic military / political situation of the nation. The evolution, conduct, and eventual outcome of the campaign and battle were directly related to the geography, topography, and landscape features of the region, as well as to the tactics, leadership, and organization of the respective armies.
  3. The soldiers who fought at Gettysburg were, for the most part, battle-hardened veterans. Their backgrounds varied as much as their reasons for being there. Their experience in combat and the aftermath of battle were both uniquely individual and universal.
  4. The Battle of Gettysburg touched the lives of civilians both near and far. Farmers whose land became battlegrounds, citizens in town, those who tended the wounded, buried the dead, or came to locate a friend or loved one were forever changed by their experience here. The tremendous human cost of Gettysburg touched and changed the lives of families, neighbors, and the general population in small towns and large cities of both the North and the South.
  5. In his Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln focused the nation’s attention on the Union sacrifices, as well as its evolving meanings and consequences, when he stated that it would lead to a “new birth of freedom” for the nation; a charge that still challenges us today.
  6. The hundreds of monuments, markers, and memorials, many created by the veterans themselves, continue to bear witness to the experiences of individuals associated with the Battle of Gettysburg and are a testament to how the battlefield has become a stage for the reconciliation of a once divided nation, national commemoration of the Civil War, and a place of personal connection for Civil War veterans, their families, and visitors who continue to be drawn to this park.
The park ranger in charge of interpretation will ensure each individual participant, or the group leader, receives a copy of these themes at least one week prior to the program date. The ranger will also review park themes and living history objectives with all participants prior to the first program.

Volunteers In Parks Program

All participants will be registered as NPS volunteers through either an individual or group agreement.
  • Any volunteers under the age of 18 must have a signed parental permission statement.
  • Volunteers represent the National Park Service to the public and must conform with all performance standards that apply to employees.
  • Our primary mission is to share the unique resources and stories of Gettysburg National Military Park with the public. Volunteers are expected to provide the highest level of service to visitors at all times when they are in the park.

Historic Weapons Demonstrations

  • All historic weapons demonstrations will conform to NPS Historic Weapons regulations and the appropriate NPS drill manual(s).
  • All participants in historic weapons demonstrations must be at least 16 years old.
  • Participants in artillery demonstrations must be at least 18 years old to perform positions 1-4 and Gunner.
  • Women may participate in historic weapons demonstrations providing they meet all training requirements and make a reasonable effort to appear as a male soldier. This includes but is not limited to:
    • Tying up hair underneath a hat which will not be removed in the presence of the public.
    • Wearing clothing of a sufficient size to disguise the volunteer’s gender
    • Qualified volunteers representing cultures not documented as participating in the Battle of Gettysburg may participate in living history programs.
  • All living history groups wishing to be part of the Gettysburg Living History Program must submit a unit photograph and references. Invitations will be extended and coordinated by the NPS Living History Coordinator and Black Powder Specialist.

Other Demonstrations

  • Demonstrations utilizing other reproduction tools and equipment of the Civil War will follow written park guidelines and be supported by primary source documentation.
  • Careful attention will be paid to safety hazards. Remember weapons are not the only things that can cause injuries.
  • An employee or volunteer will supervise all fires. No visitor should be permitted within five feet of a fire.
  • An employee or volunteer will supervise any displays or demonstrations using sharp tools.
  • Visual or physical barriers may be necessary to keep visitors at a safe distance when demonstrating the use of tools and equipment.

Camp Interpretation

  • Effective interpretation relies on articulated themes, goals, objectives and appropriate interpretive techniques. Living history interpretation at Gettysburg will:
    • Utilize the third person voice. Portrayals of actual individuals or performances embodying real personages will not be permitted.
    • Authenticity standards will be followed. Modern conveniences will not be visible in camp, tentage and equipment should be kept to a minimum.
    • Style of interpretation, outside of Historic Weapons Demonstrations, will be informal.
  • The camp is to be an interpretive area where volunteers actively engage visitors in the life of a historic Civil War camp. It is not intended to be a place for volunteers to relax or take breaks from the primary job of interpretation. Breaks and relaxing will take place in a separate area out of view of the public. To this end, the group leader working with the Park Ranger supervising the activities will select a number of volunteer interpreters to perform this vital function. Volunteers and employees in the camp should consider the same standards to apply as apply to employees working at the information desk.
  • If the interpretive theme(s) are best supported by a military style tent camp, the group will establish a military camp utilizing historic layouts such as company streets. That camp will serve as an interpretive area when visitors are present in the park. A separate site will be designated for volunteers to use when they are not required to interact with the public.
  • If the programs are best served by interpreting a campaign style camp, The group’s tents will be set-up in area not readily visible to the public. The group will still set up the camp according to period military guidelines.
  • Volunteers under the age of 14 may not participate in military camp activities. Historians estimate that less than five percent of soldiers were under the age of seventeen. Few documented cases of children younger than fourteen exist.
  • The presence of civilians is not permitted in a military camp unless they are filling a documented support role for time period being interpreted in the camp.
  • Group members will greet all visitors as they enter the camp area and provide guidance as to the interpretive opportunities within the camp.
  • Fires and stacked arms will be supervised by a group member at all times. For all operational periods, a member of the group will be assigned this task. All non-period equipment, clothing, supplies, food, and furniture will not be visible to visitors during park hours (sunrise to sunset) when the public may drive into the parking area.
  • All volunteers will comport themselves in manner consistent with the duties and guidelines contained in The 1865 Customs of Service for Non-commissioned Officers and Soldiers and The Customs of Service for Officers of the Army by August V. Kautz when in the presence of visitors. Both books are in the park’s library.
  • Activities that group members are encouraged to demonstrate and/or interpret in camp include but are not limited to:
    • Roll Calls
    • Inspections
    • Sick Call
    • Mail Call
    • Guard Mount
    • Reading & Writing Letters
    • Ration Issue and Preparation
    • Equipment and Clothing Maintenance
    • Games
    • Music
    • Fatigue Duties
    • Punishments
    • Other activities that can be documented with primary sources as representative of the daily life of soldiers.

Civilian Interpretation

Volunteers in civilian clothing may participate in the living history program under the following conditions:
  • Civilian interpretation will support the interpretive themes the National Park Service establishes for the event. A separate area for civilian interpretation will be established to help visitors transition between military and civilian interpretation. Exceptions to this requirement may be granted if civilians are demonstrating and/or interpreting documented civilian roles in a military camp or interactions between civilians and soldiers.
  • Each civilian volunteer will demonstrate lifeway activities that are documented by primary sources as being representative of civilian activities during the Civil War; AND demonstrate the ability to connect the general nature of any demonstrations or displays to documented events connected to the Battle of Gettysburg and/or life in Adams, County Pennsylvania during the Civil War.
  • Demonstrated activities must have a documented connection to interpreted events, and volunteers must be able to effectively use displays and demonstrations to help visitors understand the interpretive themes.
  • All volunteers under the age of eighteen may participate in civilian programs provided they meet the requirements above. The presence of children in period costume in an interpretive area can be both a distraction and a safety hazard unless they are directly contributing to the programs.
  • All volunteers ages twelve and under must be directly supervised by a parent or guardian.
  • Volunteers under the age of eighteen may not participate in interpretive activities in areas that present high safety risks, such as fires, spinning wheels, manufacture of dyes and soap, etc.


  • All participant vehicles will be parked in the area(s) designated by the National Park Service. Vehicles will not be parked on the grass unless directed by the Park Ranger supervising the activities.
  • Groups may bring limited vehicles into the camp area to load and unload camp equipment, but must move them immediately after unloading.
  • Park will provide firewood, a surface fire area, water, and restroom facilities. Volunteers will only use firewood provided by the Park Service.
Each individual park volunteer or group leader will be provided a copy of these guidelines and will acknowledge receipt.

Last updated: April 20, 2022

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