Men walking across state in tribute to Civil War vet

BEDFORD – It was 100 years ago that an aging Civil War veteran, the memories of combat a distant 50 years behind him, marched east toward Gettysburg.

There, Peter Guibert of Pittsburgh would join tens of thousands of fellow veterans – from both North and South – to commemorate the bloody battle’s 50th anniversary. But while others filled specially scheduled trains, 70-year-old Guibert picked up his drum and set out to cover the 180 miles on foot.

This weekend, another Pittsburgher is set to march through Bedford County, following Guibert’s path to the Battle of Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary.

“If it were difficult, we’d be all right. Actually, it’s impossible,” said a cheerful Len DeCarlo, who has followed 70-year-old drummer Jim Smith and his marching companion, Ray Zimmerman, with water and supplies over part of their planned 19-day trek.

Equipped with Guibert’s drum, Smith has walked for six days, stopping periodically for educational sessions in small towns. Dressed in Union blue as “the Yankee drummer,” he marches alongside Zimmerman – who portrays John Conroy, Guibert’s younger marching companion and a veteran of the western frontier’s Indian wars.

The real Guibert served as a young man in the 74th Pennsylvania Regiment, an ethnically German unit that drew volunteers from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and many points between. Forced backward through the town of Gettysburg in the Union army’s initial retreat, the regiment counted 10 dead, 40 wounded and 60 captured or missing.

Guibert survived, eventually transferring to another Pennsylvania regiment before returning to life in Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Fifty years later, the former regimental drummer joined musicians from the North and South in the “Blue & Gray Reunion Band of 1913,” an endeavor that brought onetime enemies together to play on their old battlefield.

Smith and Zimmerman have followed Guibert and Conroy’s path as closely as possible, DeCarlo said, though gaps in contemporary news coverage left some routes unclear. It’s likely, he said, that they would have followed the roads through Bedford County that made up the then-fledgling Lincoln Highway.

That path is set to take the modern-day drummers through Schellsburg, where they will play at the historic Old Log Church, Bedford County Historical Society Executive Director Gillian Leach said.

Exact dates and times are nearly impossible to plan, DeCarlo explained – covering roughly 10 miles per day on foot, they have only rough estimates for when they’ll arrive at a particular spot.

The Schellsburg visit is hopefully set for 10:30 a.m. today, he said.

In the afternoon, they’ll set out to the historical society’s barn just west of Bedford, where they will set up a campfire for curious visitors, DeCarlo said.

If they need a place to sleep, Leach noted, they can stay in the group’s renovated barn – fittingly simple lodgings for 19th-century re-enactors.

If all goes according to plan, the pair will walk on to Everett, where they might stage an afternoon walk Monday with local Cub Scouts.

Timing isn’t clear, Pack 4472 Cubmaster Roger Bowman explained, but if the boys are out of school in time, they’ll join the percussionists on the route through town.

“We get there when we get there – it’s almost impossible to predict,” DeCarlo said.

Aside from unpleasantly hot weather, conditions seem to be holding up for the marchers, who stopped in Laughlintown Friday en route to Somerset County. It’s not a far leap from the original trekkers, who dealt with similar conditions, according to contemporary news reports.

“The men show plainly the results of their exposure to the summer’s sun but apparently have suffered no ill effects from their long journey,” the Adams County News reported in June 1913.

The pair are set to round out their Bedford County trip in Breezewood, where they might meet with elementary students Tuesday, Leach said. From there, it’s on toward Chambersburg, then through forest and farmland to Gettysburg.

It’s no easy feat for a 70-year-old to march 10 miles a day – but Smith has noted his close personal connection to Guibert, who completed the trip after 19 days.

Smith was born almost precisely 100 years after the Civil War veteran. Trained as a drummer, he served with several fife-and-drum corps before obtaining Guibert’s historic drum in 1982, according to a news release.

Now, just as 1913 news reports described Guibert’s stops “to entertain school children and citizens in the square,” Smith and Zimmerman are set to perform in the same towns their predecessors did a century ago.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.