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Gettysburg journey finally complete for Honor Guard members

| Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 11:55 p.m.
Jack Fordyce
Ray Zimmerman of Acme plays 'Taps' during the Peter Guibert Centennial Memorial Trek concluding ceremony Sunday, December 8, 2013, at Highwood Cemetery on Pittsburgh's North Side

On a cold Sunday afternoon, months after completing their journey, Jim Smith and Ray Zimmerman gathered with other veterans to place soil from Gettysburg and spent cartridges from a firing squad salute at the Pittsburgh grave of Civil War drummer Peter Guibert.

The ceremony at Highwood Cemetery on the city's North Side brought the men's 200-mile, 19-day trek, replicating a journey Guibert made in 1913, full circle.

The two, with trek coordinator and “road boss” Len DeCarlo of Mt. Pleasant, began their march on May 26 from West Park in Pittsburgh's North Side.

They arrived in Gettysburg on June 13, catching a ride aboard a horse-drawn wagon with a Bell Telephone logo, just as Guibert did, a surprise Zimmerman arranged, according to Smith.

The dates coincided with the arrival of Guibert exactly 100 years earlier.

The two buried soil and a spent cartridge from the firing squad salute during the trek's opening ceremony near Guibert's regiment's monument at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Smith and Zimmerman are veterans and members of the Armbrust Veterans Association Honor Guard.

“It exceeded all expectations,” said Smith, 70, of Hempfield.

“It was the experience of a lifetime for me,” said Zimmerman, 60, of Acme.

As DeCarlo drove ahead, Smith and Zimmerman marched, Smith tapping the drum Guibert had owned, in weather ranging from sunny and hot to pelting rain.

Along the way, Boy Scouts and Civil War buffs marched with them for a few miles, and schoolchildren waved flags as the two approached, Zimmerman said.

Playing the role of Guibert's fellow Northsider John Conroy, Zimmerman carried a bugle and played “Taps.”

As Guibert did on his march, the two stopped and performed along the way at events both scheduled and spontaneous.

They covered 10 to 14 miles per day, with meals and accommodations largely provided by the kindness of strangers, Zimmerman said.

“We were really not prepared for the absolute goodwill people gave us and expressed to us from the step-off,” Smith said.

“We got a lot of honks, a lot of waves,” Zimmerman said.

“To do it day in, day out was a challenge. I beat the drum and Peter's old drum just resounded,” Smith said.

Smith learned of Guibert three decades ago, when he acquired his snare drum from a descendant who learned of his collection of antique drums.

Guibert entered the Civil War at 17, serving with the 74th Pennsylvania, a German-speaking regiment, and the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He served on the front line in several battles, including the first Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. He became known as “The Wizard of the Drums.”

Guibert died on Dec. 7, 1933, 20 years after marching to Gettysburg for a 50th anniversary reunion.

On May 26, 1913, Guibert, then 70, and Conroy departed from the site of the old Allegheny City hall.

They walked to Gettysburg, arriving on June 13, 1913, even though Civil War veterans were offered free rail passage to Gettysburg to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle.

Historical records indicate Guibert and Conroy averaged 15 miles per day as Guibert lugged two drums, cymbals and a calliope.

Smith likes to think Guibert may be able to see how his drum, beat upon with sticks harvested from Gettysburg trees, is still touching those who hear it.

The ultimate goal is to commemorate the important role that drums, fifes and bugles played in battle and troop communications by erecting a memorial to military musicians.

An initial fundraiser is the sale of drumsticks made from battlefield “witness” trees.

“I played all of the sticks on the trek,” Smith said.

Anyone interested in purchasing the drumsticks can contact DeCarlo at lendecarlo@zoominternet.net or Smith at yankeedrummer1@hotmail.com.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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