Johns Hopkins University
Fall/Winter 2007
Vol. 5, No. 1


> The Man Who Brings History to Life

Mourning Two Killed in Action

Airing Their Dirty Linen





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The Man Who Brings History to Life

Guillermo Bosch '71 has a notable propensity for speaking in the present tense. If he were recounting his first visit to Gettysburg National Military Park, it would probably go something like this:

It's 1968, and Bosch is on his way back to Hopkins from a mixer at Hood College in Frederick when his fraternity brother says, "Why don't we go over to Gettysburg?" So they come to Gettysburg and tour the battlefield, and he's especially taken with Devil's Den, this strange geologic formation that is the scene of intense fighting during the Civil War. Three different Confederate brigades will attack the Union army here on the afternoon of July 2, 1863.

But on this day in 1968, Guillermo Bosch, the Cuban immigrant who grows up in Wilmington, Delaware, and later has a legal career in Philadelphia, has his own meeting with destiny. He's mystified by the size of these giant boulders and by the story of the fighting that occurs here, and by the end of the day, his 40-year obsession with Gettysburg has begun.

Tour photo
Bosch: "Narrating the action" in Gettysburg.

Today a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg, Bosch explains his predilection for the present this way: "I can see the action occurring. I'm not telling a story, I'm narrating the action."

After that seminal college trip, Bosch began to read voraciously about the Civil War and the historic Battle of Gettysburg. And the history major made frequent return visits.

Later, he dragged his wife, Portia, to Gettysburg several times a year, even on holidays. "She'd stay in the car reading a book while I went tromping off somewhere," he says.

Eventually, Bosch took the Licensed Battlefield Guide exams and began working as a guide on weekends and during the summer. Then, about four years ago, once their daughters had graduated from high school, his wife "was really sweet and consented to move out to this area," he says.

The couple now lives in New Oxford, a few miles east of Gettysburg, and Bosch practices law part-time in Harrisburg, leaving as much time as possible for leading tours and keeping his Gettysburg knowledge fresh.

Bosch does about 120 tours a year, and no two are the same. "There's no script," he says, noting that he alters the content of the tour based on the questions and interests of the tour-goers.

Indeed, one Tuesday afternoon this summer, Bosch began a bus tour by asking people where they lived. Maine, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, California, they answered. He nodded, making mental notes about how to highlight those states throughout the tour, and then joked with one woman, "No Iowa troops here. You should be at Vicksburg."

As the bus rolled through downtown, Bosch's voice boomed over a superfluous microphone. He offered a running commentary, providing historical context for the Civil War and pointing out landmarks. 

"This would've been kind of open ground," he said, gesturing. "In front of us, where the Gateway Mini-Mart is now, was the Wagon Hotel, and that was full of Union skirmishers. So there's a lot of firing right here. One of those bullets, a stray bullet, goes into the door of this little brick house on the morning of Friday, July 3, and strikes Virginia Wade in the back, hitting her in the heart and killing her instantly—the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg."

At a stop along Seminary Ridge, the Confederate line of battle, the tour-goers spread out beside the North Carolina monument as Bosch told them, "You are where those Confederate soldiers would've been back on the afternoon of Friday, July 3: 88 degrees, at around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, not cloudy at all, not a breeze like this, but pretty still."

The bus tour passed Virginia's monument of Robert E. Lee, then proceeded southward along Confed-erate Avenue and east across open fields over to Devil's Den and Little Round Top, a strategic position the Union forces defended successfully.

The tour—and Bosch's narration—culminated at what's known as the High Water Mark, scene of the climactic moment of the battle, where the Union's Army of the Potomac fought off the famous 13,000-man Pickett's Charge. "By now the big [Confederate] line is down to about 7,000 men," he said, his voice building as he stood at the edge of a rock wall marking the Union line of defense. "These guys are shooting as fast as they can, and yet they're coming, they're coming, they're coming."

Retelling the last push of the charge by Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, Bosch exuded drama: "He puts his hat on his sword and turns to his men, and he says, 'For Virginia! Let's give 'em the cold steel! Who will follow me, men?'"

The tour patrons delighted in Bosch's passion. "He's really made it come alive," said Lee McGuire of Texas, who was visiting Gettysburg for the first time.

The same was true for Hoa Tran, a resident of Sonoma County, Calif., whose reaction to the battlefield was noticeably similar to Bosch's response 40 years ago: "You're standing right there, just where they were, and it's like you can see the action!"