Friday, October 10, 2008

Gettysburg - Fields of Courage

If you've never been to Gettysburg Battlefield, you really need to go. Every American should go and take the time to drive around the now quiet fields, and learn some of the personal stories of those brave men who met there, three days in July 1863. I had never been to Gettysburg, despite my living within a four hour or less drive for most of my life. But that all changed this September when we took a trip to Central PA to enjoy some of the beautiful fall weather and take a trip back in history.

Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with a history lesson with dates and regiment positions. And neither did the CD set and field book we purchased to act as our guide. It took us along the National Park auto tour stops (with just a few diversions and adjustments) and we thoroughly enjoyed this audio tour at our own pace. The National Park brochure says to allow 3 to 4 hours for following the auto tour. We completed it over a day and a half, but we do have a baby who at 11 months probably slowed us down a little, although I doubt we would have completed it too much faster if it was just us adults. There are also numerous bus tours with licensed guides if you prefer to let someone else do the driving. This might be advisable in the busy summer months when the streets get rather crowded. You can also hire a licensed guide for your individual party. I'm not sure if they drive or if you drive, but this would be worth it if you are really interested in learning detailed stories and facts about the three day battle. These guides are extremely knowledgeable, they have to be, they have to pass numerous written and oral exams in order to become licensed. The tours are not limited to car or bus. I saw walking tours and tours by horseback advertised as well. There is a tour for everyone.

The Pennsylvania Memorial

Even if you are not on a tour, you will know when you are driving through the battlefield grounds because there are monuments and markers everywhere. The first of these was placed in 1878 on Little Round Top, marking the spot where Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent was mortally wounded. The placing of memorials by both northern and southern entities continued even in recent times with the Tennessee State Memorial not being completed until 1982. There are many regimental memorials from the northern states, however the southern states decided to create one memorial from each state to honor the sacrifice of their soldiers. This decision was made in part due to the lack of funds from the south but there was also some degree of opposition from the northern veterans in the early years after the war. In the early nineteen hundreds the park service erected 'without praise and without censure', the history of the Army of the Potomac (the north) and the Army of Northern Virginia (the south). These markers and tablets of bronze and granite equally represent both sides of the battle, unlike the regimental monuments.

The Eternal Light Peace Memorial, was dedicated at the seventy-fifth anniversary of the battle by President FDR, 'to the spirit of the valiant men, with no division of sides, who here, such a long time ago, made the supreme sacrifice for a cause so dear to them'. This memorial, with it's inscription 'Peace Eternal in a Nation United', is very moving and was just one of many stops where I could barely keep control of my emotions. I suppose it is possible to take in the scenic rural vistas of Gettysburg in a completely carefree manner, but not for me. There were several times where I felt uncomfortable taking pictures, knowing the horrific fighting and deaths which occurred right where I was standing. When stopped at The Wheatfield, the site of more than 4,000 dead and wounded, I could literally feel the spirits of the dead, making it hard for me to breath. And when at the site of the Union line, looking across the open ground in the direction that Pickett's Charge came from on the final day of fighting, I could only think of the courage of all those that fought and how they all deserved to be honored.

The Eternal Light Peace Memorial

This was the bloodiest battle North America has ever seen with 51,000 dead, wounded, or captured. Four months after it was over, President Lincoln attended the dedication of the National Cemetery there, and gave the famed Gettysburg Address, a part of which I quote here.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. "

Gettysburg National Cemetery

This small piece of Pennsylvanian land is indeed hallowed ground. I know I felt it with every step I took there. I don't mean to sound like I was gloomy on this trip, I really enjoyed our time in Gettysburg, learning a bit of history, being in the out of doors, enjoying the scenic rural vistas, even getting in some geocaching and letterboxing. But there was always the shadow of the men, real people, brought to life through letters, first hand accounts, and photographs, hanging in the air, reminding me of the reality of Gettysburg and helping define what Gettysburg means to me. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be 'Courage'.


Alyson (New England Living) said...

Thanks for taking us along on your tour! I've been wanting to go to Gettysburg ever since we moved to the east coast. Do you think is doable (and pleasant) with kids?

Cindy said...

Alyson ~ I always think of you when I visit cemeteries now and I was thinking of you when we were at the Nat'l Cemetery :)
I think for sure the older ones would enjoy it and probably the younger ones too. The auto tour has 16 stops if I remember correctly and there is plenty of room for the kids to run around and unwind. The Little Round Top and Devil's Den area is very rocky and I think the kids would enjoy climbing on the rocks. There are also three observation towers throughout that they may find fun to climb to the top of. It's a lot of in and out of the car so that may make it a little unpleasant for parents. I know we didn't always take Lillian out of her carseat, we would take turns looking at the monuments at the stop or climbing the towers.

Randall said...

Thanks for those wonderful photos and reflections.