August 8-16 — From the Revolutionary times at Fort Necessity to the American Civil War… we spent eight days in a campground near Gettysburg so we would have plenty of time to visit the park and re-visit some of what we learned in our U.S. history lessons. Fred has always wanted to visit Gettysburg, and while being ex-military has something to do with his desire to come here, I think his connection went a lot deeper than that….
We all know the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – it was the site of the largest Civil War battle ever waged. The battle opened on July 1, 1863, and closed just two days later on July 3rd with the climatic “Pickett’s Charge.” It resulted in a Union victory for the Army of the Potomac and successfully turned back the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Over 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured, making it the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. It was a major turning point in the war, but the war itself didn’t end for another two years. It was, however, the last major effort by Lee to take the fighting out of Virginia and into the northern states.
In addition to the vicious battle that took place here, Gettysburg is also the town in which President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation….” The date was November 19, 1863 – four months after the fighting took place – President Lincoln was in town to consecrate the new Soldier’s National Cemetery. It was interesting to note that the former Governor of Massachusetts, Edward Everett, gave an eloquent but exhausting two-hour speech. Lincoln was to deliver “dedicatory remarks,” and after his speech, which lasted just two minutes, he left the platform believing he had disappointed the nearly 20,000 statesmen, soldiers and citizens. As time passed, it became clear that his simple utterances had found a place in many American hearts – and would for many generations to come.
As always, we were very impressed with the quality of the park and Visitor Center in general – from the overview film narrated by the powerful voice of Morgan Freeman… to the Cyclorama; the world’s largest painting done ‘in the round’ which places the viewer right in the middle of the action… the museum containing Civil War artifacts in 11 galleries… and the regimental markers and state monuments along the battlefield tour. One thing we did – and would highly recommend to others who visit this park – is to hire a Licensed Battlefield Guide. These individuals are passionate about this time in our country’s history, and so getting to tour through the battlefield with insights from one of them is a real treat. Cousin Aleta has a friend who gives such private tours, so as Jim drove our car we could focus solely on observing and listening. [Thank you, Jim, for the excellent afternoon!]
Weekends at Gettysburg are particularly a treat, and we were fortunate that our stay overlapped two weekend programs that were meaningful and enjoyable.
The first weekend featured reenactors from both sides of the battle participating in Living History Weekend. The 1st North Carolina State Volunteers/Troops came up from NC to share with visitors how soldiers in Confederate regiments lived. They set up camps and lived very authentically to the period, including sleeping on the ground under canvas tent shelters and cooking on campfires. They talked about life in camp, what a soldier typically wore, and most enjoyable, demonstrated how they marched and fired their weapons.
Hover your cursor over the below photo and click on the arrows to view photos from Living History Weekend at Gettysburg:
The second weekend program we thoroughly enjoyed was the 19th Annual Civil War Music Muster. In their words, the muster, “is dedicated to the better understanding that the international language of music helps to educate and inspire the visiting public.” We spent a lovely afternoon sitting in the lawn of the Visitor Center listing to several period-inspired musical groups, solo artists, and a fife and drum band.
We both find it so hard to put into words just how ‘real’ of an experience is created at Gettysburg. Over 1,400 state monuments and regimental markers are placed along the roads and in the fields to mark the sites of the troops. You stand on Little Round Top and gaze out into The Wheat Field where 4,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives. Fred walked the same mile route that Pickett’s men did in the famed charge that did the Confederate soldiers in. In addition to everyone here being bound together by historical interests of this period of U.S. history, so many of those involved actually trace their lineage back to their great-great-grandfathers who fought here. Reenactors and musicians with whom we spoke are extremely passionate in their quest for authenticity. It was a treat and an honor to visit such a park, and once again, we find ourselves truly grateful that we Americans have such a national treasure in places like this.