Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2,643 miles - Gettysburg Battlefield

Dan taught American history for 38 years and the Battle of Gettysburg was always one of his main interests.  He liked teaching the Civil War in general, but really studied Gettysburg because it is considered to be the battle that changed the course of the war.  When we were planning our trip to the northeast, I asked if he would like to visit Gettysburg since we would be passing by there.  He didn't  have to think twice about answering yes.

When our daughter and son in love found out we were going to visit there, Todd recommended an open air bus tour that he had taken some years ago.  He said it was so enjoyable and you got to see everything while listening to descriptions of each location.  As it turned out, that is what they gave Dan for Father's Day this year and it was such a wonderful gift.  

We arrived at Gettysburg about noon eastern time and had just a bit of time before the tour began in an hour, so we walked around the town and grabbed a bite to eat before the tour began.  It was a beautiful sunny day with good breezes and a temperature of about 75.  Perfect tour weather.  We boarded the bus at 1, climbed to the top, put on our headphones and started down the streets of the small town headed to the battlefield sites.
Many original buildings still stand in the town itself, some with bullet holes and mortars still there from the war.  Heading out of town, the audio pointed out Seminary Ridge where General John Buford, Union Army, directed battles from the cupola of the Lutheran Theological Seminary.  Hearing Dan gasp when he saw the cupola affected me in a very emotional way.  I took off my head phones and he said "I taught this for 38 years and now I am actually seeing where it took place."  It took us a while, but we finally got there.
As we reached the edge of town, spread before us were vast, beautiful fields that the Civil War Trust and the National Park Services are continuously working to restore as accurately as possible to the days of the battle of Gettysburg which took place on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863.  Next year is the 150th anniversary of the battles.

Gettysburg was a town of approximately 2400 people at the time of the Civil War battles beginning July 1.  By July 2, the town had swelled to approximate 200,000 thousand people including soldiers, doctors, nurses, reporters and photographers.  My mind could not quite comprehend such a thing.
The first day of battle occurred at McPherson's Ridge, Oak Hill, Oak Ridge, Seminary Ridge and Barlow's Knoll.  July 1, 1863,  was the 12th bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
The picture above is the beginning of Culp's Hill which was part of the second day of battle.
A monument to the soldier's from Indiana at Culp's Hill (my home state).  There are 1400 monuments, markers and tablets at Gettysburg.  It broke my heart to see them all standing as reminders of such a sad and sorrowful time in our nation.

Fighting on July 2 also occurred at Little Round Top and the valley below referred to as The Devil's Den.
This field is full of huge, enormous boulders that were created by volcanic activity eons ago.  We got to get off the bus and climb to the top of Little Round Top.  Standing there, looking into the valley below made me know and understand the horror of those 3 days.  You can feel the presence of what took place on those three awful days.  It is truly a solemn place to be.

Imagining soldiers, some as young as 12, climbing that hill knowing they would never survive was absolutely heartbreaking.  The battle raged that day at The Wheat Field, The Peach Orchard, Cemetery Ridge, Trostle's Farm, Culp's Hill, Cemetery Hill, Little Round Top and the Devil's Den.  It was the 10th bloodiest day of the Civil War.  The audio said after the day's battle ended, survivors came into the fields by lantern light looking for any survivors or anyone they knew.  I could not keep back tears.

On July 3, fighting resumed on Culp's Hill, and cavalry battles raged to the east and south, but the main event was a dramatic infantry assault by 12,000 Confederates against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge--Pickett's Charge. The charge was repulsed by Union rifle and artillery fire, at great losses to the Confederate army. Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia. As many as 51,000 soldiers from both armies were killed, wounded, captured or missing in the three-day battle. Four months after the battle, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for Gettysburg's Soldiers National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

According to information from the Civil War Trust, General Lee lost 23 battle flags at Pickett's Charge, more than in the previous 14 months combined.  Statistics from the Civil War Trust say 93,921 Union soldiers and 71,669 Confederate soldiers fought at the battle of Gettysburg with 51,112 total estimated casualties.  There were 120 generals present, with 9 killed or mortally wounded.  This was the most officers lost in one battle.

The Battle of Gettysburg is by far the costliest battle of the Civil War, but not necessarily the largest.  There were 185,000 troops at Fredericksburg.  There were 63 Medals of Honor awarded to Union soldiers for actions at Gettysburg.  

I am neither a student nor proponent of war.  Today, these beautiful fields look nothing like they did on July 1, 2 and 3 of 1863, littered with wounded and dying men in the 90 degree heat - thankfully.  I am glad I took this tour as a reminder that freedom is bought at a great price and it is important to remember that always.  Would I recommend taking a trip to Gettysburg?  Yes.  We spent two hours on what Abraham Lincoln called hallowed ground.  I cannot say that I have ever felt such sorrow in the depths of my being other than from the loss of loved ones that I know.  Spending the time with Dan as he got to see places he had taught about for so many years was priceless.  May we never have to suffer such losses again.   Time to head home.  

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
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. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.  Abraham Lincoln, November, 1963

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