"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Friday, June 7, 2013

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

We crossed the Mason-Dixon line, so we are officially no longer in the south. There are only subtle changes of course, but in the town of Gettysburg, the difference between north and south was played out in a very big way during the Civil War. In fact, it gets "played out" even now on a regular basis by Civil War reenactments in the town and battlefields surrounding it.  This is a very big year for Gettysburg: the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Our visit to Gettysburg began by getting settled at the Gettysburg Campground, a very nice RV and tent park just outside of town. It was a longish drive for us and I wasn't up for cooking once we arrived, so we got some dinner right on the square, at the Pub and Restaurant. 

Rick's old friend Wally, from his high school days, lives here in town and actually used to own an earlier iteration of this restaurant. We were fortunate enough to locate him and spend some nice time with him and his wife, Fran. Wally cooked us a wonderful homemade gourmet meal that was so much better than anything we've had in a restaurant in a long time. 

Gettysburg is a remarkably preserved town, even though it is not all incorporated into the National Military Park, like the actual battlefields are.  Many homes, farms, and much of the downtown area date back to the Civil War era, or shortly after. Evidently, tourism to the battlefields has been a going concern since almost immediately after the battle!  

We visited the Park on our second day in town, starting with the huge visitors' center and museum. It was early in the day but the parking lot was almost full, and there were already lines to get into the film. There are a lot of Civil War enthusiasts, for whom visits to Gettysburg is almost a pilgrimage.

The museum has many multi-media displays about the period leading up to the war, the war itself, the battles at Gettysburg in particular, and their aftermath. Obviously, it is primarily focused on the military angle, but also has some interesting displays about slavery and the political conflicts around it. There is an excellent film, followed by a viewing of the immense cyclorama, a 360 degree painting by Paul Phillippoteaux (1882) of the battle, accompanied by a recorded account of one of the decisive battles, complete with battle sounds (a little overwhelming). One of our favorite parts of the museum was the emphasis on Lincoln and this display of his Gettysburg Address. It's mounted on a window, so that you're looking out at the battlefield through his words as you listen to the Address read aloud.

After supper, when we knew the battlefields would be less crowded, we took a self-guided car tour with an audio CD and booklet that we bought at the bookstore. It related many details about the battles, and stories about the troops and their leaders as it guided us around the battlefields. Now here I have to confess that I only listened with half an ear while popping in and out of the car to take pictures. The military story does not hold a lot of interest for me, and I'm afraid I don't recall much of it, but I got the idea. I'm sorry that I can't identify the particulars of most of the things in the pictures I'm going to share here. 

There are a lot of cannons all around the battlefields, placed where they would have been in actual battles. Since 1999 the Park has been reclaiming the battlefield by removing non historical buildings and cutting down a lot of the trees that have grown on the land since the war. This has drastically changed the landscape, and has improved the views of the various battle locations.

Another change in the landscape now is the placement of monuments marking locations in the battles and commemorating regiments that served and states that participated in the battle. Below is one of the more unique ones. It is topped by a small cannon ball and a bird's nest. Behind it you can see one of the observation towers that gives viewers a better look of some strategic points in the battle.

Many of the monuments are very dynamic statues representing soldiers in battle.  

We were fortunate to end our day on Little Round Top (an important location in the battle) at sunset, giving us some quiet time to digest the information and ponder what it was all about.


The Park is a remarkable place, in the breadth and effectiveness of its mission. Even though we are not big fans of war history, its impossible not to be impressed by the immensity and significance of this war, to be moved by the sacrifices of the people who fought in it, and to wonder what our country would be like now if it had never happened, or if the outcome had been different.  

We will continue our journey northward for the next two weeks, and I'll be taking a little break from the blog to do some work to prepare for the course I'm teaching this summer. (Can't put it off any longer.) See you in New England.

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