Tuesday June 19 - We arrived in Gettysburg, set up, and then drove into town to see it and buy groceries.
On Wednesday morning we viewed the diorama that the campground had on site. The diorama was a large layout of the battlefield, with lights in strategic places to indicate troop positions. This was in a small theater-like setting. The lights were dimmed, and there was a narration of what happened, starting when troops of the two armies met each other on the west side of town. This covered the three days of the battle. We thought this was a good way to get an overview of the battle. This campground is unusual in that it has a riding stable on site, and people can sign up for a tour of one of the battlefields while riding a horse. There are also stables and pens for those who want to camp with their horses. I can't imagine that anyone actually chooses to go camping and decides to bring their horse, but we've seen stranger things.
On Wednesday afternoon, we went to the Visitor's Center to see what was available for learning about the battle. It was not difficult to find a parking place although there were many people there. Tom remembered that he had seen a diorama of sorts when he was on a Senior Trip to Gettysburg in 1961. We found it at the Visitor's Center. It is called the Electric Map, and it is set up in a large room rimmed with spectator-type seats surrounding a huge flat topographical-looking map, with North, South, East, and West sides.
During the narrative, different colored (blue for the North and red for the South) small light bulbs were lit wherever the North and South forces met. There were other colored bulbs for other points of interest. This gave us a clearer overview of the 3 days than we had seen at the campground diorama. Afterwards, we wandered around the Visitor's Center, looking at the artifacts and the books in the gift shop - of course we bought one!
Gail had picked up a brochure about the Boyd's Bear Company and thought that it would be interesting to see how the bears were made, so we went looking for the Headquarters. We found the Headquarters, but the stuffed bears and other animals turn out to be made in China (surprise, surprise). It is possible to make your own bear here, but only if you want to buy it. The headquarters was a HUGE red barn filled with thousands of stuffed bears and other animals and the resin-made animal statues that Boyd's Bears is famous for. Since we didn't see anything that we needed, or wanted, we did a walk-a-bout and then went home.
On Thursday morning we attended a 1-hour Park Ranger narrative on the first day of Battle, which was July 1, 1963. We met at the Peace Light Memorial
, near where the first day's action took place. This was more meaningful to us than just reading books or looking at maps.
On Thursday afternoon we met with another Ranger to review the important events of day two of the battle. The battlefield was not just in one field or place near Gettysburg. The battlefield was in and around Gettysburg for probably 4-5 miles to the south. They are currently in the process of making the fields and grounds of the battles look like they did in 1863. This has meant that trees have been cut down where they weren't or trees planted where there were trees in 1863. Mostly, the rock walls and wooden fences that surround the fields and yards were actually there in 1863; in some cases these have been reconstructed.
On Friday morning we met again at the Visitor's Center, which is near where the fighting occurred on Day Three. This was the last and most decisive of the battles and the one where the most men were killed. T
hat afternoon, we went to downtown Gettysburg and went on a guided tour of the town itself.
This was a town that was somewhat prepared for a battle in that they had sent their children, their livestock, their money and their whiskey out of town. They were not prepared for the enormous number of casualties, and women and young girls were suddenly turned into nurses for the wounded and dying. We were the only ones who met with the guide, which was neat, and he escorted us around the downtown, telling us stories of what happened where. One of the first things that the guide showed us was a lifesize statue of Lincoln. He was about 6'3" tall. The artist used actual plaster moldings of Lincon's face and hands.
Another interesting facet of the battlefield is the large number of monuments and statues that one sees in every direction. Many are monuments honoring the various battalions/companies that fought in the Battle. Most of these have been built and placed by individual states from which these battalions/companies came. There are also quite a few monuments to the different generals leading the battles, although the only Southern general that has a monument is General Lee, while all of the various Northern Generals had a monument. The largest monument of all, and quite handsome, was the monument to the Pennsylvania soldiers who fought in the Battle.
There is no way to write about everything that we learned about the battle. There are hundreds, of books written about the Battle of Gettysburg, about the individual days of battle, about the tactics used, about the people involved. In summary, both the Federal army under Meade and the Confederate army under Lee lost about an equal number of men over those three terrible days. There were a total of over 50,000 casualties during the 3 days of the Battle. Lee's objective was to defeat Meade's army in the North, leaving Washington, D. C. unprotected. Lee felt that, at that point, the North would sue for peace since there were many in the North who were already tired of the war and were pressing Lincoln to end it. Lee was not able to do defeat Meade, however, and he could not afford to lose as many men as he did. However, the war would continue on for another year in the East and longer in the West.
Gettysburg today is large town that looks in many ways as it did in the 1860's. Houses and storefronts come almost to the street. In the middle of town, there is a round-a-bout that is called either a diamond or a square by the natives. There are nine or ten roads leading to/from Gettysburg like the spokes of a wheel. Surrounding the town on the north, south, and west are the fields where the Battle of Gettysburg took place.
On Saturday, we went downtown for lunch at a restaurant that was in a building that was built before the battle started. There are still quite a few bricks damaged by the bullets from the battle as Lee's army pushed the Army of the Potomac through and out of town.
The menu suggested several dishes and drinks that were available also in the 1860's such as "Game Pie" and "Sparkling Cider".
There was a book store next to the restaurant, also in an historic building. Almost all of the books dealt with Civil War subjects, including Lincoln. So, again, we had to buy a few.
Tom was already reading a one volume history of the Civil War "This Hallowed Ground", and now has started on a historical Pulitzer Prizewinning novel that covered the time of Gettysburg, "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. This same author also wrote "Gods and Generals" which was made into a movie. We are now more knowledgeable about the Battle, but still felt compelled to buy "The Idiot's Guide to the Civil War".
We didn't do anything exciting on Sunday or Monday. We needed to catch up on mundane household stuff like cleaning, laundry, and food shopping.
It was very interesting getting immersed in history, and it was emotional to stand in the places that thousands of men battled, and then died, for ideals they believed in. If any of you have ever visited Hawaii, it was much the same feeling as the one we had while visiting the Battleship Arizona Memorial. We felt humbled that these men had died for our country in this very place.
A new Visitor's Center is being constructed and is scheduled to open in late June 2008. Supposedly, they will have many more displays and artifacts and more technological bells and whistles. According to a Ranger, However, there are no plans to move the Electric Map to the new center, although it's the one display that gives visitors an overview of the whole of the battle. The Cyclorama, which has been displayed for many years in its own building, is closed this year and is being cleaned and moved to the new Center.
As a Southerner (Gail speaking here), I had to step back from my upbringing and listen to what happened on the battlefields according to the opinions of the Park Rangers and Guides, all Northerners. There are no Southerners in the National Cemetery here; they were returned to the South, probably Richmond, VA, to be mostly buried in a mass grave.
On Tuesday, we left for the Thousand Trails campground in Lebanon, PA, about 15 miles east of Hershey. We had hoped to stay there for our allowed 2 weeks (then you have to be out of a Thousand Trails Park for 7 days), but had not remembered that July 4th was approaching. The Park was booked solid for the week of the fourth, so we had to settle for only 3 free days. On Friday the 29th, we'll move to a campground in Intercourse, PA named "Beacon Hill", near Lancaster, PA. Gail had to call quite a few other campgrounds before we found one that wasn't booked up the week of the fourth.
Until next time,
Tom and Gail