One of the things that I’ve mentioned in a previous post is my love of history, especially Civil War history. A couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to visit another Civil War Battlefield: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Gettysburg is incredibly moving. The visitor’s center/museum is engaging and immersive, and has made me appreciate how a well-designed exhibit affects how you travel through it. For example, in pieces, with visuals, not a lot of text, and interactive screens. Perhaps you’ve had the “museum fatigue” that I’m thinking of when I type this, where you pay attention and read and absorb a few items of art/history and then your mind just can’t handle any more and you breeze through the rest. This happens to me at all museums, but it took a lot longer to set in at Gettysburg, and I’m sure it was because of the thoughtful way things are laid out.
Anyway, I digress. At the visitor’s center, they also have a movie to orient you, which was very well done, and a diorama—a huge 180 degree oil painting that is about 50 feet high which was painted by someone who visited not long after the battle. It was amazing, but nothing could compare to the actual visit to the land where it all happened. Three days of battle in an idyllic spot in Pennsylvania, dotted with farms and small groves of trees nestled among the rolling hills and rocky outcrops. The day we were there was sunny, but windy and cold—opposite the hot and humid conditions on the battlefield during July of 1863.
Gettysburg was a historic battle in many ways. It was the bloodiest single battle of the war, lasting three days over July 1, 2, and 3rd. It was Lee’s second—and last—invasion of the North, and it was his plan to break the Union once and for all. He hoped for a decisive victory that would end the war, and at the very least, give war-torn Virginia a break. It also allowed Lee’s army to feed itself in the rich farmlands of Maryland and Pennsylvania. His failure there was the turning point of the war and the beginning of the end for the Confederacy, though the war would go on nearly two more years. And who can forget the Gettysburg Address given in November of 1863 by Lincoln as the decimated community of Gettysburg finally reinterred the dead that had been haphazardly buried in fields and orchards in a national cemetery. Lincoln, speaking second, spent less than 10 minutes giving a speech that is considered one of the best ever given. Period.
To experience the battlefield, which is huge, we bought a CD and book set that followed the driving tour. I was a little hesitant at first, but it turned out to be well worth the money. It helped illustrate the battle, especially the final 20 minutes, which we spent looking over the peaceful field where, on July 3rd, 1863, Picket led the doomed charge over open land towards the union line. It was incredibly affecting. There is something about being in a place where momentous things happened that you can’t get from books, movies, or pictures. Standing in a place where Joshua Lawrence’s Chamberlain’s men held off the confederates before they broke the union flank on Little Round Top and probably staved off Union defeat. Sitting on a rocky outcrop in the Devil’s Den where many men perished. Walking along the peach orchard and the field where Picket’s men charged. It’s incredible.
Ok, on to the pictures. I could write about the Civil War all day. Click for more details, as usual.