Gettysburg, 150 years later
Unknown to us, we arrived at Gettysburg, PA as the town was preparing for its 150th commemmoration of the Battle of Gettysburg, running June 28 to July 7. I wanted to come here simply because of the famous Gettysburg address, which Abraham Lincoln delivered in two minutes on Nov 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ Military Cemetery. In my Literature class (not History) many moons ago, memorizing and delivering this address was a requirement. So I really wanted to experience where it was originally delivered. The beginning iconic phrase of the address still rings in my ears and is stuck in my memory, but I now have a better perspective of the emotion and depth of the message of that historic speech.
Fourscore 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…Abraham Lincoln, 1863
On our visit, I got so much more than I came for. I really didn’t know what to expect until I arrived. We have been to some of the Civil War Trails in our journey, where I learned a lot about American history, particularly the Civil War era. But on this stop I felt a profound understanding, education and realization about how pertinent the Gettysburg Address still is today.
We learned that to get a good grasp and understanding of what happened here 150 years ago, one should go to the visitor’s center first. Unfortunately, the center and its parking lot were already jam-packed full when we arrived on our first day, so instead we took the Guided Battlefield Bus Tour. There are several ways to see the battlefield, but we opted for the Licensed Guide Bus Tour. We felt that a self-guided auto tour might be a good option, but with so many people in town the traffic and parking situation was not looking good. Had we known the significance of this weekend we would have arrived at dawn!
Another way to explore the battlefield is by bicycle, and we recommend this option.
The 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg traces the three-day battle in chronological order. The licensed guide offered us a unique perspective into the struggles of the battle. The guide was engaging and knowledgeable, and we could sense his passion and love of his job. Through his narration we visualized and imagined what it was like when he described significant actions during the fighting. He gave us a few minutes to reflect and try to understand what happened here. We highly recommend this bus tour; between it and several hours at the visitor’s center you can come away with quite an education.
Many areas look much as they did in July 1863, though some are more densely covered by trees. And of course now you will see the 1,320 monuments remembering the three-day battle’s 51,000 casualties; 23,000 Union Army and 28,000 Confederate Army. These figures count the dead, injured and lost among them. The peaceful rolling fields pay silent tribute to this tremendous sacrifice.
The well preserve Gettysburg battlefield, a sacred ground, was considered the turning point in the Civil War 150 years ago. It is a very poignant reminder of the bravery of the soldiers on both sides. Below are just a few of the 1,320 monuments, 410 cannon, and plaques within the Gettysburg National Military Park.
We came back again very early on July 1st, hoping to beat the crowd at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. Even though we arrived before it opened, there was already a line ahead of us, which reminded me of the Black Friday shopping lines.
We watched the 25-minute film “A New Birth of Freedom”, which was narrated by Morgan Freeman. It gave us an unforgettable perspective about the Civil War – in other words, I finally got it! The Gettysburg Cyclorama is a sound and light show of the spectacular 377-foot painting by Paul Philippoteaux, depicting Picket’s charge, completed in 1884. It was quite a unique experience, like an IMAX of the late 1880’s where the vast circular painting put us in the middle of the battle. Canon flash effects on the canvas and sounds of the battle all around gave the illusion of movement. There were rocks, weapons and other objects in front of the painting that brought a sense of depth. Very well done!
The movie, the Cyclorama and the museum is well worth the $12.50 entrance fee. We highly recommend this historic park to everyone!
As we headed out of town we saw long lines of cars in the battlefield areas and living historian volunteers preparing for the reenactment of the battles by section.