It still strikes you to see this symbol of separation.
It's been a sobering day at Gettysburg. Unlike July 1863 it's been cool and rainy but somehow this weather fits the sense of the place well. As we drove up from Steve's parents outside Baltimore this morning, when we passed from Maryland to Pennsylvania we were met with a sign telling us we were crossing the Mason-Dixon line - our first reminder of the war that nearly brought our country to ruin. Driving along the country highway the 19th century houses crowd to the edge of the road and you can imagine what the dusty dirt road was like when the Union Army was hurrying along to Gettysburg - many of these home witnessed that very trek. Of course, we had to have the appropriate music for this start to our road trip and so the soundtrack to the film "Gettysburg" accompanied us on our drive.
There's a wonderful new visitor's center at Gettysburg, including a moving film and a wonderfully restored late 19th century diorama of the battlefield. The exhibits are moving and create a strong sense of the individualism of war - battles are fought by a collection of individuals, and this museum captures that pathos well. One
Our marvelous guide
John Krepps, our battlefield guide, was marvelous and informative.
quote particularly caught my mind, written by New York Times correspondent Samuel Wilkerson, reporting on the death of his son Bayard...
"Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendingly important interest - the dead body of an oldest born?"
We spent the afternoon with our marvelous guide John Krepps, who took us through the world of Gettysburg during those three days in July 1963 in three hours. John is a trained battlefield guide and kept us engaged with his broad and deep knowledge of the battle in a thoughtful and entertaining way. You could sense his passion and excitement about the battlefield and even for me, the inveterate questioner, he had an answer to everything I queried him about.
The area of the fighting ground was larger than I expected and as we drove over it you could appreciate the distances that the troops, often hot and exhausted, had to move through the three days. At one point the Confederate battle line snaked 5 miles across the battlefield. John took us through the three days of battle, nearly hour by hour, driving through each area, stopping
Little Round Top
Taken from Devil's Den - Maine's contribution to the war effort...
to engage us in conversation, educating us about the minutiae of battle, and making the whole experience come alive. At one point we drove along the Confederate battle line and you could see across to Cemetery Ridge...and then later on at Cemetery Ridge looked back on the battle line, from where Pickett's famous charge was launched. You think about what must have been in the hearts and minds of the soldiers on both sides...the young Confederate infantrymen who bravely stepped out across the field toward Cemetery Ridge, knowing they were facing the long line of Union cannon and then the Union soldiers watching the long grey line advancing and waiting, waiting until they could take their shots. Little Round Top and its view down onto Devil's Den, the national cemetery with rows of gravestones where Lincoln gave his immortal speech, the buildings in the town in which you can still see the pockmarks from bullets and shells, the wheatfield on which it was said you could walk across without ever touching ground, over the bodies of the fallen. The battlefield stretches as far as you can see and in my mind's eye I kept seeing begrimed young men, uncertain, hot,
Picketts' Charge from the Union lines
Imagine seeing the long line of grey approaching across the plain.
tired, going to war...and a war that no one yet knew where it was leading. 150,000 soldiers and 51,000 casualties - we cannot imagine such a price to pay today. On the field in Gettysburg were more soldiers than have served in Iraq at any one time.
On a day like today I think a lot about honor, duty, courage, war...and its consequences. I'm a child of the Vietnam generation and its conflicted sense of war. The years of the Civil War were a different time with different mores and beliefs and yet the intensity of the pain that is palpable here in Gettysburg is overarching. This is a war that nearly tore our nation apart and yet, as the sign in the museum says...
'Americans fought one another over three fundamental issues: the survival of the Union, the fate of slavery, and the common rights of citizenship - what it means to be an American. The war resolved the first two issues. The nation struggles with the third to this day."
We do struggle with this basic question of what it means to be an American today in even more difficult ways. Today at Gettysburg we
Cemetery Hill from the Confederate lines
What would have been in your heart and mind if you had been here on July 3, 1863?
encountered a time and place in which these basic questions cost the lives of thousands of young men...and ensured that we as a nation would continue to be able to debate this question.
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