Gettysburg PA - The Battlefield and Eisenhower's Home


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Published: May 13th 2012
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Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA
Thanks to the tech support guy at Garmin, the drive to Artillery Ridge Campground in Gettysburg PA took me over the route I had imported from MapQuest. Clouds lingered, and there were some brief light sprinkles as I drove but nothing to amount to much. Set-up was uneventful, and the staff at the Artillery Ridge Campground recommended a nice restaurant – Gettysburg Eddie’s. Edward Stewart Plank (Gettysburg Eddie - 1875-1926) was the first left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball to win 200 games, subsequently first to win 300; now ranks third in all-time wins among left-handers with 326 (eleventh among all pitchers); and stands first all-time in career shutouts by a left-handed pitcher with 66. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. How is it that I had not heard of him?

There are lots of tourist traps in Gettysburg PA, but my “to do” list was quite short – the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield and the Dwight David Eisenhower farm. Since I had planned a relatively vigorous schedule between Florida and Gettysburg, I intended this to be a slow, relaxed week of tourism. Wednesday found me at Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center.
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Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA
After asking me a couple of questions, the volunteer at the information desk offered an excellent approach to making the most of my week.

I noticed that Gettysburg is unlike the other battlefield landmarks I have visited in three respects. First, the National Park Service has formed a partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation to preserve land, monuments and artifacts and to rehabilitate the land by returning the battlefield to its 1863 appearance as much as possible. This includes removing tree growth that was not present during the battle and planting orchards where they had been removed. Second, some elements of the battle were conducted in the village itself. I have not seen this before. Last, the battlefield is home to over 1300 monuments and memorials to the men and the units that fought the battle. In many instances, veterans of the battle returned to document the event for historians of the era and numerous markers can be found designating the exact location of artillery and infantry units during specific stages of the battle.

After Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville, he marched his troops north toward Maryland and Pennsylvania. Lee had four objectives of varying importance. First, he was on
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Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA
a supply run. Food stuffs, clothing, horse tack, medicine and about everything else needed to keep an army viable in the mid-1800s were running low. The next reason was political. The Congressional election of 1863 was looming. Many Northerners were becoming war weary, and a Confederate victory might enhance the election of Union politicians less committed to continuing the war. Third, he hoped that, by drawing the Union Army out of its fortifications in Northern Virginia and into the open, he could destroy the force. Last, a victory on northern soil would bolster Confederate credibility and might inspire European leaders to assist the Confederacy with disrupting Union blockades of southern ports and with providing other needed assistance.

By chance, Lee encountered a Union force and engaged in a small skirmish on June 30, 1863, but the actual Battle of Gettysburg did not begin until July 1. The battle escalated throughout the day as more troops for both sides arrived. With the bulk of both armies on location by the morning of July 2, the Confederates attacked both the right and left flanks of the Union front with moderate success but, in the end, were repulsed. On the morning of
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Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA
July 3, Lee changed his tactics and prepped the Union center with a two-hour artillery barrage before launching a 12,000-man assault hoping to break through the line. The attack (Pickett’s Charge) was repulsed, and Lee suffered over 5,000 casualties in one hour. A very good summary of the battle from foundation to aftermath can be found at historynet.com.

The maximum strength of the Union Army at Gettysburg was 85,000 men compared to the Confederate force of approximately 75,000. Union casualties at Gettysburg totaled 23,049 (3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 missing) and for the Confederates 28,063 (3,903 dead, 18,735 injured, and 5,425 missing) - more than a third of Lee’s army. On the morning of July 4, Lee’s withdrawal began as rain fell on the living and the dead in Gettysburg. Cries for help resonated over the ravaged countryside while the wounded lay among 11,000 dead comrades and adversaries and thousands of dead horses.

Caring for the 21,000 wounded taxed the small village of 2,000 people. Almost every building became a hospital of sorts. Doors were taken from their hinges and placed across the backs of church pews to serve as operating tables. Amputated arms and legs were tossed
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Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA
out the church windows for later disposal. Everybody for miles around came to help as best they could. When a local girl asked how she could help, one of the surgeons asked if she would take water to the wounded littering the battlefield. She did. The next day she was asked if she would hold the hand of a soldier while his leg was amputated. She did. She was nine years old. The dead were hastily buried in shallow graves. Dead horses were burned. In time, wild hogs pilfered the shallow graves. Caring for the wounded continued for four months after the combatants had left, and it is said that the stench of rotting flesh emanating from Gettysburg could be smelled as far away as Harrisburg - almost 40 miles distant - until the first frost.

Amazingly, only one civilian life was lost in the battle which besieged the town. Jennie Wade was in the kitchen kneading dough to make bread for the soldiers when a musket ball fired from afar smashed through the door of the house and struck Jennie in the back, killing her instantly. Unbeknownst to Jennie at the time of her death her fiancé, Corporal Johnston H. Skelly of the 87th Pennsylvania, had been wounded and taken prisoner at Winchester on May 13. He died of his wounds on July 12. Like most of the citizens of Gettysburg, most of the buildings survived although many were WIA. Indeed, I had a malt at the Cannon Ball Old Tyme Malt Shop where a projectile remains embedded in the brick face of the building. Several brick houses display pock marks from the cannon fire.

At the Visitor Center, I bought the combo package which includes the museum, two movies, the cyclorama experience and a narrated bus tour of the battlefield highlights. The museum has a multitude of artifacts found on the battlefield and elsewhere, and the movies “We Are Met on a Great Battlefield” and “A New Birth of Freedom” are very well done. The cyclorama is a “theater in the round” with a sound and light show projected in front of a 377-foot wide, 40-foot tall painting of Picket’s Charge completed in 1884 by Paul Philippoteaux. Very impressive. The package provides a great introduction to those of us who have forgotten everything we had learned about Gettysburg and puts the Battle of Gettysburg in the
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Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA
larger context of the Civil War. The two-hour narrated bus tour has three or four stops to disembark for an enhanced explanation of some aspect of the battle. The tour guide was knowledgeable, friendly and receptive to questions.

Everything in the Visitor Center was well done – including my $12.43 lunch of a “heat lamp warm” cheeseburger and fries with a “free refills” fountain drink. Since I couldn’t take my drink into the theater, the museum, the cyclorama or onto the bus; “free refills” was the best joke I had heard all week. Admittedly, I did need one refill to wash down the aforementioned! Looking for the proverbial silver lining, I could take non-flash photographs in the museum and the cyclorama until my memory card was full or my heart content.

The 24-mile self-guided auto tour has 16 tour stops with kiosks at each stop. The park brochure recommends allowing 3 hours. I recommend taking a picnic lunch. Amazingly, the route progresses through the battlefield landmarks pretty much in a sequence that follows the events as they occurred chronologically – Day One, Day Two and Day Three. Along the auto tour, there are nearly 1400 state, regiment, battery
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Gettysburg National Military Park - Gettysburg PA
and brigade monuments as well as monuments to individuals (general officers only). Stone Sentinels has an excellent web site to look at photos of the monuments catalogued by type, state, etc. and has interactive maps of the battlefield to identify the location of any monument. Initially, Union soldiers wanted Confederate monuments banned from the battlefield, but time healed the bitterness. Today, soldiers from all the participating states are recognized although memorials from the Union states are more lavish than those from the south. Understandably and without question the Pennsylvania monument is the largest and most elaborate.

Even after having seen the cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge, I had difficulty envisioning the scene of 12,000 men advancing toward me and my cohorts with malicious intent. If each man took two feet of space in the rank and there were four ranks deep, the line would be over a mile wide. (12,000*2/4=6000) Alternatively, standing at a kiosk on the Confederate side of the field, I had trouble imagining me charging across an open field over a half mile wide like a duck in a carnival shooting gallery. Then, at either kiosk, I tried to imagine the carnage in the aftermath. The screams. The
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Gettysburg National Military Park - Gettysburg PA
cries for help. The feelings of hopelessness for those who were able to retreat unscathed as they heard their neighbors and relatives crying out for help. It is impossible to fully comprehend but sobering to say the least.

I believe it was in my last blog where I complimented the weather. The weather HAD been nice, but Gettysburg offered an entrée of overcast with side orders of chilly wind and drizzle and then a small slice of sunshine for dessert. I ended up driving parts of the auto tour on three different days trying to get at least quasi-good lighting on the monuments. Some monuments face the east and the front got very little light in the afternoon. Some of the monuments are unpretentious whereas others are extravagant. Some are small or moderate, but others are massive. Some are brash; others are subdued. Regardless of size or expense, they all pay homage to those who fought for that in which they believed.

Weather was not the only factor that brought me to the battlefield on multiple occasions. Four ranger-guided walking tours were offered during my week at Gettysburg. I am told the tour number, subject and frequency varies
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Gettysburg National Cemetery - Gettysburg PA
depending on seasonal visitor saturation. I was able to participate in all four presentations. One of the ranger presentations and one of the stops on the auto tour was about a mile toward town from my campground – the Gettysburg National Cemetery. After the battle, most of the killed were buried near where they fell. Graves were marked by the burial details if identification could be made, but those graves could only be temporary. Farmers wanted their fields, pastures and orchards returned to them by the dead. Thousands of families travelled to Gettysburg to claim a loved one. The people of Gettysburg, including attorney David Wills, wanted a fitting burial place for the fallen Union soldiers. Within two years of the battle, about 3,500 Union soldiers were interred in Soldiers' National Cemetery. The southern dead were removed to cemeteries in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia between 1871 and 1873. Most of the Confederate dead were interred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia in a special section set aside specifically for the casualties of Gettysburg.

It was at the dedication of the cemetery on November 19, 1863, some four months after the battle, that President Abraham Lincoln delivered his short but famous Gettysburg Address. David Wills house, where Lincoln stayed the night before the dedication, is one of the tourist traps I mentioned earlier. I saw where Lincoln was born for free so I wasn’t about to pay to see where he slept. I wonder if they’ve washed the sheets yet!!! The train station where Lincoln arrived at Gettysburg is now an information center. The docent on duty was extremely knowledgeable and interesting. Since I was the only visitor at the time, I would have stayed longer but had only fed the parking meter for forty minutes. Several people came in for information during my visit, but – question answered, out the door. I am grateful that I don’t have a schedule or a deadline and that I have the luxury of chatting with a shop keeper, a server or a docent.

The major element about the Battle of Gettysburg that struck me the deepest was the community itself. The populace is proud of the battlefield, cares about its preservation and is interested in conveying the story. They admire their ancestors and the role they played after the able-bodied combatants had left. The participation of the soldiers
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Downtown Gettysburg PA
in the waging of the battle is an experience unto itself; however, their departure signaled the beginning of a battle of a different ilk for the citizens of Adams County. That battle would not last for a mere three days but for months. Caring for the wounded, burying the dead, burning the horses, collecting and disposing of amputated body parts, repairing the buildings and fences, salvaging what was left of the crops – the list could go on just as the people of Gettysburg did. They were a strong lot, and the citizens of Gettysburg have a right to be proud of their heritage.

Throughout my visit, I was plagued by thoughts of the magnitude of the disaster faced by these innocent victims of circumstance. I have been involved in mass casualty incidents where we had to manage the victims until they were evacuated; however, these farmers, bankers, blacksmiths, housewives and, indeed, children had no place to send their victims for treatment. They, with a handful of surgeons left by the Union Army, were the definitive care the victims would receive. Two thousand people were available to deal with (treat or bury) over 40,000 killed and wounded - 24-hours
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Gettysburg National Military Park - Gettysburg PA
a day for week after week after week…. No FEMA, no Salvation Army, no Red Cross, no National Guard. The logistics of such an effort are mindboggling.

In my previous battlefield visits, including Antietam – the bloodiest single day in American history, I have not been exposed to the treatment of the injured or the burial of the dead. The numbers of casualties cited on a kiosk or quoted by a docent are astounding when compared to the population of a modern city, but nobody has ever addressed the aftermath of a major battle like was done at Gettysburg. The information provided by all involved in the Gettysburg experience put a “face” on the numbers that I had never seen before.

The second attraction on my short agenda was the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Dwight David (Ike) Eisenhower was born October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, but when Ike was two years old the family moved to Abilene, Kansas which Eisenhower considered his home town. He was a 1915 graduate of West Point - the class was known as "The Class the Stars Fell On" after 59 of its 164 members achieved the rank of general. Eisenhower and
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Eisenhower National Historic Site - Gettysburg PA
classmate Omar Bradley became 5-star generals. He served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in 1942–43 and the invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45. After retiring from the Army, Eisenhower became President of Columbia University in 1948.

Ike’s first independent command placed him in charge of training tank crews at Camp Colt on the site of Pickett's Charge on the Gettysburg Civil War battleground. He and his wife Mamie loved the area around Gettysburg near where Ike’s ancestors had first settled when they arrived in America. Anticipating retirement, they bought a farm adjacent to the battlefield in 1950. His retirement was delayed after he was elected the 34th President of the United States and served in that office from 1953 until 1961. In 1967, the Eisenhowers donated the farm to the National Park Service with the stipulation they would live there for life. Ike died on March 28, 1969, and Mamie died on November 1, 1979.

The only access to the Eisenhower site is via a shuttle bus that departs the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center. A ticket must be
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Eisenhower National Historic Site - Gettysburg PA
purchased at the visitor center. Departure times are assigned; however, the time you can spend at the attraction is unlimited. The arriving bus is met by a docent who provides a brief overview. Then, a guided tour of the interior of the house is given. Viewing the outbuildings is self-guided. For the most part, the farm buildings are open and accessible; however, non-agricultural buildings - the garage with presidential vehicles, the guest house, the greenhouse, the Secret Service monitoring room, etc. – have a window/windows that provide viewing with varying degrees of quality.

The house is furnished as it was when Mamie Eisenhower occupied it after Ike’s death. Non-flash photography is allowed but in many instances Plexiglas has been erected between the visitor area and the artifacts (yes, I understand to keep wandering hands off the historic pieces) and reflected light from windows spoils the image or lamps or imperfections in the Plexiglas result in a blurry image. At least granting permission is a noble intent! Other than a round sofa and the “wow factor,” there really is nothing particularly interesting about the house. The focus of this National Historic Site is Eisenhower’s avocation – breeding and raising Angus
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Eisenhower National Historic Site - Gettysburg PA
cattle. Even the small museum is replete with artifacts of “non-Ike” memorabilia – a West Point classmate’s helmet, a staff member’s “Ike” jacket and service cap, another classmate’s West Point diploma, etc. I suspected, and the gift shop attendant confirmed, that Eisenhower’s personal artifacts are housed in the Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas.

The Battle of Gettysburg, many would argue, was the turning point in the American Civil War. Justice cannot be done to this attraction in one day. In my opinion, the combo ticket (museum, films, cyclorama, and guided bus tour of the battlefield) is money well-spent and requires the better portion one day. The auto tour of the battlefield requires the better part of another day if one is to stop at the kiosks, read the information and climb the observation towers in an attempt to absorb the character of the battle and if one is to appreciate the somber beauty of the monuments. Two or three ranger presentations will add almost a half day to you visit. One could spend a couple of hours walking around the campuses of Gettysburg College and Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and another couple of hours exploring the historic downtown
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Eisenhower National Historic Site - Gettysburg PA
and frequenting the “tourist traps.” Gettysburg National Military Park is a “must see” in my opinion and requires at least two days or you’ll be cheating yourself. Unfortunately, if something must be deleted from a Gettysburg “To Do” list, I would recommend axing the Eisenhower National Historic Site. It is nice and has the wow factor but is not awe inspiring. Next, I’m off to the Hudson River Valley of southern upstate New York.


Additional photos below
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Various Cannon Ammunition

Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA
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Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA
Waiting To Deliver The Gettysburg Address?Waiting To Deliver The Gettysburg Address?
Waiting To Deliver The Gettysburg Address?

Gettysburg NMP Museum & Visitor Center - Gettysburg PA


16th May 2012

Another great tour and history lesson. I too had never given thought to the aftermath of these battles which the townsfolk had to deal with. Thanks for an eye opening account. Made me pause to be thankful for all of those heroes of the past and present who have fought, died and in other ways contributed so much for our country and for each of us who often forget and take our good life for granted. Thanks and happy, safe traveling.

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