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Published: June 13th 2013
After a great ride through more Amish lush green farming country, here we are in Gettysburg. Not what I expected, thought it was a tribute to the rock band "Rush".
First impressions: historic, pretty, spotlessly clean, pleasantly surprised that it wasn't commercialized, still very authentic. The small town remains a living part of history with a population of 7,000.
We had a real history lesson today on what makes the town famous, namely the three bloodiest days of the Civil War battle and Abraham Lincoln's resulting Gettysburg Address. In 3 days, there were 51,000 casualties in a 4 square mile area (see photos). We actually visited the much appreciated air conditioned museum which is situated on the battlefield itself. It is incredibly laid out and very well presented. The tour starts with a powerful video, narrated by Morgan Freeman, that definitely affects you and leaves you slightly sombre. Around the museum, there is an incredible amount of original war memorabilia to look at. Outside on the battlefield, all of the historic sites are maintained by the National Parks Service which keeps it non-commercialized. Fences have been reconstructed, memorials erected. The town built a graveyard in a semicircle, where only
soldiers from the Union states are buried by state. There is a section for Unknown Soldiers. The bodies of all known soldiers from the south were shipped back to the south some 10 years later. It's just so hard to fathom how recent in time this happened - 100 years before I was born.
Today's temperature was 34 and extremely humid. Wet clothes from yesterdays's rain simply won't dry out. With the heat, we were pleased to find a free bus service that transports you to the battlefield and back to downtown, enabling us to leave the bikes parked, and most importantly, allowing us to wear shorts and sandals. We were spoiled with the trip home from dinner, on a downtown pub patio, on the bus which we had to ourselves. The driver was a full time high school history teacher with a Masters in US history driving in the evenings for fun, and it only took one question for him to give us a personal Civil War lesson and 45 minute tour of the area. Truly, we learned so much more even after being at the museum earlier in the day. Thank you driver (sadly we didn't even
get his name).
The most important thing we learned about this battle: it was over shoes. Seriously. The battle wasn't planned for Gettysburg, but an area further north. Soldiers from the south (Confederates) planned to go to Gettysburg to resupply and pilfer what they could, and soldiers from the north (Union) just happened to be in Gettysburg. Any husbands out there can totally understand that somebody getting in the way of shoe shopping could cause a war.
Things that really hit home for us: the battle happened only 150 years ago; so many buildings already erected before the battle withstood the battle and are still standing and inhabited today; trying to imagine a town of 7000 people now being overrun with two armies totalling 160,000 people;
One other thing that blows us away: estimating 4.5 million visitors the first week of July to celebrate the 150th year of Gettysburg battle (July 1-3/1863). Typically, 1.5 million visitors land here annually and the town is packed to capacity. How are they going to handle this year? I'm glad we got a chance to see it today and not 3 weeks from now.
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