Sunday, August 21, 2016

Walking on hallowed ground

Roger and I visited Gettysburg yesterday. There is a sacredness to the place that transcends the visitors; the Civil War buffs everywhere; the museum, movie and cyclorama exhibit (which are all excellent, and worth your attention).

I am not one for war strategy; I do not read about or enjoy descriptions of battles. They confuse me and confound me.  But since this is a very small site, with a battle that lasted only three days, and was documented exhaustively by the participants, war correspondents and photographers, there is a great deal known about what was happening where and when. The park brochure has a description of an auto tour that guides a visitor around the park site, stopping at the various places where the armies established their camps, set up their artillery, made their charges, where the fighting occurred, etc. It is quite intense. The exhibits and museum bring these events to life and provide context for the horror that occurred here. I came away convinced that the battle was an awful and a necessary thing for our nation.

If you have never been to Gettysburg, I recommend that you go. It is one of the iconic places in American history. We saw the movie and viewed the cyclorama - a circular painting of the battle field that was produced in the late nineteenth century and recently restored to amazing effect. I have never seen anything that was at once so magnificent and yet so terrible.
A scene from the Cyclorama

The painting is something like 44 feet by 340 feet, displayed in the round
We were getting out of the museum about 5 pm and ran into a crew setting up tables in the lobby of the building. I asked if it was a "friends of Gettysburg" dinner and was told no, it was a wedding reception. This was a surprise to me - if I thought long and hard I do not believe I could ever conceive of a place where I would be less likely to want to celebrate a happy occasion!  Everything about Gettysburg filled me with shock, sorrow and pain. But the tables were dressed with steel blue cloths and silver grey napkins - maybe the couple are Civil War buffs and love the place!
Earl and Alice

Similarly, we wondered about the many people in our campground who seemed to have permanent locations there. Why park your RV here?  There's no lake, no shore. But this morning, when we were packing up our camp, our neighbor wandered over.  He and his wife have an RV and they have left it here for nine years. They come about once a month for a couple of days.  Earl's great grandfather's younger brother was captured after the battle at the wheat field. Earl is interested in the history of the war, and when we asked "haven't you seen everything there is to see after nine years?" he said no - there is so much to learn and discover.

And then there was the couple down the lane from our campsite, who were flying both an American flag (modern) and the Stars and Bars. And I thought, "what's that about?" What does that flag represent for them? Are they declaring their allegiance to the defeated Confederacy? Do they just want others to know they hail from the south? Are they racists? Are they re-enactors who choose to play Confederate roles? It was jarring to me to see the flag here, but I didn't ask what it meant to them.

My favorite moments were spent in the cemetery. The quiet rows and simple stones speak volumes. Here Lincoln delivered his elegant remarks at the dedication of the cemetery.

We rode out this morning through the battlefield, which was quiet and grey in the morning damp. Peace be to all.


  1. I agree, Getteysburg was not at all what I expected when we visited. The cyclorama was amazing but looking out at the battlefields was sad and thought provoking. So small an area for so much violence and loss.

  2. Just curious. How do you secure your bags and such when you go into a place like this? I imagine at a diner, you could still keep an eye your tandem. But here...??


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