Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Trip - Gettysburg

After our tour around Lancaster County, my mom was feeling tired and not up for the drive to Gettysburg, so I went by myself while she stayed in the motorhome to take a nap with her new Quillow. Scooter also stayed behind to help her nap.

I pulled a muscle in my lower back sometime in the last couple days, and although I woke up this morning with it stiff, the kinks were pretty well worked out by the time I left for Gettysburg. That didn't last. An hour and 45 minutes later, when I got out of my car at the Visitor Center, my back didn't want to let me stand up straight. I couldn't decide if I walked like a very pregnant woman, only without the belly, or like a really old person. Later in the day, I saw a really old man who was walking the same way I was, and I had my answer.

Still, you do what you have to do to see what you want to see...

At the Visitor Center, they had the kinds of displays you'd expect. Weapons used, uniforms worn, summer and winter underwear, and artifacts. More artifacts than seem possible, gathered from the farm where the worst of the fighting had happened. And they have photos.

Just as an example, the caption for the man in the upper right says, "Private John Haverstick, Company 1, 12th New Jersey Infantry--Enlisted at the age of 14. Mustered out June, 1965." The visitor center changes the pictures from time to time.

This display was both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

The main text reads:

After the Battle of Gettysburg, an unidentified dead Union soldier was found holding this picture to his chest.

A few days after the battle, a Gettysburg citizen who had obtained the picture told the story to Dr. J. Francis Bourns of Philadelphia. Bourns acquired the picture and circulated copies to newspapers throughout the North with an appeal to help identify the children's father. The story and picture appeared in many papers and journals. It touched the hearts of many northerners, and the appeal worked. The man was identified by his wife as Orderly Sgt. Amos Humiston, Company C, 154the New York Volunteers.

Dr. Bourns went to Portville, New York, to return the original picture to Mrs. Humiston. The occasion triggered a fund-raising effort for Mrs. Humiston's children and orphans of other deceased Union soldiers. The campaign grew to include the widespread sale of pictures of Humiston's children and of a poem and music written about the incident. With the funds the Orphan's Home of Gettysburg was established in 1866. Mrs. Humiston and her children moved to the home where she became a member of the staff.

I watched the Electric Map, which is over 60 years old and shows, with different colored lights and an audio recording, the troop movements and important landmarks of the three-day battle. After that I crossed the street to the cemetary.

The cemetary has more than just Gettysburg's dead buried here. These gravestones mark primarily World War II veterans. And not far from them is a monument to President Lincoln, about 200 yards away from the site where he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Monuments are everywhere along the Auto Tour of the battlefield. This one marks the place where Major Gen. John F. Reynolds fell in battle on July 1, 1863, the first day of fighting at Gettysburg.

I've read the book, The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara (out of pique when a couple guys at work said it was "a man's book"), and then watched the movie, Gettysburg, which is based on the book. It helps to watch the movie after you've read the book, because the emotions from the book come in to flesh out what movie-making can't capture. As I made my way along the Auto Tour route, stopping at markers with familiar names like Hill and Ewell and Longstreet, or crossing roads named Taneytown or Emmettsburg, I felt the desire to read the book again and soak in the lives of the men who made their marks on this stretch of ground. But my book is at home.

Two stories are the most memorable, to me anyway. The first is the defense of the end of the Union line on Little Round Top, by the 20th Maine, on July 2, 1863. They were led by Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain, a professor at Bowdoin College before joining the Union Army. Here is where they fought and where Chamberlain ordered a charge with bayonets, after all their ammunition was gone. Their bayonet charge ended the Confederates' flanking assault on the 20th Maine's position.

The second story is that of Pickett's Charge, on July 3, 1863, the attack that decimated Gen. Robert E. Lee's army. Pickett's division was to cross this field, about a mile of marching with fences to scramble over, all while under artillery fire from the Union troops. They were to make their way to the clump of trees on the right and destroy the enemy position there. Instead they were mowed down, and after the battle, when Gen. Lee asked Pickett the status of his division, Pickett made the famous reply, "General, I have no division..."

After seeing these two locations (Pickett's Charge comes before Little Round Top on the Auto Tour), I drove back to Lancaster, wishing we had brought the movie with us on our trip.


All_I_Can_Stands said...

The thing you did not get to see is an aerial view of the battlefield from a tower that used to be there. Some historical purist group got the support of the Clinton Administration to tear down the tower.

I am happy to say I saw the view before the tower was torn down and it was worth seeing from there. I won't get to see it again. Thanks Bill.

janice said...

A trip to Gettysburg is always sobering experience. Our family loves to go during the reenactment but it gets really crowded.

I agree with AICS, the tower gave you a great view. We would climb it every year we visited until it was demolished. It was a shame.

SkyePuppy said...


I'm not sure I would have climbed the tower, with the way my back was bothering me (every time I got in the car, I had to hoist up my left leg with my hands to get it inside). There's a spot, I think near the first day's fighting, where they have a scaffolding-looking observation tower (I'm sure it's historically pure) you can climb up, but I didn't go up that one.

Have you read the book (The Killer Angels)? I bought Jeff Shaara's (Michael's son) prequel & sequel books, Gods & Generals and The Last Full Measure, and loved them, though not quite as much as the Killer Angels. I recommend them highly.

janice said...

My husband has read them many times.

He also loved the trilogy by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen (Gettysburg, Grant Comes East and Never Call Retreat). Those are also highly recommended.