For three days, from July 2 – July 4, 1863, the most famous battle of the Civil War was fought near the quiet town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This battle became the turning point of the War as prior to Gettysburg, the South had seen many victories. The Confederate Army arrived with 75,000 troops and the Union Army had 95,000 troops. There were more casualties here, 51,000, than at any other Civil War battle. The photo below is from the Visitor Center and is just a small part of the “Faces of Battle” photographic wall display of casualties.
Visiting Gettysburg is no small feat as there is a lot to see here. To experience the most of it you need two full days or more. Just visiting the museum and Visitor Center took me at least four hours. The bulk of time is needed to complete the battlefield auto tour which is 24 miles and has 16 stops. There is also the National Cemetery and the town of Gettysburg with a number of historic points of interest. Touring the battlefield auto route can be done several ways: Guided bus tour, hiring a licensed guide to ride in your car with you, purchasing a CD auto tour guide or just winging it on your own. I was surprised to find that there are licensed Gettysburg Battlefield guides that have to pass a written and oral test and attend a training seminar. Since 1915, more than 572 people have completed the testing. I went on a bus tour with one of the guides and she was quite knowledgeable, informative and entertaining. Mark and I decided to buy the CD auto tour guide which greatly helped us understand the different stops and provided interesting background information.
Since so much happened at Gettysburg it is too difficult to write about all the events so I thought I would share a few of our favorite stops. During one of our outings Matt and Emma were also able to join us and since we had already toured with the CDs, we got to play amateur tour guide and show them around a little. I will also say that Mark has done a lot of reading about the Civil War, which was certainly helpful for me in trying to understand the complexities of what happened here. In the picture above, Mark, Matt and Emma look out on the fields where the first day’s battle was fought. The National Park Service has done a great job of managing the park and has kept it as it was during the time period. This involved cutting down trees that weren’t there before and reestablishing fences that designated farm fields and aided in the movement of troops.
Gettysburg is full of an incredible number of memorials, monuments and markers – 1,328 in total. Of course we couldn’t stop to read all or even a small part of them, but some are not to be missed. In the picture above, Matt and Emma hang out at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial which was dedicated on July 3, 1938 as one part of the ceremonies for the 75th anniversary of the battle. I thought the neatest thing about the dedication which was attended by over 250,000 people was the number of Civil War veterans. Over 1,800 were able to attend and all of them would have had to be at least in their 90’s!
I am not a fan of war films but Mark and I are big fans of the Gettysburg movie which came out in 1993 and was filmed here. For those that have not seen it, it is an excellent portrayal of the battle with marvelous actors that look so similar to the characters they portray. So, it was a thrill to finally see the places so vividly portrayed in the movie. Mark was most looking forward to seeing the field where General Pickett of the Confederate Army led his infamous charge on the third day, resulting in the defeat of the Confederates. 12,000 men moved in a battle line a mile long through this field pictured above. When the men returned from their defeat, Commanding General Lee was there to share their sorrow stating that it was, “all his fault.”
In my opinion, Little Round Top, the location of the second day’s battle is the most beautiful part of the park. It has a great setting on a rocky hill with wonderful views. This is also the setting for my favorite part of the Gettysburg movie. It was here in the woods that the volunteers of the 20th Maine with 358 men held their ground against a division of Alabama infantry. When the Maine soldiers were out of ammunition, their Commander, Colonel Chamberlain ordered that they use bayonets and charge down through the woods to confront the advancing Alabama troops. Their charge was successful and the 20th Maine was seen as one of the more heroic units of the battle with a monument erected to them on the ground that they held. Colonel Chamberlain is my favorite figure in the movie and I have watched this particular scene a number of times.
Another interesting spot known as Devil’s Den, a rocky area with large boulders that saw heavy fighting. This was the setting of one of the most famous historic photographs, taken after three days of battle. The historic photo showed a dead Confederate soldier with his rifle propped against a rock wall. Although it looked realistic, it was discovered later that the photo was staged with the body moved here and placed into position as a sharpshooter. Below is a photo of the area today along with a signboard describing the historic photo.
The road that runs along Cemetery Ridge is full of monuments and markers as here was the final and most intense battle. In the picture below, Mark and Matt check out one of the many cannons that can be found throughout the battlefield. It was here that the Union cannons were placed to defend against the advancing Confederate Army during Pickett’s Charge. We had seen the view of this battlefield from the Confederate side earlier on our auto tour route and were now seeing the view from the Union side.
My favorite figure from the Confederate Army, General Lewis Armistead led his brigade to this spot called “The Angle,” pictured below. I walked across the rock wall and looked out over the fields, trying to imagine what it must have been like that fateful day. After a mile long march through a great deal of cannon fire, Armistead’s troops made it so close, but after crossing the wall met Union forces and were overwhelmed. Armistead was killed along with hundreds of his men either wounded or killed.
I will close with a photo of the Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest monument at Gettysburg. It was dedicated on September 27, 1910 and listed on the base are the names of each of the 34,530 Pennsylvania soldiers who participated in the battle.
As always, thanks for checking in! In the next blog I will write about the town of Gettysburg and how they were affected by this battle.