(It's been a long time since I studied the Civil War in American History class. I remember who won, a few battles, a few generals. I don't know or care a lot about battle strategy. George currently is reading an 800-page book on it--he'll be glad to talk with you about the Civil War. Remember: this is MY blog so there won't be a lot of history this time.)
We got a bit of a late start that morning (almost noon, George!) so when we got to the Visitor Center, we quickly got tickets for the Cyclorama, Civil War Museum and the Battlefield Tour.
A Cyclorama is a 19th century version of an action movie. This one is a huge (377' in length x 42' high) painting of the battle of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. The painting is mounted around the circumference of the room, inside the building above. You stand on a platform in the center. There's a light and sound show and narration of the battle, so it feels like you're in the middle of the action. You can wander around to look out at different aspects of the painting, which has a remarkable perspective. The foreground just below you has real rocks, cannon and broken fences.
1. One reason so many men died in the Civil War is the way they had to fight. The old black powder ammunition was really smoky, so if you didn't stand shoulder-to-shoulder (literally!) with your unit, you could end up shooting someone on your side (or getting shot by someone on your side). Next to the left flank marker of one unit might be the right marker of another, like in this picture. When you see them together, it really sinks in how close they stood. They all lined up and shot each other across the battlefield.
2. It's better to attack the flank (the side) than the front. (I get this, but if you want to know more, ask George.)
3. NPS has leased out some of the land in the park to farmers, so that--except for the paved roads and monuments--it looks a lot like it did in 1863. Obviously the hills and rocks are still here. A lot of fences, buildings and cannon are where they were then. Gives the imagination a boost, but it's still hard to realize that there might have been 5,000 men lying where you could see them in one of these fields.
4. A lot of time when a monument is placed on a battlefield, it's pointing or looking in the direction of the action. Who knew?
Adjacent to the park is the farm where President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife lived after he retired. It's now a National Historic Site.At Little Round Top, we got out of the bus and walked to a memorial that looks like a castle. Then it was back to the Visitor Center, then back to the RV park.
After the tour, we decided that we'd learned a lot, but didn't have a chance to really absorb Gettysburg. So we went back the next day for the Self-guiding Auto Tour.
McPherson Ridge - The battle began at 8 am beyond the McPherson barn (in the distance). Pretty, isn't it?
There are memorials and monuments everywhere you go. Some are grand and some are small, but all are unique. None are insignificant. Many of them give statistics on how many men were engaged at that location, and the number of casualties (killed, missing, wounded, captured). The percentages are ghastly!
Eternal Light Peace Memorial - 75 years after the war, 1,800 veterans put up this memorial to "Peace Eternal in a Nation United".North Carolina Memorial - The sculptor was the same one who did Mt. Rushmore; the models were descendants of North Carolina veterans.
Virginia Memorial - The top of the monument is a statue of Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveller.
Pitzer Woods - There's an observation tower south of here with a good perspective of much of the battlefield. I like climbing up into the towers, mostly because we still can and the view is great. As long as I've got something to hold on to, the heights don't bother me.
Little Round Top - I posed with living historian Mike Reetz, in the uniform of Brigadier General Horace Porter, Aide-de-Camp to Gen. U.S. Grant. I could see George doing something like this.
Pennsylvania Memorial - Union artillery held the line alone on Cemetery Ridge.
National Cemetery - When the armies marched away from Gettysburg, they left over 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. Pennsylvania Governor arranged for a burial ground for the Union dead. Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address where the Soldiers National Monument is now.
* Why is it called the Civil War? Remember location is everything! Pennsylvania is in Union territory, so it's "Civil War", not "War Between the States" or the totally partisan "War of Northern Aggression".
I've got lots more pictures here: Gettysburg NMP