Chasing Gettysburg's Ghosts
Trip Start Oct 08, 2000
8Trip End Oct 15, 2000
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After Tom finally finished his coffee, we set off for Gettysburg. It was on this drive that I got my first daylight taste of Pennsylvania's highways
Between the late start and the slow going on the highways, it was about 2 p.m when we finally pulled into Gettysburg. By now, we were hungry again. So, our first stop was at The Pub on Lincoln Square in the center of town. The place was decorated with a lot of red, white, and blue bunting, which was a decent attempt to engender a patriotic feeling. But, the food wasn't as great as the decor. Still, it satisified our hunger, and gave us the energy to start our tour.
I had high expectations of what I would derive out of my visit to Gettysburg. To put it simply, I expected Gettysburg to be the highlight of my trip
Despite the fact that it was the middle of October, there were still plenty of tourists (particularly children) in the battlefield museum, which was our first stop. We went inside to look at the exhibits. The museum does contain some very interesting artifacts, like a shell and the roof rafters it pierced. However, many of these artifacts were in displays that were very outdated. Even the building itself had peeling paint and a very dated feel. It was pretty clear that the museum needs some serious renovation in order to make it a more informative and interactive experience for visitors. And, in fact, a new museum was dedicated just a few years after I toured the battlefield.
Our next stop was the cemetery, which is directly across the street from the museum. My first reaction when I entered was "Where’s all the graves?" In fact, there are no graves near the cemetery entrance across from the visitor’s center. Instead, the grounds could be mistaken for a park. There’s a large grandstand, a lot of trees, and immaculately manicured lawns near that entrance. The only indication that there is something different is the monument to the Gettysburg Address. The monument’s location is not where the actual speech took place
About 200 yards north of the Gettysburg Address Monument were the battle’s participant’s graves. The graves are in a semi-circle around the National Soldier’s Monument, which was where the Gettysburg Address was actually delivered. They are identified by concrete rows that arch out around the monument. Many of the rows are inscribed with names. However, there are a few rows that use numbers to identify that a body is resting in the plot just in front of the number. Seeing the numbers was the only time during my visit that invoked a feeling in me similar to the one at Kennesaw Mountain. It seemed incredibly sad that there were people who gave their lives for their beliefs, and yet no one (to this day) knows who they are.
We continued around the graves on the paved loop that runs through the necropolis. Occasionally, we’d stop to take a picture or just look at the names. A lot of other tourists were doing the same thing. I began to notice that there seemed to be an unspoken bond that existed between the cemetery’s visitors. Respect and veneration were the main emotions being shown by the tourists. There were neither screaming children nor obnoxious laughter. Instead, everyone seemed to recognize that they were in a special place that deserved quiet reflection and reverence.
We exited the cemetery through the gate where we entered. We went back to the visitor’s center parking lot to get our car in order to begin the driving tour. By now, it was about 5:15 p.m. We were a little worried, because the brochure we obtained in the Visitor’s Center said that the driving tour would take about two hours and there was only about ninety minutes of sunlight left
We first passed by various monuments that dotted the fields north of town where the battle's first day action took place. We made a stop at the General John Reynolds Monument. Reynolds was the highest ranking Union soldier to die at Gettysburg. The granite obelisk in his honor stands alone in a grove of trees just northwest of the town. It marks the spot where Reynolds was killed. I enjoyed it because it was a simple, yet poignant, reminder of Reynolds’ importance to his troops.
We then drove past the Peace Monument and went south. We drove across Seminary Ridge, which was where the Confederate forces camped during the second and third days of the battle. Naturally, there were a lot of monuments to the Confederate forces along this ridge. The most moving of these was the North Carolina Monument. This memorial, which was sculpted by the same artist that created Mount Rushmore, stands close to the staging area for Pickett’s Charge. The monument’s statues are posed in a way that makes it appear as though they are going to run across the field to the Union forces once again. It conveys a sense of motion and commitment that isn’t found on any of the other monuments in the park.
We parked next to the Virginia Monument, so that I could fulfill a goal of mine: to walk the field where Pickett's Charge took place. By now, it was pretty late in the evening. Still, even though it was getting dark, I still wanted to walk the path. So, we set off for Cemetery Ridge using a narrative I had downloaded off the Internet as a guide. The narrative turned out to be a great reference document for our walk
It was pitch black when we got back to the car. We tried to see the rest of the battlefield (it's open past sunset). But, we couldn't see anything from the road. So, we set off back to Reading. I felt cheated. Thanks to all of our self-inflicted delays, we managed to see only half of the battlefield. On the drive back to Reading, I resolved to find a way to see the other half of the battlefield before I headed back to California.