Saturday, September 21, 2013

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

When Gramma and Grampa told the twins they could pick a location for a special trip this summer, the boys chorused "Gettysburg!"  They've been slightly obsessed with the movie, and I can't say I blame them, it's a great flick.  It's based on a fantastic and highly accurate historical novel called The Killer Angels.  Even if you don't care for military history, you'd probably like both, they are that good.  If you plan on going to Gettysburg, do yourself a favor and check one or both out beforehand.

So it was wagons east for them.  Their younger sister tagged along quite willingly when she heard she could get another Junior Ranger Badge.

Entrance to Gettysburg National Military Park is free, but it costs $12.50 for adults and $8.50 for kids 6-12 to get into the museum and visitor's center, which is worth it.  You can get a buck off if you are AAA, military, or a seasoned citizen.  There are also group rates if you have more than 16 people with you.  The National Park Pass does not get you in here, it's one of the few exceptions.  If you want, you can pony up for a tour guide to ride with you in the car for a couple hours, but if so, they recommend reserving several days in advance.  There are also several walking tours you can go on, but you have to check the ranger schedule and show up early.  March-September you can get on one of the bus tours, again, get there early or reserve ahead.  All that failing, you can drive around on your own with maps and an audio tour from the center.  Biking is allowed on the designated paths and roads only.

The battlefield cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln with the famous Gettysburg Address lies just to the northwest of the visitor's center.   The town has some historical sites and homes as well.  You can coordinate your visit with the battle's anniversary (July 1-3) for extra fun and events.  This past summer was the 150th anniversary.

So I wasn't there this time, it's been 17 years for me.  I only have their pictures and my memory.  Well, I have their memories, but they are probably less reliable than my own.

Getting a history lesson from Grampa on Pickett's Charge.

General George Pickett was only one of several generals involved in the charge that bears his name.  It began on the morning of the last day across long, sloping, open ground over a mile long.  Even under heavy artillery and rifle fire, many Confederates still managed to make it to their objective, but by then the ranks were more than decimated.  Many historians fault the split-rail fence across the middle of the field for delaying the advance's progress just long enough to incur a balance-tipping number of casualties.

One thing is for sure, as General Robert E. Lee came across General Pickett wandering among the stragglers in retreat, he chastised Pickett to "look to [his] division."   Pickett reportedly burst into tears and cried, "Sir, I have no division!"  Apparently General Lee, who had seen his army perform miracles and hoped to end the war with a final crushing victory deep in Union territory, had expected one miracle too many.  The Confederates would never again prevail in a sizable battle they weren't forced to withdraw from soon after, and the war dragged on for another two years.

There are several monuments for regiments around the battle field.  Most were built by veterans and historical societies of the areas the units were from.

Some monuments were bigger than others.

Reading about Little Round Top, the site of some of the most dramatic fighting of the battle:

Brigadier General G.K. Warren's monument stands on the top of the hill.  His deployment of troops all the way down to Little Round Top prevented the Union from being flanked on the south end.  The commander of the regiment at the end of the line, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 20th Maine, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for the actions he took in holding the line under several successive waves of attacking Confederates.  The movie does a great job detailing the fight.

After a long day of fighting, which had come on the heels of several straight days of marching, the 20th Maine was down to less than 15% strength, having already lost half their men at Fredricksburg a few months before.  When reinforcements arrived on Little Round Top, Chamberlain's exhausted men were sent to what was considered the safest place on the line so they could rest - the center of the Union line.  In a twist of irony, the four divisions of Pickett's Charge aimed to converge on that very spot the next morning.

This is the legendary "Devil's Den," where some of the fiercest fighting occurred.  Neither side could gain an advantage long enough to keep it.

Natalie's is wearing her junior ranger vest we bought at Dinosaur National Monument.

Gettysburg is kind of in the middle of nowhere, though due to the history there are plenty of hotels and restaurants around to support the tourism.  Washington D.C. is not too far south, and the large Maryland cities of Hagerstown and Frederick lie on I-270 on the way.

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