A Visit to Gettysburg National Military Park

Recently I spent the weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and took in the National Military Park. For two days I immersed myself in history and walked part of the battlefield and read primary source accounts. Gettysburg is very sacred ground. In three days in July of 1863 a nation was saved and those who wanted to break away had their fate sealed. My hope is that each person who reads this can travel to Gettysburg one day and process what it means to the national culture and our history.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln November 19, 1863

Pennsylvania Memorial on the Gettysburg Battlefield

Appropriate music for reading this post. 

In many ways I am an individual who loves history. It was my major in college and grad school. When I was moving from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. I was stunned when I saw the off ramp for Antietam. To have studied, read, and consumed all this history and then to have it before you actually gives me chills. As an American I think that there are three key areas where the ground is sacred for our country’s history. One is at Pearl Harbor where 1,177 are entombed forever at the USS Arizona. Also tragically is the the ground where the World Trade Center once stood before being destroyed on September 11, 2001. The Pentagon Memorial and Flight 93 Memorial should also be included. Then there is Gettysburg.  In a small town in Pennsylvania a nation was saved, the Confederacy dealt a massive blow from which it never recovered. Every so often I like to drive up to Gettysburg and spend time at the location. What I do is hang out on the battlefield, see the monuments, pull up primary source accounts on my Android and take it in while on the location. I was in Gettysburg recently and spent the weekend. On a Saturday I went to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and then went to the battlefield. On Sunday I spent the entire day hanging around and exploring the battlefield. In this day and age my firm hope is that people will re-connect with our nation’s history. That they will visit Gettysburg and ask…what does it mean to be an American? What does Gettysburg mean to the United States? I have two assignments for you to do in this post. One is that I would like people who read this to commit to visiting Gettysburg and taking in the experience. That may be hard if you live in differing parts of the United States. But I hope that at some point in your life you can travel there and process Gettysburg. The second is easier. I am going to challenge you to read Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels.” Hands down that is the best books to read about Gettysburg. A historical novel that captures three days in July in 1863 and makes it come alive. Many colleges and universities use it in their Civil War history or American history class. Below are a number of pictures that I took to give you a taste of what you can encounter at Gettysburg. 

 

Gettysburg National Museum and Visitors Center 

What I deeply appreciated about the Gettysburg National Museum and Visitors Center was how it it helped put Gettysburg in perspective. The museum is not just about Gettysburg but the events that led up to it as well. In the displays you learn about the sectional conflict that started to grow. How slavery was view by the south and how crucial it was to their economy. The abolition movement and how the political scene was in Congress as well. Then you get into the Civil War – Fort Sumter, Manassas, Peninsula Campaign, Fredericksburg, Shiloh, Antietam, etc… These are some pictures that I took in the museum. 

Paul Philippoteaux’s cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge.

Some of the cannon balls fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 commencing the Civil War. 

The stretcher that carried a wounded Stonewall Jackson from Chancellorsville.

The sword and hat of Army of the Potomac Commander George Meade

Cannon on display. 

 

The Valley of Death, Little Round Top, Devil’s Den and Josh Chamberlain’s 20th Maine 

The Valley of Death is where much of the fighting happened on the second day of the Gettysburg campaign. When you are on top Little Round Top looking down into the valley, that is where so many casualties took place. The Union held the high ground in Gettysburg and that was an advantage that they had. The Devils Den was in the Valley and looked up at Little Round Top. The Confederates had snipers that attacked and killed Union troops and officers. The Union was positioned in a defensive formation like a fish hook on Little Round top. This took place on July 2, 1863. At the far end of the line existed the 20th Maine as led by Lt. Col Joshua Chamberlain. When the Alabama 15th and 47th regiments attacked The 20th Maine charged to hold the line. From my understanding the pistol that Chamberlain confiscated in the charge is on display in the Maine State Museum

Minnesota Monument at Gettysburg.

From Devil’s Den looking up at Little Round Top.


Another view looking up at Little Round Top.

Looking down into the Valley of Death from Little Round Top. he Devil’s Den is to the left. 

Monument at Little Round Top.

Joshua Chamberlain from the movie Gettybsurg

Historical sign dealing with the 20th Maine

Monument remembering the 20th Maine.

Historical sign for the courage of the 20th Maine 

 

Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863 From Both Sides

On July 3, 1863 an assault commenced in an effort by Robert E. Lee to break the Union lines. Its failure would be a disaster and eventually seal the fate of the Confederacy. After the failed assault the Confederacy’s day would be numbered. Robert E. Lee took responsibility for the charge. One can only wonder what would have happened if Stonewall Jackson were not shot in Chancellorsville. If Jackson were there what would have occurred? Would this be canceled and another offensive operation devised? Lt Gen James Longstreet was opposed to the charge and thought it too risky. There were 6,000 casualties for the Army of Northern Virginia and 1,000 for the Army of the Potomac. The night before the charge George Meade had successfully predicted that Lee would strike in the center and he prepared for that action. 

 

This is the Virginia monument. That is Lee on his horse Traveler. That is where the ill-fated charge began. Ahead of this statue is a field that was crossed that is about a mile long. 

The North Carolina Monument 

Historical sign for Confederate line.

Historical sign for Pickett’s Charge 

The aftermath of the failed assault. 

This is taken from the Union side of Pickett’s Charge. That is George Meade directing the response and holding the line. 

In front of this sign is where some Confederates broke through. This is known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.  After this point it was on its decline. 

The Union side again, taken near the wall which marked the Army of the Potomac. 

 

The Wheatfield 

The Wheatfield was contested on July 2, 1863. The fighting was incredibly fierce and the ground traded hands at least six time between the Union and Confederates. Walking here gave me the chills thinking about the fighting that took place. 

One of the many New York monuments. 

Another New York monument. 

4 thoughts on “A Visit to Gettysburg National Military Park

  1. We visited Gettysburg not too long ago, and more recently Sharpsburg and toured there. I’ve read The Killer Angels as well.

    But in the last few days we had an even more direct connection. Apparently the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, and both Round Tops were all on one family’s farm. And my spouse met someone who is a descendant of that family. Some years back they had a reunion at the old family farmhouse, which is still standing, though owned by the Park Service.

    Growing up in Virginia, and being from an old Virginia family, the Civil War has been something I’ve been frequently aware of. (The area I live in had a winter encampment here, so the trees were all cut down, and there’s still trenches here and there.) And I went to school in Williamsburg, and for a while lived in Jamestown, so I’ve spent years immersed in historical places.

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  2. Been there twice, though 30 years apart. Will go back again, it’s an amazing place. Also not far from the Flight 93 memorial.

    The picture of the Minnesota monument holds quite a story. In many ways what they did saved the battle for the union but isn’t the most popular story. I think they had about 20 min to hold back the advancing confederates before reinforcements came or they’d lose the high ground. They did it with something like an 80% casualty rate. They captured the VA battle flag, and it remains in MN while Virginia constantly asks for it back. The first governor that gives any sort of pause about returning it would likely get run out of the state.

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