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Another Adventure Day

Tuesday morning I woke up knowing I was going to do something fun and interesting and after an hour or so of debate and planning, Wayne and I got in the car and headed for Gettysburg.   I'd previously been to the outlet mall there.  I'd driven past on the highway, but never explored the historical town or the battlefield.  I knew it is considered the most haunted place in America.

The Battle of Gettysburg took place over three days in 1863-- July first through the third.  It is the battle with the largest number of casualties in the Civil War and is considered to be the turning point, where the Confederacy began to lose.

From Wikipedia: 
The two armies began to collide at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, as Lee urgently concentrated his forces there. Low ridges to the northwest of town were defended initially by a Union cavalry division, which was soon reinforced with two corps of Union infantry. However, two large Confederate corps assaulted them from the northwest and north, collapsing the hastily developed Union lines, sending the defenders retreating through the streets of town to the hills just to the south.

On the second day of battle, most of both armies had assembled. The Union line was laid out in a defensive formation resembling a fishhook. Lee launched a heavy assault on the Union left flank, and fierce fighting raged at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, and the Peach Orchard. On the Union right, demonstrations escalated into full-scale assaults on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. Across the battlefield, despite significant losses, the Union defenders held their lines.

On the third day of battle, July 3, fighting resumed on Culp's Hill, and cavalry battles raged to the east and south, but the main event was a dramatic infantry assault by 12,500 Confederates against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Pickett's Charge was repulsed by Union rifle and artillery fire at great losses to the Confederate army. Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia. Between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were casualties in the three-day battle. That November, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

Union casualties were 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured or missing). Confederate casualties are more difficult to estimate but a document put together in 2005 estimate 23,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured or missing). The casualties for both sides during the entire campaign were 57,225. There was one documented civilian death during the battle: Jennie Wade, 20 years old, was shot by a stray bullet that passed through her kitchen in town while she was making bread.

Nearly 8,000 men-- a term I used loosely as the South had some enlisted boys as young as twelve years old-- had been killed outright; these bodies were left lying where they fell, in the hot summer sun.  Over 3,000 horse carcasses were burned in a series of piles south of town; townsfolk became violently ill from the stench. In the evening of July 3, 1863 there were torrential rains in Gettysburg.  The rain washed bodies into the creek.  The people of Gettysburg became ill because of the blood and decaying bodies polluted their water supplies. The ravages of war would still be evident in Gettysburg more than four months later when, on November 19, the Soldiers' National Cemetery was dedicated. During this ceremony, President Abraham Lincoln with his Gettysburg Address and re-dedicated the Union to the war effort.

Today, Gettysburg is a strange town.  It is a modern and normal city, filled with people going about their day-to-day lives in 2008, seemingly oblivious to the history and magnitude of where they live.  There are fast food restaurants and internet cafes.  It's difficult to find a parking spot.  Then there's the ghoulish side of things-- two groups of people trying to capitalize on the history.  The first cater to the Civil War Buffs, the re-enactors, school groups, etc.  There's a US Park Service-run museum and visitor center that just moved to a brand new building on the edge of the battlefield.  There's a Hall of Presidents, presumably with wax replicas.  There are numerous old-time photographers, tee shirt and souvenir stores, bus tours of the area and hotels.  The other group of entrepreneurs focus on Gettysburg's reputation as the most haunted place in America and there are literally, at least, ten different companies offering "ghost tours."  I can think of three different "authors" who sell multiple volumes of slim folded "books" full of ghost stories about Gettysburg. The paranormal trade is as big as the historical, though that wasn't always the case.

While we were there, there were film crews at the monument to PA soldiers setting up lighting for a huge event this Friday when the Travel Channel's show Most Haunted will be doing a seven-hour live broadcast from Gettysburg.

We started at the Visitors Center and Museum but didn't really do anything there except grab a map. The battlefield area is something like 6000 acres and my recollection of how the battle played out was kind of rusty but I knew of the names of a few locations I wanted to see, Devil's Den, Triangular Field, the "High Water Mark."  

We followed the route of the car tour through the fields and took a good deal of photos.  The battlefield area isn't just a flat field, it's a hilly mountainous area rife with huge rocks.  There are densely wooded areas with big red and white signs prohibiting "relic hunting."  Strangest of all, to me, is that hundreds of marble monuments dot the area-- not all in neat little rows either.  Some are deep in the woods, some in the middle of fields. 

In the parking area next to Devil's Den we saw something absolutely horrific that disgusted the both of us...


Ugh... really, I can't believe you'd advertise an attitude like that.

We climbed up the rocks and walked over and around them.  We stared across the valley, the area known as "the Slaughter Pen" toward Little Round Top.  The strangest thing about being on the battlefield is how quiet it is there.  There were other people roaming over the rocks with us and walking around.  There were no animal or bug sounds, only an occasional call of a bird.  People seem to be fairly respectful and quiet.  The only human noise while we were at Devil's Den was a woman a little older than me yelling at her little girl of about 5 or so how cool it was to be there and to be careful. It was jarring and out of place.  We also stopped at the Wheat Field and then headed over to the National Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.   We walked among the sweeping curves along the ground that mark the graves. 

From there we went to dinner in the historic Dobbin House, built in 1776, the oldest standing structure in Gettysburg. It was the first stop on the Underground Railroad north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Like all other buildings in Gettysburg, it served as a field hospital and morgue during and after the battle.  The Dobbin House restaurant is fancier than our grubby jeans would allow, so we ate at the Springhouse Tavern, located in the basement of the house, lit entirely by candlelight.  It was tasty and cute. 

We had some time before our ghost tour started at 7:30 so we walked a little on Steinwehr Avenue.  We popped into Kilwin's Chocolate and Fudge and sampled some of their toffee popcorn and bought some turtles. 

The ghost tour was fun but a little light on content and high on the cheesiness.

From there we went back to the battlefield.  In the dark.  Alone.  It was creepy and eerie and strange.  Then we drove home.  Pictures to follow



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 9th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
Wow, I haven't even seen any bumper stickers like that around here, and I've heard that Central Florida is +14 for McCain!
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC)
I just read of HuffPo that Florida as a whole is leaning toward Obama. Must be Sarah Silverman's Great Schlep.
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, Florida overall is leaning Obama, partially because he is up by like 22 in the Miami area, which is more populous than Orlando also.
Oct. 9th, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)
It's been years since I was at Gettysburg but I was deeply moved by it. I've been to a lot of Civil War sites and battlegrounds because my father has an interest in the Civil War (though he's not a nut about it and he's not a re-enactor or anything of the sort, he just reads a lot of books and enjoys visiting historic places.) Anyway, of all the places we visited Gettysburg had the biggest impact on me.
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
I learned about it in school but I don't think I ever really thought about it too much or understood more than that it was the turning point in the war. I've been reading eyewitness accounts now, like the one by Tillie Pierce and it really brings home how awful things were after those three days.
Oct. 9th, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
Oh I so want to go there! This is incredibly interesting to me. I love history!!! I can't wait for the pictures...
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
I'm working on them now.
Oct. 9th, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
Man, I love your adventures! Your kids (I know they didn't go on this day, but usually) are learning so much.

Ugh... really, I can't believe you'd advertise an attitude like that. Ugh, yeah.
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:18 pm (UTC)
I wish I had thought to grab the eyeliner out of my purse and write "Obama 08" across his windows.
Oct. 10th, 2008 02:22 am (UTC)
Hmm...in New Orleans I once saw a tattoo on a girl similar to those bumper stickers.

Overall, it sounds like a nice trip.
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:14 pm (UTC)
It was a really nice day. Now I just have to get the photos uploaded.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )