I wasn’t sure what to make of all the rolling green fields scattered with angular white military monuments. Thankfully, my cousin Bob was a Civil War history buff and gave us a colored-pen-marks-on-a-napkin breakdown of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Three days of battle
In a nutshell, the Battle of Gettysburg happened by accident. Confederate soldiers arrived in town only to find the Union forces already there.
Over the next three days, they fought. The Union soldiers ended up holding positions along the long ridges of Cemetery Hill, while the Confederates tried to outflank them.
When that didn’t work, on the third day, the Confederates crossed an open field to attack the center of the Union line. Their information and strategy failed. It was a massacre.
Turning point of the Civil War
According to the Gettysburg National Military Park website, “The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the ‘High Water Mark of the Rebellion,’ Gettysburg was the war’s bloodiest battle with 51,000 casualties. It was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal ‘Gettysburg Address.'”
A person could spend days learning about the battle’s strategies, troop movements, artillery, weapons and munitions, but what I found most fascinating was the personal side of the battle highlighted in the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum.
The outraged woman whose horse was stolen by a Reb. The wooden toe tag to identify a dead soldier. Medical equipment. A hand drawn map for a father to find the crude burial site of his fallen son. Hard tack. Tiny bibles. Dice games. Shabby shoes. A photo of three small children that helped eventually identify the fallen soldier.
Men were not the only ones who participated in the battle. Online I ran across information about one named French Mary Tepe. Known as a vivandiere, she took care of nursing, cooking, sewing and laundry.
I was thrilled to discover that the 106th Pennsylvania Infantry Monument had a sculpture by John Walz. Many of his works are located in the Bonaventure Cemetery near my house in Savannah, Georgia.
Timing your visit
I strongly recommend going to the Gettysburg National Military Park on Memorial Day like we did. Not only did it honor the holiday, but there were no crowds. The weather was cool for morning walking around the sites. Some people rode motorcycles, bicycles and Segways. Rangers gave guided tours.
We escaped the mid-day heat by visiting the air conditioned museum and cyclorama. Morgan Freeman narrated the movie that provided an overview of the Civil War. The restaurant had a wide selection of tasty foods. The fastest selling item at the sizable gift shop was fudge.