A visit to the Gettysburg National Military Park is at the same time overwhelming and disturbing. Trudging through the very same ground where thousands of young men fought and died for a cause that we still, tragically, fight for today–the equality of all people–was profoundly moving.
There are many options for touring the monument, which takes up nearly all of the countryside surrounding the small town of Gettysburg and much of the town itself, including a rented ranger guide that rides in your vehicle, a biking, hiking, or Segway tour, and a number of videos in their large theater. We opted for the self-guided driving tour through the site.
The driving tour was generally a chronological timeline through the events of the three-day battle at Gettysburg during the Civil War, starting with Robert E. Lee’s Confederate march into the hills to the northwest of town on July 1, 1863. It is easy to imagine the thousands of soldiers awaiting battle at opposite ends of this open field, which has been kept in its wartime condition.
The next two days of battles saw the Union Army, under command of General George Meade, in full defensive position through round after round of Confederate attacks in the wheat field and peach orchard. Atop the nearby Little Round Top, a small hill that would prove to be of strategic importance, the Union Army held back several advances of Confederates advancing through what is now known as the Devil’s Den, a low-lying, rocky area where thousands of Confederates lost their lives.
Walking through Devil’s Den and looking up at Little Round Top gives an eerie feeling.
On the final day of battle, General Lee, believing his army to be unbeatable, gave the order to attack in what is now known as Pickett’s Charge across the Codori Farm, but the Union’s elevated, defensive position next to town proves superior as Lee’s group is heavily defeated and forced to withdraw.
The reactions of either side says everything.
After his surviving men retreated to Seminary Ridge, Lee consoled them as best he could, saying the failed attack was “all my fault.” The Virginia Monument marks the place where Lee watched the battle in horror.
This final battle at Gettysburg marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War. Lee marched his men back to Virginia while the Union celebrated its victory. The sheer number of deaths after just 3 days in this tiny corner of the countryside is staggering.
As fascinating as it is, I don’t want to get into the full details of the battle here. The Visit Gettysburg website has a great timeline of the battle events if you are interested.
After the battle, President Abraham Lincoln visited Gettysburg and gave his now-famous Gettysburg Address at the commemoration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. This monument marks the location of the address.
The Gettysburg visit left us feeling 1) thankful for the result, as a different outcome would have left us with an extremely darker country, 2) upset by the number of young lives given and taken in just 3 short days and just how vicious and senseless war can be, and 3) confused and distressed about the future of our country given the current political climate. Needless to say, our short visit to Gettysburg was a sobering and thought-provoking experience and we think everyone should make it a point to see it at some point in their life.