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.
At one time in my youth, I could recite Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. It isn't very long, only 272 words in the entire thing. I'm sure I was studying the Civil War at the time but I'm not sure I really understood the meaning of it all. What brought the war home to me was a movie. At least, as best as I could understand it at my young age.
During the summers at my grandparents’ home in Crane, Texas, along with my sister and cousins, we'd take our milk carton tops and turn them in for free entry to the theatre to see the matinee. I don't know how many times we went but there are two movies that stick in my memory. The first was a creepy monster film where a snake/turtle-like creature would fall from a tree and suck out your bones (I can’t remember the title) and the Civil War weeper titled Shenandoah.
I was only eight years old at the time and, from my point of view, Shenandoah was EPIC. The music, the cinematography, the actors, and most of all, the story. Just EPIC. My sister and cousins and I cried and cried, it was the saddest thing we'd ever seen. A family was torn apart by war and for what? I really had no idea. To me, it just seemed like it was all just a big misunderstanding and so, so sad.
As we rolled into Gettysburg, Steven and I talked about the war. I shared all that I knew, and he listened. When he was at school in Ireland, they didn’t teach much American History and he knew very little about the Civil War, the battle at Gettysburg, Lincoln's memorable address, or anything having to do with how our nation was affected. We were both here to learn.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so
conceived and so 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.
The drive into Artillery Ridge Camping Resort on the outskirts of Gettysburg through the gently rolling hills, lush and green, belies the carnage and devastation that took place here during three days of fierce battles just over 150 years ago. Our campground was right next to the Gettysburg National Military Park. The day after we arrived there were reenactments taking place in the park and we went to check them out. These historians work hard to be accurate and to help educate visitors about the weaponry and day-to-day lives of the soldiers.
There are multiple ways to visit the battlefields, by car, horseback, Segway tour, with or without a guide. We chose to drive, on our own, mainly because we could see it at our own pace and take advantage of photographic opportunities along the way. Like most places, you can't see it all. It helps to first go to the Visitors Center and see the movie and experience the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a dramatic depiction of the final battle, Pickett's Charge. It's mesmerizing.
The Cyclorama was amazing, integrating actual artifacts with a gigantic painting. In both of these photos you can see real wood and rocks at the bottom seamlessly blending with the two-dimensional painting.
We kind of did things backwards and went to the VC on our last day. I had read about the Cyclorama but I got it confused with the Diorama, which is located in town along with a small museum and a re-purposed horror show where uniforms were put on skeletons and made to be soldiers. There was something cheesy, yet fun about this place. First, it did give us an overall sense of the battles of Gettysburg, which we enjoyed. But the ghostly, haunted house vibe of the soldiers and commanders was kind of a head-shaker. There were actual jump-scares in this thing and at the end, puffs of air would fly by your legs giving you the sense of bullets whizzing by. I would not be taking little kids through this one, for sure.
We spent a couple of days visiting the battlefields, there was a lot to take in. We did manage to visit the Mason-Dixon Brewery in town, but other than that, we didn’t visit any of the shops or businesses. Gettysburg town is cute but, as you can imagine, loaded with touristy stuff.
When the three-day Battle of Gettysburg was over on July 3, 1863, 51,000 soldiers were casualties (killed, wounded, captured or missing) in what remains the largest battle ever fought in North America.
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.
Next up: Continuing our historic journey through Pennsylvania!