About 18 months later and I finally developed the roll of film I took when I visited Gettysburg. A co-worker of my father’s lives in there and he invited us to visit on New Year’s 2012. Other than being the location of an infamous terrible, bloody, and deadly battle during the American Civil War, I knew nothing about Gettysburg. So we headed over on what turned into a dismal weather day.
I was surprised by how charming the town was, with its historic store fronts and brick-lined sidewalks. It made for a good first-impression, that was quickly receded when I realized most of the stores were kitschy, capitalizing on tourism by selling “civil war this” and “civil war that.” What better way to make money than sell cheap goods to gullible tourists? The streets were still beautiful, but I admit I probably wouldn’t waste time or money on most of the stores.
My first real surprise of the day was that Eisenhower had a family home in Gettysburg. Who knew? Seriously? I had absolutely no idea. The house itself was closed for the day because of the holiday, but the wife of my dad’s co-worker volunteers on a regular basis so we received a personalized tour of the grounds and a thorough history. A year-in-a-half later I remember less than half of it. (My own fault for not developing these photographs sooner!) I do remember Eisenhower once hosted foreign dignitaries at the home and even preferred it to Camp David. The original house the Eisenhower’s bought had to be torn down, but the new house was built to look historic. It’s a beautiful house and grounds, even in the cold rain and wind we experienced during our visit.
We mostly drove through the area of the battlefield. Learning bits about the fighting and the strategies that led to the Confederate loss. Passing what seemed to be hundreds of statues. Hearing stories about the ghosts that ramble through in the evenings. (People here do not take ghosts lightly). We stopped for a view of the fields on one of the hills. Little Round Top maybe? The expanse of the battlefield is rather impressive and the view from the top gives you a better understanding of the edge the Union had during the fight and why they won.
Our final stop was to the cemetery. My dad was particularly concerned with seeing where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. And yes, there’s a large memorial in the cemetery commemorating the event. That and grave upon grave of solider (and Gettysburg native). Seeing the cemetery really hits home the causality numbers you read about in textbooks. It’s unbelievable. Impossible to truly comprehend the extent of loss.
I suppose it’s appropriate, in a way, I’m writing this post now, just days after the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. In the past few days, I’ve heard over and over again the staggering statistics about Gettysburg and the Civil War. But, here’s one that struck the biggest emotional chord: The percentage of men who lost their life during the Civil War would account for almost 6 million men today. Can you even imagine?