GETTYSBURG

Gettysburg, the images its name conjures are both heroic and horrific.  Fertile fields covered in the blood of Americans by Americans.  The land of opposites forever entwined within the context of brutal history.  One side fighting for unity and the scars on a darker skin, the other struggling to embolden state's rights and the fruits of free labor.  Right or wrong, they both ask for God's strength at the tip of their sword.  No more hallowed ground exists between our oceans.  The deaths of thousands upon thousands stir echoes forevermore in a place that time can never forget.

  I travel to these hallowed acres with the hope of a history lesson.  And I leave with a sense of lessened history.  I will forever ponder on the loss of things unimagined.  The man who could have prevented World War I could have died on this spot.  The man who could have found the cure for the pandemic flu of 1919 may have been stabbed on this rock instead of saving 20 million lives.  The great-great grandson of a man who became cannon fodder here could have been the man who cured AIDS.  It is unfathomable to think of the waste but yet; their efforts were not wasted.  Their exploits forged, in blood, the United States of Superpower that we have today.  No country's history has been more studied, muddied and exalted as our own.  These men knew their conflict would ripple throughout the ages and the ripple still exudes from Gettysburg.

  Gettysburg resides in the bucolic countryside of south-central Pennsylvania.  Amongst the sycamores and laurels next to quaint little towns, such as, Chambersburg.  The war never seemed to envelope its doorstep.  As you pass through this perfect piece of Americana you are then greeted at Gettysburg by, the soon to be ubiquitous, cannons.  As you pass along the tidy streets you are stricken with a patriotism that few other places could evoke.  Flags at most every storefront, Bed & Breakfast's named after Civil War heroes and memorials to their exploits at every turn.  As you meander your way to Main Street, you find friendly faces sweeping sidewalks and curbing their pooch.  Main Street is crammed with antique shops and tourist bait traders.  From kitchen magnets to shards of pumpkin balls to actual swords of the combatants, there is something for everyone.  We tarry around the shops until I find the ultimate Gettysburg souvenir, a US Calvary cutlass.  Sharp to the touch with an ornate hilt it shall hang on my wall along with my collection of other war items.  It is not an official sword but everyone isn't going to read this story. Also along this street you'll find the Dobbins House.  It is a bed and breakfast that pre-dates the war.  There are also numerous signs for walking ghost tours that only the bravest of souls would dare.

  We begin our tour of the battlefield and cemetery at the Cyclorama.  Considered the IMAX's of yesteryear, this one depicts Pickett's charge on the final day of the Gettysburg battle, July 3rd, 1863.  This massive painting, 26 feet by 356 feet long, is in a circle to give you a 360-degree view of a moment on the battlefield.  One of only two Civil War cycloramas to survive, the other is in Atlanta; it was painted in 1884 by French artist, Paul Philippoteaux.  It's detail and dimension is awesome.  The museum is full of enough facts and artifacts that a general visitor could spend days here.  We press on and cross the street to the official Gettysburg Cemetery.  Hundreds of small, pocked, white headstones are processionally aligned behind a marble memorial of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

  We have purchased an audiocassette, available at most gift shops that will give us a self-guided tour of the battlefield and its monuments.  Encompassing 18-miles of touring, there are different lengths of tours available.  We have chosen the two-hour tour to give ourselves plenty of time for photos and reflection.  We head out of the museum parking lot, pop the tape in, and begin our journey back to the mists of the morning of July 1st, 1863 when General Lee, buoyed by his victory in Chancellorsville, decided to bring the war to the North's doorstep.  Pushing his troops to engage the enemy in their homes, in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New York, one of his scouting parties encountered a northern regiment in this area.  The largest cavalry battle of the war ensued and the rest, as they say, was history.

  The tape guides you along the tidy streets to memorial after memorial to the various regiments that participated in the pitch battle.  Filled with facts and the sounds of battle, they advise you stop at different points to read, touch, photograph and embrace the horror.  The overcast sky of the day adds to the somberness felt.  You would expect all days here to be overcast. 

  With over 1300 monuments, Gettysburg has the feel of a tremendous cemetery.  With over 30,000 killed in its three-day battle...it is.  But the monuments range from the small and forgotten to the majestic.  Among the most prominent is the Pennsylvania State Monument.  Rising to 110 feet and domed like the U.S. Capitol it was built in 1910 for a cost of $150,000.  The monuments are mainly dedicated to the regiments of both sides that participated in the war.  The 20th Massachusetts, the New York Irish Brigade, the Alabama Regiment, are just some of the more spectacular marble memorials that dot the landscape.  As we listen to the exploits of Generals Wadsworth, Longstreet and Hood we find a monument to General Abner Doubleday.  Doubleday, credited with not only inventing baseball, he also fought at Gettysburg with distinction.

  We come across an outlook tower and decide to scale the four stories of steps to a sweeping view of the whole battlefield.  The various signs give you an overview of what you are seeing and points out landmarks.  The steps will take your breath away and so will the view.

  From here we take a winding road to the heart of the battle, Little Round Top.  This rocky outcropping rising above the southern end of Cemetery Ridge became the focal point of a battle of who could own the high ground.  Union troops made the mad dash to secure this prime vantage point under the direction of Brigadier General Warren.  Shooting from their positions here they were able to decimate the Rebels advances from Devil's Den down below.

  The 140th New York Monument stands in grandeur on the highest point.  Displaying the men of its regiment in classic Greek statuary.  A figure stands alone on one outcropping of Colonel Patrick O'Rourke who led the charge with the words, "Here they are boys!"  Before he fell between the boulders, dead.  His men continued to charge and pushed back the Texans to their peril.  The cannons still line the top of Little Round Top and the echoes are loud. 

  Down below, in Devil's Den, we are awed by the immensity of the granite boulders, which are strewn about like some giant's toys.  There is no eerier place in Gettysburg than Devil's Den.  Hundreds died in the areas between the two Round Tops (Big & Little).  These areas became known as the Valley of Death.  The boulder choked gorge by the name of Devil's Den's had always been known as so.  It still lives up to its name as you half expect someone or something to come crawling out of the crevices of the rocks.  Cool and moist, as the sun cannot penetrate some of its hidden passages, it is a place that people walk around in quiet reverence.  From here you can see Little Round Top, a mere two hundred yards distant.  The rock-strewn incline between must have looked impregnable to the boys in gray.  They charged fearlessly to their deaths again and again and for, what must now feel, useless ardor.  The sins of their forbearers brought down in blood.

  After the emotional pull of Devil's Den it is time to cleanse our souls and look for redemption.  We pass hundreds of monuments to find solace at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial built on a bluff in Gettysburg and dedicated 75 years later by FDR.  A gas flame burns continuously reminding us that the fratricidal war should never happen again.  Messages of hope and unity carved in stone as a way of asking forgiveness from each other as the pain still ran deep in 1938.  I find it ironic that this symbol of peace is surrounded by the symbols of war...cannons. 

  Our last stop on this exhausting, emotionally spent day is at Monument Row.  Where monuments are aligned like telephone poles, only with more frequency.  To stop and read them all would take days.  Most of their names forgotten, some of the names have been glorified, but not one of their names can be vilified. 

Daniel Rush

May, 2003