Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Crossing over the Delaware River

The countryside in Pennsylvania was so beautiful and green.
We arrived in Gettysburg while their sesquicentennial  celebration was in full swing.  It was crowded but our first stop was historic downtown Gettysburg.

The old Gettysburg train station.

Abe Lincoln was greeting visitors on a street corner.

A Civil War drum and fife band was playing.

Everyone was taking pictures and enjoying the music.

City center.

The David Wills house where Abe Lincoln spent the night prior to giving the Gettysburg Address.  He was there to  commemorate the Soldiers National Cemetery for Union soldiers who died at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Abe Lincoln was very tall.

Historic Gettysburg has many homes that date back to the Civil War days.

The old town newspaper building.

The Memorial Church of the Prince of Peace Episcopal.  The churches of Gettysburg were the first to offer their facilities to serve the needs of the soldiers carried from the battlefield on July 1st.  The work to restore the mutilated bodies began and continued around the clock. It was a scene of immense suffering.  Churches continued to be used as hospitals after the armies departed causing parishioners to forego church services.  Postoperative care and food preparation fell to the tireless efforts of women volunteers.

The home of Jennie Wade.  On July 3, 1863, Jennie and her mother were working in the kitchen of her sister's house nearby.  Jennie was killed by an unknown Confederate sharpshooter becoming the only civilian fatality in the fighting.  Gives you an idea of how close the fighting was to the town.

All over town the residents were wearing period costumes to celebrate the sesquicentennial. 

In town we visited a diorama depicting the Battle of Gettysburg.   

There was an audio presentation but the speaker was poor and it was very confusing trying to figure out where the different battles occurred.

Residents were driving their vintage cars throughout the town.

Local artists and craftsmen had their wares on display.

Tents and wares were set up reflecting the Civil War troop encampments.

We had also heard about a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg being performed and this was the last day of the celebration so we purchased some very pricey tickets to go to it.  It was in a field outside of town and there were thousands of people present.  Most of us were so far away from the action that we saw very little. 

It was hot so they asked people to take down their umbrellas and to sit down when the show began so people in the back could also see.  Of course, there were a few who refused to sit down and blocked every one's vision while they filmed the battle.  Some of the viewers got very upset. 

These are the best pictures we were able to take.  So much of the re-enactment was off to the side or down a hill that we mainly saw the troops marching in and out.

The fighting by the cavalry was a little closer to us but the soldiers on foot were never within our vision.

By this time we were a little discouraged but decided to spend a day at Gettysburg National Military Park.  Up until this point most of the celebratory shows were put on by private companies and they were making a bundle.

We tried to go to the museum and visitor center on Sunday afternoon but it was so crowded that cars were parking in satellite lots so we left and came back on Monday.  What a difference in the crowds. 

One of the neatest things we saw was a cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg.  It is a painting that is 335 feet long and 40 feet high set in a circular manner so you can walk around and see all the details. It is a massive oil on canvas painting displayed in a special auditorium and enhanced with landscaped foregrounds.  The result is a three dimensional effect that surrounds you when you stand on a central platform.  The painting represents the final Confederate assault on July 3, 1863, and what occurred as the turning point of the Civil War. 

The canvas was created by the French artist Paul Philippoteaux who was not present at Gettysburg.  He came to Gettysburg in 1882 and spent several weeks on the battlefield observing details of the terrain and making hundreds of sketches.  He hired a Gettysburg photographer to produce a series of panoramic photographs for his use.  Philippoteaux was also lucky enough to interview a number of veterans of the battle who helped with suggestions on how to depict the chaos.  With a team of assistants he sketched out every detail including soldiers, trees, crops, fences and stone walls, and then began applying tons of oil paint.  The work took over a year and a-half to complete. 

The Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama spent years on display in dusty halls and was even sliced into panels.  More than 15 feet of the sky was cut away.  By the late 1990's the painting was badly damaged and in need of  repair.  Conservation of the masterpiece was a six year, multi-million dollar international effort and it now resides permanently in the Gettysburg National Museum and Military Park.  It is magnificent and a must see if you visit Gettysburg. 

The inside of the Gettysburg Museum is another high point in the park.  There are over one million artifacts housed there, more than can be shown at any one time.  Hours could be spent walking through the different displays learning about the battles and troops.  There are twelve galleries which feature interactive displays and artifacts.  This can give the visitor an historical perspective before they begin the tour of the Gettysburg battlefield.

An officer's tent.  The higher ranked he was the more of his belongings were carried in wagons for his use.

An enlisted man's tent.  He had to share it with another soldier and carry everything when he marched so he quickly learned to take the bare essentials.

The Gettysburg Battlefield is a 24-mile loop road that visitors can drive or bike.  It is a beautiful park with designated areas you can walk showing where many of the battles occurred and information regarding each battle. 

Along the edge of the battlefield are many beautiful, stately old homes.
Lee checking it out.

The North Carolina monument.

The Virginia monument.

Monument for the New York Irish Brigade.  The only one we saw with a dog included in the statue.

For three days, more than 150,000 soldiers clashed in a series of Confederate assaults and Union defenses.  The fighting took a terrible toll on both sides with 10,000 soldiers killed or mortally wounded, 30,000 injured and 10,000 captured or missing.

This area was called the Devil's Den, a place controlled by Confederate sharpshooters for most of the battle.  The gorge to the left came to be called Slaughter Pen for the amount of Confederate soldiers killed there.

The higher ground was called Little Round Top and this is where the Union soldiers dug in.   The sniping between the Confederate and the Union soldiers continued until the end of the battle on July 3rd.

A Civil Was sharpshooter using a rifle equipped with a scope could kill an enemy soldier at 1,000 yards.  The Confederate sharpshooters at Devil's Den were only 500 yards from the Union soldiers.  The casualties on both sides were very high.

After Confederate attacks on both Union flanks failed, General Robert E Lee was determined to strike the Union center on the third day.  Pickett's charge was an infantry assault ordered by Lee against the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863.  It's futility was predicted by the charge's commander, Gen. James Longstreet, and it was arguably an avoidable mistake from which the Southern war effort never fully recovered.  The infantry assault was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment that was meant to soften up the Union defense and silence its artillery, but was largely ineffective.

Pickett's Charge and Cemetery Hill.  Around 3:00 on the afternoon of July 3rd, 12,500 Confederate soldiers came out from the trees and marched in a line a mile wide towards the Union troops.  The Union cannons slammed into the troops killing and injuring many but other soldiers stepped up and took their places.  As they crossed a road and headed toward a low stone wall that hid the Union soldiers the Confederate line was decimated and they could not break the Union defenses.  It was Lee's last battle in the North.
On July 4th, the armies stared at one another in a heavy rain across the bloody field.  An informal truce was announced to allow both sides to collect their wounded and bury their dead.  Lee moved his injured back to Richmond, Virginia, and the wagon train processional carrying the wounded was 17 miles long. 
History may never know the true story of Lee's intentions at Gettysburg.  He never published memoirs, and his after action report from the battle was cursory.  Most of the senior commanders were casualties and did not write reports.  Pickett's report was apparently so bitter that Lee ordered him to destroy it, and no copy has been found.  Pickett's military career was never the same and he was displeased about having his named attached to the losing battle.  Additional controversy developed after the battle about Pickett's location during the charge.  The fact that fifteen of his officers and all three brigadier generals were casualties while Pickett managed to escape unharmed led many to question his proximity to the fighting and his personal courage.

There are many monuments today on Cemetery Ridge.

The Pennsylvania Monument is the largest in the park.

Gettysburg was the war's bloodiest battle with 51,000 casualties. It was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln's immortal "Gettysburg Address".  It was delivered on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldier's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy.  The speech was preceded by a two hour oration from a local politician.   Lincoln wrote his speech on the train from Washington D.C. to Gettysburg and the address lasted a little over two minutes.

During the train trip from Washington, D.C., Lincoln remarked to one of his aides that he felt weak.  On the morning of November 19th, the day of the dedication cemetery, he mentioned to another aide that he felt dizzy.  His assistant secretary, John Hay, noted during the speech Lincoln's face had 'a ghastly color' and that he was 'sad, mournful, and almost haggard'.  When he returned to Washington, a protracted illness followed, which included a vesicular rash and was diagnosed as a mild case of smallpox.  It thus seems highly likely that Lincoln was feeling the early onset of the disease when he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Battlefield today.

Gettysburg is an interesting and inspirational place to visit.  There is so much history it would take weeks to absorb much of it but it's a visit everyone should try to make.  The Captain and I plan to return again but it will be in the fall when it is cooler and there are less tourists to contend with.  For now, we are heading up the road a few miles to Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Peace!

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