Over the weekend Nick and I took a boys’ trip to Gettysburg with my dad, his dad, my uncle Mick, and his son Brendan. This was almost a carbon copy of the same trip which we took together two years ago. The girls went to the beach and are due back tomorrow, so I’ll have their pictures later in the week.
We drove out Friday evening and arrived around 10:30. In the morning, young Nick was raring to go:
Since our last trip the new visitors’ center has opened, featuring the restored Cyclorama painting of the battle. We were disappointed to learn that the legendary Electric Map didn’t make the trip to the new facility, but the restored Cyclorama is gorgeous, and the new movie they produced for the visitors’ center does a fine job providing the historical context for the Civil War.
The museum at the visitors’ center is a huge improvement over what they had previously. One of the best exhibits explained the order of secession of the Confederate states using a Freakonomics-style way of explanation: The exhibit shows the slave proportion of the population of each state, and then shows a map of the states with the date on which each one seceded from the Union. Five of the top six states with the largest slave populations were the first to go, almost in direct order of their rank on the population list. South Carolina left the Union only seven weeks after Lincoln won the 1860 election, and well before he had even been inaugurated.
Before long it was time to head out to the battlefield for the auto tour. You buy a guidebook in the visitors’ center that comes with two CDs, and the CD narration explains the battle and guides you around the field. The battle of Gettysburg took place over a huge area – 25 square miles, if I’m remembering right – so the drive takes you all over town and occasionally into the countryside.
During the battlefield tour, Gramps supervised from the van and made sure that the vehicle was secure:
Nick did an incredible job during the weekend reading and listening to things, and generally seems to have absorbed a huge amount of information. I can’t say I was as diligent when I was his age and we visited historical sites:
Of course, there are also a couple of vertigo-inducing observation towers above the treetops, so a young man with an athletic bent will get the opportunity to climb a lot of stairs and look out over the fields:
Of course, even the most dedicated historian needs a break now and then, so in late afternoon we headed back to the hotel for some R&R:
We had dinner that evening at the Appalachian Brewing Company, a brewpub right along the auto tour route. Though we didn’t get out of dinner until about 9:00 in the evening, we decided we’d hit a few more stops on the auto tour anyway. Driving through the battlefield right at dusk was neat – we had the place to ourselves, for one thing, and the forested land was cool and quiet. I got out for a quick walk from one stop to the next, and the air had that wonderful early-summer smell of honeysuckle. We made the Virginia memorial on the Confederate line our last stop of the evening:
Touring the battlefield today, it’s hard to imagine the degree of suffering that took place during that weekend – of the soldiers themselves, of the townspeople, and of the families who lost sons and brothers to the war. I took note of something in the museum that conveys just a little bit of that depth of loss:
“Every name… is a lightning stroke to some heart, and breaks like thunder over some home, and falls a long black shadow upon some hearthstone.” (The Gettysburg Compiler, 7 Jul 1863)