Disclosure: I thought I had visited Gettysburg back in the early 90s. I dunno what I was thinking but wherever I went back then sure wasn’t Gettysburg. It was a important Civil War national park (I think they all are), but it wasn’t this one. After spending 6+ hours visiting the Gettysburg visitors center and driving the battlefield tour, I’m kinda off my rails . . . it’s a lot to take in.
I arrived at the visitor’s center about 8:30. It was rebuilt in 2008 and it’s an awesome facility. Been to a bunch of National Park Service visitors’ centers; this one ices the cake. Attendance today was light—mostly a slew of high school groups visiting, which is awesome. From what I could tell, these kids were soaking in the history. So good to see. I wish kids across the country had access to walk our history as these fortunate boys & girls do.
The Morgan Freeman narrated film about the conditions leading to the Civil War and then the war itself was so well done high schoolers applauded at the end! And then the Cyclorama exhibit blew me away. I felt like I was standing in the middle of the battle. It’s a 45 by 330 foot painting animated with narrative, lights, and sound effects. Truly impressive and the best $15 I’ve spent in a looooong time. Both certainly gave me an appreciation for what the battle at Gettysburg was like. After another hour in the museum and bookstore (I even bought a shirt!) I headed out to drive the auto tour.
The 23 mile self-guided tour is awesome. You can get tour guides or take a bus tour, but I was feeling like doing it solo. A few times at certain stops I eavesdropped on the pros explaining the history and realized there’s real value in going that route. (So I continued to eavesdrop from time to time!)
The battlefields are: Massive. Expansive. Sprawling. Diverse. Difficult. Beautiful. Stunning. Serene. Humbling. Sobering. Sad.
I don’t know how many times I felt emotions of regret, anger, sadness, appreciation, admiration, inadequacy, thankfulness. Emotions ran the gamut. I truly don’t know how to put it…
(I do know I’m annoyed at our weakened culture that wants safe rooms to coddle their ill-conceived emotions of being wronged. Good God, people, some of these soldiers walked miles upon miles to fight for their cause. Many of them barefoot. Some snowflakes out there today really need a reality check. ‘Nuff said.)
I walked through the “bloody wheatfield” where 4,000 were killed or injured. and I looked down at Devils Den, yet another site of fierce fighting and sacrifice. You can’t walk these lands and not feel the impact of what went down here. You don’t.
The tour fittingly ends at the National Cemetery where President Lincoln gave his famous, so pertinent address. I walked those grounds and, I gotta say, I got a little choked up at the number of “unknown” grave markers. So many men—on both sides of the conflict that divided our nation—gave their lives and are buried in graves marked “Unknown.” Others remain on the battlefields, unceremoniously buried where they fell. I don’t know what to do with that…
So then, how do I put this? What do I do with my Gettysburg experience? Do I just move on? Just visit the next point of interest? Push the emotion to the background? As a wise (and much loved) sister put it: “You CANNOT truly appreciate the past until you visit places like this in person. If we remove everything offensive and sweep it under the rug then we’re eventual doomed to repeat it…”
I guess I’ll tell the story. Encourage people to visit our nation’s parks and historic sites. Learn. Consider. Apply. Encourage. Pay it forward. Pray. May God bless America. The United States of America.