As a lifelong student of American History, any detour to visit the most infamous battle on American soil, is worthy of a half-day visit. An hour west of the Amish in Lancaster County is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
I wrote a paper on the Civil War – back in 6th grade – and was particularly focused on the pivotal three-day battle at Gettysburg. This battlefield was also one of our “pillars” when we set out on this journey. For us, our “pillars” represented a bucket list of sorts.
And what a perfect day to fulfill that bucket. It had rained all day, and central Pennsylvania was experiencing its wettest September in years. That’s okay. We’ll head for the visitor center, check out the Cyclorama and indoor activities first. Then we’ll take the self-guided road trip around the twenty mile outdoor museum and memorials, which was the scene of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Most historians agree that between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers – from both armies – were casualties fighting here for three days in 1863. The most costly clash in US history. So we’ll drive slow.
After a decisive victory in the South’s Chancellorsville, a confident Confederate General Robert E. Lee was desperate to get a victory up in the north. Union General George Meade’s army was outmanned, but held the strategic higher ground. Lee’s army fought hard for two days. On the third day, the Union prevailed and Lee’s beaten army retreated. Victory for the North!
Walking around the wet grounds, I could only imagine the terror these brothers in arms faced. Three excruciating, hot summer days in July. Two days of fierce fighting left countless dead and wounded. But it was the third day, which would decIde the turning point of this war.
The most impressive display and centerpiece of the museum is the Cyclorama painting depicting Pickett’s Charge. Cycloramas were unlike any other memorial to the Civil War at the time. Painted twenty years after the battle, this display illustrates accounts of that day in epic proportions. This massive panoramic painting, 50 feet high and 400 feet in circumference, is hung in a 360° fashion that allowed us to imagine we are stepping right inside of the lines of battle. Probably the closest we’d ever be to time travel… taken back to that day in 1863.
In November that same year, President Abraham Lincoln stood right here, on this very spot, and delivered to a divided nation the famous Gettysburg Address. Still, the war dragged on. It was another year and a half before the Union was preserved. Many men were lost. Some boys were going home. It was time to heal. With great leadership, our country became one.
We spent a half day here before heading to Battlefield Brewing back in old town Gettysburg to dry off, absorb the historical significance we just experienced, and have lunch. We decided that I probably had more than enough information on the battle at Gettysburg to rewrite my 6th grade report.
Real Civil War buffs could spend days here. Maybe three.