Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gettysburg: July 4th, 150 Years Ago

Two kinds of monuments were on display a Gettysburg battlefield this week.
I had an opportunity to visit Gettysburg this week to again walk the battlefield, as I did five years ago, and to admire the extraordinary work being done by the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation to rehabilitate, preserve, protect and interpret this sacred ground.

The three-day battle (Wed-/July 1 to Fri/July 3) ended 150 years ago yesterday with Pickett's Charge, and as Lee's defeated army withdrew, the scene on July 4 was horrific.  We know a great deal about events today (for current reports see here and here and for a great new film by Jake Boritt, see here), but the July 4, 1863 New York Times was still trying to make sense of the battle by presenting news and telegrams (in a kind of Twitter stream) received from various locations.  The headline read like this:
THE GREAT BATTLES.; Our Special Telegrams from the Battle Field to 10 A.M. Yesterday. Full Details of the Battle of Wednesday. No Fighting on Thursday Until Four and a Half, P.M. A Terrible Battle Then Commenced, Lasting Until Dark. The Enemy Repulsed at All Points. The Third Battle Commenced. Yesterday Morning at Daylight. THE REBELS THE ATTACKING PARTY. No Impression Made on Our Lines. The Death of Longstreet,and Barksdale of Mississippi. Other Prominent Rebel Officers Killed or Wounded. A LARGE NUMBER OF PRISONERS. Gen. Sickles' Right Leg Shot Off. OTHER GENERAL OFFICERS WOUNDED. OFFICIAL DISPATCHES FROM GEN. MEADE. THE BATTLE OF WEDNESDAY. REPORTS FROM PHILADELPHIA. THE BATTIE OF THURSDAY. YESTERDAY'S BATTLE. Our Special Telegrams from the Battle Field. NEWS RECEIVED IN WASHINGTON. NEWS RECEIVED IN PHILADELPHIA. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS DISPATCHES. REPORTS FROM HARRISBURGH. REPORTS FROM COLUMBIA, PENN. REPORTS FROM BALTIMORE. THE GREAT BATTLE. COL. CROSS, OF NEW-HAMPSHIRE, KILLED.

There are so many people who have told the story of the battle so well, I thought I'd simply share a few pictures of this week's commemorative activities, all of which serve as a kind of opening bookend to November's commemoration of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  If there was ever a time to visit the battlefield, it's 2013!

A special exhibit at the Museum and Visitors Center is called "Treasures of the Civil War,"
and begins with a kind of "Facebook" treatment of the 13 individuals who shaped the battle
and the nation.  This was so interesting I almost didn't leave time to see the artifacts (a lock of
Lincoln's hair and Clara Barton's "mission soldier" journal, for example) themselves.

The brand new Seminary Ridge Museum is beautiful, tackles topics like race and religion
deftly, and offers lucky guests a view of the battlefield from the cupola where Union General
Buford watched the action unfold.  A few pictures from the cupola follow.

Just two of hundreds (thousands?) of re-enactors.  A good-looking couple, no?
Sunday evening was a real treat as the United States Military Academy Band entertained. . .
Charles Gibson emceed. . .
Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke. . .
And the story of Gettysburg was told across three screens. . .

In pictures, and with actors. . .

. . all as we sat on the battlefield near General Meade's headquarters.  Entertaining and inspiring!
(I might add, the rain clouds skirted by all around us, but we remained in a kind of protective
bubble all evening.)
The next morning I visited some of the re-enactments on the battlefield. . .
If you're going to dress in heavy clothes on a hot and humid day, it might as well be colorful!

When he ordered his men to present arms, rangers from the National Park Service inspected
every single gun.  (Bravo, Park Service!)

I also got to shoot a couple of my favorite memorials, this one a hunk of
Roxbury, Massachusetts, left to the brave and fallen.

The scene of fateful Day 3.
And sometimes, you just gotta go for the art!
One of the Foundation's most important projects is rehabilitation of the George Spangler farm,
which served as a Union field hospital.  The stories here are incredible, including one about
President Nixon's great-grandfather.
Yes, more art.
Check the dates!
Actor Steven Lang delivered a tour de force as Medal of Honor winner James
Jackson Purman in a story from the battlefield, July 2 and 3, that was simply captivating.
The writing was just beautiful.  I hope it appears on video/YouTube one day.
That same story was then presented in very modern, very cool, animated short
narrated by Lang and assembled by a talented group of musicians and artists,
with Jake Boritt serving as Executive Producer.
And finally, what says "authentic Civil War" better than an iPad picture (said iPad obviously being manufactured north of the Mason-Dixon Line)?  If you are thinking of visiting this summer or fall, start here.