Mesa Musings: Delving in to Gettysburg never gets boring

August 01, 2011|By Jim Carnett

I spent a scorching day last week at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

The thermometer hovered near 100 degrees. The climate was so humid that it seemed like a large shaggy dog had pinned me to the ground and was breathing directly into my face.

When the Union and Confederate armies crashed into one another just outside Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, precipitating the bloodiest battle in American history, the weather wasn't so uncompromising.


Heat or no heat, our visit was awe-inspiring. I made the trip with my grandson, who celebrated his 12th birthday at the park, and my son-in-law.

The battlefield is observing the Civil War's sesquicentennial — 150th anniversary. Gettysburg will celebrate its own sesquicentennial in July 2013.

The battle is frequently described as the war's turning point. It recorded the greatest number of casualties of any battle in the war: about 51,000 men from both armies.

Gettysburg is America's largest battlefield shrine, featuring 1,300 monuments, 41 miles of scenic lanes and boulevards, and one of the largest collections of outdoor sculptures.

The best way to gain a true sense of the three-day battle is to walk as much ground as possible. Be warned, however. It's a huge field, at 522 acres.

This was my fifth visit.

Each time I go to Gettysburg, I see people I know. Bronze visages of Gens. Robert E. Lee, George Meade, James Longstreet and many others greet visitors from locations all over the park.

One year, however, I did unexpectedly run into a person I knew — a colleague from Orange Coast College.

I was in the park's museum, admiring Confederate cannon balls. So absorbed was I in surveying that I didn't notice the couple standing beside me.

I happened to overhear the woman comment to her husband about canister shells filled with lethal grapeshot and shrapnel. I recognized the voice. She and her husband, both Civil War re-enactors, were making their almost annual pilgrimage to Pennsylvania.

During my first trip to the park in 1993, I took the two-hour battlefield bus tour. I was cramming the visit into a short Washington, D.C., stay — about two hours away. I don't recommend that.

The tour provided a basic orientation because I knew virtually nothing about the battle prior to the visit. Over the next 18 years I read more than 30 books about the Civil War, including several on Gettysburg alone.

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