When it was confirmed that I would be moving from Little Rock, Arkansas to join the staff at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland I was very excited. Clinton and I welcomed the chance to not only truly start my career with the National Park Service, but live in a bigger city close to many different parks. I took a break from this blog during that time so that I could learn my new job and settle into the new city I still call home today. We didn’t sit at home during that time, however. We decided to visit some of the places we both had seen when we were younger with our families. This decision led us to Gettysburg in May of 2016.
The Civil War was the first war I studied that made me fall in love with history. Visiting Gettysburg when I was a teenage one summer was one of the most memorable times in my life. Seeing a battlefield and bringing to reality a history that had only been viewed through ones imagination while reading historical documents cannot be explained in words. Placing yourself in a modern era battlefield and visualizing how it looked during the battle is difficult, but because of the hard work done to preserve the landscape and history at that exact location it isn’t impossible.
Clinton and I were able to visit Gettysburg one weekend when we first arrived to Baltimore as it is a relatively short distance away. Following our normal pace, we opted to skip the visitor center and tour the battlefield ourselves. I should mention that I have also been back to the visitor center and have viewed the fantastic film and the Cyclorama. There is a fee that is charged for this, but it is recommended if you like to get a general history lesson outside of a self-guided tour, or if you don’t know much already about the battle or the Civil War. The Cyclorama is one of only two in North America and is very interesting. It is more than a football field long when stretch out, and the painting itself was made in the 19th century!
The Battle of Gettysburg took place July 1 – 3, 1863 between Union forces under General Meade, who were pursuing Confederate General Robert E. Lee. General Lee’s goal was to shift the war north and hopefully influence the Northern politicians to give up their war effort by bringing war to their doorstep. While General Lee remained in command throughout the battle, General Joseph Hooker was relieved of command and replaced by General Meade three days before the battle. General Lee would push his troops day after day, but ultimately the Union prevailed. Thousands lost their lives, many more were wounded or missing after the battle. The war had been waging for two years, and two more years would pass before the war ended. This Union victory would solidify the attitude from the Union that the rebellion would be squashed. I recommend you read this link and this link for more information on the battle specifics.
Conceptually, Gettysburg has been considered a turning point in the war as it was the last time General Lee attempted to “invade” the Union. Another important thing that came out of the battle is the short speech that President Abraham Lincoln gave on November 19, 1863 at the Gettysburg National Cemetery – the Gettysburg Address. One important theme addressed in the speech was the belief that the Declaration of Independence was the true reflection of the new nation, not the Constitution. As a new country less than 100 years old, this war was a test of survival. Failure would not just mean a division of North and South, but the destruction of a great nation. Lincoln’s words would resonate with many, and would divide easily along political loyalties, but ultimately would forever change the tide of the war to one of preservation and equality. The 13th Amendment passed through the Senate on January 31, 1865, legally destroying the system of slavery, and assisting in the effort to end the war.
Gettysburg is a powerful battlefield to visit. It is different than the other battlefields I believe because of the vast amount of monuments that dot the landscape, but it is just a memorable. Once you get a map of the stops, I recommend you take your time and actually stop when you can. There is much to be said about standing on a battlefield than just driving by in your car. Get out there and #FindYourPark!