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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Friday, September 11th, 2009

(Ed.'s Note: If you'd like to see larger versions of these pictures, just click on them.)

Welcome once again to The Gettysburg Files.

Last time, I took you through my travel schedule with a brief stop at the Mason-Dixon Line and then laid out a very basic history of the Battle of Gettysburg itself.

Today, I'll take you through the events from the Friday of my trip.

Without further ado...

Friday, September 11th, 2009

And on the second day, it rained... a lot.

For the week prior to our trip, I'd religiously checked the weather forecast for the Gettysburg area. I figured Friday and Saturday would constitute the bulk of our traversing the battlefield, so it was my earnest hope that the weather would cooperate.

But as is so often the case, Mother Nature had other ideas.

The forecast for Friday called for plenty of precipitation, and that's exactly what we got. At least early on.

So I was a little bummed out that we probably weren't going to get done the things I'd hoped to get done on Friday. Once again, however, I wasn't exactly correct.

My parents and I decided to go ahead and trek to the Visitors Center, because we knew there was a movie presentation and museum to check out, and since both were decidedly indoors, we didn't have to wait on the rain to quit.

The entire Visitors Center had been redone just a couple of years ago, so everything was pretty new and very well put together, including the theater itself. It was basically a mini-IMAX, with stadium seating and a large screen.

As it turned out, the movie was approximately 30 minutes of a brief history of the war itself and the battle of Gettysburg. Morgan Freeman narrated, which is always a welcome thing. Plus they were able to get Sam Waterston to reprise his role as Lincoln from Ken Burns' “Civil War”.

After the movie we headed up to the Cyclorama. It's a large, circular room, with it's curved wall completely covered in a mural depicting the battlefield. There's another audio program which narrates the battle, while their light system illuminates certain portions of the mural as the battle progresses. You wouldn't think that a still painting could provide such a visual sense of the action, but it really does.

After the Cyclorama, we headed to the museum to check that out (it was still acting the monsoon outside). I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but I can tell you that what I saw FAR exceeded any expectations I actually had.

I didn't check the time, but I'd wager we spent a solid 90 minutes traversing the various rooms and displays. And if we'd wanted to, we probably could've spent twice that amount of time.

It was staggering the number of artifacts, relics and displays that were available. And for each one there was a legend to read, or a short film to watch explaining in detail what it was you were looking at.

Because of the low lighting in the museum (bright, fluorescent light damages artifacts), we weren't able to take many pictures, but I'll share with you what I've got.

The first display that really caught my eye was this one...

It's a collection of camp items used by Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The camp cot, desk and stove were all used by him on the march northward towards Pennsylvania.

(I know the picture's slightly blurry, but the glass encasement messed with our camera's auto-focus. My apologies.)

This placard was in front of the Lee display and explains what we're seeing in the previous picture.

Here is a closer shot of the gloves, button and star that all came from Lee's uniform (again, apologies for the lack of focus). When I realized that I was looking at actual items worn by the General himself and not facsimiles or replicas, I was hooked on the whole idea of this museum and very focused on taking in everything I could.

One of the beauties of the museum is that it doesn't just contain items from Gettysburg itself. Instead it tries to provide you with a feel for the entire war.

For instance...

This is yet another unfortunately-blurry picture of a Stonewall Jackson display. General Thomas J. Jackson led the First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia for the first half of 1863. During the battle of Chancellorsville, he'd gone out to scout for a night attack. It was raining at the time (strangely coincidental to our current predicament), and he was wearing a black rubber raincoat. When he and his staff returned towards their headquarters, they had to pass a Confederate picket. Those soldiers saw mounted men in dark coats and assumed they were Yankee cavalry. They opened fire and killed several of Jackson's staff, while wounding him twice.

Jackson was carried to a battlefield hospital on the stretcher you see above. The wound in his left arm was severe enough that it was forced to be amputated. The table you see in that picture was used for the operation. Jackson survived that wound and that surgery, but contracted pneumonia during his recovery and died several days later. The bugle in the above picture was used to play taps at the memorial service in his honor.

Yes, I was digging this in a BIG way.

One can only wonder how different the Battle of Gettysburg would've transpired had Jackson been at the head of the left flank rather than Generals Ewell and Hill.

They were simply too many artifacts and displays to take pictures of them all. But I was astounded at how many displays there were.

They had displays of what the average soldier dressed in and carried with him on the march. Included in that was a display that allowed you to lift the average soldier's pack-load, so you could get a feel for how heavy their gear was.

They had displays of battle flags, artillery and ammunition. They had letters and diaries. They had furniture from various headquarters. They had surgeons tools and displays from battlefield hospitals. They had displays such as this...

(Again, apologies for the lack of focus... I have no idea what threw this one off. Ask my dad.)

...which showed the average cavalry soldier's accoutrements. Behind my mom and I you can barely make out a confederate soldier display which showed not only their uniform, but the various types of muskets and rifles they used, all original.

And it didn't seem to end. Each time I though were were approaching the end of the museum, there was another room, or another nook to discover and study. It was amazing.

If any of you every take a trip similar to mine, make sure to budget time to go check out this museum. Trust me, it's worth it.

After walking through the museum, we stopped and had lunch at the cafe located in the Visitors Center. There's a nice patio outside the cafe, unfortunately we weren't able to sit out there as Hurricane “Let'sMessWithDan'sPlans” was blowing through.

Okay, it wasn't a Hurricane, but it was a solid downpour, which is not the sort of conditions you want for touring a battlefield.

As we ate, we discussed and agreed that the best course of action was to go ahead with our plans to take the guided CD tour of the battlefield. If the rain didn't slacken during our tour, we could at least scout the specific locations we wanted to return to, and spend more time with, during the rest of the weekend.

This turned out to be an excellent idea, because as the tour went along, the rain got lighter and lighter until it stopped all together.

Now, gray skies and wet earth don't make for the best battlefield pictures in the world, but we took a few anyway, knowing that we'd come back to take the bulk of the battlefield pictures later in the weekend.

The tour takes you on a fairly chronological trip through the battlefield. You start north of the town where Buford's cavalry initially engaged Heth's infantry. And then you work your way through town and south to Seminary Ridge where the Confederates based their operations on Days 2 and 3. Then it's around and up the Round Tops, which saw a lot of action on Day 2. After that you travel down Cemetery Ridge where the Union troops were based. And finally you arrive at Cemetery and Culp's Hills which were the “hook” portion of the “fishook” formation that the Union troops settled into.

This is a map which shows the route of the auto tour through the battlefield, and gives brief descriptions of each of the stops you make along the way.

The rain didn't let us get out of the vehicle and look around much until we reached the Round Tops. We didn't take many pictures there, since I knew we'd be back later in the weekend.

The first spot where we started taking pictures was Devil's Den.

Devil's Den is a rocky formation a few hundred yards out in front of Little Round Top. It saw some of the fiercest fighting on Day 2.

This picture of Devil's Den was taken shortly after the battle. Unfortunately, it was staged. The dead soldier was dragged over to the location and laid out on the ground and a musket was set up against the rocks before the picture was taken. But the location itself was authentic.

And I believe this picture...

… is what that spot looks like today. I can't be 100% sure that it's the same spot. If you look closely at the rocks, there's either been significant erosion over the last 146 years, or I've got the wrong location. But as we walked around the formation, it's the spot which most resembles the photo that I could find.

This is a picture of me standing in that same location. I believe it to be from a similar angle as the staged photo, only in reverse. I have no historical evidence of this, but if this spot is the same as that original picture, then their negative must have been reversed when the picture was actually printed.

My mom wanted a picture of my Dad and I standing in that same spot, so here you go!

Finally, my Dad asked me to hold up this rock which was clearly in danger of falling over and crushing my Mom (insert sarcasm here). I call it my “Atlas impression”!

From there we set out along Cemetery Ridge.

There are over 1300 monuments, markers and memorials spread throughout the battlefield. But there was one specific monument I wanted to see...

This monument was placed in honor of the charge that the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry made on July 2nd, 1863. (If you need a refresher, consult the previous post.)

The spot where it now stands was the location from whence the Minnesotan's began their charge. At the top of the pedestal you can see the figure of a Union soldier beginning his bayonet charge.

Here's a closer shot of the base of the monument with a plaque describing a brief history of the regiment and their famous charge.

But as it turned out, that wasn't the only monument to the 1st Minnesota on the ridge.

This obelisk was placed in honor of the work done on July 3rd, 1863, of the 47 men who weren't injured during their famous charge on the previous day.

Regiments which were heavily engaged on the first two days of fighting were often sent to the center of the battlefield, which Union commanders considered to be the “safest” area of their position.

Of course, they didn't realize at the time that Pickett's Charge was coming on Day 3. So those regiments, including the 1st Minnesota and the 20th Maine were called upon to help repulse the Confederate attack once again.

This is the base of that obelisk, with a plaque describing the efforts of those men on July 3rd, 1863. Notice the clover inscribed in the granite above the plaque. The 3-leafed clover was the insignia assigned to the 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac, of which the 1st Minnesota was a member.

Thus ended our tour of the battlefield on Friday. After the tour, we headed out to dinner, and back to the hotel to plan the rest of our weekend.

On Saturday, my dad and I planned to take a horseback tour of the battlefield, and there was still the matter of my “Old Tyme” picture to attend to!

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