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Monday, October 5, 2009

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Welcome for the final time, to The Gettysburg Files!

Last time, I described the Saturday activities of our trip to Gettysburg National Military Park. Today, I'll take you through what happened on Sunday. More touring, a lot more picture-taking, a last little bit of shopping, and finally the trip home.

I give you...

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

The plan for Sunday was to get up bright and early (yes, I'm aware that I define these terms differently than most of humanity), and head out for a modified version of the car tour. After that, we'd stop at the National Cemetery for a few things I wanted to see. And finally we'd hit the gift shop for one final time before heading back to Baltimore to fly home.

The weather was glorious on Sunday making for much better conditions under which to take pictures. Now, I'll warn you, we took over 60 pictures on Sunday. I won't include all of them here, but there will be plenty. So settle in for the ride!

We began, once again, at the beginning. There are three observation towers in the park, and we began at the first one on Oak Ridge, which is just to the northeast of McPherson Ridge which is where first contact was made on July 1st, 1863.

This picture shows McPherson ridge as seen from that tower...

This next picture shows (also as seen from the Oak Ridge Tower) the Eternal Light and Peace Memorial which was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 3rd, 1938 during the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the battle. The memorial is dedicated to the men who fought and died at Gettysburg regardless of, “under which Flag they fought then- thankful that they stand together under one Flag now."

Next we made our way back through town, stopping at the Lutheran Seminary to get this shot...

Col. Buford spent quite a bit of time in the cupola on top of the building on July 1st, not only scouting the Confederates he was battling, but looking rearward hoping to detect the approach of Gen. Reynolds' 1st Corps. The Seminary has been restored over the years, but looks much as it did in 1863.

After that, we made our way along Seminary Ridge, stopping at a few of the most important monuments to the Confederates who fought at Gettysburg.

First up was the North Carolina Memorial...

I could explain what this statue represents, but the North Carolinians who erected it did a much better job than I could, with this marker:

Next up is a view of the battlefield from out in front of the North Carolina Memorial:

The field in front is where Pickett's Charge crossed headed towards Cemetery Ridge. The group of trees in the middle of the picture is the Copse of Trees that served as the focal point for Pickett's Charge. The Pennsylvania Memorial can be seen amongst the trees at the right of the horizon line.

After the NC Memorial comes the Virginia Memorial:

The statue on top is of General Robert E. Lee aboard his horse Traveller. Virginia had more soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg than any other state in the Confederacy, and this Monument is dedicated to them.

When you step out in front of the Virginia Memorial, you reach a location from where it's believed that General Lee watched the progression of Pickett's Charge:

The “copse of trees” which served as the objective for Pickett's Charge is obscured by a stand of trees in the foreground. But if you use the obelisk as a reference point, you can see where Cemetery Ridge runs, and imagine just how far those Confederate soldiers had to march.

Behind where we stood in that picture is the line of trees from whence Pickett's Charge emanated:

This stand served as the left flank of General Armistead's brigade, and continues to the left in this next photo:

As we drove on, we found there was a group of reenactors hard at work on Sunday:

They didn't fire off any cannon while we were there, but somebody did at some point, because we heard them when we were on Little Round Top.

Our final stop on Seminary Ridge was the Longstreet Memorial and Observation Tower.

The Memorial itself...

… is located in a small campground which the reencators were using.

The Longstreet Observation Tower is located just down the road, and is several stories higher than the tower on Oak Ridge. So much so, that my mom took a pass on even trying to climb it, and my dad and I made several pit-stops along the way.

But it was worth climbing for these views:

Above you can see Little Round Top on the left, and Big Round Top on the right.

Panning further left you can see the rest of Cemetery Ridge...

And using this handy legend, you can pick out most of the major landmarks...

A couple of last shots from the Longstreet Observation Tower:

First a shot of the field across which Pickett's Charge took place...

The charge would've gone from left to right in that photo. You can see the massive distance they had to cross without any shelter from Yankee artillery.

And in this picture...

… you can see a zoomed-in view of the bare face of Little Round Top. That bare face is what made the hill so important as an artillery location. You can easily imagine cannon placed upon that hill, and how their view would command the battlefield.

Next the tour took us to Little Round Top. If you read my post about Thursday, you have an idea of the importance of the 20th Maine to the defense of this hill. So our first destination was the memorial to that famed unit.

In order to get to it, you have to leave the road on foot and follow a path along which there are several signs describing what happened there on July 2nd, 1863:

The first marker that you come to which depicts the position of the 20th Maine is this small granite marker which depicts the right flank of their line...

According to Jeff Shaara's “Civil War Battlefield Guide” (which I highly recommend picking up prior to any trip) this marker is slightly misplaced. In this next picture...

… you see a line of boulders and downed tree branches out in front of that marker which represent the actual spot of the right flank of Chamberlain's line. The stone wall you see in the foreground was erected well after the battle.

Further on you come to the 20th Maine Memorial itself:

It lists all the Maine men who were killed or wounded in the battle on one face...

Along with the regiment description on another face...

Note the iron cross in the middle. Just as the 3-leafed clover was the insignia of the 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac, the iron cross was the insignia of the 5th Corps, to which the 20th Maine belonged.

After that, we came to a similar granite marker to the one we saw previously, only this time it represented the left flank of the 20th Maine...

If you go back to the wide shot of the 20th Maine Memorial itself, that was the corner where their line refused at a right angle. The right flank extending down to the right from that memorial, and the left flank back to the left.

After spending some time on that hallowed ground, we headed back to the top of Little Round Top which provided several spectacular views of the field.

Including Devil's Den:

And back along Cemetery Ridge:

The statue in the lower left of the shot is Gen. G.K. Warren who was given credit for recognizing the tactical value of Little Round Top on July 2nd, 1863 and calling for reinforcements to hold the hill after Gen. Dan Sickles troops had advanced out in front of the hill and been beaten back by Confederate forces. The reinforcements who answered Warren's call included the 20th Maine.

You can see the Pennsylvania Memorial at the top-right of the shot. If you trace a line right to left from the Pennsylvania Memorial to the large obelisk, you can follow that line beyond the obelisk to the Copse of Trees which served as the objective for Pickett's Charge.

You can see a zoomed in view from that same spot here:

Here's a better look at the statue dedicated to General Warren:

And the plaque on the face of the rock upon which that statue stands:

Leaving Little Round Top, we continued down Cemetery Ridge, finding several interesting memorials along the way.

Including the statue of Father William Corby:

Father Corby was the chaplain for the Irish Brigade. Prior to the battle, Corby told his charges that any man who failed to do his duty this day would go straight to hell, while any man who died honorably in battle that day would go straight to heaven.

An exact replica of this statue is on the campus of a University which Father Corby went on to become president of. We know that University today as Notre Dame. The statue on campus is known as “Fair Catch Corby”, due to his right arm being raised in a similar manner to a Fair Catch signal.

Here's another shot of the 1st Minnesota Memorial that we first saw on Friday:

Next was the Pennsylvania Memorial:

The bronze plaques surrounding the bottom of the memorial list the name of every Pennsylvania soldier who was at Gettysburg. Pennsylvania had more soldiers there than any other state on either side of the battle.

It took a while, but we finally hunted around and found a marker where General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Union's 2nd Corps, was wounded during Pickett's charge:

That's important not only for Hancock's heroism in the battle, but also for it's proximity to this:

The Gibbon Tree on Cemetery Ridge. General John Gibbon was wounded at the base of this tree during Pickett's Charge. This is one of the few “Witness Trees” left on the battlefield.

That was one of the simple wonders of the trip. A lot has changed in the 146 years since the battle occurred, but that tree stood in the same spot as men fought and died all around it.

Finally we reached the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. You've seen distant shots of the copse of trees that served as the Confederate objective for Pickett's charge, now here's one from the Union point of view:

This memorial constitues the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy:

Supposedly, this was as far as the Confederates made it into the Union lines in this battle. It also purportedly marks the furthest point North that the Confederates ever reached. As we'll see later, there's another marker which begs to differ.

To the right of the above memorial lies a smaller granite marker that tells the spot where Confederate General Lewis Armistead was shot and killed as he tried to rally his troops:

And here's a closer look at what it says:

Out in front of that marker lies the stone wall which takes a sharp turn at this tree at a spot known as “the Angle”:

From that stone wall, you can look out across the battlefield:

If you look closely, you can see the Virginia Memorial centered in the trees in the distance.

Just down the road from all of those monuments, is a small marker dedicated to the 11th Mississippi regiment:

According to Shaara's book, this marker shows the actual “high water mark” of the Confederacy. On this spot, the 11th's battle flag was found draped across a stone wall after they'd surrendered.

If you look back along the ridge...

...you can see that the 11th Mississippi marker lies just a bit north of the official “high water mark” memorial.

That ended our tour of the battlefield itself. I know it was a ton of pictures to wade through, but trust me, if I'd had my way, there'd be a ton more!

After that, we headed up to the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

I wanted to go there for several reasons. One, to see the spot where President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address:

The Soldier's National Memorial now stands on the spot where Lincoln stood and spoke the stirring words of the Gettysburg Address.

In front of that memorial is this marker describing the edifice itself, and the people who made it possible:

But more important to me than finding that spot was finding the grave of Isaac Taylor.

Seen on the right in the above picture, Isaac Taylor was a private in the 1st Minnesota Volunteer regiment. He was born in Illinois in or around 1837, Isaac followed his younger brother Henry (seen on the left) up to Minnesota to be a school teacher. Not long after arriving, the Civil War broke out and Isaac followed Henry once again. This time to enlist in the 1st Minnesota Volunteers.

You can read more about their shared history in “The Last Full Measure: a History of the 1st Minnesota Volunteers” available from the Minnesota Historical Society press.

But Isaac's connection both as a Minnesotan and a teacher (which is a profession my brother now occupies) was something I felt very strongly.

Isaac was killed in the 1st Minnesota's charge on July 2nd, 1863. He was cut down by an artillery shell, and thankfully died nearly instantly. And thanks to a footnote in the book I mentioned, you can walk to the spot where it's believed he is buried.

The first marker you'll find designates the plot where Minnesotans who died in the battle are buried:

Next you'll come upon a memorial placed by the surviving members of the 1st Minnesota:

Interestingly, this memorial was the first of the over 1300 which came to be placed upon the battlefield.

Finally, you'll come to rows of headstones, some marked with names, some unknown.

And among them lies this marker...

… where it is believed Isaac Taylor's remains now lie for eternity.

We stopped there for several moments, and I read a letter from Henry to his family describing Isaac's death and Henry's devastation over the loss of his brother.

For all the awe and wonder of seeing that battlefield, the moment of standing over Isaac's grave will be the most lasting memory I have of the place.

The Civil War was a human tragedy. It was a necessary tragedy given where our country found itself in its history, but that shouldn't lessen the sadness you feel when you think of entire generations of men wiped out over the course of 4 years.

Over 3 million men fought in the war. Over half-a-million died in it. Nearly 50,000 were killed or wounded at Gettysburg. And one particular Minnesotan's grave brought the true cost of the War straight home to me.

After that sobering moment, we paid a final visit to the Visitors Center where I picked up a copy of this photo...

… to frame in a display with the Gettysburg Address replica I showed you last time. A quick story behind this photo. The speaker prior to Lincoln had gone 2+ hours with his speech. So when Lincoln got up to deliver his, the photographer figured he had plenty of time to set up. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address lasted slightly over two minutes. By the time the photographer was ready to shoot, Lincoln was already sitting down. If you look closely, you can see him sitting int he middle of the picture.

Plus I picked up copies of...

… “Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg” by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.


...“Company Aytch” by Sam Watkins, both of which I'd been meaning to read for some time.

After that, we turned and headed south, back to BWI, where we boarded our separate planes and headed home.

It was a brilliant trip. I learned some things I didn't know about the battle, and got to see plenty of sights I'd only seen in my mind's eye previous to this journey.

Words can't describe how meaningful the whole experience was, but hopefully this blog communicated some of that to you.

More than anything, I owe my parents a huge thanks. Their contribution to this trip was beyond helpful. And sharing these experiences with them made them all the more meaningful.

Thank you mom and dad, I love you both!

So thus, we reach the end of The Gettysburg Files. I'm not sure I could really do the trip justice in mere words and images, but I did the best I could.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading along. And maybe one or two of you might be inspired to take the trip yourselves!

(Again, I'd be happy to help guide you at a very reasonable rate!)

Thanks for sharing a piece of it with me.

And thanks, as always, for reading!


  1. Good. Next, do Sherman's March. :-)

  2. Thanks. I'll take that under advisement.

  3. At least the weather will likely be warm.

    The Chamberlain book is excellent, incedentally. He wrote incredibly well. That and Grant's autobio are I think my two favorite books documenting that era. Haven't read the Watkins; sounds interesting, though.

  4. I finally took the time to read about Gettysburg and am thoroughly impressed. I did not know any details of the battle other than there was one and that Lincoln gave a really good speak there. Thanks for all the work you did to enlighten me of the importance of this battle. Your mom says we're going there in the Spring of 2011. Would you happen to know a good guide? I understand there may be an excellent historian in MN that we could entice to make the journey with us.

  5. I've heard of that trip. Yes, I could easily be enticed!