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 > Belated Fall 2010 TR - Part 2 of 3 - Gettysburg

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GoinThisAway

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Posted: 08/18/11 08:21pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Link to Part 1 of 3: Shenandoah

Continuing our journey, a rosy early morning light slanted in under a ceiling of brooding clouds at Shenandoah River State Park in Virginia. We found we’d been joined in the night by another TC rig. Unfortunately, there was still no one stirring outside the S&S when we were ready to depart so we didn’t get to chat with the owners.

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We drove around to the ridge top above the campground and stopped at an overlook. This 1,064 acre park is one of Virginia’s newest state parks and features over five miles of river frontage.

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Looking out from the overlook we saw the campground below. If you stop here, I recommend the sites in the middle of the first section as you enter as they have a view out across the river valley.

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We were also able to see the wandering course of the river from the overlook.

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This fork of the Shenandoah is fairly broad and shallow as indicated by the many ripples seen in the water.

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We continued down the road to its end at a canoe launch on the river. Here we got a closer look at the rippling waters and of the rocks beneath the ripples.

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We wandered further north on our fourth day, crossing the narrow neck of Maryland and into Pennsylvania before stopping for the night. The next day we arrived early at our destination for the day, the Gettysburg National Military Park. The DH had wanted to visit here for many years. This historic Civil War battle occurred in July 1863 and marked the turning point in the war where the northward incursion of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army was stopped by the Union’s Major General George G. Meade. With upwards of 40,000 soldiers killed or wounded, it was also the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. And who could forget the moving Gettysburg Address delivered here by President Abraham Lincoln later that year. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met upon a great battle field of that war …”

In the parking lot of the Museum and Visitor Center run by the Gettysburg Foundation , it looked like budget cuts had sidelined the mowers but this wasn’t the case. Instead of the usual grass medians that always appear so bland, this parking lot is landscaped with interesting native vegetation. I liked it and believe it also accomplishes another goal. Dear, did you bring your machete? No, then I guess we’d better keep to the pavement.

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Once inside the building we checked our options and decided to start with the cyclorama presentation. I had noticed that the visitor center has a round second story. It turns out this is used to display a 360 degree painting of the battle. These circular paintings were popular in the 1800’s, providing a sort of 3-D view of large scale scenes. No funny glasses required! French artist, Paul Philippoteaux, labored over a year and a half to research and paint a cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg . It was shown in Chicago in 1883 and was so roundly applauded, even by actual veterans of the battle, that he quickly produced a second that was displayed in Boston in 1884. It is this second painting, 359 feet long by 27 feet high (1178 m x 89 m), which is now displayed in Gettysburg.

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The painting underwent a multi-million dollar restoration before being installed in the new visitor center in 2008. I thought it was phenomenal. My only complaint was that the show did not allow enough time to take it all in, particularly since the lighting was spotty, colored, and subdued during most of the presentation. I’m sure this is done to protect the painting from the effects of the light though. In the photos below I was able to edit out most of the awful red and purple light they favored.

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To enhance the 3-D effect, the painting is complemented with a foreground strewn with objects one would see on a battlefield of the time. I was impressed by how seamlessly this was done.

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After the cyclorama presentation, we headed out onto the auto tour, saving the museum portion of the visitor center for later. The first thing we noticed was the many monuments.

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Happily, the first wayside exhibit on the tour is one that explains the different types of monuments on the battlefield . No wonder that it seemed like there are a lot of monuments … over 1300 have been erected on the battlefield and that IS a lot! Pardon the rough collage but this plaque was rather large.

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At the start of the battle on July 1, 1863, Confederate forces fought to rout the Union forces that occupied an area a short distance west of the town of Gettysburg. The now peaceful McPherson farm was the scene of much bloody fighting on that day.

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Confederate soldiers marched in from the distance, meeting Union soldiers that occupied the ground around me.

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The original house on the McPherson farm later burned and was rebuilt. The barn was here at the time of the battle and was turned into a hospital to treat some of the many wounded resulting from the bloody engagement. Standing here on such a beautiful day, it’s hard to imagine the sort of horrific scene this must have been with wounded, dying, and dead soldiers scattered about the grounds.

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Here in a quiet copse of woods overlooking the McPherson farm is a monument commemorating where Union Major General John Fulton Reynolds fell on the first day of battle. He died only 50 miles from his birthplace in Lancaster PA.

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Further along the route I had to stop to admire this exquisitely carved monument to the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division. Being a horse lover, I found some information later on the four-legged members of the cavalry. The number of horses and mules that participated in the battle is given as anywhere between 46,000 and 72,000. The most famous of these was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveller. The first Confederate monument to be erected at the battlefield was of this pair. Slightly less famous is Union General George C. Meade’s mount, Baldy. There is also a statue of this pair on the battlefield. Ironically, both horses outlived their famous riders and participated as the riderless horse in their funerals. While Traveller and Baldy survived the battle of Gettysburg without injury, many other equines weren’t so lucky. No one will ever know exactly how many as the number of equine casualties in the Civil War was poorly recorded.

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On a hill overlooking the woods and fields where the violent battle began is the solemn Eternal Light Peace Memorial. The idea for this memorial was conceived by Union and Confederate veterans of the war attending a reunion in 1913, the 50th anniversary of the battle. Completed in 1938, it was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the 75th anniversary of the battle. “Immortal deeds and immortal words have created here at Gettysburg a shrine of American patriotism,” he stated in his dedication speech. “All of them we honor, not asking under which Flag they fought then – thankful that they stand together under one Flag now.”

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We took advantage of the large parking area at the memorial to stop for a hot lunch. The convenience of the truck camper provided fodder for our bodies to digest while the view out our window provided fodder for minds to digest. How can a country so torn asunder by a civil war mend itself into states with the strong ties that they have today? What would our country be like if the battle had gone the other way?

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After lunch we ventured back out into the cool fall day to take a closer look at a few of the artillery pieces on display around the memorial. Hundreds of cannon were used in the battle, guns that fired solid shot at long range and howitzers that fired either solid shot or shells at short range. I read later that it took up to eight men to load, aim, and fire each one and that each artillery unit could fire up to two rounds per minute. It must have been an impressive sight to see many groups of such men performing their well-practiced movements amidst the seeming chaos of the battle.

This is a Napoleon, a muzzle loaded gun that hurled a 12-pound 3-inch shot up to a distance of 1700 yards (5580 m) although it was reportedly most accurate at a much shorter distances. Made of bronze, it weights roughly 1200 pounds. It was the favored artillery piece of both the Union and the Confederates.

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A rarer piece is the Whitworth, a gun used by the Confederacy that hurled a 12-pound 2.75-inch shell with exceptional accuracy over great distance. The gun could shoot 10 rounds a distance of 1600 yards (5250 m) with the shells falling within 5 inches of each other. This accuracy was due to the hexagonal cross-section of its barrel. It was said that a shell shot from a Whitworth created an eerie whistling sound in flight that was different from that of any other projectile.

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We could also see the town of Gettysburg just a short distance away. In 1863 the town’s population was about 2,400 persons. After the battle, they were faced with more than two dead and five wounded for every resident of the town.

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Continuing our way along the auto tour route, we stopped on Seminary Ridge. Here, during the last two days of the battle, Confederate faced off against Union forces that had retreated to the distant Cemetery Hill.

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With Union troops entrenched on the distant high ground, Confederate troops were faced with the daunting task of advancing the attack across these wide open fields. Despite many such attempts, their efforts resulted only in death and defeat. The most infamous of these was a disastrous charge made by 12,500 or so men who raced into the face of General Meade’s withering fire only to fail and fall back, leaving half their number dead, wounded, or captured. This assault is often referred to as Pickett’s charge after Confederate Major General George Pickett whose Division suffered particularly large losses.

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There are many monuments along this part of the route that commemorate the actions of soldiers of various states such as this one for North Carolina.

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My home state of Tennessee, the site of many Civil War battles, did not have very many soldiers at Gettysburg with only 775 men but more than 50% of these were killed, wounded, or missing at the end of the battle.

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There were many tablets describing the movements of a particular unit.

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Some of the old farm buildings on the battlefield, such as the ones here, are used as residences for park personnel. That would put a different spin on the concept of “living history”!

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Further along on West Confederate Avenue, is the Longstreet Tower. At the top of the observation tower is an old metal plate that identifies pertinent geographic features seen in the distance.

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Here is a panoramic merge of three photos looking out from West Confederate Avenue. Confederate forces occupied the tree line to the right and left. Before them were open fields beyond which lay a row of hills including Cemetery Ridge straight ahead with Little and Big Roundtop Hills to the right. It was to this high ground that the Union forces had withdrawn after the battle of the first day. I like these merged panoramic photos but they do seem to warp one’s perspective. The trees seen to the right and left actually form a straight line through the viewing tower.

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Behind us is another interesting site, a farm owned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. More on that later!

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Here’s the memorial for your state, Kohldad.

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South Carolina is known as the Palmetto State, hence the beautifully detailed palmetto trees etchings adorning the monument.

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Moving into the area between the Confederate and Union lines we came across a plaque with the story of Elon J. Farnsworth’s first and last battle as a newly appointed brigadier general in the Union cavalry. He was ordered to make a desperate charge across rough wooded ground to stop a Confederate attack. Since executing a cavalry charge over rough wooded ground is inherently difficult, he questioned his superior when first given the order. When this superior questioned his courage, he resolutely rallied his men and led them in the counterattack. It was said that he made such a heroic charge that even the Confederates were impressed. Farnsworth died in the effort along with more than 20% of his men but they were successful in turning back the Confederate attackers.

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South Confederate Avenue skirts through a wooded area at the foot of Big Round Top, the largest of the hills seen earlier from the observation tower. Just visible in the distance we spied a figure standing silently atop a rock at the edge of the trees.

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We found that it is a statue of Union Major General William Wells of the 1st Regiment of the Vermont Cavalry. Wells participated in General Farnsworth’s gallant cavalry charge and took command of the survivors when Farnsworth fell. He is the lowest-ranking federal officer to have a statue at Gettysburg. An identical statue is said to stand in Battery Park in Burlington, VT. Justifiably so as I read that some consider him to be the most extraordinary Vermont soldier of the Civil War.

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An interesting three-dimensional bronze tablet set into the front of the Wells monument depicts the heroic charge of Farnsworth and Wells. The nearby plaque notes that the sculptor, J. Otto Schwiezer, included the faces of many survivors on the tablet.

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Wells and his horse appear to gallop out of the plaque, leading the charging cavalry into battle, while behind him Farnsworth falls with a mortal wound.

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A short distance further down the road we pulled into a parking area. A few steps took us out of the woods to an overlook with an excellent view of the battlefield. The Union Army occupied this high ground and used the expansive view to great advantage. The rocky area in the middle distance at the far left is Devil’s Den and was the site of a Union battery. The Confederates occupied the solid line of trees seen in the far distance.

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Atop a large rock at the overlook, a statue stands forever gazing out across the scene of the battle. On a tablet nearby we read in part “Led to this spot by his military sagacity on July 2, 1863 General Bouverneur Kemble Warren then Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac detected General Hood’s flanking movement and by promptly assuming the responsibility of ordering troops to this place saved the key of the Union position.” He was rewarded by being promoted to major general after the battle.

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Here’s a panoramic merge of the two photos above. Many more statues and monuments were seen in the distance from the top of Little Round Top but the day was getting late so we diverged from the auto route to spend our last hour in the museum.

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As noted earlier, this is a relatively new museum having opened in 2008. It was funded and is run not by the National Park Service but by the Gettysburg Foundation. There is a booth with a couple Park personnel inside though and they provided us with some helpful information.

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In addition to the cyclorama we saw earlier, there are also displays of artifacts liberally supplemented with information plaques. They provided some interesting glimpses into what a soldier’s life would have been like in those days. So we finished out our day browsing the dislays and also the well-stocked book store.

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We had seen a lot during our short tour of the Gettysburg battlefield. When we later visited an Aunt who lives just a few hours from the battlefield, she told us she found herself drawn to return to the battlefield many times. She asked me why I had wanted to visit this Civil War site. Why indeed? When I was planning the trip, I was interested in seeing where an important event in the history of my country had occurred. While we were driving around the battlefield, I was absorbed with figuring out the chronology of the battle. After the visit, I felt compelled to do some research on what I had seen and found myself drawn most to the stories of individuals who fought in the battle. I do believe I‘ll find myself returning to the Gettysburg area again also.

Stay tuned for one more part!

Link to Part 3 of 3: Eisenhower & Johnstown

* This post was last edited 11/16/11 07:46pm by GoinThisAway *   View edit history


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rwj146

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Posted: 08/18/11 08:43pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I have been through Gettysburg many times but never had the chance to stop and see the battlefield. Thank you for taking the time to show me what i missed.


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jimmyfred

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Posted: 08/18/11 09:46pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

...............Your pics and historical info are much appreciated ! I thought for a while I wanted too make the Alaska journey my last long vacation , but now , I've changed my plans and will visit those places in your pics where so many gave their lives for a cause they believed in . , thank you , jf


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sabconsulting

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Posted: 08/19/11 12:23am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Many thanks for your excellent report. You have really done the memorials and paintings justice in your pictures. Reading your report is like reading one of those glossy photo guide books you buy at locations like that.

That 360 degree painting is great. Once you had digitally cleaned off all the mood-lighting you could see what a marvellous painting it was - pity the lighting ruined the effect. Sometimes I feel organisations try too hard to make these things interactive or multi-media when we would be better off just seeing the painting clearly without the sound and lighting effects. I suspect it isn't to preserve the painting either - I don't see such lighting in the Louvre in Paris, even the Mona Lisa is under pretty much normal but diffuse light.

There was a similar 360 degree painting at the Battle of Waterloo, but I didn't think it was as good as the above one.

I also love the way these battle sites and memorials are cared for. When you visit them it really makes you stop and think. I just hope future generations value and care for them as much as we do.

Steve.


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Camper_Jeff_&_Kelli

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Posted: 08/19/11 12:42am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Very interesting.
Thank you.


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sleepy

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Posted: 08/19/11 03:21am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thank you so much... you have gifted me with another part of our country that I haven't seen before. We will make a dedicated trip as you have to experience what you have shown us so well... your narritive is very special, few could paint your thoughts into our minds eyes as well as you have.

My note; It has surprised me to find out that all of the civil war battlefields aren't in the parks.

Our grandchildren live along Route 3 in the middle of the battlefields at Fredericksburg, Va... near the Wilderness. Its a sobering thought to know that as many a 500 troops commanded by Floridas Gen Perry died in battle just on their 5 acres. The trenches are still in their yard. A sign stating that Stonewall Jackson was wounded "here" is very close to their house. (they have never used a metal detector... the park service doesn't allow it... they don't do it either).

Last note: The Battle of Atlanta fought on July 22, 1864, during the American Civil War is also memorialized in a cyclorama that is well worth seeing. It is laid out much a described by Going this Way's decription of the one at Gettysburg.

I didn't add these notes to take away any Going this Ways thread... but to attempt to let those people that enjoy it know that they could spend months visiting places like this... or wait on her to go, post, and share with us.

I'm hooked,

Thank you Mrs (and Mr) Going this Way.


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Posted: 08/19/11 04:37am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great post, very informative ! Thanks you


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pa traveler

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Posted: 08/19/11 04:59am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for report.

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Posted: 08/19/11 06:25am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great report. Even makes me want to go by there to spend a day.


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2006PSDSD

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Posted: 08/19/11 07:18am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great trip report!


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