Gettysburg National Battlefield Park

Two weeks ago today myself, Amanda, and her friend Darci spent the day touring one of my very favorite places in the country - the Gettysburg National Military Park. As I've previously mentioned, I've been to Gettysburg a pretty good number of times but no matter how many times I go I am in awe of the history that occurred in the fields and streets of this small town in Pennsylvania. It's been called hallowed ground on more than on occasion and it most certainly is that.

Quality Inn General Lee's Headquarters
The girls and I spent the night at the Quality Inn at General Lee's Headquarters which is located adjacent to a house that was built in 1833 and owned by the noted statesman Thaddeus Stevens at the time of the Civil War. During the three days of battle from July 1st to 3rd 1863, the house was used as the personal headquarters of the South's most beloved general - Robert E. Lee. In addition, the Lutheran Theological Seminary, site of some of the fighting on the first day of the battle, is in very close proximity to the hotel with beautiful vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. It's a lovely place and one that I had always wanted to stay at in spite of my status as a Yankee! Miss Bee would be happy to know that I have always thought of General Lee as a mighty fine military leader as well as a Southern gentleman and he has my utmost respect and admiration no matter the poor decisions he made at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg Battlefield vistaFollowing breakfast at our hotel, I decided that the best course of action for the girls to see as much of the battlefield as possible - as well as understand what went on there - was to buy a CD of the auto tour that told the story of the Battle of Gettysburg while it covered the more prominent areas. As many times as I've been to Gettysburg, I'm pretty sure I've not seen every area there is to see so I knew there was no way we were going to do more than scratch the surface with the amount of time that we had available to us but I wanted Amanda and Darci to perhaps have some understanding and appreciation for the battle that occurred and the lives that were lost in Gettysburg.

We spent probably close to 3-1/2 to 4 hours touring the battlefield if you count all of the stops for pictures and a closer look at some of the major points of interest like Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the State of Pennsylvania Monument, the State of Virginia Monument, and - one of my personal favorites - the monument for Lieutenant General James Longstreet.

General James LongstreetIt was once said that "Longstreet ... was the finest corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia; in fact, he was arguably the best corps commander in the conflict on either side" - an assessment that I wholeheartedly agree with. General Lee's "Old War Horse" is another Southern General that I greatly admire and whom I think got a pretty raw deal from his fellow Southerners when he dared to say that General Lee made the wrong call at choosing to go ahead with his attack on the third day of Gettysburg.

Probably because of that, it wasn't until July 3rd, 1998 that General Longstreet was finally given a monument at Gettysburg located in a grove of trees in Pitzer Woods behind what would have been the Southern lines in the area of Seminary Ridge. Unlike most monuments to generals where the general is depicted on his horse on a large stone base, Longstreet’s monument shows him at ground level on a disproportionately small version of his favorite horse, Hero. As one of the very last monuments to be placed at Gettysburg, the monument's size and placement is indicative of the continuing controversy surrounding him. Longstreet is actually kind of hard to find if you aren't looking for him but I always like to stop by and pay my respects to "Old Pete" when I'm at Gettysburg. This trip was no exception.

Gettyburg farmhouseGettysburg National Military Park began in 1895 with 800-acres but today it is close to 6,000 acres and receives more visitors each year - over two million - than there are residents of Nebraska. With 26 miles of roadway and more than 1,400 markers, monuments, and memorials there's a lot to see and do at Gettysburg but I just wish that people wouldn't treat it as some sort of "fun" family tourist destination because it isn't. A major battle occurred there and lots and lots of lives were lost; sons and fathers and brothers and uncles and cousins and husbands - men who would never see their homes and loved ones again. Men who fought and died for a cause that they believed in and whose spirits may still linger somewhere in Gettysburg.

Rocks of Devil's Den, GettysburgNothing gets my goat more than to see unsupervised children climbing on the monuments and cannons or scrabbling up and down the rocks of Devil's Den without any thought to the reason that those monuments and cannon are there or the blood that flowed over the rocks and into the fields.

Truth be told, I got a little miffed at Amanda and Darci when they both broke into a major case of the giggles when we were at the Eternal Peace Light but I guess maybe that's just because I'm a stickler for the solemnity of the area. I know I need to relax but I guess I just feel that most people don't understand what happened at Gettysburg; I guess I feel like it would be the equivalent of laughing at the beaches of Normandy - at least for me anyway. I'm not saying that children should never go to Gettysburg but if you bring them there, you need to tell them what happened there and keep them in check. That said, though, I'll get off of my soapbox now.

Anyhow, I could go on and on about Gettysburg for a lot longer but I'll spare everyone the history and end this with a video of some more pictures of the battlefield and these rather sobering statistics:

At the end of the three-day battle, the 95,000 Union troops under General George Meade and 75,000 troops of General Robert E. Lee that met at Gettysburg had suffered 57,225 casualties – the largest number of any battle in the American Civil War. Union casualties were 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, and 5,369 captured or missing) while the Confederate casualties were more difficult to estimate. The most definitive work on the battle, Regimental Strength and Losses by John W. Busey and Dr. David Martin, cite 23,231 casualties (4,708 killed, 12,683 wounded, and 5,830 captured or missing).

Like I said, it is very hallowed ground; very hallowed ground indeed.

Comments

  1. Kids climbing on cannons and monuments are part of the fun for them. Do you want children to grow up loathing battlefields? The idea is to build a positive experience for children to remember and then learn more about history as they grow older.

    Stop treating monuments to Lee et al as idol worship. I noticed at the 150th celebration that no one had a problem with kids climbing on Union monuments but God forbid if you dare climb on old Lee!!!

    I work in DC surrounded by statues that children climb. I live in Fredericksburg surrounded by major battlefields. I visit the parks often with my children. There are no grumpy old men yelling at kids to get down.

    Get a grip on life. And dont tell my kids what to do. That's my job.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,

      What can I say other than that our opinions differ when it comes to battlefields and monuments vs playgrounds and jungle gyms? I certainly do NOT treat monuments to Lee or anyone else as idol worship but I'm pretty sure that the folks who took the time to raise the money to have them built and erected didn't do so in order to provide a place for your kids - or anyone else's - a place to play.

      Perhaps I'm wrong but battlefields aren't supposed to be "fun" - battlefields are maintained as places of solemnity in recognition of the lives lost there and in the hopes that people will learn from them in the future. Perhaps instead of teaching our kids that it's okay to do whatever they want wherever they want without regard for the places that they are doing it in, that we try teaching them respect for the places that they are in.

      There are certain places in life where solemnity and respect are in order - churches, cemeteries, and battlefields - and if that means it's no "fun" to take your kids to those places then don't - take them to Hershey Park or Six Flags or someplace designed for fun instead.

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  2. Amen Linda! I agree with you totally. Children that climb all over the monuments and cannons have zero respect for what happened there. And the parents that sit back and applaud it like anonymous did, should be ashamed of themselves.

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  3. Thank you, Linda....I'm a bit late to your post and this site, but was glad to see you stand up for the truth. You are absolutely right, kids should not be carrying on in places like this anymore than you would let them goof off in church. Kids have to be taught respect, it doesn't come naturally. And as parents it is our responsibility to teach them. What a wonderful teaching opportunity is lost at Gettysburg by parents with this 'my kid can do no wrong' mindset. There is a time and place for everything and there are plenty of places you can take children where they can be silly. Gettysburg is not one of them.

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  4. Sounds like a lot of folks here don't have little children or forgot what its like to have them. You can teach the children about the blood and carnage when they are older. The guy/gal from DC is right. They take their kids to a battlefield and obviously kids aren't mature enough to handle the grave situation. So what is a kid to remember? That their parents dragged them to some boring place in the country???? Or they had fun at the park which will spark interest later????

    Parks sell fake muskets and kids love to play at battlefields. Gesh, you guys are uptight and making sure future generations don't find interest at all in history.

    BTW, as a veteran, I don't mind if kids play on a monument. It bring happiness and hope to a place that had such despair.

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    1. As is my wont as an old fuddy-duddy these days (in some respects!) and a firm believer that if children are not taught early on that there are things in life that are NOT playthings or playgrounds I'm going to respectfully disagree with this opinion. If your kids are going to be bored then by all means, take them to Hershey Park down the road and NOT to Gettysburg which as the site of so much death and sadness is most likely not appropriate for young children who can't grasp why it's there and why there are so many monuments which are not pieces of jungle gym equipment in spite of the temptation to use them as such. Take your kids there when they are older - as I did with mine - when they can understand what happened there and why and not be tempted to swing off of the end of a 100+-year old 40-pound parrot rifle. By all means, please DO teach your children about history but do so respectfully - there's a time for play and a time for solemnity so think about where you're taking them and if they aren't going to "get it" or be bored and whiny, take them someplace else until such time as they are old enough to grasp the death and dying everywhere that was Gettysburg. Those memorials and monuments were erected so that others would not forget what happened at Gettysburg - not as entertainment - and certainly not as pieces of playground equipment.

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  5. A number of the troops who fought in Gettysburg actually grew up there and even played at Devil's Den when they were children. I don't see anything wrong with children climbing over the rocks at Devil's Den.

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    Replies
    1. Neither do I Jeff as the rocks at Devil's Den are not erected monuments but a natural formation. I've climbed on the rocks there myself though definitely with a sense of reverence.

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