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Day 71 (11.11.07) - Gettysburg (Photos added)

We drove down to Gettysburg today and toured the battlefield with a professional guide.

sunny 60 °F

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 90
Weather - Sunny & Temperate (low 60's), Very Nice (Cool in Evening)
Stayed at Gettysburg Hotel, on the town square

Narrative:

We don't have a lot of "must see's " on this trip, for me however, Gettysburg was one of them. Of course, before we could make it to Gettysburg, we had to get lost once (a minor theme at times). While this one didn't result in any incredible finds, we thought the Susquehanna River by Harrisburg was interesting - I don't know if it always looks like this or if it is just incredibly low this year - but all those rocks or mounds were odd.

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So anyway, after we figured out where we were, we turned around and again headed in the right direction to Gettysburg. At first, it was a little difficult figuring out which exit to take from the highway. The signs said that the next 3 exits were for the Battlefield. Please, be kind and just tell me one exit!

We finally found the Visitors Center. It is immediately across the street from the National Cemetary. It has an OK museum, an 'Electronic Battlefield Map', which was informative, and an awesome gift shop (in terms of book selection mostly). We had also heard that there were tour guides available who would drive your car for you through the park and show you the most important sites.

I decided to hire the tour guide, but the next available one wasn't for another two hours, so first we explored the museum and cemetary. Actually Mom gave the museum a short walk through and bought some books in the gift shop about women in the civil war, then decided to wait in the car, which was fine. She is a self professed pacifist and really didn't want to have much to do with this place, so I will try to keep most of this narrative in the first person. We both try to tolerate our differences, usually with some degree of success.

The Park Service has done a nice job of keeping the Cemetary both respectful of the fallen soldiers buried there as well as representative of the battle positions on the ridge and of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which he delivered there.

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On July 1, 2, and 3 of 1873 the Confederate Army led by Robert E. Lee confronted the Army of the Potamic in what may have been the decisive battle of the Civil War. Until this point, the south had been winning most of the battles, they were on the offensive and had begun taking the war to the north. Three days before the battle, President Lincoln had replaced an ineffective Gen. Hooker with Gen. Meade as commander of the Army of the Potamic. Gettysburg wasn't a significant military target for the south, it just happened to be where the two army's came into contact.

There is a lot of information readily available on the Battle of Gettysburg so I will try not to write a book here, but it was really a priviledge to see the location in person. I learned more about the battle as well, for example there were many instances of incredible bravery - yes, Joshua Chamberlain's defense of Little Roundtop was as shown in the Turner movie, but there were similar actions by other units as well. Both sides had hero's and goats, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you are on.

When my time came up for the tour, I met the tour guide, Gar. He did indeed agree to drive the RV and also had a large binder full of maps and pictures he used during the tour to help explain things. He knew his subject very well and seemed to be able to tolerate my interruptions. (I tried hard not to slow him down too much with picture taking and such, but probably did more than he's used to. I'll cheat a little here, I drove through some of the route again Monday 11.12.07 and will post pictures from both days on this entry - so I didn't make Gar sit through all of my picture taking!)

The tour followed the chronology of the battle, we started NW of town where the first clashes occured on July 1st. I am trying to avoid repeating the whole text of what happened - but should at least explain the pictures? This is a view of the Lutheran Seminary (the white tower is on top). It was used by both sides at various points as a lookout. The town is just on the other side, and Culps Hill, the right end of the Union Line, is just beyond that.

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On July 1, 1863 the Union held off the Confederates on this side of town for most of the day, but were overrun late in the afternoon and retreated to Cemetary Ridge on the other side. Confederate troops occupied the town of Gettysburg. Here is another view from the first day's battlefields looking towards the town and Cemetary Ridge (to the right of Culps Hill above).

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On the second day, Lee's troups attacked both ends of the Union Line, Culps Hill on the far left and Little Roundtop on the far right (I'm greatly simplifying here - if you want me to expand this, please let me know). In front of Little Roundtop were troops under Gen. Sickles who had taken up positions in front of most of the Union lines. Terrible fighting occured at several of these locations. At the Wheatfield, charges and counter charges moved across the field as many as five or six times, leaving as many as 4,000 casualties on this small field.

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Although the Confederates were successful in taking the "Devils Den" (shown from Little Roundtop below), the cost was high:

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When Gen. Longstreet's men first started their attack on the right end of the Union line on Day 2, Little Roundtop was undefended. While this hill is quite small and unimpressive, Gar explained that if the Confederates had been able to place their artillery on it - they could have shelled the entire Union position. Union Gen. Warren discovered this early during the action and the Union was able to quickly bring 1,400 men to defend this. (Second shot is a view from the top).

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The far end of Little Roundtop was the far end of the Union line, if the Confederates had been able to break through, it could have been devastating to the Union. This was defended by about 350 men forming the 20th Maine, commanded by Col. Joshua Chamberlain who, with ammunition running out - commanded his men to 'Fix Bayonettes' and charged the attacking Alabama troups, effectively ending the threat. This action was dramatically portrayed in the Turner movie and Chamberlain was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after the war. The 20th Maine lost about 130 men in the action. About 600 Alabama troops attacked them 5 times, loosing about 300 men over the course of an hour.

This is a view from the forward position of teh 20th Maine towards the direction from which the Alabama troops were attacking.

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Gar, the tour guide, also pointed out many other heroic actions that didn't make it into the movie (I guess Turner would have had to make the movie three days long!). Also on Little Roundtop were the 83rd Pennsylvania and the 44th New York. Some confederate troups from Texas almost took the hill farther up from the 20th Maine but were finally driven back by NY troops.

This is Gar & I at the top of Little Roundtop.

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The battle at Culps Hill was also difficult and intense, it was defended by only 1,400 Union troops as well. The confederates were able to take the lower positions, but not the hill due to the difficult terrain and also darkness - the confederate Gen. Ewell hadn't started his attack until late in the day. (I don't have any pictures of the Culps Hill battlefield, I took too long at the other sites I'm afraid).

Throughout this area were farms and farm houses as well as the town itself. The National Park Service (NPS) has done a wonderful job of restoring the area to closely resemble how it was in 1863 (with the addition of about 1,300 monuments various units have placed around the battlefield to show where they fought). Here is one of those farmhoses

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Also, the monuments are all placed facing the direction of their opponents. This one is from the July 1st fighting for the 150th PA:

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You can sigh a little bit, I did not attempt to photograph all 1,300 monuments on the battlefields. Neither will I try to post all of the pictures I did take! It was interesting to learn that while Union veterens started gathering regularly as early as the 1880's and placing grand monuments to their units and fallen comrades, southern units did not do so until more recently. There are two reasons for this; the south was economically wasted by the end of the civil war and had little money for monuments, and perhaps more important was that Gettysburg was a terrible defeat for the south, the beginning of the end according to many experts. There was more interest in assigning blame for the defeat then there was placing monuments to the fallen. However, in the 1900's some southern states have placed grand monuments to their unitss as well.

On July 3rd, Gen. Lee decided on a major attack on the center of the Union line (simplyfing here again, let me know if I need to expand). The ends had almost broken on the previous day, some southern troops had almost broken through the middle on the 2nd, so Lee felt the Union was probably weak in the center. It probably was, but Gen. Meade anticipated an attack on the center and had reinforced it during the night.

The final battle on July 3rd only lasted about 45 minutes. After a 2 hour artillery dual, 12,500 men from Gen. Longstreet's command emerged from the woods on Semintary Ridge and advanced towards the Union lines in what is known as "Pickett's Charge". Here is a view of the tree line from which they emerged (keep in mind that this was taken in November, the battle was actually in July of course.)

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This is what the Confederate troops would have been looking at across the fields. The Union line is about even with the small "Copse" of tree's on the right (just follow the line of monuments, busses, etc. in the distant haze).

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The two hour artillery barrage was not very effective, but the Union artillery tore gaping holes in the confederate lines. By the time the confederates made it to the road a couple hundred yards from the Union lines, there were probably only about 3,000 left. By the time they made it to the low, rock wall, maybe a couple of hundred.

This is a view of across the field of Picketts charge from the Union position.

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The faint white spot at the treeline is the Virginia Memorial, from where Gen. Lee watched the battle. The cars are on the road where the last 3,000 or so confederates began their final, desperate charge. At this point, they came under Union rifle & musket fire as well as artillery fire. The marker behind the yellow rope is where Confederate Gen. Amistead fell. While a few confederate troops actually broke through the Union line at this point, they were soon defeated and either killed or captured in fierce, hand to hand combat. Only about 6,000 of the troops who began the attack made it back to their lines.

Here is a shot of the Virginia Memorial on Seminary Ridge at the center of the confederate attack, where Gen. Lee was watching the battle from.

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The war dragged on for two more years, but the confederate army never fully recovered from their defeat at Gettysburg. The battle was the largest and deadliest of any contest on American soil. About 160,000 troops fought, resulting in about 51,000 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing).

The battlefields were more extensive then I'd thought, the hills smaller, the fields more deadly. I have developed a deeper respect for the men who fought here those three days and what the whole thing means. I've tried to share with you only a very small portion of what I saw and learned, but would encourage you to learn more.

For myself, I am deeply moved.

Posted by jl98584 20:22 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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