Friday, November 1, 2013

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

On Saturday, October 19th, we left our New Jersey campground and drove southward, though the tip of Delaware, and into Maryland.  The next morning, Steve left for another week of work in Texas while the kids and I stayed in Maryland.  This time, however, my mother drove up from her home in Virginia to spend a few days with us.  On Tuesday, October 22, while she was here, we decided to experience Gettysburg.

Gettysburg is a little town in south central Pennsylvania that was the scene of the bloodiest battle on our country's soil, and even in our country's history.  On July 1-3, 1863, the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee battled the Union forces under General George G. Meade in the battle that changed the tide of the Civil War.  Until this battle, the southern armies were winning the war, but the direction of the war changed when the federal forces defeated the southern troops and put them on the defensive.  In the three days of the battle, there were over 51,000 casualties (killed, wounded, captured, and missing).

We drove only about an hour to get to Gettysburg.  When we arrived, we went to the visitor's center to buy a CD audio automobile tour that would lead us through a tour of the battlefield.  In all, the dramatized audio tour was 2.5 hours long, but with the stops along the way it took us nearly four hours to complete.  We stopped at a picnic area halfway through to eat our lunches, then continued on the tour.

The driving tour takes you along the roads which are lined with monuments to each division/battalion/whatever from both sides who fought in the war.  Since there were over 164,000 soldiers who fought in that battle, you can imagine how many monuments are along the paths. A couple of the more impressive monuments are the Eternal Light Peace Memorial with its flame on top, and the Pennsylvania Memorial which is the largest memorial at the battlefield.

The driving tour ends at the Gettysburg National Cemetery where most of the battle deceased are buried and where President Abraham Lincoln gave his famed Gettysburg Address.  At only 272 words and less than two minutes long, it remains a masterpiece of the English language and gave meaning to the sacrifice of the dead and inspiration to the living.

Following our time at the Gettysburg Battlefield, we rode a tour bus to the battlefield's adjacent Eisenhower National Historic Site.  President Eisenhower came to Gettysburg as a cadet at West Point to study the historic battle, then was assigned to Camp Colt in Gettysburg during the first World War. He loved the area, and after his 38 years in the military he and his wife Mamie bought the farm adjacent to the battlefield to "retire".  Little did they know that he would be called upon by the Republican party to run for the land's highest office.  However, he did live in the house for ten years before he passed away, and his wife remained there for an additional ten years.

The farm is very peaceful and serene, and it is easy to see how the Eisenhowers fell in love with it.  The farmhouse is surprisingly modest, given that he was a five-star general, hero of the WWII Normandy Invasion, president of Colombia University, commander of NATO, and 34th President of the United States.  One would assume a home of more grandeur, but it was very much like something my grandparents would have owned.  I felt very "at home" there, and I think perhaps their intention was to have a place in which people would feel comfortable.

My mom and I took the younger two boys through the Junior Secret Service badge "training manual" while the older boys were left to explore the farm on their own.  Surprisingly, we ended up spending three hours there!

We left the Eisenhower farm, grabbed dinner at McDonald's, then drove home again.  We covered a lot of history in one day!  Gettysburg remains one of my favorite places to visit.