I have just returned from the Gettysburg National Military Park and I am still trying to get my thoughts in order concerning my visit to that place where so many added their blood to the soil. As an amateur historian, I have studied the Battle of Gettysburg up one side and down the other but was not prepared for the feelings that were generated once I stood upon that battlefield.
I was quickly struck by the immenseness of the battlefield. Yes, I knew that by the end of the second day of fighting the Confederate line stretched for about seven and a half miles, but I didn’t understand it until I saw it. I knew about the nastiness of the Devil’s Den and the steep slope of Little Round Top, but I again didn’t understand it until I saw it.
I knew that the Confederate advance on the third day required the soldiers the cross a wide open area under enemy fire. I just didn’t understand it until I saw it. The picture posted here is one I took from the Union position near the Angle, also known as the High Water Mark (click on the picture for greater detail). The tree line in the distance is from where Pickett and the other Confederates started their advance. Along that tree line and almost in the center of the picture, you can see a small white object. That “small” white object is the Virginia Memorial with a statue of Robert E. Lee atop it. It is about the height of a two storey building, which should give you a perspective of how wide that open field is – nearly a mile.
The deeper thoughts and emotions that I bring back from my short visit to Gettysburg are the ones that I can’t quite put into written words, so I’ll just say the following. I walked the ground where fellow South Carolinians fought, died, and are buried in unmarked graves. I saw their bodies, still lying where they had fallen, in pictures taken three days after the battle was over. I saw the flat rock, which served as a makeshift operating table, where a Union surgeon provided medical care to soldiers, Union and Confederate alike, for twenty-four hours straight while the battle raged around him on the second day of fighting. That surgeon collapsed and died as he was walking away from that location. I saw the rows upon rows of small, numbered stone markers that designated the final resting places of the many hundreds of unknown soldiers buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. I heard the words of the licensed guide as he told me that, one hundred and forty-five years later, body parts are still being found. I saw the spot where Lewis Armistead fell and, thus, where the Masonic story of his final hours began.
I am still reflecting. If you have not visited Gettysburg, you should. If you do, I suspect that you will then be doing some reflecting of your own.