Gettysburg – A Journey into History

When we set out on a visit to Gettysburg National Battlefield, on a sunny day in early spring, I was counting on a glimpse into an eventful chapter of history… but the extent of it was an eye opener and way beyond my expectations.

The battle of Gettysburg was one of the biggest battles in the Civil War, fought between the Confederate and Union armies – the Army of Northern Virginia led by Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Potomac led by Union Major General George Meade.

This battle accounts for the highest number causalities in terms of people killed and wounded, and is considered the turning point when the tide started turning against the confederates. It was fought in and around the town of Gettysburg (obviously!) over July 1 to 3, 1863. Over the three days, wins in the battle shifted between the sides, but by the end of the third day, a decisive blow had been struck and General Lee’s Confederate Army was forced to retreat, abandoning all hopes of a victory in the north. Intermingled among the stories of valour and heroism and utmost sacrifice in the course of the battle, are the stories of brother fighting against brother, and friend turning against friend. Just imagine the emotional upheavals that rent the hearts of so many people!

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I was very very impressed with the way the battlefield is maintained and managed. All the sites and monuments are clearly marked and the auto tour is the most helpful facility. You stop your car at the clearly marked auto tour stops and put the CD in the car’s player. The commentary provides you all the information to understand what happened at that site and its relevance to the battle and the war overall.

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Markers along the way tell the stories of the events and memorials pay homage to individuals as well as fighting units. Most of the states that participated in the battle on either side have also dedicated memorials.

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Among the state memorials, the earliest established was the Virginia Memorial dedicated on 6 June, 1917. It portrays General Lee riding his horse, Traveller. At the base of the are shown various men who left their civil occupations to join the war… a professional man, a mechanic, an artist, a boy, a businessman, a farmer and a youth.

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The biggest of the memorials belong to Pennsylvania, dedicated in 1910. On top of the dome of the monument is depicted the Goddess of Peace and Victory. Above the huge arches are carved battle scenes honouring the four branches of the army, infantry, cavalry, artillery and signal corps. At the base, bronze tablets list the names of the 34,500 Pennsylvania soldiers who participated in the battle of Gettysburg.

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New York Memorial very impressive. Topped with an eagle and showing the state emblem, it displays the names of all commanding officers and their units, not memorialised individually.

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The North Carolina Memorial was one of the early ones, being dedicated in 1929. A wounded officer is shown urging his men forward, while he points to the enemy.

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The Mississippi Memorial showing two infantrymen, one mortally wounded and fallen down holding the unit colours, while the other is in the act of defending the colours using his musket as a club, was dedicated in 1973.

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The Louisiana Memorial depicts the Spirit of Confederacy holding aloft a flaming cannonball, rising over a fallen soldier – an artilleryman – who grasps a battle flag to his chest. This memorial was dedicated in 1971.

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I like the Maryland Memorial very much for its conceptual inclusiveness. It shows two soldiers from Maryland, belonging to the two sides, helping each other. Also, a bronze tablet at the base lists the Maryland commands in both armies. This memorial was dedicated on 13 November, 1994.

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You will also find a memorial to the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, dedicated in 1965, to honour all the men who fought in Confederate armies and navies. It shows a colour bearer urging his fellow soldiers to come forward. On the base are inscribed the names of the states that formed the Confederacy.

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The 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg was celebrated with around 2,000 veterans of the Civil War from either side attending. All veterans were invited to attend the function with expenses paid. At the gathering, on 3 July 1938, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, a monument to peace and national unity, was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt. Made of Maine granite and Alabama limestone, the memorial is topped by an eternal light symbolizing the United States.

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Markers like these are present all over the place and provide you the most valuable information to understand what passed here, so many years ago.

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The different types of cannons used at the battle are on display at various locations at the site.

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A view of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

When you start talking about the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular, there is so much to talk about… so many interesting snippets. How did General Lee’s estate and home in Arlington turn into the Arlington Cemeteries? What happened with the Schwartz brothers at the McLean House? Why did General Sickles often visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine? So much to talk about. Maybe another post, another day.

 

~Ria

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