This snow that has been taunting us for the last several days and never actually appearing got me thinking about a trip I took a few years ago to Maryland and Pennsylvania, to visit the Antietam and Gettysburg Civil War Battlefields. It was February then, and it also snowed on that trip. I always thought that people in Washington State were kind of wimpy about snow – it creates an amazing amount of chaos for a few inches. I thought it would be different in Maryland, but apparently not. I flew in and went to the hotel, and watched the news reports about the Snow-mageddon of 2008. So, figuring I was either going to be stuck or not, I went to bed and slept in the next morning. In the morning, the reports were all about the snarled commute and the various repercussions of the post-apocalyptic snow event. I was in a hotel room with a sliding door looking out onto an indoor courtyard where the pool was, and no outside window.
So, I slowly got prepared for what would be a horrible driving experience, and went outside – to find a quarter inch of snow on the grass and absolutely nothing on the roads or sidewalks. “Hey,” I thought, “it all melted – on with the day!” I drove out to the Antietam Battlefield, about 20 miles away, with clear roads and no issues the entire trip – only to find the Visitors Center closed due to snow. Someone had neatly taped a sign to the inside of the door telling visitors of the closure. Ok, so you mean some employee actually managed to get down to the Visitor’s Center (at significant risk of death or serious maiming – I’m kidding here if you couldn’t tell), opened the door, taped up the sign, and went home. Hello, you’re already there, why not just open? So, my trip to the Antietam Battlefield Visitor’s Center was thwarted, but I wandered around the battlefield anyway. Because, hey I was already there, and there really wasn’t much snow, as you can tell by this photo. I had a good time.
During that same trip, I also headed over to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to see the site where the historical battle occurred. If you haven’t been there, you should go, even if you are not a Civil War history buff. There is something deeply humbling about standing on the sites where tens of thousands of Americans died for their respective causes. The town of Gettysburg is still fairly small and is unravaged by time and the development that has plagued so many other towns and cities. The buildings and fields where the battle was fought still look today like they did during that time, and in a fit of bureaucratic genius, the US government saw the need even back then to do what it could to preserve the area for the education of future generations. You can look out from Little Round Top and imagine the Confederate charge that Joshua Chamberlin defended against on Day 2 of the battle. You can imagine the sheer insanity of Pickett’s charge on Day 3, across more than a mile of open field, over fences and rock walls, and back up the hill into a heavily fortified waiting Union Army (I’m still amazed that anyone lived through that).
And the cemetery, what could I possibly say about that? To stand on the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address months later, and to see the countless rows of graves marked with numbers instead of names – it really makes you wonder about whether the political infighting we experience today is really worth it.
When I was there, the new Gettysburg Visitor’s Center was not yet open (it was scheduled for its opening in April, and I was there in February). The old one was open though, even though there was actually more snow in Gettysburg. They had exhibits on the weapons that were used during the Civil War, artifacts, and a lighted battlefield map that took you through the Union and Confederate positions on each day of the battle. I believe that this map was created in the 1920’s so any child today would groan at the sight of it, but I thought it was pretty cool. Apparently others did as well, because the plan was to save it, rather than trash it when the new Visitor’s Center opened. In another 150 years, history buffs and scholars will really appreciate the foresight.