Tag Archive | Gettysburg National Military Park

Virginia 2015: The Soldier’s National Cemetery

Day 2, October 5, 2015

It is called the Soldier’s National Cemetery – officially.  But like me, perhaps you have always thought of it as Gettysburg National Cemetery.  We took the time to visit when we visited Gettysburg. The cemetery already existed as the town cemetery at the time of the Civil War, but after the battle work began to designate one cemetery for the Union dead. Immediately after the battle, the dead had been hastily interred at several nearby sites, including churchyards, on the grounds outside hospitals, and on the fields of the battlefield itself. Some corpses were not found until much later, and had begun to decompose without being buried.

As land was acquired adjacent to the town cemetery, the remains were reinterred. They first had wooden markers, but then flat stone markers were laid in 1865. The Civilian Conservation Corps set the gravestones in concrete in 1934. The Civil War graves are set in concentric semi-circles radiating out from The Soldier’s National Monument, begun in 1865 and dedicated in 1869.  Today, the remains of 6,000 servicemen are buried here, including about 3,500 Civil War soldiers.  Over half of the Civil War burials belong to unidentified soldiers.  Later burials include servicemen extending up through the Vietnam War in 1972, in a later acquired annex of land.

 

Gettysburg National Cemetery. The flat markers in the foreground are the Civil War graves.

Gettysburg National Cemetery. The flat markers in the foreground are the Civil War graves.

 

A view of the Soldier's Monument, with Civil War graves in the foreground.

A view of the Soldier’s Monument, with Civil War graves in the foreground.

Of course, the cemetery is also famous for the speech that was given here. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is one of the most recognizable speeches in U.S. history, although Lincoln didn’t think at the time that it would be long remembered. He even said so in his remarks.  In fact, his speech here was mostly an afterthought. Edward Everett, Massachusetts statesman and orator, had been chosen to give the dedication at Gettysburg. The cemetery committee asked the President at the last minute to give “a few appropriate remarks,” after Everett finished speaking. Here’s what Lincoln came up with:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln only spoke for about two minutes – far less than the two hours that Everett spoke. In fact, there are no photographs of Lincoln speaking – historians believe it is because the photographers capturing the event were surprised by the brevity of his remarks. But the speech brings tears to my eyes every time I hear or read it, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one so affected.

Another view of the Soldier's Monument

The New York State Monument at the Soldier’s National Cemetery

For a long time, Lincoln was believed to have given his speech near the Soldier’s Monument, but more recent historians studying photographs place the dais within the existing town cemetery, Evergreen Cemetery. The ranger was kind enough to point out where to stand and look through the fence to get a rough idea of where Lincoln stood.  If we hadn’t spoken to the ranger, we wouldn’t have known, as the signage at the cemetery still gives the old location.

To the right of the cannon, there is a small tree. Behind that is a mausoleum believed to be near the site where the dais was placed for the cemetery dedication.

To the right of the cannon, there is a small tree. Behind that is a mausoleum believed to be near the site where the dais was placed for the cemetery dedication.

The cemetery is beautiful – with historic wrought iron fences and brick work, and pathways. The various trees are marked with their species names, and the squirrels and birds clearly enjoy it.  We wandered among the graves and the trees for a little while, reflecting on the incredible sacrifice of these men, and the importance of this place.

Some of the World War I graves at Gettysburg

Some of the World War I graves at Gettysburg

 

Virginia 2015: Gettysburg NMP

Day 2, October 5, 2015

Gettysburg today is a beautiful, quiet town in the Pennsylvania countryside.  But that peace was shattered for three days in July, 1863, when the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in the Civil War’s most costly battle in terms of human life.  Over 46,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in the three days of battle, and it forever changed this small, farming community.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

After I had worked out our trip schedule for our Virginia trip, Jon decided he wanted to fit in a quick trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  And before you tell me that the title of this blog says Virginia, but I’m roaming around in Pennsylvania, there’s a reason!  I decided to keep a consistent heading name for all my posts for this trip – even though we did a couple of detours outside of Virginia!  Gettysburg was only about 40 minutes away from where we were staying in Frederick, Maryland after all! If it were up to me, Gettysburg would never be a quick trip, but I had done the full battlefield tour (with audio tour) before, so I made my peace with doing Gettysburg on a smaller scale this time. Jon is just never going to be an audio tour kind of guy, and I have to accept that…

We got to Gettysburg around 9:30-10 am and did a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center for stamps and postcards. We decided not to see the museum and the movie (that part pained me…), so we could spend more time on the battlefield.  I still need to get back there and do that!

One of the hundreds of cannon that sit on the battlefield.

One of the hundreds of cannon that sit on the battlefield.

 

Another of the many statues featuring horses at Gettysburg.

Another of the many statues featuring horses at Gettysburg.

Jon wanted to see where Pickett’s Charge occurred, so we started there. We checked out the Angle and the High Water Mark, where the Union Army repulsed the Confederates on the last day of the battle. I was again amazed by the sheer insanity determination that must have been involved in sending those soldiers across a mile and a half of open field. Pickett’s troops, and the other divisions that participated in the charge, were decimated.  Standing there, it is easy to see why.

The Codori Farm was in the middle of Pickett's Charge on the third day of the battle in 1863. This barn is a replacement; the original was torn down in 1882. The farmhouse sustained damage from shelling during the battle.

The Codori Farm was in the middle of Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the battle in 1863. This barn is a replacement; the original was torn down in 1882. The farmhouse sustained damage from shelling during the battle.

Half of Pickett’s division was left dead or wounded on the field. The casualty rate for the men that reached the Angle was over 70 percent. When Pickett’s remaining troops made their way back to Seminary Ridge, Lee asked Pickett to organize his troops in the rear to prepare for a counter attack by the Union. Pickett reportedly replied, “General Lee, I have no division now.” Truer words were never spoken.

The Pennsylvania Monument is the largest monument on the battlefield; it also has interior stairs that lead you to the top of the monument for a bird’s eye view of many of the features of the battlefield.  I climbed to the top and surveyed the view; you can see a lot from up there!

The view from the top of the Pennsylvania Monument.

The view from the top of the Pennsylvania Monument.

 

A plaque marking directions and distances from the top of the Pennsylvania Monument

A plaque marking directions and distances from the top of the Pennsylvania Monument.

 

We also checked out Seminary Ridge, where General Lee staged the Confederate line. I do love the gigantic statue of Lee that has been placed as a monument on Seminary Ridge. He’s on a horse, so of course you know I love it!  I’m sure there are lots of people who would argue that it should be removed along with all the other Confederate statues, but I think there is a valid historical reason to leave them, and learn from the past. If we hide all traces of our past, how will people come to understand the complicated road we have traveled? But I digress…

A statue of Robert E. Lee on the battlefield.

A statue of Robert E. Lee on the battlefield.

 

Our last stop on the Gettysburg Battlefield that day was at Little Round Top, where Joshua Chamberlain, after defending the hill valiantly and running out of ammunition, ordered a fixed bayonet charge to repulse the Confederates charging up the hill from Devil’s Den. Before the Union Army defeated the charge, men were fighting hand to hand on the hill.

Looking down at Devil's Den from Little Round Top

Looking down at Devil’s Den from Little Round Top.

 

The rock strewn hillside and Devil’s Den’s, a bowl shaped collection of rocks at the base of Little Round Top, are much the way they were during the battle. You can still see where union troops created defensive walls using the existing large boulders, and the numerous smaller rocks on the hill. Chamberlain was the recipient of the Medal of Honor for his bravery on Little Round Top, 30 years after the war.

I found a toad on Little Road Top! He is an Eastern American Toad.

I found a toad on Little Road Top! He is an Eastern American Toad.

 

We also made one additional stop in Gettysburg – The Gettysburg National Cemetery.  I will post about it next!

Gettysburg NMP History

Almost everyone (I hope) knows the name Gettysburg and what happened here.  It was a monumental battle between the United States Army and the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.  A three day battle which would end with the most casualties of any one battle in the Civil War.  Over 46,000 men were killed, wounded or missing at the conclusion of those three days.  It was a battle that pitted soldiers against each other in hand to hand combat, in impossible charges over open fields, and in insufferable weather conditions.  It was a battle that would change the tide of the war, even though it would rage on for almost two more years.

Gettysburg National Military Park today includes most of the battlefield, and many of the other areas that were important to the battle, such as staging and supply areas and hospitals.  It also includes the cemetery, which is quite possibly the most famous cemetery in the United States, due to a small speech given here by Abraham Lincoln when dedicating the cemetery several months after the battle.  Lincoln’s speech was over in less than 2 minutes, but it has lived on in the collective hearts of the nation.  I learned it in school, and I bet you probably did too.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

The first land was protected in 1863, and gradually more land has been added over the last century and a half.  Gettysburg was designated as a National Military Park in 1895, and eventually placed under the administration of the National Park Service.  To date, 3,965 acres have been protected, with new land added to the park as recently as 2009.  Gettysburg also protects over 1,320 monuments, 410 cannons, 148 historic buildings, 3 observation towers, and 41 miles of avenues, roads, and lanes.  And although it is not known whether any remains have yet to be discovered on the battlefield, soldiers who fought at Gettysburg were found where they fell as recently as 1996; there are probably more men still resting there.  It is truly sacred ground.

The Visitor’s Center protects the Cyclorama, a late 19th century room sized oil painting on canvas, that when viewed from a platform immerses the viewer in the scene.  It is fascinating to see in person.  Sadly, the park sold their Electric Map, a 30′ by 30′ display in relief of the battlefield with dozens of light bulbs that light up to show the troop movements on the battlefield.  I saw it when I visited Gettysburg in 2008, and gained an understanding of the movement of the battle over those three days that is hard to appreciate from watching a movie.  It may have been “old” technology, but it was effective.  If you want to see a video of the Electric Map – there’s one at this website.

in 2010, 1,031,554 people visited the park, making it one of the more visited units within the Park System.  Although I visited in 2008, I was looking forward to spending more time there, and we were going to see it on our trip!