My introduction to the American Civil War came in Mr. Carey’s eighth grade Social Studies class.
I don’t remember the lessons, but can still see the photos of the men that had fought and died during those bloody years.
There was a poignancy about them, those men that had families waiting for them at home. A poignancy that stayed with me even when the class moved on to other lessons.
My interest in that part of our history did not dim as I grew older.
The movie Gettysburg has become one of my all time favorite movies, instilling in me a deep desire to go and walk those hills and fields where so many men died.
I got that chance in the summer of 1998.
To say I was touched by that experience is an understatement.
I wanted to learn as much as possible while there, but we did not want to tie ourselves to a guide and their timetable.
After a little research, we discovered that a cassette tape was available so that we could listen to it in the car as we drove. It told us where to drive, when to stop, when to shut the tape off so that we could get out and look around. It pointed out, by direction and landmark, where to look so that we could see the spot being referenced as the narrator described that part of the battle.
The tour that went with the tape was supposed to be two hours. After four hours, we were still driving and stopping, while I took it all in, using ten rolls of film for pictures.
I had underestimated the size of the Military Park, though that is not the reason it took so long for us to drive the tour. I just did not want to miss any of it, and the park is so big, it surrounds the city.
As we stood on Seminary Ridge, amidst the row of Confederate cannon, I felt a deep sadness fill me to a point near pain.
It was as if I could feel the souls of all those men that were lined up for what would become known as Picket‘s Charge. It seemed impossible to stand there and not feel their uncertainty as they wondered if they would live to tell the story.
I later saw a painting by Lloyd Garrison entitled “Days of Glory” that shows two old men on Cemetery Hill, one Union, One Confederate, while the ghosts of their younger selves rushed forward or stood in defense against the enemy onslaught.
Mr. Garrison has graciously given written permission for me to share that painting with you:
That picture so graphically portrayed my feelings as I stood on Seminary Ridge, it is now hanging in our home.
I suppose, though, that my favorite site on the battlefield is Little Round Top; the wooded area where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s 20th Maine held the Union’s left flank against all odds.
And, I suppose my favoritism of that spot stems from the fact that those men were near the end of their strength, out of ammunition, and still the enemy came at them. It was Chamberlain’s order to fix bayonets and charge down the hill into the oncoming enemy that saved the day.
We have returned to Gettysburg numerous times, and each time it is like coming home.
It is a place that touches the heart with its piece of history. The acres of rolling fields that surround the city once witnessed one of the most horrific episodes this country has ever seen.
The incomprehensible horror of those hours was so different than the quiet, peacefulness that now fills those hills.
But if you search for it, that deep anguish of a country torn in two still whispers through the fields, swirling around the monuments that are but tokens of those that fought and died.
© Drusilla Mott and https://drusillamott.wordpress.com, 2011