On Tuesday we had a camp breakfast: bacon, eggs, and bagels toasted in the bacon fat.
After breakfast we headed to the Gettysburg National Military Park visitor center. The park itself is quite large, comprising the battlefields that almost surround the town. But the visitor center was the place to start. We did get a bit of sticker shock, though. You have to pay for everything: the orientation film, the museum, the shuttle to the Eisenhower farm, the guided tours of the battlefields. and for everything the total of two adults and five kids wasn’t cheap.
We skipped the Cyclorama (a 360 degree painting of the final charge at Seminary Ridge), the museum, and the film. The visitor center did have some weapons and uniforms and other objects on display where anyone could see them. Also a hands-on exploration of the contents of a soldier’s rucksack, and two excellent videos, one about how to load a musket and the other about loading and firing a canon, both videos including footage of reenactors in uniform.
So we opted for the self-guided audio tour (also not exactly cheap), bought the package at the gift shop (it came with both cds and a code for a downloadable app, but we couldn’t get the app to work, so we went with the cds, which was a bit frustrating since I cannot figure out how to advance and go back on our van’s cd player. We made a wrong turn out of the visitor center and it took a while to get back on track. The guide book has a map, but the driving directions aren’t great and it’s hard to navigate and listen at the same time. But Dom eventually found that he could enter the audio tour stops as destinations on the GPs and that helped enormously.
We had a picnic lunch in the car (already rather too warm to enjoy the unshaded picnic tables.) and then started the tour.
We did the first half of the audio tour on the first day. I was especially taken by the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, which was one of our first stops. It has an eternal flame on top of a large column and is surrounded by canons. It was dedicated in 1938 by President Roosevelt at the 75th anniversary of the battle.
Signage here describing the dedication reads:
“At President Roosevelt’s signal, the flag shrouding the monument was lowered into the arms of a Union veteran and a Confederate veteran. It was the last great “hurrah” for the old soldiers.”
“At the 1938 reunion, veterans of the Blue and Gray extended warm greetings across a once bloodstained wall on Cemetery Ridge. Said one Confederate veteran to his former enemy, “Sir, we couldn’t hold anything against each other. Now we belong to the same fellowship.””
Stunning how our current trend is to pull down statues of confederates and those we disagree with but within living memory of the Civil War the impulse was much kinder and irenic. Confederate Veterans were recognized for their bravery and valor. They were treated as brothers by the men who fought against them. If only that spirit of peace could stay with us still! If such bitter enemies could be reconciled and shake hands on the battlefield of one of the bloodiest battles ever to take place on American soil, can we not hope and pray that such a spirit of peace might live still in the hearts of all Americans? Oh I do hope we can revisit our history and learn these lessons again: that we recognize that unity and brotherhood can overcome enmity and hatred. That we can see in our enemies, men and women that we can also admire and learn from, even while we disagree with them.
At the Peace monument, which sits on Oak Hill, where cannons are placed to mark where once an artillery battery once stood, Bella sat and sketched the landscape, once a battlefield. I wished I could have joined her and that we could have lingered longer, but it was already getting hot and poor Sophie was already overheating in the sun.
The quality of the audio tour was first rate. It gave an excellent overview of the battle, oriented us very well, and included a lot of memorable anecdotes. It was well coordinated so that what it was describing fit where you were and what you were seeing.
The first part of the tour mostly traces the first day of the battle as troops are moving into place. We got through that first day and into the second day of the battle. But by 3pm I was fading fast, falling asleep instead of listening to the narration. And my back hurt and it was getting close to dinner time. So after the Little Round Top stop, we headed to the grocery store where we got stuff to cook for dinner.
Alas, we hadn’t looked at the forecast. As we approached the campground we saw dark clouds approaching too. We barely beat the storm, had time to zip up the tents and stow our gear under cover. And then well, it didn’t look like the rain was going to let up until it was too late for dinner. The kids were hungry and we were all tired. So we gave up on camp cooking and went out to dinner instead. Sadly, this was the theme of our trip. We never did cook a camp dinner.