I'm in Gettysburg, teaching a class to new college admissions counselors and new high school guidance counselors. I have not been here since I was in grade school and it's startling how much fades away from your memory in 20 years.
My dad is a Civil War buff. No, not like the guys who get all dressed up and pretend to shoot each other at mock battles. His version of being a Civil War buff involves reading weighty books about when Hill's Corps flanked Delbert's Division in Nowheresville and then watching the author talk about it on TV. Oh and dragging his kids to every Civil War battlefield within 6 hours of Brookhaven.
Somewhere in the last few decades, I lost the details of our trip to Gettysburg. I'm glad I had the chance to spend some time yesterday wandering around the area of Pickett's Charge and driving the rest of the park.
Gettysburg the town is a mix of a pretty downtown area that has had a revival in the last few years and an older, less attractive area that appears to have been left out of the money brought by thousands of tourists. Thankfully the area was spared a slots parlor earlier this year, when the ill-conceived idea was vited down.
Just south of town, the rolling countryside hosted the bloodiest three days in American history and yesterday, looking across Bryan's Field toward Seminary Ridge, i could feel the echoes. One one hand, the immensity of the battlefield if breathtaking. On the other, the intimacy with which these men fought and died is simply stunning.
In Pickett's Charge, perhaps the best-known military maneuver in the Civil War, a wall of Southerners a mile wide emerged from the treeline and jogged across a gently rising field toward Northern lines in a last desperate attempt to save their idea of independence.
As they crossed the Emmitsburg Road, the Southerners began to take fire. As they reached the sharper rise near an angle in the Union line, the Confederates drew withering cannon fire of grapeshot and cannister. Yet still they came.
Had they made it, the Union line would have been broken, history likely changed. But they fell just yards short and left their dreams and their futures on a hillside beneath a copse of trees.
For the first time yesterday, I realized that these men were usually just feet from each other when they died. Usually could see the anger and fear. Usually knew that they were not going to live to make it home.
I'm going to head back over for an hour or so this morning and take a look at the cemetery, but I don't think it will move me as much as the echoes yesterday did.