I’m a nerd in many ways, one of which is history. Having grown up in eastern Massachusetts, I learned all about the Revolutionary War and visited places like Concord and Lexington regularly. One thing I’ve been hoping to do in my travels is visiting other historical places. During my entire two months south of the Mason-Dixon line, I didn’t get to a single one. Now, though, it was a small detour to visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which was arguably the turning point of the Civil War for the Union and against the Confederacy. Since I was passing through, I took the opportunity to see it for myself.
I started at the Gettysburg National Military Park. It has countless artifacts from the war and tells the story of Gettysburg through that time. I might’ve learned about it in school, but nothing sinks in the way it does when you’re looking at actual Union and Confederate uniforms, flags, weaponry, and other items that make it real.
It was a particularly hot, humid day. Despite the Maxxair fan, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Lister in the van for hours while I went exploring on my own. So I decided to follow the auto tour, which is clearly labeled and easy to follow, particularly with an app that gives you guidance and talks about the history and the places you’re passing along the way. (This would’ve been an excellent video, but unfortunately, I lost my camera operator, and I haven’t managed to train Lister yet.)
It was quite surreal, driving my van, my home, across one of the major battlefields in the Civil War. But the roads are there for that exact purpose. Countless memorials line these roads, for states that participated on both sides of the war as well as for specific regiments.
Yes, I said both sides. While the philosophical battle continues to rage about the appropriateness of southern statues and memorials to famous Confederate leaders, this one featuring General Lee himself stands proudly here in Union territory. In this context, it’s appropriate. The war had two sides, and this park is a memorial to all who served on both sides.
Another thing your high school history class can never teach you is perspective. It’s one thing to learn about how Little Round Top was a highly strategic target, enabling whichever side held it to control the vast territory below. It’s quite another thing to actually be there, to look from the top of the hill myself, and to realize just how important it is to hold the high ground. (Obi-Wan Kenobi was right.) I never served in the military, but what little experience I have with tactics from LARPing and D&D made it all click as soon as I looked over the valley below. Once again, actually visiting these places I’ve read about and seen documentaries on makes it all so much more real, and helps me understand why things happened the way they did.
Like anything written, this description only barely scratches the surface of what it’s like to actually be there and see these places for yourself. If you have any interest in history at all, I can’t recommend highly enough going out and visiting them.
The rest of the day was not glamorous at all — dinner, followed by an overnight at Chateau Walmart. It was warm and muggy, but also quiet and restful. I spent the evening watching videos and snuggling Lister.