Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Riding the Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg Cemetery. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Did you grow up in the era when summer vacation meant being taken to historic sites to "see America"? And was your nose, like mine, stuck in a comic book? Today it's Game Boys or I-Pads but the result is the same: Frustrated parents railing about ungrateful children and children whining about being force marched through dull fields and old buildings for reasons they didn't understand.

Sound familiar?

 Put those ungrateful, frustrated little wretches atop a horse, though, and it becomes an adventure. Put yourself on one and understand the greatest battle of the Civil War.

What occurred there sinks in, too.

Virginia's monument to Robert E. Lee and the troops he led. Photo © by Judy Wells.
A visit to Gettysburg is an emotional experience but it can be tough for us Levelers. There's a lot of walking -  6,000+ acres, 1,300+ monuments - and changes of elevation. There are tours by bus, bicycle, car, Segway or my favorite.

Tip: Get thee to a horse.

The beginning of a ride the battle from the Southern side. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The importance of the Battle of Gettysburg, the terrible waste of life, the Emancipation Proclamation that followed 150 years ago today make it easy to understand why this is hallowed ground. But no amount of books, maps and documentaries made what actually happened clear to me until I literally "rode the battle".

Southern troops spread across a farmer's fields - no shade or water. Photo © by Judy Wells.
I learned and understood more in an hour than I had in a lifetime.

It's still farmland and the farmhouse is still there. Photo © by Judy Wells.
There are horseback tours from the Southern and the Northern sides. Mine was from the Southern side and I heartily recommend it. You can drive up to the Northern positions and easily appreciate their superior ground.

The barn from a neighboring farm is still there, too. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Don't worry if you can't ride; the horses are gentle and it's a nose to tail, walk and talk pace. You won't be mounted long enough to get sore.

Once the Southern troops left a thin line of trees they were in the open with little cover. Photo © by Judy Wells.
You'll be able to hear what the accompanying guide says because you'll be wearing ear buds and one of those little clip-on battery operated receivers.
Northern troops held the high ground. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Speaking of guides, you can opt for ordinary, a costumed General Robert E. Lee or the whole group to be in period costumes. Ordinary, the least expensive, was just fine, thank you. I can imagine how uncomfortable woolen uniforms would have been on those three hot July days.
Aptly named Cemetery Ridge was perfect cover for snipers. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Those licensed guides/rangers, by the way, study for years and are rigorously tested on their knowledge of the battle and the times. It's easier to get a PhD from an Ivy League college than to become a guide at Gettysburg.

The result: the Union was saved and the Emancipation Proclamation could be signed into law at a cost to both sides of 51,000 casualties among the 170,000 men and 5,000 dead horses. Photo © by Judy Wells.

 Find out more at
Gettysburg National Military Park, www.nps.gov/gett
Tours, www.gettysburg.travel/visitor/gettysburg_battlefield_tours.asp

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