This is the third of an 8 day trip we took through American history sites in 2013.
We drove north from Maryland through the same country that the Confederate army would have traversed as it headed towards Gettysburg. Our hotel was in Chambersburg and had been booked months in advance in anticipation that the 150th anniversary of this famous battle would be well attended. The battlefield is known as Gettysburg National Military Park and encompasses every spare inch around the town of Gettysburg.
The battle took three days and we stayed for the same three days – July 1 through July 3 – to take advantage of different events each day. It was a strange mixture of camping adventure and history. Unlike the re-enactments that were taking place the weekend before and the weekend after, the National Park Service did not have any fighting re-enactments. Re-enactors, called “Living Historians”, were in a Union encampment near the Pennsylvania monument and Confederate camp near Spangler’s Farm. There were cannon and infantry demonstrations and the National Park Service rangers took visitors on tours of the different parts of the battlefield.
We started the morning with an easy ramble. In fact, it ended up being nothing like but it was a great introduction to our visit. We parked the car and walked down from Cemetery Hill to the start of the hike. The National Parks Service had put on a detailed schedule for the three days including these battlefield experience hikes. This morning, we were going to follow in the footsteps of a famous Midwestern regiment known as the “Black Hats” or the Iron Brigade. They would run to the front, hold back the approaching Confederates, and be largely obliterated in the process.
Just as the Brigade had, we gathered at the Emmitsburg Pike and the rangers introduced the hike. A group of Living Historians marched past and we formed into a column with four ranks. You may be able to picture the scene – ranger in front, visitors formed up in rows four deep and a Union infantry group in front. Typical camping experience if you’ve been on a ranger-led hike. Except that there were nearly 1,000 visitors in the column, almost as long as the Iron Brigade had actually moved across the field!
The heat and the long grass made it a bit difficult for our youngest to march along so I carried him part way on my shoulders. It was a 2 mile hike, all told, and we stopped at Seminary Ridge and McPherson’s Ridge for the rangers to talk. This wasn’t as interesting for us because we didn’t really know anything about the Brigade and the focus was very much on the individuals within the unit. It steered us away from this sort of activity in the next two days but I expect the diehards – and there was a group from Michigan representing the 24th Regiment behind us – got a lot out of the short lectures. For me, it was just enjoyable to have the experience to cross the field. Here’s a National Park Service clip of the rangers talking:
You can see more photos of the column of visitors and the historians and rangers at the National Park Service Gettysburg Military Park Facebook page.
By the time we returned to our car, we’d hiked over 4 miles – with me carrying the 7 year old for 1 of those – and were baked. We headed to a grocery store, bought food for lunch, and ate. In the afternoon we drove around the park and saw the Confederate unit, the Washington Artillery, fire their cannons in a demonstration. Then we headed back to the hotel and swimming pool and a well-earned rest. Tomorrow we’d be seeing where the 20th Maine fought back the men under General Longstreet as well as the infamous Devil’s Den.
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