Theodore's World: Gettysburg, PA. A Gift of Hallowed Ground

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October 18, 2008

Gettysburg, PA. A Gift of Hallowed Ground

Battle of Gettysburg, 1883; at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

A gift on hallowed ground

Jewish World Review


In 1863, 11 major roads converged on this town. Which is why history did, too.

The founding of the American nation was the hinge of world history: Popular sovereignty would have its day. The collision of armies here was the hinge of American history: The nation would long endure. Which is why 200 or so generous private citizens recently gathered here for a quiet celebration of their gift to the nation — a sparkling new Museum and Visitor Center that instructs and inspires.

In 1997, Bob Kinsley, a contractor in York, Pa., decided that something should be done about the decrepit facilities for explaining the battle and displaying its artifacts. His determination survived more than 50 public meetings and three congressional hearings, and two years of resistance from rival bidders, some Gettysburg merchants and people who think the private sector takes up space that the public sector should fill.

He started the Gettysburg Foundation and hired Bob Wilburn, who had administered Colonial Williamsburg. Wilburn raised the $103 million that built the new center, which includes a theater for the scene-setting film narrated by Morgan Freeman, and the Cyclorama, the circular painting that depicts Pickett's Charge on the battle's third and final day. Americans today are so constantly pummeled by a sensory blitzkrieg — the sights and sounds of graphic journalism and entertainment — they can hardly fathom how the Cyclorama dazzled viewers when displayed in 1884. Magnificently restored and presented, it is still stunning.

The Gettysburg Foundation's work includes recovering battle sites from urban encroachments.

It recently bought the 80-acre Spangler farm. The house, which was behind Union lines, was used as a hospital for both sides. Gen. Lewis Armistead of Virginia died there. He received his mortal wounds during Pickett's Charge, leading the deepest penetration of Union lines on Cemetery Ridge at the spot now known as "the high-water mark of the Confederacy."

Recently, a Gold Star mother visited Gettysburg, after driving by it often en route to visit the Arlington grave of her son, who was killed in Iraq. She was especially moved by these words from a Gettysburg newspaper published four days after the battle:

"Every name . . . is a lightning stroke to some heart, and breaks like thunder over some home, and falls a long black shadow upon some hearthstone."

Gettysburg still stirs, but not as it used to, or should.

In "Intruder in the Dust," William Faulkner wrote:

"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets. . . ."

Faulkner's sentence continued; you have just read less than half of it. To continue in his style:

Ours would be a better nation if boys and girls of all regions, and particularly the many high school and even college graduates who cannot place the Civil War in the correct half-century, could be moved, as large numbers of Americans used to be, by the names of Gettysburg battlefield sites, such as Devil's Den, the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Culp's Hill and Little Round Top, instead of being like the visitor here who said it is amazing that so many great battles, such as Antietam and Chickamauga and Shiloh, occurred on Park Service land; and another visitor who doubted that the fighting here really was fierce because there are no bullet marks on the monuments.

Ten years ago, this column asserted that disrespect for the national patrimony of Civil War battlefields should be a hanging offense, and said:

"Given that the vast majority of Americans have never heard a shot fired in anger, the imaginative presentation of military history in a new facility here is vital, lest rising generations have no sense of the sacrifices of which they are beneficiaries."

Today, at an embarrassing moment of multiplying public futilities, private efforts, in collaboration with the National Park Service, have done something resoundingly right that will help a normally amnesiac nation to long remember.

Wild Thing's comment........

As I was growing up, my Father took us on a vacation every summer. He wanted us to see America and it is something that will be with me always.

He would tell about the history of places as we went to them. When there were tours we would take those as well. Williamsburg,Arlington, the Unknown Soldier, Mount Vernon, battlefields, The Capitol, the many monuments in D.C. , the House of Representatives and the Congress, The White House, and every place across our land that had historical values to the history of our country, and even the UN had a tour we that we took. His pride in our country was contagious and his gratitude for our troops, and our Veterans of all our wars was a passion. The UN tour showed me about translators and how the massive rooms were set up to accommodate each country involved. I remember my Father telling me how wrong it was to have the UN and how it started and was something against our country and one day we would regret it even more then we did back then.

He took us to Boston, one of my favorites perhaps because it was his as well, to Boston College one of the schools he had graduated from and showed me a room with a map in it. A map so massive that one had to walk around it, like the size of a small football field. How it had cities marked with tiny lights that would first be hit in an attack on our country. Places with no names to them that were military places permitted to be known only in a general way of their location. I remember that map as though I am there right now.

The education I will always be so grateful for and when I read articles like this one memories flood my brain and heart as well.

My Father impressed on me how important our countries history was and not just to know our past but to with our future too that might help in knowing the why of things and how dangerous some things can be if allowed to happen.

I am always glad when our historical places are cared for and appreciated. It is sad to me how few care to teach their children, they rely on a teacher at school and simply that is a waste of a dream because our schools do not teach much anymore. Instead they teach sex to kindergarten age kids and condom use to gradeschool children. How to have same sex dress day and teachers taking a class to see them marry a same sex lover as a school field trip., appreciate Muslim day and their Islam and Quran. All these things ripping about our country, weakening it, raping the very history that made us great. Destroying the memories of our founding fathers and so many things. Then we ask why do people fall for an Obama so easily, how can they not, they are brain dead. They know more about rappers then Paul Revere. The go by democrats telling them how weak they are, what losers they are and how the government will ride in and save the day. They grow up believing that Republicans invented and kept alive slavery when it is the Republicans that fought for their freedom.

Instead of bus loads of people being hauled off to voting places, buses should be taken loaded with these people to places of history and teach them the truth. Few know even how our government works , few know how much and how little the Presidents power encompasses. How Congress works and what it is meant to be about, how many Senators there are they don't even know. How there is meaning in every action done at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, what is the Pentagon and why is it built the way it is and what does it do.

Sorry for going on like this, but like I said my brain is flooding with memories and how far we have moved away from so many things as a country and pride in all these things.

....Thank you GM Cassel AMH1(AW) USN RETIRED for sending this to me.

Posted by Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 06:44 AM


In his 8th grade Catholic School trip to Gettysburg, his class recreated Pickett's Charge. Our son was Private Bryce Martin of the Virginia 57th ...The Ranger told him he was one of the lucky ones that made it it to the stonewall , but later died as a POW in Long Island NY. You can still FEEL the history of the bloody battle that was fought over the 4th of July in 1863. Please visit Gettysburg but a one day visit won't be enough. Frau Vader, from Germany say's "GOOD guys wear gray!!!"

Posted by: darthcrUSAderworldtour07 at October 18, 2008 08:41 AM

"Instead of bus loads of people being hauled off to voting places, buses should be taken loaded with these people to places of history and teach them the truth"
Couldn't agree more! My dad's idea of a vacation was to visit battlefields and forts. I went to most of them all over the eastern seaboard as a child. Now I live in the Shenandoah Valley where so much of the Civil War happened. The town I live in changed hands 73 times during the war. There's still graffiti from the soldiers on the wall of the City Hall as it was either a prison or a hospital, depending who was in charge.
My husband and I are going to the reenactments of two major battles not far from here in Middleton this weekend. Thousands of reenactors come from all over. There's even hundreds of Cavalry - horses and all. It's something to walk the battlefields.
It is sometimes a bit disconcerting to be a yankee I do have a picture of Lee as well as Chamberlain.

Posted by: yankeemom at October 18, 2008 09:36 AM

Gettysburg one of my favorite places to visit. The only city in the country where the Confederate flag and the American flag stand side by side, the Confederate flage about a foot lower than old glory. I think in the last 10 years I have been there at least 20 times. Because there is a National Cemetery there, we go on Memorial Day for the dedication and celebration and a visit. Everytime I return I find out something new. For example, behind the Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge, maybe 100 yards or so there are monuments to the Sharpshooters Union Brigade, giving the dates from July 1 and the 2. How did they evne stay there. Without being chased away. Some of the stuff is just amazing.

The new Visitor Center is gorgous right down the road from town, and near General Meades Headdquarters on the old Baltimore Pike. It is huge when compared to the old Visitors centers which was located at the crossroads of Steinwehr avenue and the Emmitsburg road, right inside of the National Cemetery, and a short distance from where Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. Parking is not a problem and there is a picnic area near the parking lot, and rides to the center for the handicapped. One thing make sure you note the isle where you parked if not that in itself could be a chore finding your car once the lot is filled.

The first time I visited Gettysburg was in 1957, what struck me then was the lack of confederate monuments along what is called Confederate Avenue. Today, though every Confederate Regiment that was present has a monument. What changed I don't know.

At a lot of the Battlefields in the South especially Virginia and other places in the South the Federal Parks Service did not take care of them. That task was left to the 'UDC' the United Daughters of the Confederacy. At huge battles such as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, were completely neglected except of the monuments sponsored by the UDC. Those three Battles there were in a span of 30 days, 40,000 Union troops killed.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Killed, wounded and missing numbered over 40,000 and I remember reading somewhere the number of horses and mules were quite high too. Before the Battle of Gettysburg there were about 1500 residents. So here you are a citizen of Gettysburg and are presented with the problem of dealing with all these dead men and horses. What a mess that must have been to clean up, the stink had to be unbearable. The Union took care of the Union Soldiers and the town was stuck with finding the dead Confererats soldiers and burying them and the horses. To this day no one has an exact count of how many Confederates died in that 3 day battle. I guess they were buried then dug up and sent somewhere else. Because there is no Confederate cemetery there.

Posted by: Mark at October 18, 2008 09:47 AM

When I was in school, American history was taught for several years. The Civil War and Revolutionary War were pivotal points in American history and were studied at length. Now some high school grads can't name one battle or all the southern states from the Civil War.

In the South now, political correctness is removing the monuments and statues of the Confederacy.

Posted by: TomR at October 18, 2008 10:33 AM

I love museums about American History. I also love our state museum, I used to live two blocks from it and went at least once a month to see the new art exhibits. I don't live there now, but I still go once a year.

Last January's trip I went to the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. Wow. You have to have a hanky to go through all the exhibits and see the films. It's chilling.

I live in Illinois and these two are in Springfield, the REAL capitol of Illinois, although the dumbing down of America probably means most people think Chicago is the capitol. They wish. They get most of the money anyway.

In fact, Obama's best buds, our Governor (soon to be Prisoner) Blagoevich and Emil Jones, President of the Senate, who orchestrated Obama's career by writing legislation for him to pretend was his, have held this state hostage this year, in an effort to distract from the impeachment calls that only need 2 more dems to sign off on, and it would have been on the ballot. But, noooooo, they had to screw around and drag out an ethics bill, you know the ethics that Obama CLAIMS he made such great strides in here as state senator (cough), so that budget issues weren't addressed and state historical sites and parks threatened to be closed, effecting many jobs.

Gee, seems like there's hardly any subject I can't tie some Obamanation to.

Thanks for the Gettysburg entry, like I said, I love that stuff! If you are ever anywhere near Springfield, Illinois, make a stop at the Abe Lincoln Museum, it's outstanding.

Posted by: Eden at October 18, 2008 10:54 AM

I have never been to Gettysburg, but our next family reunion is in Lancaster, PA in 2010. I had a family member fight there in the Wheat Field on those hot summer days with the 17th Maine Infantry and survived. His diary was made into a book, which I treasure. So fascinating a read. It's called Unspoiled Heart. Such an amazing time in our history. And it wasn't all about slavery, either. It was about states being able to have their own rights and run themselves.
I would hope that when we go, we will make a daytrip to Gettysburg. Lincoln's words echo down through time and they mean as much today as they did then. Let's not give that away.

Posted by: Lynn at October 18, 2008 01:39 PM

Mark, I read a story of a WW1 soldier that was assigned the task of battlefield clean-up after the Armistice was signed. He said it was quite the chore to bury a horse. They avidly avoided any chunk of the battlefield where they could see a dead horse.
The importance of preserving our history is often pushed aside in favor of more PC interests so, these places tend to fall into disrepair. I'm glad they have reversed course on the Gettysburg site. And, as is often the case, the private sector has to take the lead. Another good preservation effort has been Nike site SF-88 outside of San Francisco. I would like to visit both before my time is up.

Posted by: jim warren at October 18, 2008 04:31 PM

I only visited Gettysburg once quite a while ago, but it was an experience that remains strong within me. Listening to the history of the place, seeing the exhibits, and being on the battlefields was almost like being there at the time of the Civil War.

I wonder if Barack Hussein Obama ever visited the battlefields of Gettysburg and really understood how great this country is and what it will do make itself better without considering itself evil and needing to be changed. I'm guessing not, because if he did he would see how racist HE is when he constantly plays the victim and uses the race card.

A bit of political satire on Obama's attack style when anybody criticizes him.

"Barack Obama responds to the Gettysburg Address"

"Obama: I'm appalled at the fear-mongering that Lincoln is using to pursue his dishonest and divisive attacks. When he says "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth," is he suggesting that if I were elected, I would somehow end government of, by, and for the people? Well, let me say this. If Mr. Lincoln wants to have a debate about his abuse of governmental powers, and his continued pursuit of failed policies in this illegal and unconstitutional war, I'm ready to have that debate right now and every day until the election. And I will win that debate."

Posted by: Les at October 18, 2008 06:32 PM

Darth, yes a person needs to be able to spend time there, not a quick visit.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 06:36 PM

Yankeemom, that is so neat, thank you for sharing about being there and your Dad also.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 06:40 PM

Mark, WOW that is fascinating, thank you so much for writing about it. I felt like I was there walking around seeing the things you saw.


Posted by: Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 06:44 PM

Tom, that is so sad, they really want to get of our countries history.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 06:46 PM

Eden, I was born in Peoria, but it has been many years since I have been back in Illinois. I loved reading what you wrote about the Abe Lincoln Museum.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 06:49 PM

Lynn, that is great and something to really look forward too. I agree Lynn, I pray too we do not just give all this away our country has such an amazing history.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 06:53 PM

Jim I hope you get to see SF-88 outside of San Francisco too.
Your right about the private sector getting things done, it seems our officials don't take the lead on things like this, that is very sad.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 06:57 PM

Les, wouldn't it something if every person running for office had to visit even a few, several would be better, but even a few of our hisitorial sites like this. Like a requirement or something.

Thanks for the quote and links Les, WOW!

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 18, 2008 07:01 PM