Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Soldier's National Cemetary - Gettysburg

On Easter morning we visited the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg.  We were the only ones there other than an European jogger who asked me if it was ok for him to run.  (Sure, why not?)

More than 3500 Civil War soldiers are buried here, almost half of them marked as “unknown”.  The graves of the generals have bigger monuments, like the one below.
A few days after the Gettysburg battle, Andrew Curtin, Governor of Pennsylvania, visited the site and was deeply moved by what he saw.  Bodies of soldiers had been hurriedly buried on the battlefield, and some had not been buried at all.  Curtin and representatives of Northern states took steps to create a national cemetery.  Beginning in October 1863, bodies were carefully removed from the field and re-buried at the cemetery.  The work took 5 months.

The cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863.  President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address from here.
From the cemetery we returned to the battlefield.  This is the stream that flowed red with blood.
 Devil's Den ...
 A view of Little Round Top ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

38th Anniversary

Speaking of 150 years ago, 38 years ago today (April 27, 1973) John and I got married.  It was a rainy night in KY, a 7:30pm candlelight ceremony at St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral.  This was before there were computers, cell phones, VCR's, answering machines, microwave ovens, or even hand-held calculators (we used slide rules).  Richard Nixon was the President and Paul VI was Pope.

Since then we have lived in 14 different places:
1973 - Lake Road, Congers NY
1974 - Cedar Rapids Iowa
1974 - Homer Road, Midland MI
1975 - Scappoose Oregan
1976 - Pasco Washington
1977 - Lake of the Woods, Fredericksburg, VA
1977 -1979 Ben Lomand Farm, Gordonsville VA
1979 - Wading River, NY (Long Island)
1980 - 1984 Square Lake, Lake Park FL
1985 - Jupiter FL
1986 - ? Hazel Av House, Palm Beach Gardens FL
2008 - New Town, St. Charles, MO
2009 - Greenville, IL
2010 - ? Cranberry Township, PA
It's all been good.  Don't ask me why it has worked, but it has.

Today I went to a pottery shop in Pittsburgh and got this bowl to mark the occasion.  The colors reminded me of Pennsylvania.  It's going to be our salad bowl (replacing the plastic one!).
I also picked up 2 mugs for us.  Looks like the brown winter PA hillsides on there.

Love you, John!  We were made to be gypsies together in life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gettysburg - the battlefield

This is the attraction of Gettysburg - the battlefield.  Five thousand acres where the biggest, bloodiest battle of American history took place over 3 days in July, 1863.  You can drive through these fields, walk around, bike, or just be here in this place where so much killing, dying, bravery, and terror  happened 150 years ago.  Over 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing.
“In great deeds something abides.  On great fields something stays.  Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.  And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream, and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” - Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Gettysburg, October 3, 1889

I’m still pondering over the experience of this battlefield.  Sacred ground?  Yes.  I’m have a hard time getting my mind around the magnitude and significance of what happened here.   There is much discussion and description of the tactics of warfare: what weapons were used, the attacks and why they were or were not successful.  John says it’s like a chess game.  There were no bombs or drones or aircraft during this war, just horses, guns and cannons, swords.  The men who were fighting and killing saw each other, stumbled over and around dead bodies.

What does it mean?  Why does this kind of warfare happen among humankind?  Are we better off because of it? (Most of the literature says that we are).

The land, itself, is lovely.  Rolling hills, trees budding with the color of spring, rocks, a gentle and quiet breeze.  It is dotted with monuments to the soldiers and generals who fought here, and markers describing the positions and actions of the different brigades during battle.

The self-guided auto tour started us at the place of the first battle on July 1st, and ended with the last one on July 3rd.  I don't pretend to have grasped but a small fraction of the details.  Here are some photos that I took as we made our way around the battlefield.

In 1913, 50 years after the battle at Gettysburg, there was a reunion for the veterans who had survived that battle.  The men who had been 17, 18, 25 years old in 1863 were old men now.  Doubtless, they never forgot the terror of the Gettysburg battle and told the story again and again to their children and grandchildren.  My guess is that it was the defining point of their lives.
To be continued.  Next: the National Cemetery at Gettysburg


The budding has given way to leafing and soon everything will be green.  I'm actually glad to see the white buds on the apple trees go - it looks like snow in places! - but the trees were starting to look too artificial.  We got these photos over at the Knob Hill Park just before getting caught in a sudden downpour.  Both Jubilee and I were drenched.
 The skunk cabbage shows no signs of diminishing, but it does not appear to be proliferating any more.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gettysburg - the museum

Though the Civil War attracts a lot of enthusiasts, I haven’t thought about it much.  I know the basic historical facts - when it started, what it was about, when and how ended - but my considering of what life was like in the mid-1800s America is probably limited to Gone With the Wind.

After our visit to the Gettysburg battlefield last weekend, I’m thinking about it more.

The Civil War started at 4:30 AM on April 12, 1861 when Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter in the Charleston SC harbor.  

Abraham Lincoln had been elected President in November 1860.  In December, South Carolina formally seceded from the United States of America.  By January 6 more states (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas) had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America.  In March, President Lincoln was inaugurated and by April the war was on. 

This was 150 years ago, not really so long ago.  My grandparents were born in the 1880s, their parents - my great grandparents - must have lived during the Civil war.

Considering the polarized nature of the political dialogue today, war seems drastic.  What was the big deal?

Underlying hostilities revolved around economic disparities - the manufacturing North was imposing high tariffs that put the Southern economy at great disadvantage.  The South was being exploited to the benefit of Northern industry.  The North also demanded internal improvement - roads, railroads and canals built at national expense - to transport its goods to the South and West.  The Southern states wanted out of the Union.

Caught in the middle of this clash was Slavery, a crucial part of the Southern economy.

Looking at the statistics, I can sense the magnitude of this war - more than 620,000 soldiers died, 10% of all white males aged 20-45 and 30% of all Southern males aged 18-40.  The war touched everyone.
It suddenly seems important to know what happened to this country 150 years ago, and to understand more closely what it means to experience such profound conflict as to be willing to kill and die for a cause.

This is the rebel uniform ...
And this the Yankee ...
The museum included a panoramic 360 degree oil on canvass depiction of the battle at Gettysburg.  Showing this huge aggregation of people (and horses) is not an exaggeration.   There were more than 150,000 troops on the battlefield.  Consider that is double the amount of people at those huge football stadiums.   This is just one small part of the cyclodrama ...
Many artifacts and flags.  The scattered stars of the Union Flag always included stars for the seceded states.
From here we rented a CD audio tour for our car, and headed to the battlefield.  To be continued ...