Karmel Knocking Around at the 160th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg
We do history here…We don’t glorify it; we don’t propagandize it and we certainly don’t trivialize it. History is not always glamorous. It can be messy, ugly, and brutal. But we choose to remember history and not hide it, lest we end up repeating that which we forgot. Thank you.
Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association
The Battle of Gettysburg is probably the most recognized conflict of the Civil War. It’s been dramatized and, probably, sensationalized like no other historical military confrontation, ranking right up there with D-Day and the Battle of Midway during World War II.
For me, my interest in Gettysburg began when I saw the 1963 Disney movie called Johnny Shiloh about a young kid running away from home and joining the Union army. And then my parents took us on a vacation to Gettysburg and we visited the original Visitor Center that housed the “electric map” that is now, from what I understand, under private ownership and hidden away someplace.
I was always interested in history and enjoyed hearing the first-hand accounts. So when you are a child, and you encounter the likes of General George Mead, General Robert E. Lee, General John Buford, and General George Pickett, and they are talking about what it was like during the days and hours of the Battle, you listen with awe. And then watching the tactical moves on the electric map – the blue lights and the red lights (representing the Confederates) – it was fascinating back then for me…even as a seven-year-old.
And while the electric map is now gone, there is a new and improved Visitor Center (dedicated in 2008) and, especially during the weekends of special celebrations and reenactments, you can still find people dressed in period garb – in character – moving about downtown Gettysburg, the battlegrounds, and surrounding areas.
When talking to Melissa’s cousins Elizabeth and Nate about places we’d like to go, and some of our interests, the slight mention of Gettysburg piqued their (really Nate’s) interests. I had thoughts about wanting to go for the anniversary of the Battle, and since this year’s was the 160th Anniversary, it seemed like a good idea. At least for Nate and me. And we were going to drag the girls kicking and screaming to fit them for petticoats.
Some interesting facts about the Battle of Gettysburg
Everyone believed that the Confederates went to Gettysburg for shoes. While it WAS true that the Confederate troops were low on supplies and many were without shoes, there was no shoe factory in Gettysburg.
The town of Gettysburg was a growing community with two major institutions of higher learning just over the Mason-Dixon Line, with many roads leading to the center of town, almost like spokes on a wheel.
General Robert E. Lee, considered by many to be one of the most brilliant military minds of all time, and the one that Abraham Lincoln wanted to lead the Union forces, vastly underestimated the Union presence in the area. He believed that his troops greatly out-numbered the Union troops and he could waltz in, surprise them, gain an easy victory, and bring a quick end to the War. His calculations were wrong.
A total of 165,620 engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg. The Union had 93,921 and the Confederates had 71,699. So, in reality, it was the Blue outnumbering the Gray by over 21,000. There were over 51,000 casualties – dead, wounded, or missing – over 23,000 Union and over 28,000 Confederate.
Only one civilian was killed, that by a stray bullet that went through her front door – Jenny Wade.
Gettysburg is believed to be the most haunted area in the world. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps it isn’t. But there are a lot of older towns associated with colonial times and Civil War times that provide “ghost” tours. It appears (no pun intended) that “ghost” stories and sightings began to take hold in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s which just happens to coincide with the publishing of some books on, what else, ghosts.
To begin our venture back in time, we had dinner on Friday evening at the Dobbin House, Gettysburg’s oldest building.
The original structure was built, according to the historians, “four score and seven years” before President Abraham Lincoln uttered those words somewhere across the street. It was built by Reverend Alexander Dobbin, the pastor for a local church, for his family. He acquired additional land to expand the home and develop a farm to provide for the 10 children he bore with his wife, and the nine children he acquired when he re-married a widow following the early death of his own spouse.
The building was also used as a school of higher learning, including a seminary. But the structure was most famous for serving as a “station” along the Underground Railroad providing shelter for those seeking refuge on the way to safer and freer lives.
The crawl space can be seen where hiding runaway slaves were concealed in a secret part of the building.
The Dobbin House had great atmosphere but we weren’t exactly situated in a spot with the most ambiance. There are multiple rooms on multiple floors and all sections are served in shifts. There was a really good selection on the menu, as well as on the specials menu, and the food was really good with huge portions. But you are obviously paying for the experience. The hosts and servers were very nice and accommodating. However, you are on a time limit so you are not there to socialize. Eat, drink, and snap (your pictures) because you will need to relinquish the table soon enough. You need to be on the move quickly, much like those traveling the Underground Railroad.
We took a quick walk down the main drag, Baltimore Street, walking past the many shops, accommodations, and eateries, to Mr. G’s ice cream. There are many ice cream places in the area, but Mr. G’s seems to be the hot spot because there is always a line. It moves rather quickly because they have a fairly good system whereby one person takes the orders at the first window, and several people (3-5) work to fill the orders and get them to you out of the second window.
We got to eat our ice cream in full view of a Union encampment of officers right across the street at Unity Park. There were a lot of flavors to choose from, and we each got a different flavor. Nate LOVED the butter pecan…so much so that we had to go back for another round on Sunday!
We needed to get off to an early start on Saturday to get to the reenactment.
We stayed at the Wyndham Gettysburg which was about two miles from the center of town right off of US 15 on US 30. It was very presidential and adorned with pictures of Civil War figures and you are greeted by a canon before you reach the front desk. The cost was high but considering that it was a holiday weekend and anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, it was understandable. There was not a room left.
We were up early for breakfast at the hotel because we had to get to the Daniel Lady Farm by 8:30 a.m. for the reenactment. Unlike Hampton Inns, there was no free breakfast with wet eggs. They charged $17.95 for a buffet breakfast that included wet eggs. There was also some confusion as a restaurant called “1863” is promoted online. I saw it. Nate saw it. And Nate made a reservation. Someone TOOK a reservation. But, then, Nate discovered right before we were leaving New Jersey that the 1863 restaurant hadn’t been open since Covid. But then why does it indicate that it IS open on the website? And why did someone take a reservation for a party of four over the phone? I admit, that if I had answered the phone, and someone asked for a reservation for a party of four, I would have said, “Oh…yeah…party of four. Got it.” Well…I may not do it NOW…but I definitely would have done it in my younger days. Because I DID do that. But the 1863 restaurant IS the place where we would eat our $17.95 buffet breakfast.
Also unlike the Hampton Inns, 1863 had an omelet station. The head chef was forced into omelet duty and was not happy…neither was I. She had gloves on and was wiping her brow, under her nose, and grabbing at the ingredients to throw into the eggs…including meat. That’s a no-no. Don’t touch meat and then touch MY food…nor forget to clean the frying pan that has remnants of meat and use it to cook MY omelet. If I WANTED meat…I would ASK for meat.
So, yes, it LOOKED presidential, the PRICE was presidential, but for THAT price…I SHOULD get a free breakfast WITHOUT sweat and without MEAT in my food…and without a toilet leaking onto my bathroom floor. If you are going to charge presidential prices, then treat me in a presidential way.
Reenactment/Encampment at Daniel Lady Farm
The main event…the reason Nate and I wanted to visit these hallowed grounds…was the reenactment, the commemoration of the 160th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association and the Daniel Lady Farm hosted a three-day event that included talks and discussions, music by the 46th Pennsylvania Brass Band, artillery demonstrations, and reenactments of the skirmishes that took place during the Battle of Gettysburg.
I made a bit of a mistake interpreting the schedule of events…at least I will take ownership of that, anyway. Because what I read on the internet regarding the events of the day made it seem like the reenactment of the battle of that day was at 9 a.m. However, there were MANY events, talks, demonstrations, etc., going on during the day and the battle was taking place at 4 p.m.
That kinda threw me off because I had, with Nate’s help, come up with a schedule to keep things moving and minimize the amount of time in the heat…walking in the heat…climbing any elevation…in the heat…because I am well aware of Melissa’s disdain for the heat and, apparently, it’s in the family bloodlines because Elizabeth also is not “fond” of the heat.
The Daniel Lady Farm was like a history book brought to life.
There were tents that had medical people, mercantile, laundry, food…reenactors portraying the roles of the times. There were Union encampments that included infantry, cavalry, and artillery, as well as Confederate infantry and artillery.
We made our way through the village and saw many people, a lot of families, partaking in the reenactment experience. On tap for the three-day event were three battles – Bufurd’s Stand-The First Shots on Friday; Rolling Thunder-from the Wheatfield to the Valley of Death on Saturday; and Kemper’s Assault during Pickett’s Charge on Sunday.
All of this is planned, orchestrated, and executed by the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association (GBPA) over the last year and a half.
“We held three events last year to ready ourselves for this year’s anniversary event,” said Diana Forgett, the Vice President of the GBPA. “Everything is scripted. Safety is the most important thing for us.We were really happy with the way things went, our staff worked hard and any issues were dealt with extremely well.”
You have to wonder what goes into getting involved in the reenactments.
“This event is not for first-timers,” said Forgett. “I would suggest that anyone who is interested to participate find a local unit, attend a smaller reenactment in their local area with a culture that is what they’re looking for.”
Forgett said that people will often make the mistake of doing things backwards, making purchases of uniforms and gear before they even know which unit may fit them best. She said that some units are more suitable for families, and others are geared more for those who are looking for that weekend getaway from family life.
Speaking of backwards, I had the schedule backwards and although we got to see so much early in the day at the Daniel Lady Farm, it was time to get out of the heat and get something to eat…and we would return later for the reenactment.
We wanted to try to eat like locals and the two young ladies sitting at the information table at Daniel Lady Farm mentioned a few places but recommended the good old Lincoln Diner back in the center of town. It turned out to be a good call because there was a great variety, just like any diner, there was something for everybody…it was quick, inexpensive, and the service was extremely attentive and cordial. Oh…and it had air conditioning. So that was important for the heat-oppressed.
We had some time before we needed to head back for the reenactment so we decided to go to the National Park Service Visitor Center and get some input from the Park Rangers. A Ranger named Carlton provided some great information and helped us to make the decision to begin the self-guided auto tour that can be done quite easily using the National Park Service app. He drew out some directions on the tour guide to use along with the app.
By the way, you can also hop on the tour on one of the bus services, or even hire a person to actually drive your car for you. But we like to go at our own pace and, especially because we were breaking it up into two days, it was just more convenient to drive ourselves.
There are 16 stops along the auto tour which begins by driving from the Visitors Center, but actually winds around the Park grounds and outskirts of town before getting to what is actually the beginning of the tour. It takes you in and around the Park and various battle grounds and where troops were stationed. Everything is marked. Everything. You know where every unit of each army was, where they stood during their time in Gettysburg.
There are over 1,400 monuments scattered throughout the area. Some are clearly visible. Others are like hunting for “hidden Mickeys’ in Disneyworld…they are not so easily seen.
So we began by driving, while listening, to the first six stops on the tour – including 1) McPherson Ridge (where the Battle began on July 1, 1863); 2) Eternal Light and Peace Memorial on Oak Hill (it was very crowded and no parking so we didn’t stop); 3) Oak Ridge and Barlow Knoll; 4) North Carolina (1 in every 4 killed at Gettysburg was from North Carolina); 5) Virginia Memorial with Robert E. Lee clearly memorialized as well as the many Virginians who perished; 6) Pitzer Woods where General Longstreet and his men were stationed.
We were conscious of the time so we cut the tour off at that point and headed back to Daniel Lady Farm.
The overcast skies gave way to direct sun and more heat. After parking the car and before finding a spot to watch the skirmish on the main field, we all wanted a snack and a cool drink. Dr. G’s sarsaparilla which WAS a nice tonic for the heat and humidity, and one of the best soft pretzels I’ve ever tasted hit the spot.
There were grandstands at the main field where people paid extra to sit. But most people brought their own chairs or chose to stand as a part of the crowd of thousands that were in attendance. I couldn’t believe how many people there were. I asked Melissa how many people she thought were there. She said, “40,000 people.” Nah…I said, “There’s gotta be around 100,000 people here.” “You’re nuts, no way,” She said. When Nate made his way over, I asked him the same question and he said, “About 100,000.” Thank you Nate! And when Elizabeth chimed in, she ventured a guess of 75,000 spectators. We were all wrong but, to be honest, it sure SEEMED like there were that many people in the area of the main field to watch Rolling Thunder – from the Wheatfield to the Valley of Death.
In reality, there were about 8,000 to 10,000 spectators that day along with close to 2,000 reenactors participating in some way. It was hot. VERY hot. NO shade out on an open field. Melissa was hot. Elizabeth was hot. Nate was hot. And, yes, I was hot. And the men and women out there are doing what the people did 160 years ago in heavy wool clothing. I was in shorts and a t-shirt. And for about an hour, while we and the thousands of others looked on, the people of the Union and Confederate armies maneuvered and fired upon each other, simulating what took place during the Battle.
Watching the Battle out on the field, I wondered, especially given the times we are living in, if there was a problem getting people who wanted to be on the Confederate side of the line.
“Well considering this was actually Confederate ground with its artillery set up here during the Battle of Gettysburg, it wasn’t too difficult,” said Forgett. “It also served as a Confederate field hospital.”
Another interesting fact I learned from Forgett, because I asked, was about the Confederate flag.
“It’s not a flag that was ever flown on a pole by the Confederate States of America,” she said. “It never existed back then. It was a battle flag carried in battle…square…not even a rectangle. It was never a flag of hate, it was a flag of battle.”
The long day in the heat required that we all go back to our presidential accommodations to clean up before dinner. And since dinner was SUPPOSED to be at someplace called 1863 that apparently went by the wayside sometime in 2020 (except for a buffet breakfast of wet eggs and sweat) we needed to come up with an alternative plan.
Not too far away we had dinner at a Mediterranean place called Olivia’s. At least I THINK it was Mediterranean because that is what it said on the sign and on the menu. But if it WAS Mediterranean…then I don’t get it. I didn’t understand the selections, I didn’t understand what exactly made it Mediterranean except for maybe they had hummus? And where else is the hummus chunky? I just got back from Greece. I did not see any chunky hummus in Greece. Maybe it was guacamole?
And the place had a bar and when I asked for any local beers, I was told they didn’t have any. How can you be in a town with so many local breweries and not have a single local beer?
The menu was weird, the food was okay, but definitely not worth the cost which was on the expensive side considering it is far from an elegant restaurant and resembles more of a roadside cantina. And THAT’S not Mediterranean.
But after all…tomorrow is another day.
Looking for a local favorite, we came upon The Ragged Edge Coffee House in town on Chambersburg Street. This is an absolutely adorable converted home with a dining area and an informal sitting area upstairs, as well as a beautiful beer garden out back. There is a nice variety of eclectic choices that are both tasty and healthy, including sandwiches, wraps, and blended juices. It’s more than just a coffee shop and a great way to get your day off to tasty and nutritional start.
We were starting off with the continuation of the auto tour. And although we had made a quick stop at the Virginia Memorial the previous day, we were so very conscious of the time that we didn’t take the opportunity to really get out of the car and experience the many stops along the way. And since we missed getting a picture at the Eternal Flame and Peace Memorial, we quickly went and retraced our path and took some pics at the Eternal Light before re-starting the tour.
Stop No. 7 – Warfield Ridge and No. 8 – Little Round Top are currently closed for renovations, although you can still follow detour signs and get to Devil’s Den if you want to see the unusual geological formation that saw some of the fiercest fighting near the base of Little Round Top.
We ventured past and came upon Stop No. 9, The Wheatfield.
There were many talks and events during the course of this day, this weekend, and the National Park Service held tours, hikes (by foot and/or bike), and demonstrations.
At the Wheatfield, a site of where soldiers fought tirelessly around people’s home, barns, and orchards, Park Rangers talked to youths about what it was like to be in the army, what they had to endure, and showed them uniforms and weapons and gear that were used at the time of the battle. There was active participation and the NPS Ranger did a fantastic job of keeping everyone interested and engaged.
I give so much credit to those Rangers who made history and learning so much fun. It was one of my favorite parts of the tour, of the day, seeing how the Rangers made such an impression on those young kids. That kind of passion and enthusiasm is what made me so interested and want to learn more when I was a kid.
Once past Stops No. 10 – The Peach Orchard and No. 11 – Plum Run, we were just in time for another demonstration right in front of Stop No. 12, the Pennsylvania Memorial. There was a Union artillery unit giving a talk AND demonstration about the canons that were fired during the battle. And they shot the canon three times, at 10-minute intervals. Another favorite part of the tour.
The Pennsylvania Memorial has got to be the most majestic of all of the monuments in the Park. You can actually climb the winding flight of stairs to the top and get a panoramic view of the entire Gettysburg battlefield area.
We then made our way to 13) Spangler’s Spring and Culp’s Hill; 14) East Cemetery Hill; and 15) High Water Mark, so called for the northernmost point the Confederate army ever stepped…but never got past.
Before making our way to the final stop, No. 16 – National Cemetery, we needed to take a break from the heat of the day and get some lunch and a cold drink.
Not very far from the Cemetery is Appalachian Brewing Company. And just like it sounds, they are known for their many locally brewed beers. But they are also known for something else…their root beer floats! So not only did we try the beers, selected by our server, and all very good…I had a root beer float. And it definitely lived up to the hype. I’m not quite sure if it was because I was feeling the heat, but the root beer itself was really good and, add the vanilla ice cream, and it made for the perfect float.
The menu was also a bit different than you might find at most breweries posing as restaurants. The menu had many selections that were healthy and vegetarian-friendly. The salads had some nice options and they were very accommodating with making adjustments.
We finally made it to our last stop on the auto tour and took a walk through the National Cemetery. It was surprisingly sparse and I would guess that may be because the original site of the Visitor Center and Museum were previously across the street from the main entrance, whereas now it is a distance away. There are so many interesting facts about the Cemetery itself – like there are no Confederate soldiers buried there…and Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address there, well, somewhere around there because that location seems to be changing every so often. Regardless, it is a very solemn place and, unfortunately, you always get that person, or group of people, that simply don’t understand the meaning of “respect.”
No visit would be complete without seeing the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama back at the Visitor Center.
Created by French artist Paul Philippoteaux in 1884, the Cyclorama creates the three-dimensional illusion of being in the midst of the Battle, specifically Picketts Charge, thanks to its landscaped foreground and dramatic sound and lighting effects. The painting has survived years of exhibition, multiple moves, vandalism, fire, cuts and neglect, finding a home in Gettysburg in 1913. It was purchased by the National Park Service in 1942, and underwent multiple restoration efforts–including a multimillion-dollar restoration from 2004-08.
After going back to get cleaned up, we went for dinner at The Upper Crust in the center or town. Known for its wood-fired pizza, Nate and Elizabeth and Melissa and I shared personal pizzas that were pretty good. I wouldn’t travel three hours for another slice, but the crust, sauce, and cheese were just the right mix. I wasn’t thrilled about the way the pie was cut – six slices – cut VERY unevenly. My taste buds were satisfied but my OCD was not.
The personal pies were just enough because we were definitely hitting up Mr. G’s again. Nate was really looking for another couple of scoops of that butter pecan ice cream. That line was even longer than it was the first night. We got to watch General Lee hanging around across the street greeting passersby, as well as some Union officers and their ladies walking arm in arm.
The Gettysburg experience is just that – an experience. It is a place of great historical significance, and a place of sacrifice and suffering. There is a lot to discover, a lot to learn. The National Park Service does a wonderful job of maintaining the dignity and integrity of the hallowed grounds, along with some of the partner non-profit organizations like the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association. If you are a spiritual person, you may even feel a heaviness when you are out there on any part of the battlefields. There may be ghosts, there may not be ghosts. But one thing’s for sure, when you are there, you will likely see and feel things that you have never experienced before, and might never experience anywhere else. It’s a unique place and special place that I got to share with some very special people.