Gettysburg: Bravery and sacrifices remembered

By Terri Marshall

As the nation commemorates the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, the site of the conflict’s biggest battle joins in the commemoration activities.  In July 1863,  over 170,000 soldiers converged on the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg  in a battle that changed the course of the war and ultimately the course of a nation.

Most of us studied the Battle of Gettysburg in our American history classes.  We memorized President Lincoln’s brief address delivered at the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery – the final resting place of 3,500 Union soldiers.  Those history lessons become real with a visit to Gettysburg.

Every year the town commemorates the Battle of Gettysburg  with as many as 15,000 Civil War re-enactors arriving each July to give visitors a glimpse into the 1860’s through battle re-creations, medical and fashion demonstrations, musical performances and encampments.  Each day includes two battles featuring Union and Confederate cavalry, artillery, infantry and an explosive pyrotechnic display – an ideal way to get in touch with the nation’s history.

Each November, the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and the Gettysburg address are commemorated  on Remembrance and Dedication weekend.  The events begin with a parade of Union and Confederate soldiers through the streets of town.  Townspeople and re-enactors in period costumes stroll throughout the community.   As daylight fades Soldiers’ National Cemetery glows with the flickering candlelight of  thousands of luminaries placed on the graves of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom.

November 19th – the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address – is Dedication Day.  In 2012 the keynote speaker was a man who knows quite a bit about Abraham Lincoln…Steven Spielberg.  As he stood on the stage next to a portrait of Lincoln to address the thousands of people in attendance, one theme was central to his speech.  “I am humbled to stand in this place where Abraham Lincoln addressed a nation torn from war with a brief speech that provided hope when it was needed most.”

If you have ever considered visiting Gettysburg,  this is the year to go.   Walk in Lincoln’s footsteps beginning at the historic railroad station, through the streets of town to the David Wills House and on to Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Gettysburg National Military Park is the most visited of all the military parks in the United States.   With more than 6,000 acres of preserved hallowed ground, the park is a place of learning, reflection and patriotism.  With more than 1300 monuments and markers, the park has one of the largest outdoor sculpture collections in the world.

There are nine ways to tour the park including horseback, bicycle, guided tours by bus or car and even by Segway.  Guides like Jim Pangburn know more about Gettysburg than the history books.  “I studied for five years before becoming a guide here at Gettysburg National Military Park,” says Jim.  “I’m still learning new things every day.”

The Gettysburg National Military Park’s Museum and Visitor Center – just four years old – has already welcomed millions through its doors as a starting point for the Gettysburg experience.  The museum is also home to the Gettysburg Cyclorama – a 377 feet by 42 feet circular oil painting – serving as a vivid memorial to the soldiers who took part in Pickett’s Charge.

The jewel in the crown of Gettysburg’s 150th Anniversary observation of the Civil War’s most famous battle is the opening of the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum on July 1, 2013.  The museum will occupy 20,000 square feet on four floors of the renovated Schmucker Hall on the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg campus.  Visitors will be able to explore history where it happened, walk halls where wounded soldiers suffered, experience General Buford’s view from the Seminary cupola and stand where many on both sides lost their lives.

The museums main exhibit – Voices of Duty and Devotion – begins on the 4th floor with the story of the fighting on Seminary Ridge on July 1, 1863.  Pledging “we have come to stay,” outnumbered Union troops fought to hold back Confederate forces as reinforcements from both armies continued to arrive.   The staggering losses on both sides left the wounded and dying to seek shelter in the Seminary building.  The 3rd floor depicts what happened within the walls of Schmucker Hall as it became one of the largest field hospitals in Gettysburg.

Exhibits on the 2nd floor provide a context for understanding the moral and intellectual struggles that led to the Civil War over issues that divided a nation. The exhibits offer an opportunity to explore how a county on the Mason Dixon line experienced civil strife and moral struggles involved religious debates, anti-slavery activities, the Underground Railroad and the role of the African American community.

Gettysburg is looking forward to the 150th Commemoration, but there is another side to Gettysburg that has nothing to do with history.

This is Apple Country with over 20,000 acres of apple, peach and pear trees.  Each spring the countryside blossoms with thousands of apple blossoms as the community hosts the Annual Apple Blossom Festival.

This year marks the 66th year of the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival.  Dozens of musicians come together on stage for fours days of music, workshops food and good times.

Gettysburg also has a growing wine industry and has produced several varieties of award-winning wines.  The Gettysburg Wine and Fruit Trail combines visits to the renowned vineyards and orchards throughout the scenic countryside.

Whether you visit for the history or any of the other activities Gettysburg has to offer, you will leave knowing this is a very special place.

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