Monthly Archives: January 2022

Driving through a graveyard

We woke up to a happy, sunny but nosehair freezing kind of day. After a quick stop for a couple of McSliders we retraced our route back to the Gettysburg welcome center. Marce had learned about a self -guided tour in a national parks app from the welcoming ranger, even though he seemed to be more concerned about any weapons or explosives we might be concealing under our voluminous heavy coats. The self guided tour actually starts in the town of Gettysburg so a little more backtracking was required.

As soon as we pulled up to the number one sign the app apparently knows that you’ve just pulled up and is keen to tell its story. Unlike most shiny pants installations it actually works.

It’s such beautiful peaceful countryside as you sit there, warm in your car while the voice of a faceless ranger describes the carnage that occurred just over that pleasant ridge, yeah, the one with a dozen cannon facing down the rise.

Really you’ve never seen so many cannons. Monuments and placards were spread out over the fields but more concentrated at the cool bits, where I’m sure something horrendous happened.

And then you come to Confederate Avenue. That’s where, oddly enough, twentieth century Southerners planted monuments memorializing their glorious struggle and they’ve been working overtime. The place is chock-a-block, practically paved with the things, mostly ironically placed on the sites where the Union troops defended their territory. However, I noticed a dozen or so Union cannon on the ridge — there’s at least a dozen on every ridge — facing down the rise in the general direction where the Confederates attacked from. When you win you get to call the tune, but the Confederates seem determined to write their own verses.

We drive from point to point, stopping to listen to what happened in each location. This is classic Pennsylvania countryside with gentle rolling hills, hardwood trees, and grassy meadows. It really is beautiful.

That is with one exception. Little Round Top. After the Confederate troops fought their way through the boulders of the Devil’s Den, they faced a frontal charge up this hill into the face of rifle and cannon fire.

It was a big ask and they knew it, suicidal unless by chance the Union forces were so depleted that they’d leave the hill relatively undefended. That’s exactly what happened. A small force of observers and semaphore communication officers were all there was on top of the mound.

This is where the Union was waiting at the top.

But with incredible bravery, those relatively junior Union officers rallied enough forces to save the day. But it was a close thing.

Marce is paying her respects at the massive Pennsylvania Memorial and looking for the names of her many ancestors who fought in the battle.

Finally you arrive at the site of Picket’s Charge on a hill above Gettysburg where the Flower of the South was spent. General Lee, gambling that one more all-out effort might cause the Union to collapse, sent his army on a frontal assault, charging up the hill directly into intensive cannon and rifle fire. The Union Army was damaged but held just the same. It was another close call but generally considered to have turned the tide for the Union. You can learn more about the entire three-day battle here.

Enough with all this slaughter. By this time you’ll be getting as hungry as Yours Truly was, so might I recommend the famous 3 Hogs BBQ? It’s worth the trip.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Let the fun begin

As a kid if you’d grown up in Pennsylvania you’ve been to Gettysburg, site of one of the pivotal battles of the American Civil War. One could be forgiven for saying, “Been there, done that.” But you really haven’t. Apparently over the decades since I was last there they’ve made a few improvements. Let me just say at this juncture that nobody does mass battlefield carnage better than the good old U. S. of A.

First, the totally restored, brilliantly colored cyclorama is now housed in a new building which finally presents the 377 feet long by 42 feet high canvas, it says here, as originally designed and painted by Paul Philippoteaux in the 1880s. It depicts the final day of the battle, and especially Picket’s Charge, the last Confederate assault that sealed their fate.

The theatre is entered from below on an escalator and as you rise up to viewing level you’re enveloped in a predawn misty blue sky.

Real wagons, shrubbery and field pieces are artistically arranged in the foreground like figurants in a play, but still blend seamlessly into the perspective of the cyclorama.

Soon a few clashes start up and lights begin to flash, cannons boom with smoke rising over the area where the fun is commencing. Let the carnage begin!

If you’ve never visited a cyclorama (there aren’t that many left in the world) it’s the original multimedia presentation, where the audience stands in the middle and lights draw your attention to various parts of the painting while a narrator tells the story with a backing track of music and sound effects.

The action of the battle ranged over a wide area and it becomes obvious that it’s many skirmishes over miles of varied terrain.

This has everything, a cast of over 150,000 men maneuvering for advantage, cavalry, and just to allay any fears that this exercise is nothing but savagery, brother killing brother, we have booming artillery and a crowd favorite, frontal charges up the hill into the teeth of semi rapid rifle fire. I think that covers it. Lovely stuff.

The artist Paul Philippoteaux pictured behind a tree with sword drawn

For those of us who still have not had enough there’s an excellent museum just below the cyclorama. I always like to gaze at the real stuff and wonder how you could dispatch so many fellow Americans one at a time, in so short a time. As an aid to understanding it all there are several excellent short films to watch, some of them produced by the History Channel.

I caution you to take some sort of tracking device or you will get lost, just as Yours Truly did. I promised to mention the guard who found me, in the blog, so . . . Apparently I’m just no good anymore without a GPS chart plotter.

The weather had turned cold, wet and nasty so finding ourselves ahead of schedule for a change, we decided to return tomorrow to tour the battlefield by car.

Editor’s note: Most Pennsylvania natives can claim veterans or casualties of the battle of Gettysburg in their family tree. In my family, my great grandfather, an immigrant from Germany, was recruited among many other new arrivals to bolster the Union effort. He played the cornet and spent most of the rest of his life in the US Army as a bugler. He died in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. This photo was taken long after the Civil War was over. —Marce

Recruitment poster in German
Charles T. Boettger a few years before he died.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Stunned and coddled

It took some doing to find a PCR test site we could walk to from our hotel, but we managed and tested negative and finally got to insinuate ourselves into my sister’s home for a few weeks. Jack and I were suffering severe culture shock and were barely communicative at first. The sale of the boat happened so quickly, we had no plan for what’s next, and the Covid situation in America was much worse than we’d experienced previously, especially compared to our safe little island in Malaysia. But my sister and brother-in-law gave us the space to process and kept us fed and watered while we adjusted to a culture that’s familiar and alien at the same time.

Eventually we rented a car and started off toward Pittsburgh, our old home town and still home to other family members.

We took a few days to drive what normally would take one day, zigzagging north and south, shopping for warm clothes and exploring back roads along the way.

Pennsylvania, we learned, boasts more covered bridges than anywhere else in the country and we made it our mission to find a few and appreciate their construction.

It was comforting to be on the move again, and even though we miss the endless blue of our life on the water, driving through the hilly piedmont and over the familiar Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania helped calm our uncertainty. Lovely as it is, even in the bleakest of seasons, we agree we don’t want to live here anymore. But we’re on our way to see some of our favorite people, and that’s the joy we’ve been missing.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized