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.
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