Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 21: Battlefield Day

August 16, 2011 - We finished off the tour of Gettysburg today at the visitors center.  Bruce and I only meant to spend an hour there, but instead we got sucked into the historical displays and spent way longer than we expected.  However, it was well worth the extra time we spent and we had fun.

The Gettysburg Experience

The first part of the Gettysburg experience was the movie.  Narrated by Morgan Freeman and produced by The History Channel, this small film discussed the events leading up to the battle as well as how the battle was fought.  After having experienced the actual sites the day before, the film made much more sense to me and I was able to enjoy the movie much more than if I had just walked in off the street.

You see, you are supposed to visit the museum first, then go on the tour around the battlefield.

After the film, we were directed to the Cyclorama.  A Cyclorama is a panoramic painting of a certain event in which the viewer stands in the middle; making the viewer feel as though they were standing in the middle of the event; in this case, the Battle of Gettysburg.

A portion of the Cyclorama image.

The Gettysburg Cyclorama depicts Pickett's Charge and was painted by French artist Paul Philippoteux.  The first version of this cyclorama was completed in 1883, but the version we saw was actually a modern recreation of the original.

After that, we were directed to the interactive museum in which we followed the Battle of Gettysburg complete with actual artifacts and well-crafted displays.  The information that was provided was amazing and very in depth.  Unfortunately, there was no flash photography allowed and my camera doesn't like low-light shots.  I did managed to get some good photographs.

An advertisement for the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama.

Enlarged copies of old photographs taken after the battle.

A collage of soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg.

That left one more place to visit, conveniently located right outside of the museum section:  the gift shop.  Bumper stickers, books, key chains, and an hour later, we escaped from the gift shop and headed onto our next destination.

Some of you may be asking about our other travelling companions.  Humberto and Batman wanted to go into the museum with us, but we couldn't find their tickets.  So, instead, they stayed outside with the Bike Tour lady and got some photo opportunities of their stay at Gettysburg.

Batman and Humberto think about taking a tour.

Unfortunately, Batman's legs are too short to reach the pedals.

Final Thoughts on Gettysburg

As we leave Gettysburg I am silent, reminded of the soldiers that came before me; the ones that gave their lives.  As a soldier, this place really touched home, but I leave this hallowed ground proud of my contributions, however small, to military service.  Bruce is quiet too.  While nothing has been said between us in this topic, I feel that he has the same feelings about the military and those soldiers long ago and the ones still fighting today.

Gettysburg was an amazing place to visit the history of the  United States.  It doesn't matter if you were Union or Confederate, if you lived back then or now; it simply matters that the battle that took place so long ago had a direct impact and helped make our country what it is today.

Don't Trust The Sylvia 9000

Our next stop was in Maryland.  Getting from Gettysburg to there should have been a quick journey, a matter of half an hour if we were goofing off. However, Sylvia decided to take us through some very...interesting...parts of Maryland. I could have sworn that we were travelling the same path from Harper's Ferry that the Confederate soldiers would have taken.

After the Interstate, the road wasn't really that bad.

Then it got progressively worse.

We had the truck with the camper and the trailer driving down this path.

And when I say path, I really mean path...no road was involved in the last part of the trip to Antietam.

Additionally, we barely made it under a series of train bridges because the truck and camper setup was almost too tall.  We managed to just barely squeeze underneath with Bruce driving and myself clinging on to the cliff that was the side of the road to make sure we would be okay.  I don't think there was any space between the air conditioner and the bridge.  When I say barely, I really mean it.

Hence the 2001: A Space Odyssey reference.  We think Sylvia tried to kill us.

Antietam (or Sharpsburg):  The Bloody Battle

Southerner's call the conflict The Battle of Sharpsburg.

Our next stop was the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg (as my friend insists on calling it; something about Southern pride).  The battlefield was a lot smaller than Gettysburg but extremely deadly even though it only lasted for one day; 23,000 casualties.  The battle featured some well known names (after the previous couple of days engrossed in Gettysburg), so it was like revisiting some old friends again.

I also found myself calling the place Sharpsburg, which greatly amused Bruce. So, for the Northerner's who are reading this blog; just replace "Sharpsburg" with "Antietam" in your heads; they are the same place.

Before heading out to view the battlefield, we watched a movie about Sharpsburg, this time narrated by James Earl Jones and, again, produced by The History Channel.  Bruce and I got to learn more about the battlefield and what happened on September 17, 1862 in one of America's most turbulent times. 

After the movie we looked in the small museum and visited the gift shop. We were able to find another audio tour for this battlefield amongst more trinkets; key chains, books, confederate paper money, and bumper stickers.

The Battle of Sharpsburg

On that day, Maj. General McClellan and the Union Army of the Potomac confronted Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virgina at Sharpsburg, Maryland.  Vigorous attacks from both sides went back and forth between Miller's cornfield and the West Woods.  At the end of the day, however, the Confederate army was driven out of Maryland and the battle is, technically, considered a draw.

Our Tour Begins

There were only a couple of memorials near the museum that I was quick to photograph.  Compared to Gettysburg there wasn't a lot of monuments at this small battlefield, but there were still a few.  However, the monuments and memorials we did find were no less impressive and carried no less weight than their cousins in Gettysburg.

20th New York Volunteer Infantry monument.

New York state memorial.

Maryland state memorial, which had sons on both sides of the Civil War.

132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry monument.

The battlefield is pretty much the same way that it was back then; cornfields and open fields.

A large open field near the museum.

The Orchard; a scene of several surges in the battle.

The oak tree shelters a pre-civil war graveyard.

Reconstructed fences like the ones pictured above were everywhere.

We were able to take the audio tour within a couple of hours and we got a lot of pictures.  We saw some amazing places like the Dunker Church, the Cornfield, the Burnside Bridge, and the Bloody Lane.

Dunker Church; this peaceful building was re-purposed for the battle by both sides.

Soldiers had to wade through the corn, often to their deaths.

Approaching the Burnside Bridge.

Across the Burnside Bridge.

Experience at The Bloody Lane

I should probably start off that never once did I see what could be called a ghost in any battlefield that I have so far visited.  However, that being said, the experience that I had in the Bloody Lane was as close as I have come.

While walking from one end of the Bloody Lane, a sunken road that saw an enormous amount of death during the day, you could feel the weight of...something...heavy in the air.  While walking alone I could feel as though there were soldiers waiting just over both sides of the rise; beyond my sight.  I continued walking and thought that I could feel the eyes of long dead soldiers watching me.

Inside the Bloody Lane.

Needless to say, I didn't dawdle as I made my way through the Bloody Lane.

Final Thoughts on Sharpsburg

The sun began to set as we left the Burnside Bridge late in the afternoon.  For three straight days Bruce and I had toured some of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War.  In reality, Sharpsburg was really no different from Gettysburg; soldiers had lost their lives.

Bruce and I adopted a silence as we drove out of Sharpsburg, each of us again lost in our own thoughts.  A single battle among many, but with a horrible reputation; Sharpsburg was the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil.  A lot of soldiers lost their lives for what they believed was the right thing.  We cannot judge them for what they did; we can only honor them.

Sunset over Sharpsburg Battlefield.

I'm not scared, but I don't want to stay here after dark.

Washington, D.C.

Our final stop for the day is in Washington, D.C.; the site of ongoing battles even today.  Our drive was a lot easier utilizing a multitude of maps in conjunction with Sylvia.  With the problems that we had today, we concluded that the passenger is now the navigator. 

Our trip during the night included traffic, a funny conversation between truckers (heard over our own CB radio), and more traffic.  Eventually, we made our way to the Andrew's Air Force Base Family Camp late at night and worked on our itinerary for the next couple of days.


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