Welcome to Gettysburg National Park
Eric being all, "I'm a cool guy" at the Visitor Center
Giving old Abe a shoulder rub. I'd say he's earned it.
As I mentioned before, we decided to do an audio tour in the comfort (and air-conditioning) of our own car. Given the heat wave that was pushing the heat index well over 100 degrees, this was a wise choice, especially compared to our previous idea of horseback riding in full Confederate uniform (you have to admit, that tour sounds awesomely fun, but we failed to factor July heat in to that plan). It was the kind of hot that day that as we got out of our car to walk through the parking lot to the Visitor's Center, it felt like we had just gotten into a hot car that had been sitting in the sun all day in the middle of swampy Florida, and you really want to roll the windows down but the car in question is actually your boyfriend's crappy old Pontiac and the windows don't go down and the a/c doesn't work and your boyfriend likes a hot car so he's okay, but you feel like you might melt right into the passenger seat. It was that kind of suffocating heat, and there was nothing you could do to escape it. (And yes, such a car and such a boyfriend did once exist. In fact, boyfriend pictured above.)
So yeah, we did a driving tour.
We spent some time in the gift shop first, as it was rather big and had lots of fun things to buy. We considered getting Eric a rockin' Lincoln-style stovepipe hat to wear as we toured, but it was a good thing we decided against it because it would not have fit atop his head in the car anyway. We picked out our audio tour - one that allowed you to skip certain things to make it shorter (2 hours) or hit every site for the full tour (3 hours). It came with a little supplementary booklet, too. We also picked up our postcard for Gettysburg, then were on our way.
Our driving tour (click to enlarge)
Our handsome driver leading us on the tour
Our first stop was McPherson Ridge, followed by Oak Ridge and the North Carolina Memorial. At each stop, we were able to park our car at the side of the road and get out for some photos. Or, we could just pull over and listen to what our CD had to tell us about each place.
On our way to Oak Ridge
The CD not only told us about the basic historical facts and battle strategy, but also personal stories and anecdotes about people involved. One of my favorites was the story of a dog named Sallie, a "member" of the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment and fiercely loyal to her comrades, as dogs tend to be. Sallie was given to the regiment as a puppy and grew up in their ranks. During battles she was often seen at the end of the line, barking as ferociously as she could at the enemy. At Gettysburg, during the battle on July 1st, Sallie became separated from her men. She didn't know where they had gone but she knew where they had been, and there she stayed, among the wounded and dying on the battlefield, fiercely protecting her fallen friends until she was eventually found after the Confederate retreat. She rejoined her regiment and continued to serve until February of 1865, when she was killed in battle in Virginia. Her comrades felt such loyalty to her that they buried her on the battlefield, despite ongoing enemy fire. When an 11th Pennsylvania Regiment monument was eventually erected in Gettysburg, Sallie was memorialized at the base of the monument at Oak Ridge. If you park your car and go around to the back of the monument, there lies Sallie.
11th PA Regiment Memorial
Speaking of statues, one thing that you can't help but notice when you tour Gettysburg is the sheer number of monuments and memorials. I believe our CD told us that there are nearly 1,400 monuments and memorials located throughout the battlefield, making it the largest sculpture garden in the U.S. (maybe the world? I don't remember for sure). They were just everywhere, and many were very poignant and moving.
Left: The North Carolina Memorial at Seminary Ridge; Right: Statue of Lieutenant Colonel James Longstreet
Unfortunately, I did not record the name of this one, but it is across the street from the Virginia Memorial. I liked that he looks like he is leading his comrades into battle, so bravely.
One of our longer stops was at the Virginia Memorial, featuring a huge statue of Robert E. Lee. At the base of Lee's monument were statues representing various types of men who left their occupations to join Confederate ranks: a professional, a mechanic, an artist, a businessman, a farmer, and a boy.
Men at the base of the statue
The coolest part about the Robert E. Lee statue (in my opinion) was its location. It sits across from the statue of General George Meade at the "High Water Mark" at Cemetery Ridge. The two are on opposite sides of the field that is famous for Pickett's charge, when General George Pickett led Confederate soldiers across an open field in the last day of battle at Gettysburg. With no cover in open field, the Union army was able to take out much of the Confederate charge with their artillery before they even reached the Union lines. This Confederate defeat marked a turning point in the war. I thought it was a striking touch to have the opposing generals on opposite sides of this historic field, as if going into battle to this day.
The field, as seen from the Robert E. Lee side - that middle peak you see on the horizon is the Meade statue.
General Meade (this is a little out of order because this was actually our last stop, but I thought it made sense to group these with Robert E. Lee to show them on opposing sides)
Rocks on the other side of the field - the Robert E. Lee statue is across that field somewhere
After the Robert E. Lee statue, we made our way to Little Round Top, where the 20th Maine, under leadership of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (a religion professor on sabbatical), held off charging Confederate soldiers in some of the fiercest fighting of the battle. Chamberlain won the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg.
Little Round Top
At Little Round Top
I don't even know what this monument is, but I thought it was beautiful.
20th Maine monument, set back in the woods across the street from Little Round Top
By the time we finished up at Little Round Top, the sky was turning dark as storms started to roll in, and we were running pretty far behind schedule. We decided to pick up the pace and go straight to the High Water Mark, which was to be the end of our tour. We got a little turned around and did some extra driving, but did eventually find it, along with seeing many other monuments along the way.
Up next: my family reunion in Pittsburgh, coming up tomorrow!