Visiting Gettysburg is not something I ever expected to do. I remember reading about it in school, but quite frankly, it never seemed real to me. Like a lot of other historical places that I’ve seen and visited since I moved to the east coast, it never felt tangible. Just words, stories and pictures… I never connected to history the way I did with English. Words are tangible. I can touch them on a page and directly connect to them; or I create them when I write.
The opportunity to visit Gettysburg came up when I was invited by my dear friend (and former EMS mentor) who serves as a family escort to attend the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Once the service ended on Sunday, we dropped off luggage, changed and headed to Gettysburg, which was only about 30 minutes away from where we were staying the night. Since my friend was driving, I googled the battlefield and tour information.
As we made our way into Gettysburg, I started to feel uneasy and a sense of eeriness enveloped me. I had the same visceral reaction that I had when I visited Pearl Harbor back in my 20’s. There was this unexpected aura and sorrow that lingered in the air the entire time we were there.
The first place we stopped had just sent out its last tour for the day, but suggested another place that did a sunset tour. We thought that would be perfect! We’d see the sunset on the battlefield that would surely offset the tragic events and loss of thousands of lives that had occurred on this land during the Civil War.
While we waited for the tour to begin, I couldn’t help but pose with the Abraham Lincoln statue that was outside of the building, along with a placard of his famous speech that he gave from Gettysburg.
Despite the cold, we decided to ride on the top of the double-decker tour bus so we’d have the best possible view. This was my first experience on one of these buses. Felt like any minute it could turn into something out of National Lampoon’s.
We sat across the aisle from two members of the Atlanta Pipes & Drums who were also in town for the Memorial Weekend and conversed with them for a bit until we left the visitors center.
Can’t say enough about the tour guide, who presented a program that was insightful, interesting and provided comic relief at different intervals. As we drove along we roughly followed the progress of the 3 days of gruesome and treacherous battle that occurred July 1-3, 1863.
It was startling to see how many of the original buildings and homes that were still standing and being utilized. Our guide would periodically point out the holes in buildings that were from the battle. There has been a resurgence in efforts to preserve the history and reclaim the land of the battlefield.
Our “tour” ended when we stopped at the top of Little Round Top to gaze upon the vast battlefield as the sun was setting. Provided a beautiful and enchanting image of the landscape where so much life was lost that lingered in the memory long after we departed from Gettysburg.