Thursday, July 09, 2009


I planned on posting this last week for the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but I was derailed by a computer virus that wouldn't go away. Actually, I kept getting rid of it, but it would keep coming back. I finally reformatted my hard drive and started over. (Which I don't recommend doing unless you don't have anything better to do for about three days.)

But I digress.

Hubby and I managed to get to Gettysburg at the end of June for a couple of days. There is so much to see there, we could have used a week. We were able to squeeze in a two hour long Battle Walk with historian Scott Hartwig on part of the first day's battle. It was hot and humid, with a little bit of rain thrown in, which made it even hotter. It made me appreciate what the soldiers must have gone through. They were there a lot longer than two hours--and wore wool uniforms!

The new visitor center at the battlefield is wonderful. I could spend days in the museum alone. And the restored Cyclorama painting is spectacular. I took a few photos (no flash allowed), but they don't do it justice. I'm not going to post them. You really have to see it in person.

One thing that disappointed me was that one of the best restaurants there was now gone. I really liked The Gingerbread Man and it's now a sports bar. Tell me. Do we really need another sports bar? Fortunately, there are several other great restaurants. We went to The Pub instead. It was excellent. They have really, really good French Fries.

It was a great trip but next time I think we need a few more days.

My first born suggested that I post the article I wrote way back in 1994 about our trip to Gettysburg. It was our first trip there with the kids, and also my first published article. It appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in September 1994. Take into account that this was written fifteen years ago, so much of it is outdated. It's a nice trip down memory lane, though, especially since my boys are now 25 and 21. Sigh. I've also resisted the urge to edit it, so here it is.

1863 Battle of Gettysburg Just a 4-Hour Car Ride Away

Even though the roads are filled with cars and hundreds of people are walking around, an eerie stillness lies over the battlefields at Gettysburg. As I listened to the park ranger explain the details of the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, I could almost hear the thunder of cannon fire and the rebel yells of the 12,000 Confederate soldiers charging toward the small thicket of trees beside us.

Ten-year-old Andrew sat with me and listened intently while my husband watched Josh, our 6-year-old, hunt for "bullets." A few minutes later, Josh ran over and whispered, "Look, I found a bullet!"

I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was only some kind of a seed or a nut that fell off one of the trees. To 6-year-olds, bullets and cannons are the best things about Gettysburg.

When my husband and I first thought of going to Gettysburg for vacation, we weren't sure what the kids would think. We were pleasantly surprised that they liked the idea. Andy likes anything historical and Josh likes whatever Andy likes--this year, anyway.

Gettysburg is only four hours from Pittsburgh, which is just long enough with two active boys in the back seat. We arrived at our hotel, the historic Gettysburg Hotel, built in 1790, before either one of them did any major damage to each other or to the minivan.

Over the next few days, we did all the usual tourist things, like visit the wax museum and the souvenir shops. The kids each bought a kepi, the cap that most of the soldiers wore. Andy bought Union blue, while Josh, always the rebel, had to get the gray.

The gray cap came in handy once when my husband was waiting to cross the street with Josh. A car stopped and the driver waved for them to cross. Jerry waved a thanks to him and the driver called out in a southern accent, "He's wearing the right hat!" Jerry figured it wouldn't be a good time to tell him he's really a Yankee.

The best way to tour the battlefield, especially with kids, is to buy or rent a cassette tape to play in your car. It rents for about $11, and sells for $13. We bought a tape and Andy has even listened to it since we've been home. The tape directs you to the different battle sites and monuments and comes complete with sound effects.

You also can ride on a tour bus or take a battlefield guide in your car. We didn't like the idea of a crowded bus and I think the Park Service requires you to return their guides alive at the end of the tour, so that wasn't an option with two kids. Also, with the tape, you can stop when and where you want. We spent more time on Little Round Top and at Devil's Den so the kids could play on the rocks, than we would have on a tour.

The Park Service also offers "Ranger Walks." We went to one at dusk at the amphitheater in the woods. The ranger explained how photographs were taken back in the 1860s. The next day, we also went on a 40-minute walk where the ranger detailed the third day of battle, known as Pickett's Charge. Andy can now explain the details of the battle to anyone, whether they want to know or not. At least he should ace his test on the Civil War in fifth-grade American history.

Another highlight of the trip for the kids was the "Ghosts of Gettysburg Walking Tour." At dark, one of the students from Gettysburg College takes a group of people (at $6 a head) for a walk through the town and the college and tells stories of ghosts that are supposed to haunt the area. In one story, our guide described how the ghost of a woman walks the campus at night, looking for her lover. Apparently, she and her boyfriend were to jump from the tower at the same time. She jumped--he didn't. Figures.

A few days after we came home, we watched the movie "Gettysburg" that I had taped before vacation. The kids really liked seeing what had happened at the places they had just seen. Josh was fascinated with Col. Joshua Chamberlain, who saved Little Round Top from the Confederates, I think because they share the same first name.

It was a good experience for them. A lot of times, we think that children are bored with anything educational, when, in fact, the opposite is true. It just depends on the way it is presented to them. They even want to return to Gettysburg to see one of the reenactments that they have every July. Maybe they'll even be one of the reenactors someday. Right now, as I write this, I can hear Josh outside yelling, "Charge!" He's Col. Joshua Chamberlain, leading a bayonet charge down the slopes of Little Round Top.

For the record, Andy is now a historian and still explains the details of the battle to anyone, whether they want to hear it or not. And Josh is still a rebel--he does brain/memory research in a lab at Pitt. He no longer goes charging down hills, unless it's down to Forbes Avenue in Oakland (PA) and he's heading to Caribou Coffee.

Here's a few more photos, too.

Cemetery Hill

On Little Round Top

McPherson Barn

On McPherson Ridge

Railroad Cut (where the first victim is found in Buried Lies)


jody stuart said...

Great photos, Joyce. Sorry I missed you. Next time you're there, eat at the Dobbins House - good food, great history. Or the Farnsworth House, on Baltimore St. Supposedly, it's haunted by a young boy named Michael. It was used by Confederate sharpshooters who took position in the attic and fired down on Union troops. The bricks are still pockmarked with bullet holes. - Oh... and their Rum pie is to die for.

Joyce said...

If we would have had more time, I would have made sure we got together while we were there. Hopefully, we'll go back again before too long!

Walt said...

Great article, Joyce. it brought back memories (and no, there is no truth to the rumor I was there with the Army of Northern Virginia -- Gen. Armistead wouldn't have me). I was one of those nuts dressed in wool in 100 degree weather back around 1993-95 when I was a Civil War reenactor (139th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry).