The Battle of Gettysburg, which took place over 3 days in July 1863, is known as the bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War because of the large number of casualties incurred by both sides – nearly 50,000. Some say it was the turning point in the war when Major General Meade defeated the attacks of General Robert E. Lee’s troops, ending Lee’s invasion of the North.
Gettysburg was a small town near the southern border of Pennsylvania, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line. So after a night in Maryland I ride northwest for a couple of hours to get to this historic place. I choose two-lane roads for the entire route and it’s a gorgeous day. The town itself is still a fairly small one. Many of the homes occupied during the Civil War era are still here, protected in a historic district. The visitor center provides me with a map so that I can ride the “auto tour” on my own for the full 24 miles through town and the local farmland. After leaving the visitor center I ride toward and through part of town following the suggested tour and eventually I ride south/southwest on West Confederate Avenue along Seminary Ridge. I’m not prepared for how large the Military Park is when I see it. There are dozens of cannons placed along fences on the side of the road and pointing out toward the battlefield. It’s eerie, looking as though the soldiers had only just stopped firing them, although it’s been more than 150 years.
There are plaques posted to describe the cannons and the battle along this road. At first I stop to read them, but then I realize I won’t have enough time to continue to do that. So I move along Seminary Ridge to the south through an avenue of giant trees.
It’s quiet here, with only the sound of the breeze blowing through the trees to keep it from complete silence, and I’m feeling reverent. My great-great-great-great grandfather, Squire Lamphere, fought in the Civil War on behalf of his home state of New York and was wounded. He could easily have been here, although I don’t know that to be true. I think of all the families that were divided and of the stories of brothers fighting brothers that I was told in school.
Further south on this road I start to notice monuments of stone and bronze. It looks like each state has erected a memorial to the sons it lost in the war to honor their sacrifice. To say it is moving would be an understatement. It’s beyond words.
After following the road south along Warfield Ridge and stopping to see many of the monuments, I turn east along the bottom and more closed in part of the valley. This is known as Devil’s Den. It’s more closely surrounded by trees and provides a somewhat obstructed view of the fields. I can imagine it earned its name because of the fierceness of the fighting here. The road continues past Little Round Top near Cemetery Ridge, and through the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard and on to the High water Mark – this refers to the furthest point of advance for the Confederacy for the entire Civil War. More memorials line the route, these for the Union side, the largest of which belongs to Pennsylvania.
Soldiers’ National Cemetery is here, and Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address at the dedication ceremony for the cemetery a few months after the battle. It’s impossible to describe, or to comprehend, the enormity of the events that took place here. Historic.