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Battle of Gettysburg: 150 Year Anniversary

Fences bordering the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Fences bordering the Gettysburg Battlefield.

2013 is the 150-year anniversary of the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.    Located in Pennsylvania, the Gettysburg National Military Park is a good stopping off point for anyone travelling through the eastern U.S.  You won’t be sorry.  We packed in some serious history in an overnight and half-day visit on our way to New York.

After a long day of driving we arrived in Gettysburg. I wanted to stay in a historic property to make it even more meaningful, so we lodged at The Brickhouse Inn* (1898 and 1830, are the dates of the two adjacent houses that make up the Inn; we stayed in the 1898 main house). Having been forewarned our room (appropriately named “New York”) was on the third floor (with no elevator) we were prepared with a small overnight bag. The Inn was lovely and very comfortable.  For those like us, on a quick time schedule, we had read a personally guided tour would be ideal and we booked a guide through the Inn manager.

After a day in the car, we wanted to stretch our legs, so we took a quick walk through the charming, historic town and explored up and down the streets. Historic markers are well-placed and easy to follow. Good news for my husband, pretty much all the stores were closed.

The Inn manager suggested for dinner we try the nearby Dobbin House Tavern, built-in 1776. We ate by candlelight in the cozy basement. We honestly felt transported back a few centuries – the atmosphere was lively and with tables tightly packed together, we soon found ourselves chatting with our neighboring diners.  Food was just OK (I had crab cakes), but the atmosphere was definitely worth the effort. This building also served as a “station” on the famous “Underground Railroad”.  There is also a more upscale restaurant, not in the basement, on the property.  We hit Kilwin’s for ice cream on the way back to the Inn.

Breakfast at the Inn, on the outside terrace, was delightful and delicious, a great way to start the busy day.   This morning at 9 a.m. our guide met us at the Inn for our private tour of the Gettysburg National Military Park. Guides go with you in your car.  Our battlefield guide was a moolighting high school history teacher. The three-hour tour followed the three days of the battle, as well as pointing out all the monuments to the various state and local groups that fought. He really put the drama of the battle in perspective, but it was still hard to imagine the horror that took place in this now peaceful and tranquil area of rural Pennsylvania. He must’ve picked up on my Southern origins, as well as my husband’s Yankee background, and I felt like he did a good job explaining the battle from both Union and Confederate perspectives. We learned a lot, and realize every American should see this important historical site.  What took us so long?

*Due to the anniversary celebrations, accommodations in the area are hard to come by for summer 2013 – so be sure to make arrangements in advance.  If you do schedule a private tour you should plan to tip the guide.

We Should Know Our History: The War Between the States

Manassas National Battlefield ParkThese days our country is divided politically, pretty much 50/50 and friends and family with opposing viewpoints cannot seem to have a civil discussion without breaking down into name-calling. I keep hearing people say “it’s never been this bad” and “I’ve never seen our country so divided”.

In the context of our short U.S. history, nothing could be more divergent than the War Between the States, fought from 1861 – 1865.  Keeping it in perspective, the stunning loss of 622,000 lives was almost more than our losses in all other U.S. wars combined.  Based on population percentages, that’s equivalent to 6 million today. It was a war in which family members were often on both sides of the battle and I can see that clearly reflected in my own ancestry research.

Manassas National Battlefield ParkThe battlefields are now national parks, under the management of the National Park Service and while Gettysburg may be the most famous there are many others.  On this trip north, we stopped to visit Manassas National Battlefield Park. Up until this battle, the general population was treating the warlike performance art theater, riding in from cities with picnic baskets packed, to watch. The battle at Manassas ended that trend as the violent, bloody battle and death toll of young soldiers from both sides sent the observers into a fast retreat. The First Manassas Battle is more commonly known as the Battle of Bull Run and it is considered the first major battle of the war, fought in July 1861. A second battle was fought in the same area in August of 1862.

Manassas National Battlefield ParkToday the pastoral setting has been beautifully maintained and buildings restored. There is a nice Visitor’s Center with interesting exhibits and a well-done movie explaining the battle. Rangers lead informative tours and hikes. Located near Gainesville, VA, the park is bisected by US Highway 29.

Some might wonder who won this battle, but from my point of view, no one wins a fight with his brother.