Friday, June 28, 2013

A Gettysburg Journal (1)

A Gettysburg farm near the rise on which the eternal Peace Light was erected in 1938, the battle's 75th anniversary. 
This is the first of a series of journal entries I made during several days of roaming the battlefield at Gettysburg:

June 20, 2013

Our friends Michael Birkner and Robin Wagner were out when we arrived, so we headed up to the Peace Light, which is near their house. From there we walked out Confederate Avenue into ground contested on the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863. The sun was shining, the temperature in the 70s. A woman on a tractor was cutting hay in the field.

The 17th Pennsilvania Cavalry monument at Gettysburg.
Since time was short, we didn’t go as far as the Gen. John Reynolds statue and McPherson’s Ridge, instead looping around to the observation tower near the road. We climbed it just as a tour guide was finishing his spiel about the first day at Gettysburg with the story of Confederate Gen. Richard Ewell’s failure to take Culp’s Hill. The guide had been reading about the battle since boyhood, he said, and had changed his mind several times about Ewell’s culpability (no pun intended) in this.

The tour guide was a Carolinian, and the group had come up from North Carolina that morning. After saying that the next day he would lead the group on a tour of Gen. James Longstreet’s actions on the second day of the battle, he called for a prayer. He said how much he loved the idea of praying on federal property, to which his audience chuckled and nodded. He then read an eloquent prayer that blended God, flag and the Lost Cause.

I wish I had heard more of what was obviously a southern narrative of the battle. It would be interesting to hear the story as filtered through the Red-Blue, Evangelical-secular humanist, white southerner-Obama’s America divide of our time. From the little I heard, his different perspective seemed strongly based in interest and knowledge

I just read Allen Guelzo’s account of the first day’s fighting in Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. I liked it, and I was also comfortable with it. For all of Guelzo’s good research on the Confederate side, his book tells the story of a Union victory and is driven mainly by the accounts of the victors. I wondered, for example, how the Carolinian tour guide would handle slavery, race and politics as they relate to the battle -- subjects Guelzo handled very well in his book. 

Part 2: Looking for the spot where Col. Cross died.

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