Gettysburg Battlefield Tour

Gettysburg Battlefield Tour

 25952 OCdt (IV) Alex Frey – 6 Squadron

The History Department trip to Gettysburg caught me completely off-guard. My classmates and I had studied the three-day conflict in our HIE 336: American Civil War class with Dr. Brushett, but being able to actually see the grounds where the conflict took place and stand where both Union and Confederate soldiers stood was fascinating, and a little bit eerie.

The twenty-two students from Dr. Brushett’s (English) and Dr. Lamarre’s (French) American Civil War classes left RMCC on Friday the 4th of April, and settled in for the long 8 hour bus ride to Gettysburg. We arrived right on schedule, and we headed right for the Gettysburg Visitor Center and Museum. We were quickly ushered into a small movie theatre where a short film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, explained the basics of the Gettysburg fight and the Civil War in general.

The tour then moved to the Gettysburg Cyclorama – a massive oil painting depicting the Confederate attack on Union forces on July 3rd, 1863 which was known as “Pickett’s Charge”. The huge painting measured 8.2 m × 109 m (27 ft × 359 ft); the foreground in front of the painting had been mocked up with exhibits and replicas to match the scene in the painting – often done so well that the entire painting looked three-dimensional.

Nous avons ensuite visité le musée pour observer des objets récupérés de la guerre, avant de retourner à notre hôtel.

Samedi était un jour de grand vent vif, mais la visite a continué quand même et on a commencé à explorer les champs de batailles. Chronologiquement, la tournée a commencé à McPherson Ridge où les premiers coups de feu du Gettysburg avaient été tirés, et a suivi la séquence de combat. Les élèves ont été immédiatement surpris à la fois par la portée des champs de batailles et le temps nécessaire pour les parcourir – la plupart des champs de batailles étaient soit des vastes plaines ou des endroits denses en forêt. Chaque combat entre brigades et divisions pouvait durer plusieurs heures, où le côté de l’offensive et de la défensive effectuaient des petites manœuvres pour tenter de devancer l’autre. Sous la direction des Drs. Brushett, Lamarre, et McKay, les élèves ont appris des détails de chaque lieu sur le champ de bataille, les stratégies et les tactiques de même que les commandants et les soldats individuels.

The tour watched as places were shown to us, and we were given the opportunity to stand where each side had been and see the battle from their eyes; the American Park Service has kept Gettysburg and the lands surrounding it as accurate to July 1863 as possible. We ‘watched’ in our imaginations as the Union engaged the advancing Confederate column at McPherson ridge and were drawn into a larger conflict than either of the Commanding Generals had anticipated; we watched as Confederate forces slowly began pushing Union forces off of places like Barlow’s Knoll, Seminary Ridge, and eventually McPherson’s Ridge as well. By the second day of battle, the Union had been pushed all the way through town and were beginning to set up defences to the south.

Le dimanche était beaucoup plus chaud et plus ensoleillé, ce que la plupart des gens habitué à l’hiver ont apprécié. Le dimanche était consacré à des sites de tourisme du deuxième et troisième jour des combats, en se concentrant sur le fameux «hameçon» de la ligne défensive mise en place par l’Union ainsi que Cemetery Ridge, et les tentatives de le briser. Le dimanche, le terrain était encore plus surprenant – la plupart des endroits étaient grands ouverts et plats, à l’exception de quelques zones boisées denses. Tous ces «crêtes» que nous avons vu étaient environ une douzaine de pieds plus haut que les champs voisins. À l’exception d’un point haut tenu par l’Union appelé «Little Roundtop”, le champ de bataille ne varie pas beaucoup en élévation.

Sunday afternoon we ‘recreated’ the Confederate attack; we toured the woods where the Confederates had formed up, and then walked across the miles of open fields just as they would have had to in order to attack the Union. Most people commented that it seemed like an insane idea to march parade-ground style across miles of wide open fields while being shot at with cannon and musket fire, but that’s exactly what the Confederates did. We aimed our ‘attack’ right at the place where Confederate troops pierced the Union lines, a place called “The Angle” and nicknamed “The High-Water Point of the Confederacy” because the Union eventually pushed the Confederates back, beginning the withdrawal of Confederate forces from Pennsylvania and the North.

We ended the tour by visiting the Gettysburg National Cemetery, containing the remains of hundreds of soldiers; it was also the place where President Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address was made.

The tour to Gettysburg was a phenomenal way to take what we had seen on PowerPoint slides and textbook pages, and put it into realistic terms. Being able to walk where the troops had walked, stand where commanders on both sides had fallen, and see what the Generals had seen was incredible. I highly recommend the tour to any students who are interested in the American Civil War. I would also like to thank Dr. Brushett, Dr. Lamarre, and Dr. McKay for their efforts in making the trip a reality and for their guidance during the tours itself; their extensive knowledge made the trip much more informative.


One Comment

  • 11761 Cross, FBN

    April 14, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    My wife and I attended the 145th Anniversary, taking in a full day of re-enactment in a local farmer’s field. It was complete with mortar and cannon fire, cavalry charges and skirmishes.
    The next day, I completed Picket’s Charge along with a local living historian dressed and fully-equipped as an Alabamian infantryman. In 91 ° heat, we walked towards The Angle from the initial Confederate formation lines. The irregular ground made for some hard slogging at times but would have afforded very little protection from the Union guns and rifles.
    I was wearing runners, shorts and t-shirt with a soft cap but I was thoroughly soaked with sweat by the time we reached the Emmitsburg Road. I’m sure my companion/guide was in worse shape than myself considering his heavy garb, hobnail Brogans, musket and equipment.
    Upon reaching the fences running along either side of the road and seeing the shallow ditches beside them, I was struck with a profound sadness realizing how terrible it would have been to be peppered with cannon shot and mini ball while trying desperately to take down the fence posts. Apparently, one of the greatest fears recounted by survivors that day was the very real possibility of placing your hand on a fence post only to have your fingers ripped off by the intense volume of musket and rifle fire from the Union lines.
    As we got closer to The Angle, we were aware of being directly in the path of what would have been single and double canister shot. Like a large shotgun being fired, soldiers told of “the red mist” as hundreds of balls would hit their comrades point-blank, instantly vaporizing flesh and bone into a bloody spray.
    We ended our journey at the monument to General Lewis Armistead, one of very few Confederates who managed to penetrate the Union lines before he was shot, captured and subsequently died.
    I would highly recommend making the trek to Gettysburg on any of the early July re-enactment weekends if you are in any way interested in this historic battle.