This past weekend, I was able to visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the most notable battle of the American Civil War, and one of the biggest battles in American military history. The battle of Gettysburg is also notable for being the main turning point of the Civil War. The outcome of the battle concluded with the Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, being prevented from invading further into the Northeast. Lee and his army were forced to retreat back into Virginia after the battles’ end and never again stepped foot in Union-controlled territory.
Set over a period of three days from July 1st – July 3rd of 1863, over 51,000 men from the Union and Confederate armies were killed, wounded, captured, or declared missing. It was the largest land battle ever fought in North America. More than 160,000 soldiers from both sides fought in the battle during those three tumultuous days with the town of Gettysburg and its civilians’ being caught in the crossfire. The battle of Gettysburg was fought on fields, marshes, hills, and sloping ridges over 10 square miles and around 6,000 total acres. In addition to the battlefield, Gettysburg is also home to a national soldiers’ cemetery close to the battlefield where the thousands of Union and Confederate troops, now long passed away, are ensconced in their final resting place.
The first thing one notices about Gettysburg is just how quiet and peaceful it is. One would have never guessed that a major battle had been fought here or that thousands of lives had been lost while fighting for their principles and values. The battlefield of Gettysburg, now devoid of soldiers and horses, still retains its wooden barriers, its replica cannons, and artillery. The National Park Service should be commended for restoring the grounds of the battlefield and keeping it clean for the more than one million plus tourists who visit the national military park each year.
What I was most surprised and pleased about during my visit was the amount of memorials, monuments, and tributes paid to the thousands of soldiers on the Union and Confederate sides. The armies, brigades, corps, divisions, etc. from each of the thirty states on both sides of the Civil War are each commemorated and memorialized in some form.
The most striking memorial to me was Pennsylvania’s state monument, the biggest and most awe-inspiring of them all. The Pennsylvania monument lists all of the soldiers’ names that fought for the commonwealth in the battle of Gettysburg. This monument in particular is Greco-Roman in design and has tributes to President Abraham Lincoln, and to notable soldiers and commanders from Pennsylvania. It also overlooks the entire battlefield of Gettysburg and can be seen from every part of the area.
Another notable memorial from the Gettysburg National Military Park can be found at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. In the center of the cemetery and overlooking the thousands of graves lying in repose is the Soldiers’ National Monument. This monument pays tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives at Gettysburg and is unique in quoting an allegory at its’ base that states, “Peace and plenty under freedom…following a heroic struggle.” In addition, this soldiers’ monument depicts the concept of ‘Liberty’ signified by a woman who carries a sword of war, while holding a wreath of peace. At the base, there are four separate statues representing ‘War, History, Peace, and Plenty’ in a chronological, circular order. In total, there are over 1,300 monuments, memorials and tributes at Gettysburg. It’s nearly impossible to see them all without spending a week or more at the battlefield because they are spread out over miles and miles of land. This is why it is known for being “the largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world.”
You cannot come to Gettysburg without learning about the Gettysburg Address, and the process that led to President Lincoln delivering this famous and historic speech. While the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave the speech is not open to the public at this time, you can still see into the cemetery to view the general speech area. In addition, park rangers from the National Park Service are available for questions about the Gettysburg Address and a tour of the cemetery upon formal request. There’s also a bronze statue and monument of Lincoln’s bust along with an emblazoned copy of the entire Gettysburg Address close to the cemetery’s entrance.
American history was one of my favorite subjects from my high school days. The ability to go and visit historical battlefields like Gettysburg, Normandy, Lexington and Concord brings the history to life for me. I’ve been lucky enough so far to see some of the most notable locations of the American Revolution, Civil War, and World War II.
By visiting these places, you gain a great sense of gratitude and reverence around the conflicts, which these men fought and died in. You can better understand the costs and sacrifices that come with making war. Its’ also good to appreciate what we have today in our united country. There were times in our collective past as a nation when the concept of a ‘United States’ was very much in peril. Hopefully, we can continue to avoid the mistakes of the past, and learn from these dreadful conflicts.
The importance of seeking a brighter and peaceful future for our nation and the world is what I took from my visit to Gettysburg. These memorials, monuments, and the military park remind visitors and patrons alike why peace is something to strive for, even if it comes at a great cost. Sometimes, peace can only come through means of warfare, and that is why we give thanks to those men who gave their “last full measure of devotion.”
To learn more about the Gettysburg National Military Park, you can visit these websites for more information: