Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania PART II


We left Part I with our just leaving the film in the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center and being escorted with everyone else who had just watched the film up to the Cyclorama. The Cyclorama is located in the dome in the center of the building. So what is a Cyclorama?

In the 1880s, French artist Paul Philippoteaux painted the Battle of Gettysburg in the round. He and his assistants took more than a year to do the actual painting after months of research on the battlefield with veterans, guides, and a photographer. The painting is 377 feet in circumference and 42 feet high. What you are seeing is a depiction of Pickett's Charge on the third day of the battle. Four versions of the painting existed in the United States. It is the Boston version that is on display here and this first was displayed in Boston in 1884.

You come up into the center of the dome and there is a metal walkway all around the dome facing the painting. You can walk anywhere around the painting to see it. The painting is displayed as the artist originally intended with a three dimensional diorama in front of the bottom of the painting - making what you are seeing very realistic. Each place you stop around the painting and each place you look you are seeing another part of this battle.

There is a very short recorded narration that is played while you are up looking at the painting. What they do not do is tell you to look at any one particular part of the painting as the narration starts and you may be looking at a part of the painting that has nothing to do with what the narrator is saying. Your time with the Cyclorama is short - perhaps ten minutes and everyone is then asked to follow back down and out of the Cyclorama. You are then brought into a room with an explanation of the Cyclorama and its own historic artifacts. Frankly, this should have been at the start of the Cyclorama experience and not at the conclusion of it.

The Cyclorama is the end of your escorted part of the building and now you are on your own to go into the museum. Your tickets are only good for the day of purchase, so unless it is very early in the day it would be unwise at this point to leave intending to come back later. Your ticket does let you into the museum throughout that day. The film and the Cyclorama may be seen only once with a ticket. We went right into the musuem.

The museum consists of 12 galleries. The exhibits are displays of artifacts - some put together to create a room or a scene. There are also video presentations in some of the galleries. The first gallery is the Impact of War. The second gallery is the Causes of War from 1776 to 1861. Gallery three is the Approach to War. Gallery four gets into the Civil War 1861 to1863. Now in the galleries are approaching July 1863 with gallery five's Campaign to Pennsylvania. Included in Gallery five is the Campaign to Pennsylvania Voices Theater, a film program where you will hear from people who were there.

General Robert E. Lee's campaign furniture as it would have been set up in his tent.

Now the museum turns to telling you the story of the Battle of Gettysburg that took place from July 1, 1863 through July 3, 1863. (Think of the irony of the timing of this battle in relation to the Fourth of July.) Gallery six is divided into six sections - essentially six galleries - Into Battle, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Out of Battle.

Soldiers' tent - two men share this tent - each carries half the tent with him.
General George Meade's bedroom furniture from his Gettysburg Headquarters

Two bullets that met in mid-air!

 Gallery seven is Aftermath of Battle: the Brave Men, Living and Dead. The gallery includes the Voices of the Aftermath Theater, again with a video program with people who were there. Gettysburg is one of the bloodiest battles in American History. Over the three days of fighting 50,000 men died or were wounded. During the battle the people of the town saw their homes and buildings used by both sides as places to fight, hospitals, and places to die. You will see furniture from some of those homes full of bullet holes. These three days were devastating to both sides and everyone who lived in Gettysburg. Some historians feel that this battle was a draw. Some see it as a turning point for the North toward victory. (I personally do not agree with that as much more will take place in the two years that the war continues.) Both sides reported the battle as a victory but it was the Confederate forces who had to quietly move themselves and those who they could carry on July 4th out of the threat of total destruction and further danger.

This photo of a piece of a hospital tent from the battle kept and embroidered as a remembrance. This photo and a series of photos of this piece were taken for Meryl who is an embroidery historian.
 When most people hear Gettysburg they think of the Gettysburg Address, a short speech made by Abraham Lincoln - added to the ceremony is a secondary speaker. Gallery eight is about the Gettysburg Address. The ceremony honored all that fell in the battle and dedicate the cemetery - part of the battlefield - where so many who died in the battle were buried. That is Northern soldiers - Confederate soldiers were buried in mass graves and then later moved to a well known cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. In this gallery you will learn about the ceremony, the speech, and see documents written by Abraham Lincoln.

Gallery nine is the Civil War, 1863 to 1865 - the remainder of the war all the way through to General Lee's surrender of his army to General Grant at Appomattox which led to the end of the Civil War. There are some very significant artifacts to see in this gallery.

The Surrender Pen
Chairs used by Grant and Lee while signing the surrender

Gallery 10 is Results of the War: That These Dead Have Not Died in Vain. Gallery Gallery 11 is Preservation of the Battlefield in which you learn about the immediate collecting of artifacts of the battle, the reunions of both sides held at the battleground, and the work done to preserve the battlefield as a National Military Park. That work still continues. The NPS is currently removing trees that did not exist on parts of the battlefield in 1863. They are trying very hard to put the battlefield back to what it looked like at the time of the battle. (For every tree removed, another tree is planted at another local site.)

The last gallery is a special exhibits gallery and the exhibits here change here on a schedule. At the time of our visit this exhibit was (and may still be) Treasures of the Civil War: Legendary Leaders Who Shaped a War and a Nation. This includes artifacts from collections from all over the country. The following three photographs are of artifacts in that exhibit.

Robert E. Lee's Dressing Gown

Pickett's Sash
George Meade's Boots

 After the gallery we went into the gift shop - which was soon to close at 6 pm. We knew at the beginning of the day that we would not have very much time to see any of the actual battlefield itself - and as I said at the beginning of Part I of this article, we have been through the battlefield many times before - but never in a Roadtrek. We headed back to the parking lot and decided that before dinner we would try to see a little of the battlefield and headed toward the route of the tour. The tour road goes in one direction only. You start the tour on the Confederate side of the battlefield at the bottom and drive along in a long oval past the field where Pickett's Charge started - and the statue of Robert E. Lee.

The route takes you along to Big Round Top and then Little Round Top. There was fierce fighting on Little Round Top. You may park and climb to the top of both looking out over the entire battlefield.

Atop Little Roundtop

After Little Round Top in the Roadtrek it is important to make the correct turns and I am not certain that it is a good idea to go down along the route to Devil's Den where the route climbs a rather steep hill and then drives through some very tight roads with rocks on each side. Now, tour buses do this route, but these are drivers experienced in maneuvering a large vehicle on a road they know well. I have driven on these roads with a car and with a small van - as it was beginning to get dark, I decided not to attempt it with the Roadtrek and we took the alternate route that continued the oval.

Devil's Den - a famous photograph taken right after the war was taken at this same spot by Alexander Gardener showing dead soldiers between the rocks right here.
 The oval route then takes you past the ending point of Pickett's Charge and the High Water Mark monument. This then leads you out of the park. There are other routes through other parts of the battlefield. As I have been saying this battle took place all around the town.

It was getting dark and we went to a place that many reenactors know to go to for dinner when in Gettysburg - General Pickett's Buffet - a Southern buffet menu restaurant almost outside of town. Going into the main parking lot entrance of the restaurant the Roadtrek banged as it hit bottom in the back going up the driveway cut from the street. I hoped that no damage was done - and so far it seems we were OK. Leaving the restaurant later that night we went out the rear of the parking lot where the exit cut was less of an incline - and no bang.

We returned to the campground in Lancaster that night the same way that we came. What happened to the rain? It did not rain in Gettysburg while we were there. The roads to Lancaster where wet and it had rained there. We saw some interesting lighting shapes in the distant sky as we drove back - one of which was red and in the shape of a U - high in the sky.

I recommend going to Gettysburg. Go for more than one day. There are several campgrounds in Gettysburg. Some are better in the reviews than others so be sure to check before you go and pay close attention to the reviews. There is a Walmart in Gettysburg but overnight parking is not allowed in their parking lot. This is a local ordnance and applies to all parking lots in Gettysburg. When in Gettysburg be sure to see walk around the town. There is a great history bookstore in town called The History Store. There are also a number of ghost tours of the town at night - these cost money and may or may not be showing you anything but legends, but we aware that Gettysburg is said to be one of the most haunted places in the country - and considering what happened here, I would not doubt that at all.

(The three photographs taken of the battlefield above were not taken on this trip. It was too dark and we had no time to stop for photos when we drove the battle route with the Roadtrek. These photos were taken by me on a trip to Gettysburg in the Fall of 2008 and this explains the color of the leaves on the trees in General Lee's statue photo.)

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous post! I feel like I was there.
    We saw the Cyclorama in Atlanta, and enjoyed it very much.