In February my husband moved to Virginia for his dream job and a few weeks later I followed by plane with the baby. For our first free weekend we drove the hour or so north to Gettysburg. Much like the Crater Lake post discusses, many people here have never been to Gettysburg despite living so close to it. The land itself, minus it’s history, is rather average for the area: low hills, some trees and nice farm land, a little town that is Gettysburg. But the whole area is dotted with military tributes made of stones and metals. Each dedicated to a unit of our American Civil War.
Canons line the miles long looped auto tour road and houses dot the countryside. People live in this park huge park midst the constant reminders of our nation’s growing pains. Being from Oregon this concept completely baffles me. I was raised within 40 miles or so of the Oregon Trail, but it isn’t active history. We don’t talk about it or take sides over it. It is just there, only not physically in most places. More of a concept.
But Gettysburg is here in the face of those that live in it’s wake. To look out your window and see it’s statues and memorials would lead one to wonder how you can forget. Do the people in those houses favor the south or the north? Do they feel anxious or annoyed when reminded of the battle there? Or do they process it not for it is a constant in their lives, taking it’s significance for granted?
Not matter the mental state of it’s inhabitants, Gettysburg is at once both epic and mundane. Old farm houses up-kept or not are everywhere and the stone walls of armies weave around the hillsides. You can see soldiers sitting on these hills. There mark is everywhere, but there are no artifacts. The hills are just hills and the town is just a town. What a strange place to influence the outcome of a war to such a degree as it did.
It is only fitting that we took a break on Little Round Top. Our son’s middle name is Laurence and we spelled it as such in regards to Lt. Joshua Laurence Chamberlain. To sit with our son in the place his namesake held against all odds and “at any cost” was worth the whole drive around the park.
Gettysburg is a place to drive through. The history is worth the trip, but there isn’t any of the things that I love in an adventure. It has no trails, no real nature, a sparsity of people, mountains, ocean, dessert, etc. But it inspires, nonetheless, with it’s significance. You walk out onto the knoll of Little Round Top and you can feel it. Breathe it. Something happened here and it has shaped the very world we live in today.
World. I do not mean to sound pretentious, but the very concept of democracy was tested in this war. The notion that people could sustainably govern themselves without falling apart. Well, it did fall apart, didn’t it. But blood bound it back together and the experiment of democracy lived on.
It spread throughout the world and clashed with other ideas of government. It has been a bloody path left in the name of democracy, but it has shaped the world we know today. For or against it, it is a force in this world and this Battle of Gettysburg turned the tides of a war that in turn, turned the tides of history.
That is epic. That is Gettysburg.