|Along Cemetery Ridge.|
It's worth noting that to really understand the battles, you should walk the battlefield. Visitors to the Gettysburg National Battlefield spend most of their time driving, rather than walking, the battlefields, and thus miss the significance of landmarks and geography on the fighting. From a car or bus, a "ridge" seems merely a bump. But things look different from the ground.
|A statue commemorating Gen. George Meade, who led the Union Army, |
having assumed command just three days before the Gettysburg battle.
After visiting the Visitors Center museum and the famous Panorama, we hiked from the Visitors Center to Cemetery Ridge to see the battlefield from the viewpoint of the Union troops who defended it, to try to understand how the landscape played into the outcome of the battle, and to walk in the footsteps of the men who struggled there.
|Behind the low rock wall that shielded Union troops defending Cemetery Ridge.|
Cemetery Ridge formed a primary defensive position for the Union Army during the remaining two days of battle. Cemetery Hill overlooks the main downtown area of Gettysburg from the south; the hill gently slopes into Cemetery Ridge as it runs south. This area provided a site for Union artillery. At the northern end of Cemetery Ridge is a copse of trees and a low stone wall that makes two 90-degree turns, nicknamed The Angle.
A park ranger led the hike, explaining the battle.
|The battlefield of Pickett's Charge.|
From Cemetery Ridge, Union troops arrayed along the stone fence fired upon the Confederate charge. Gaps opened up on the defensive line, allowing Confederates to reach several cannon -- the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy." The Confedeate troops turned the Union cannon to fire on the Union troops, only to realize there were no ammunition (luckily for the Union). Union reinforcements arrived and charged into the breach. With no senior officers remaining to call a formal retreat, Confederate troops began to slip away individually as they realized the defensive line was impregnable.
The following day, under a heavy rain, the Confederates withdrew. The momentous battle was over.
During the ranger-led hike, we spent time at several of the monuments, discussing the significance of the actions of the troops located there. We learned about the Harpers Ferry Cowards -- a brigade who surrendered to the Confederates in a previous encounter at Harpers Ferry -- who redeemed themselves at Gettysburg. We also heard the story of the California Brigade's bravery, in driving back Confederates who temporarily encountered the southern end of the Angle.
For a few minutes, we stood on this hallowed ground, where Union soldiers had stood and fought to preserve a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
|On the opposite side of the ridge, the view of the battlefield is completely obscured.|
Hours: April 1 - October 31 the park is open daily from 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.; November 1 - March 31 the park is open daily from 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.