First things first. Yesterday I commented that I doubted we would stay on schedule because we were off so badly on Monday. But I’ve got to hand it to Cliff Raad who set up the whole tour. Tuesday went off like clockwork. Despite lots of stops, and quite a bit of travel, we were ahead of the game all day long. Here are the highlights:
7:54 AM A foggy morning in Gettysburg, temp in the upper 60s. Despite the fact that we got to our rooms after 1 AM, everyone seems cheerful even though a few people look sleepy . . . Margaret Winkelman gives me an article on Scotsmen in the Civil War . . . Yesterday Irene Watt gave me a chapter by Mark Noll (prof at Wheaton College) on the Civil War as a religious war . . . Paul Lavenau tells me the Cubs beat Houston last night 7-2. The White Sox didn’t play.
8:59 Saw the Gettysburg light show that gives you an overview of the three-day battle. You come away thinking how easily things could have gone in another direction. Lots of ifs: If the Rebels had taken Cemetery Hill on July 1, if they had taken Little Round Top or Culp’s Hill on July 2, if Lee had thrown more troops into Pickett’s charge on July 3. History is always a series of ifs, but rarely do you see as clearly as at Gettysburg. The battle, and the war, and the history of America, could have gone in another direction.
9-11 AM We were joined by John Pangburn, a licensed battlefield guide, who joined our bus and led us on a tour of the battlefield. A virtual Gettysburg encyclopedia, he told us story after story—and did it with enthusiasm, as if we were his first tour group ever. . . . Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry fired the first shot on July 1. . . 141 years ago today (Tuesday) the first Confederate troopers entered Pennsylvania . . . Lee screened his movements from the Federals by staying to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains . . . We saw an unexploded cannonball still stuck high on the side of a house across from the Lutheran seminary . . . The battle happened (like so many wartime engagements) by accident. The Rebels sent a force to Gettysburg looking for shoes and other supplies. They happened to run into Yankee cavalry and the rest is history . . . We saw a monument to a group of PA soldiers called “the schoolteacher’s regiment” . . . The Peace Monument has a base of Alabama limestone and an upper structure of Maine granite. Symbolic because Gettysburg is halfway between those two states. Soldiers from those two states had a famous clash at Little Round Top . . . Gutzon Borglum, the man who created Mt. Rushmore, also designed the North Carolina monument on Seminary Ridge. . . . It looks a bit like the Iwo Jima monument in Washington. . . . Saw places made famous by the soldiers who fought and died there: The Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, and Little Round Top where Joshua Chamberlain and the boys from Maine made their gallant stand . . . Wayne Watkins and Paul Lavenau had a lively debate over the effective range of a Civil War sharpshooter. One sign said 1000 yards. Paul claimed victory but Wayne said it would have to be a lucky shot. Not so lucky if you were on the receiving end . . . So many men died that they couldn’t clear the battlefields. When the shooting stopped, wild boars started eating the bodies. One wounded soldier fought off the pigs for three days by using his rifle as a club . . . When you see a monument of a soldier riding a horse, check out the hooves: All four touching the ground, the man survived. One hoof raised, he was wounded. Two hooves raised, he died in the battle. . . . Saw the statue of “Fair Catch Corby,” a Catholic chaplain who became the president of Notre Dame University . . . The three-day battle resulted in 51,000 casualties—28,000 Confederate, 23,000 Yankee . . . In the cannonade before Pickett’s charge, 240 cannons blasted away at each other. The ground shook beneath the soldier’s feet. Supposedly you could hear the roar of the guns 150 miles away in Philadelphia. . . . As brave as Lee’s men were, they could not win the battle by marching across a mile of open field into the teeth of the Union artillery. You see the futility of when you stand behind the Union position on Cemetery Hill. When the tour is over, you reflect on a point made several times: Americans fought Americans at Gettysburg .
11:38 AM On to the Eisenhower farm, the only home Ike and Mamie ever owned . . . It’s hot in Gettysburg . . . Paul and I agreed that the farm was no big deal. Not that much to see.
11:43 AM I’d like to tour Gettysburg on a bike . . . The older folks have a hard time getting on and off the bus but no one complains. The thought occurs that a good tour should move fast, cover lots of ground, wear you out, leave your brain numb and your eyes glazed over, and by the end of the tour, you should be slightly grumpy and exhausted. That way you have lots to talk about when you get home. This is turning out to be a good tour.
11:52 AM 5000 horses died at Gettysburg. They piled them up and burned them.
1:38 PM We enter Maryland.
1:40 PM Mt. Saint Mary’s University on our right. A golden statue of Mary (at least we think it’s Mary) overlooks the campus.
2:29 PM Arrive at Harper’s Ferry, a town at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. In the 19th century, whoever controlled this key rail and water intersection controlled the entire region. John Brown led his infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. He hoped to start a slave uprising. Instead he lit the fuse that exploded into Civil War less than 2 years later. . . . Hot, hot hot! . . . We had 30 minutes to tour the reconstructed village. Paul Lavenau and Vern Henriksen and I toured the site. A park ranger told us that Washington and Lincoln and John Adam all visited Harper’s Ferry at different times. Stonewall Jackson captured it in 1862. . . . We met a group of students from Decora (sp?), Iowa who are part of a Nordic dance group. Cliff says lots of Norwegians live in Decora.
2:46 PM Lloyd Johnson asked if we were going to meet President Bush when we visit Washington on Thursday . . . I laughed and said no, but I would try to find Dick Cheney. The ranger told us that Bill Clinton and Al Gore planted a flower garden at Harper’s Ferry . . . Across the Potomac River, on the side of a rock cliff, you can see faint tracings of an enormous ad painted in the 1890s for “Mennen Powder.” . . . When the time came to leave, Cliff did a quick count and thought everyone was on board. We started to pull out, when someone yelled, “Here comes Ruby.” We almost left Ruby Solin at Harper’s Ferry.
4:22 PM Arrive at Antietam, site of the bloodiest day in American history. Most Civil War sites have been surrounded by shops and housing developments. Antietam is an exception. It looks much as it did on that fateful September day in 1862. It’s raining and our tour guide didn't show up so the group watches a film about the battle. I slipped away and, after the rain ended, walked a quarter-mile and saw the Dunkard Church that was the scene of fighting. Stonewall Jackson’s men spread out in front of the church to face the first major Federal thrust at Antietam. The Dunkards (as others called them) were German Baptists who were pacifists. Their little church building (reconstructed from the original lumber) is a small, unadorned, square room with hard wooden pews, a potbellied stove, and no religious ornamentation whatsoever. Plain, simple, and striking in its simplicity.
4:33 PM As I did my own mini-tour, I realized that since my last visit to Antietam, 9/11 had happened. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, that day was called the “bloodiest day in American history.” Later figures proved that more Americans died at Antietam than on 9/11, but not by much. A solemn and sobering fact.
5:47 PM Arrived at the Bavarian Inn on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. This is a fancy restaurant and we all looked a bit bedraggled after a long day on and off the bus . . . Excellent meal, lively table conversation about gay marriage and the church . . . Lots of chatter and laughter. Everyone seems to be doing fine.
8:30 PM Arrived at the Holiday Inn in Frederick, Maryland . . . Trouble for the second night in a row. The elevator doesn’t work, all our rooms are on the second and third floors, and most of our people are senior adults. Cliff had spelled that out in detail several times, but the woman at the desk says the sales department didn’t tell her, all rooms are taken, nothing she can do. It’s not a good situation but there isn’t much we can do . . . On the way to the motel, Paul and Vern and Wayne Watkins talk about Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Consensus: The Pistons will win it all tonight, turns out to be a good prediction.
So that’s the story of our second day. In a few minutes we head out for two new battlefields. We’ll spend the night outside Washington. Tomorrow will be the biggest day of the tour.