Monday, July 08, 2013

Revised Guest Post by Ray: At Gettysburg for the 150th

Our good buddy Ray Beimel in Pennsylvania went to Gettysburg for the 150th Anniversary. He was there for 5 days and will be ending his account of the events in installments. This is part 1:

At Gettysburg for the 150th

 I am sure some of you know that I am what is politely called a history geek. So I just had to be in Gettysburg for the 150th Anniversary of the the battle celebration which took place July 1,2,3. I had the great good fortune to have two boon traveling companions, my old friend Chris and my oldest nephew Eric. Chris has a motor home that we call the Tin Can. He had reserved a campsite at the KOA just outside of Gettysburg. Thus we had good and yet cheap accommodations not far from the battlefield. 
The Campsite
 Eric and Chris arrived before me and took care of the grocery shopping. Friday night we spent talking and planning our moves for Saturday morning. We were going to bicycle in and explore the battlefield starting with the area fought over on the first day. I should mention that Eric hadn’t ridden a bike since he was about 12. He was on Chris’ old mountain bike and had about ten minutes of instruction before we headed out. It is an up and down route into town, downhill at 28 miles an hour, uphill at 5. We came in on Route 116 so it was easy to get on the battlefield. We did some talking about Reynolds and the Iron Brigade, Cutler’s brigade, the stand of the cavalry. Then our attention was drawn to the sound of cannon fire and musketry over at the Lutheran Seminary.

There was a small reenactment going on there and we decided to get closer. When you are on a bicycle, you pretty much own the battlefield. You can go anywhere and never worry about parking. A tree served as our parking lot and then we walked as close as we could to take in the action.
Firing Line at Seminary Ridge
 After the shooting was over (the Union forces apparently won) we headed back to the bikes but we saw some Reenactors dressed as Major Generals. I had to ask and it turned out to be Reynolds and Howard, the commanders of the First and Eleventh Corps, the first Union infantry units to arrive in Gettysburg. General Reynolds stayed in character, speaking as if it was June 29, 1863. I took on the character of a newspaperman recently come from Washington and we talked in that vein for at least a half hour.
Eric and Chris with the Generals
 I asked him a question about his cavalry and he introduced me to General Buford. This led to another half hour discussion as if it was just two days before the actual battle. Buford showed me his weapons and accoutrements, spoke of his Indian fighting days out west, explained his dismounted tactics. 
General Reynolds
Finally we dropped out of character and I learned that he lives in Gettysburg not all that far from the battlefield. While I was talking to Buford, Chris and Eric engaged Reynolds and Howard in more conversation. Shortly after I took this picture, the guy in the yellow shirt at right tried to stand up but collapsed and commenced to shaking. We got him to shade but before Chris could begin checking his symptoms, EMS was on the scene. He was not the last one we would see going down in the hot sun.

General Buford
 After our long interlude with the generals, we biked back out the battlefield. Our route took us up to the Peace Light Memorial where cars were not permitted but bicyclists were waved on through. Some kind of ceremony was going on but since the crowd had that look of people praying for a tornado, a thunderstorm, an earthquake, anything that would stop the speeches. There were members of the Old Guard milling about smartly. We never did figure out what it was about. We pedaled on. One cannot be on that part of the battlefield without checking to see what people were leaving for Sallie, the bronze pit bull mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry. It was a paltry haul this time. One bone and chump change. Sallie deserves better.
 Returning from Sallie’s monument we encountered a couple of Law Enforcement Rangers putting out the ubiquitous No Parking signs. Some National Park Rangers are law enforcement. They are easy to tell because they pack heat and tazers and as one of them told us, they are the Rangers who don’t have to smile. Real Rangers, whether enforcement or interpretive or guides, wear the Montana block “Smokey the Bear” hat. Other NPS personnel wear ball caps. These would be maintenance workers, mechanics, EMS, and others. The ones with the best job were the photographer/videographers, hired to document all the NPS Civil War anniversary events. I talked to one of them and I realized I was in the presence of a man with the best of all possible jobs. But alas, it ends with Appomattox.
Chris with Ranger Cops
 While I stopped to photograph some monuments, Chris and Eric talked to a spectator of the other big event going on in Gettysburg that weekend. There was a college lacrosse tournament going on at three locations on the campus of Gettysburg College. If there is a difference between people watching Little League baseball, Pigtail softball, Cavalier basketball, and college lacrosse, I couldn’t discern it except perhaps that the parents were a little older.

We stopped on Barlow Knoll and decided that no matter what he did with his division, they were screwed. Once that pearl of wisdom was settled it was time for a very late lunch. There was a Weis Market nearby so we stopped there to pick up sandwiches and drinks. There was a nearby picnic table so we lunched while looking at the map to figure out our next move. This went well until some big dummy spilled his Pepsi on the map. That was me. Fortunately it was a waterproof map and no harm was done to anything but my dignity.
First Day Lunch
Of course, now it was the hottest part of the day and we had a four mile hill and dale ride back to the campsite. The dales were an enjoyable coast down, especially with your shirt soaked. The hills were an uphill slog that lit off the main sweat pumps. But the campground had a pool, a cool pool. That solved all the sweat problems. And the tin can is a comfortable place to camp.
Tin Can Interior
And that’s our first day at Gettysburg for the anniversary. More to follow.

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