While in Gettysburg recently I took some time to visit the battlefields and National Cemetery. This was at least my 10th visit, but each time I find it a moving experience.
The Gettysburg Campaign, as you may recall, lasted from July 1 – 3, 1863. At its peak, more than 160,000 men and 550 cannon were amassed in an area just 25 square miles in size. When it was over, there were upwards of 51,000 casualties on both sides, including close to 8,000 dead. President Lincoln visited in November of that year to help dedicate the National Cemetery. It was there he gave his famous Gettysburg Address.
During my visit I spent about five hours touring various battlefields, shooting video, and trying to further my understanding of the campaign. My day concluded with a visit to the National Cemetery.
Touring Gettysburg is always a sombering experience. I can’t help but wonder what the men must have felt as they stared at each other across those expansive fields: fear, anxiety, apprehension, confidence. But also, I’m sure, willingness to fight and a determination to support a cause they thought was just.
What was it like once the bullets started to fly and all hell broke loose? Those of us who never saw combat – I included – can never fully understand the experience.
Gettysburg would prove to be the bloodiest of all campaigns and a turning point in the war. Though a northerner, as I sat there in the National Cemetery I couldn’t help but reflect upon all the soldiers of that battle, both Union and Confederate. Pres. Lincoln, during his dedication remarks, called upon future generations to “…never forget what they did here.”
The first Monday in May has been designated by the U.S. government as a day to honor our fallen war heroes. In reality, we should honor them all the time, not just on Memorial Day. But we must also honor all those who have offered to defend and protect our freedoms.
We Americans are indebted to the hundreds of thousands – mostly men but now women, too – who courageously and selflessly have chosen to take the oath and weare the uniform. Doing so secures our nation and the liberties we enjoy today.
It is easy to lose sight of what we have here in the United States. We take for granted the rights and freedoms that the Founding Fathers provided us more than 230 years ago. A visit to Gettysburg – or any Civil War battlefield – allows us to further reflect upon the freedoms we enjoy here.