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Reflections on Rebirth from a Battlefield July 4, 2009

Posted by paulstella in Uncategorized.
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I’m caught off guard by the haunting sense stirring inside me. The emotion is real, and as I ponder the significance of the countryside surrounding me, the spirit of a tragic aftermath remains palpable—despite 146 years that separate me from the bloody conflict that took place here.

Entrance to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center

Entrance to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center

Days later, I’m still reminiscing about my experience touring the grounds of Gettysburg National Military Park. Just over 5 hours by car from Rochester, it’s a visit I’ve been hoping to make for some time, and my current vacation presented the perfect opportunity for an overnighter. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I did not come away disappointed.

My visit began at the museum and visitor center, which provided the perfect opportunity to gather some perspective on the significance of Gettysburg as a turning point in the American Civil War. The exhibits helped illuminate the historical aspects of that era, amplifying in my mind just how polarizing the issue of slavery had been to our ancestors. From the museum, I chose to take the park’s driving tour, aided by an illustrated guide directing visitors to 16 tour stops that spell out the chronology of the 3-day battle.

In conjunction with an interest in history, I am above all else a student of humanity (meaning I can’t help but watch people). Sadly, what struck me first were my fellow visitors who approached their Gettysburg experience with the curiosity and reverence of a garage sale. Stay home, I thought, and watch Rachel Ray for God’s sake.

Eternal LIght Peace Memorial

Eternal Light Peace Memorial

Anyway, once I sharpened my focus, I became overwhelmed by just how much there is to take in. With nearly 1,400 monuments and markers spread out over 6,000 acres, it’s impossible to take it all in. So I picked my opportunities, and one of the more poignant moments for me came as I examined the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. I read how 1,800 Civil War veterans (Union and Confederate) returned to that site 75 years later to help dedicate the new monument as President Franklin D. Roosevelt presided over the ceremony. That made me consider the 150th anniversary to be commemorated in 2013. How culturally significant would it be to have President Obama presiding on that occasion? Of course, in 2012, he’ll first need to get himself re-elected.

But the most striking moment for me came at the conclusion of my tour. As I strolled through the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, I noticed countless grave sites marked only by a number. That’s tragic on many levels, but I also found it representative of a most basic human fear—that some how, either in life or death, each of us become merely a number, stripped of our identity and life story. To see that had become true for so many Civil War soldiers made me particularly sad.

Soldiers' National Cemetery

Soldiers' National Cemetery

So much of the Gettysburg National Military Park is preserved as to hearken back to 19th century America, allowing your imagination to take you there. I spent a number of summers during college working at the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford, N.Y. Each year, around this time, it hosted Civil War re-enactments. I admired the passion and commitment that went into making those presentations authentic, but to me, it never felt real. But strolling the fields and grave sites of Gettysburg—in silence, minus the actors—this experience truly felt real.

So, on this Independence Day, I wish you good fun and good friendship. But most of all, I wish you an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come as a nation. We sure have our problems right now, but haven’t we always? And haven’t we always conquered our problems—emerging stronger and more vibrant? If we as Americans can rise up from civil war, there’s no telling how much promise our future still holds.

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

This monument is dedicated to the victims of a brigade that originated in Rochester.

This monument is dedicated to the victims of a brigade that originated in Rochester.

Taken at Oak Ridge, one of the sites for the first day of battle in Gettysburg.

Taken at Oak Ridge, one of the sites for the first day of battle in Gettysburg.

Monument to Confederate commander Robert E. Lee

Monument to Confederate commander Robert E. Lee

Overlooking Devil's Den

Overlooking Devil's Den

The scene from Little Round Top

The scene from Little Round Top

A sample of the 1,400 monuments erected at Gettysburg

A sample of the 1,400 monuments erected at Gettysburg

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Comments»

1. Rick Meier - July 8, 2009

Did you check out the memorial to Col. O’Rouke for whom the bridge down at Charlotte is named for? It was up on Little Roundtop. O’Rouke commanded the 140th NY which was a regiment made up of Rochester men including my great grandfather who ran away from home at 17 to fight with the 140th.

2. paulstella - July 8, 2009

Sadly I missed it, Rick. There’s so much too look at from Little Roundtop. Ill find it next time, as I’m anxious to go back. Thank you for your comment.

3. Frank Battaglia - July 15, 2009

The line that had french roast coming out of my nose: “Stay home… and watch Rachel Ray for God’s sake”. Brilliant and priceless. Some people’s idea of “history” is watching a robotic Abe Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg address at Disneyworld.

You got some great shots there too, Paul.

4. East vs. West: Reflections on a Town Divided « Stellavision - July 17, 2009

[…] trackback A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a bit about north vs. south while looking back on my recent visit to Gettysburg. Lately, my thoughts have redirected to east vs. west, but I’m thinking more locally on this one. […]


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