November 3, 2011

Sacred Ground

A visit to Gettysburg National Military Park is a pilgrimage for many people.  That was not why Tim and I came to Gettysburg, but we did want to see the park for ourselves.  I’m neither a military nor Civil War buff, but I do believe one can gain a greater sense of history by visiting the place where the event occurred.

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War.  More men died at Gettysburg than in any battle fought in North America before or since.  The beautiful farmlands around Gettysburg appear much the same as they did during the battle in 1863, and touring the battlefield gives one a sense of the scope of those events.

Tim Contemplating the Battle at Gettysburg

One Thousand Yards of Battlefield, With the Union Lines in the Foreground
and the Confederate Lines in the Far Trees
The National Park Service’s new visitor center and museum does a magnificent job of interpreting the battle.  Through a new film, the restored Cyclorama Painting and twelve exhibit galleries, the Battle of Gettysburg is placed in the context of both the Civil War and the nation’s history during the first two decades of the nineteenth century.  I was exhausted when we exited the building, as there was just so much information to absorb.

A Reproduction of a Small Portion of the Cyclorama
The Resotred Cyclorama Is Upstairs at the Visitor Center and Is Amazing To See

Abe and Sarah
Before we began our tour of the battlefield, I wanted to visit a more recent battleground at Gettysburg.  For the last decade or so, a battle has raged between the National Park Service and modern-architectural preservationists who want to preserve the original Cyclorama Building, designed by Richard Neutra in 1962.  The National Park Service announced plans in 1999 to demolish the building, but the Recent Past Preservation Network successfully sued to block the demolition until the National Park Service complied with Federal law and explored alternatives to demolition.  Although the building is loathed by battlefield purists, it is an outstanding example of Modernist architecture.  Today, the fate of the building has not been determined, and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Cyclorama Building and Observation Deck

Cyclorama Building
The auto tour of the battlefield traces the three-day battle in chronological order and includes stops at the most important sites.  Throughout the park are monuments erected by various states and regiments that participated in the battle.  There must be hundreds of these monuments, from simple stones to elaborate structures.

Eternal Light Peace Memorial

Pennsylvania Memorial
At the end of the day, we took time to visit the Eisenhower National Historic Site, which is adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park.  This site encompasses the farm purchased by Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower in 1950.  The Eisenhower Home retains most of its original furnishings and reflects the personality of the couple.  It is telling that their favorite room was the glassed-in sun porch, where they relaxed, ate dinner on trays and watched television.  It is a beautiful property and worth a visit.

Eisenhower Home

Eisenhower Barn

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