History and Books

10:47 AM Elizabeth Seckman 39 Comments

Tour bus at Gettysburg

Running a little behind today. Took the family to Gettysburg this weekend. It's only a few hours from our house, and yet we had never visited the historic site. Came away with a thought:

America can turn the worst of tragedies into a booming business. I'll admit, at first, this bothered me. This was the site of a horrific human tragedy, a veritable blood bath of neighbor vs. neighbor- sometimes brother vs. brother. If you pause a minute and think of the numbers-  over 50,000 souls lost in a three day battle. 

50,000.

Those sort of numbers are difficult to grasp. The testimonies of the townspeople spoke louder than the statistic:

Hardly a field in the area without a dead body. Even their homes and streets were part of the battlefield.

Twelve dead soldiers to every one resident of the little town of Gettysburg. 

The smell of death in the heat of an Eastern July was noxious and sickening. 

There weren't any dogs left in the town. All the canines fled- hopefully to safety.

But there, in the midst of the tales of horror, were these facts:

Within twenty-four hours of the assault, the people of Gettysburg were at work burying the dead, marking the graves thoughtfully, mindful that each of the fallen had family who would want to find their loved one's resting place. Every soldier found was hastily buried in his own grave, with his name penciled onto a cross.

Immediately, there was a movement to create a final resting place worthy of the fallen. 

Four months later, the Soldier's National Cemetery was being filled. During its dedication, President Abraham Lincoln took the stage at the site- though ironically, not as the key note speaker- to deliver the Gettysburg Address

A century later, Gettysburg is a tourist spot with museums, tours, and souvenirs. 

And I decided that is all right. It is in our nature to heal. Looking down from Cemetery Ridge, where the final and bloodiest day of fighting occurred, there are now monuments, not scars. Mother nature forgot. There is nothing but rolling hills of green. No ruts from cannon brigades or worn out grass from the trample of boots. 

And perhaps that is the lesson. 

We aren't meant to mourn forever. Healing is natural. 

Maybe it's all right that a place of tragedy is criss-crossed with tour buses and camera wielding tourists. At least they are there. Listening. Learning. Ensuring the lives lost aren't completely forgotten as time ticks on. 

                                                                     *********


Speaking of ghosts, history and moving on...

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39 comments:

  1. It's part of who we are and a way for us to remember.

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  2. It's like the graveyards in France where there are thousands of crosses in row upon row. People visit them too as a reminder of the World Wars which were fought over that land.

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    1. And if I were in France, I would head there too. They deserve the tribute.

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  3. I've been there, and you don't really grasp just how horrific it was until you see all the graves. Gettysburg is also a hot spot for paranormal activity, which is understandable considering all the deaths.

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    1. I got the worst heebie jeebies from Antietam. I thought I would get that same feeling at Gettysburg, but I didn't. A profound feeling of sadness at the loss, but I didn't get the chill. Perhaps because I went to Antietam years ago and it was the first battle ground I stood on.

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  4. I think our politicians should be required to visit this site. Maybe they would think twice before sending our soldiers to engage. Spots like that are designed so that we never forget and learn from the tragedy.

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    1. I agree, war should never be entered into lightly. And no, we must never forget.

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  5. Very true, have to heal, so I think it does help that. But it seems everything comes down to how to make a buck.

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    1. That is the thought I was trying to get away from. Sigh.

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  6. Gettysburg is pretty touristy, but I still think it's a fascinating place to visit. I found Antietam Battlefield (Sharpsburg, Maryland) more moving. It's not as crowded and the area doesn't play up to the tourists so much. Sharpsburg has a fantastic bakery run by a Mennonite family. I can't remember their names, but, boy, they worked hard.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. I was very impressed with Antietam. There was a children's museum in Hagerstown (I think) that was so much fun for the kids, and me! It was on the life style of children at the time. Very informative.

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    2. I don't remember a children's museum in Hagerstown. I remember an art gallery that was small but enjoyable. I haven't been in Hagerstown for quite some time. I'm sure it's changed.

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  7. It seems to happen with every tragedy. It's sad, sometimes sickening, but understandable. Healing is a good way to look at it.

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    1. And the money helps them to keep the history going. Museums can be expensive places to keep running.

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  8. Amazing how close we live to things we never see. Gettysburg must have been neat--even if touristy. I think the ppl who died there would actually feel honored. I mean, hey-ppl remember them! I would be. *shrug*

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    1. Good way to look at it. I think they have done a very good job of honoring the fallen. There are tributes all over. Seems even right after it happened, the people of Gettysburg took great care in putting them to rest.

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  9. A thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I think it's a way to remember - without the museums and tours, without somewhere for people to flock towards, would those events become just dusty historical footnotes?

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    1. You're absolutely right. If all there was to mark the place was a dry tribute, there wouldn't have been a quarter of the people there.

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  10. I have always wanted to visit Gettysburg. I've been to smaller battlefields, and it's pretty amazing. These locations usually don't have anything more than a monument placed at the cite, but it's still profound to imagine the fighting that happened there.

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    1. Gettysburg is covered in tributes, which just goes to show how many died there. There are tributes to brigades, units, states, and soldiers. They have done an excellent job of reminding us of the fallen.

      I tried really hard to wrap my brain around the tactics of the battles, but I'd have to get me a few books and read up on it to really understand.

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  11. You wrote that so beautifully, Elizabeth. In spots like that, we can take twisty emotional journeys. It's nice to know they did so much to honor each life lost - seems that spirit is long gone with the soldiers.

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    1. Ah shucks, thanks Robyn. I always get that initial punch when I visit a place...sort of like an empathy attack. I can imagine the horror and for a moment all the tour buses and cameras just feel so wrong, like laughter at a funeral. But then I orient myself and remember...it's can be okay to laugh at funerals.

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  12. What a moving post, Elizabeth. My hubby and I are actually visiting Washington DC (and then headed south) over a 3 week period from December 26th, maybe we should visit? I just googled and its only 1,5 hours by car! I'd also like to visit Arlington. What do you think? xx

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    1. I think it's a definitely something to add to your to do list. Arlington is impressive too. The Honor Guard posted at the Tomb of the Unknown are cool to watch (my brother used to do that, so I am biased)

      I am five hours from DC. If you happen to swing through the WV area during your travels, let me know!

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  13. Those are horrid facts, but so glad you wrote them here. Just another reminder how fruitless and vile war is. Wish we'd pay attention to that reminder.

    Loved being in your great tour, Elizabeth. It was fun. Thanks for it.

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    1. War is to be avoided at all costs, that's for sure. It's an ugly business.

      Thanks for being part of the tour Lee. It was a pleasure reading your story.

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  14. Even if reminders of tragedy are steeped in (sometimes tacky) capitalism, they're still there and they still have a story to tell.

    Glad you brought this one to light :)

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    1. You said it Mark. I brought home a tacky magnet. I supported the capitalist memory cause.

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  15. I visited Gettysburg several times when I lived in No. Va. It's very moving... the grave markers. So many. It made me think a lot. War back then was so much more personal too, I think. You had to be so much closer. My great (possibly with another great in there) grandfather was in the war. They say he was never the same afterward. My brother did a lot of research, and I did some recently because a character I use in my new story was in the war.

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    1. We got to talk to some reanactors (people who dress up, not sure of the word!) and there are stories of brothers fighting brothers, Many there from Maryland were from split families because it was a divided state. West Virginia too was divided, only being the rebellious hillbillies that we are, we broke from Virginia and formed our own state.

      Terrible time in our history. I'm sure there were many men who lost their souls, if not their lives in that war.

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  16. Wonderful post, Elizabeth. You make this homebody want to travel.

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    1. I love to travel. I just need the funds to support my habit!

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  17. Goosebumps... That was such a great post, Elizabeth. Thank you for those wonderful words and the reminder. I think too often we do forget, and that's why we create monuments--so we can find the reminders.

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    1. And we do need to remember. The better we remember, the more value given to their sacrifice. I'm sure they wanted to be remembered for what they did for the future, not just for the loss of life.

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  18. Amazing post, absolutely amazing. I think it important we remember our history. Real history, not the glossed over kind. I learned a lot when I went to Gettsburg and took a bus tour.

    I'm so happy you liked my entry for your blog hop challenge! :)

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  19. It is a little disturbing to see these places that have been turned into tourist spots. I've always been fascinated by the ghost tours--mostly because they actually talk about those who died and tell their stories. You learn more about the people on those tours. On the daytime tours, often all you're told about is the facts. Numbers do nothing for me. I want to know people's stories.

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  20. I haven't visited Gettysburg yet, although I'll definitely visit if I'm ever in the area. We need to honor the dead, remember what they died for, remember their heroism, and also do our very best not to repeat any of their mistakes, although history sometimes repeats itself.

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  21. I visited Gettysburg some years ago and it was a beautiful sunny autumn day when we toured the park. I found it impossible to grasp the scope of the horror that happened there. But when we left the following morning it was deathly quiet as the sun was just coming up and the monuments and graves were covered in fog. That scene gave me such an eerie feeling I've never forgotten it.

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