Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Battlefield Interpretation

Several years ago, when I retired, my wife and I moved to Adams County, Pennsylvania.  The area is mostly rural and agricultural in nature.  The battlefield was the biggest lure because our shared love of the sacred ground.

We are both interested in military history and she actually had an ancestor in the 5th New Hampshire Infantry.  He had survived the nearby Battle of Antietam, in 1862 and fought and survived in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, in 1863.

I am on the battlefield several times a week exploring certain pieces of the terrain, taking a guided tour or just walking with Max, my German Shepherd.

To really appreciate the battle on any field you must walk the terrain.  It gives you a better perspective on the movements of troops during the fight.  One big mistake most battlefield visitors make is to believe the topography at both Gettysburg and Antietam is flat.  They may get that impression if they only drive the paved roads that the park service maintains for visitors.  If they get out of the car and walk off the pavement, they will immediately see that the land is anything but flat.

Much of the land undulates creating a series of small ridges and valleys.  Streams that meander through create valleys thereby adding to the topographic variation.  There are even high points such as Culp' Hill, Little Round Top and Nicodemus Heights.  Even small changes like an  eroded farm path can create a Bloody Lane.

When taking battlefield tours, it's easy to spot the novice tourist when they ware dress shoes and heels.  They soon find out their mistake when they find it  difficult  to  negotiate the sodden fields or pathways covered with stones.  Then if they failed to bring any repellent they may discover they are covered with ticks upon returning to their cars.

One day I was strolling down the roadway on Stony Hill on the Gettysburg field.  As I descended the sloping ground, I was horrified to a car heading directly toward the Irish Brigade monument.  To my relief, the vehicle came within in three feet of it and finally stopped.  The monument remained unscathed.  The driver was a portly women who found it was easier to take a picture with the camera from her car, rather than stepping out of the vehicle to do so.  I shudder to think what would have happened if she wanted some shots of the rear of the cross!

I also often see, at both battlefields, people touring the land with motorcycles.  Many never stop to view signs or read what is inscribed on the monuments.  It seems to me that visitors could make their visit more meaningful it they left their vehicles for at least a short period of time.  I don't think all visitors have to hike over the terrain with knapsacks on , but stopping the car or bike to read the passages on the waysides,  do offer a better appreciation of the battle.  The writings of the battle participants adds greatly to its understanding.   I hardly think whizzing through the parks, without stopping offers a noteworthy experience for the visitor.  Alas, people may do what they wish.  I just find such behavior is somewhat odd and meaningless.

I have one suggestion for people who travel around the battlefields on motorcycles that have loud exhausts or for those who operate vehicles with diesel engines, and that is to not hover around groups of people who are trying to listen to a tour guide.  In such circumstances, the participants of the tours cannot hear the guide who is speaking.  It would be more courteous to move along or stop and turn the engine off.

The battlefields that have been protected and maintained serve as vast classrooms for history.  They tell true tales of heroism, bravery, cowardice, humanity and inhumanity and all of it allows us to understand the past and where we all came from.  If studied properly and the lessons learned are followed, they may just help us to avoid the suffering our ancestors had endured.

If you are planning a trip or vacation that may include a visit to a battlefield park, try to make it as memorable and meaningful as possible.  It would be helpful to read up on the battle before you go.  This may help you  plot a more meaningful course.

When you are there, consider hiring a battlefield guide or take a tour offered by the rangers.  The guides and rangers are extremely knowledgeable about the battle and the Civil War in general.  They have plenty of experience in answering questions that visitors have posed over the years.

While on the battlefield, please step out of the car at several  points,  so as to read the words of those who fought the battle.  The park services maintain very educational and informative wayside markers.  The monuments that may be present, usually contain the words of the veterans of the battles.  Lastly, when operating loud noisy motor vehicles, please be courteous and think of the other visitors.

It's just something to think about.

15th Massachusetts Infantry monument at Antietam

32nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument at Antietam

142nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument at Gettysburg 

Irish Brigade monument at Gettysburg


No comments:

Post a Comment