Leaving Windsor, NY, I need to know if I am headed to MI for Thanksgiving or to Gettysburg. I hope to MI. I am 2 days from MI. One day from Gettysburg. It is only a couple days before Thanksgiving. But, I assume that I can just show up. Turns out that Thanksgiving dinner is at my nieces. There are 26 people coming and there’s no room at the inn. Nor can Sherman come. She has a dog that is not very other-dog friendly. The only option is to leave Sherman in the van, or at my dads, and drive there for part of the day. That doesn’t sound or feel good to me. So, we’re off to Gettysburg.
I got re-interested in The Civil War being with Bob and Chris in Bristol. Bob is very interested in history. In family genealogy. His History Mugs (www.historymugs.us) also got me intrigued. I watched the movie, Killer Angels, about Gettysburg and read the Civil War trilogy of which Killer Angels is the middle book. Read some about the other participants. On the trail I’d listened to a biography on Robert E. Lee. Fascinating. I had no idea that he was the superintendent of West Point. Nor that after the war he was the President of a college and steered it from small and broke to a thriving school. Or that he innovated many of the structures that are common in universities today. For instance, having independent schools of study under one umbrella educational organization. In Lee’s time, there was one course of study. It included everything that was deemed important to be an educated gentleman. There was very little specialization.
I can’t find a park or free camping near Gettysburg, so we spend the night a few miles out of town in a Walmart SuperStore lot. I’ve discovered that by going behind the stores I find a pretty isolated and darker spot than in the parking lot. Usually has a bigger grassy area to walk Sherman too.
We get up about 7, eat, walk, and head to The Gettysburg National Monument. All my info says they’re open at 9am, but when we arrive at 8:30 it’s winter hours. Open at 10. So I grab a map and we head off toward the northernmost part of the battlefield. The monument related roads are all one-way and meander around and past the various battlefields. There are monuments everywhere along the roads marking the locations that specific divisions fought. The scope of the battlefield is much larger than I imagined, even though I’d read that such and such a place is 5 miles from this place. It’s just words until standing in that spot. The oddest thing was having heard and read about the tactical importance of taking the high ground and then seeing that the high ground was a rise in a field of maybe 10 feet. There are a very few hills in the area — what I think of as high ground.
Sherman and I get out and walk around a couple battlefields. Actually fields. The troops were mostly moving over farm fields. The difference in scale from on to the another was startling.

The next two photos are at Little Round Top. One of the battlefield locations thats not a field. It an actual hill, not just a rise in a field. This was one of the flanks of the Union army and it was unoccupied but for a couple of Signal Corpmen. The Union corp that was supposed to be on Little Round Top had moved to what it’s General thought was a better location. Confederate scouts discovered that the hill was unoccupied. The general in the area didn’t think it was important enough and besides his troops were tired. One of his Sergeants asked for some soldiers to take the hill and he refused. By the time the actual planned assault on the hill happened, there were Union troops on Little Round Top. Seems it’s one of the strategic blunders that Civil War historians think could have changed the outcome of the battle. If the Confederates controlled Little Round Top they would have controlled the high ground on the Union flank. The pressure from that flank probably would have changed the flow of the battle enough that Pickets Charge wouldn’t have happened. I’ve read that Pickets Charge is usually noted as the high tide of the Confederate army. The day the tide began to ebb.
Little Round Top from the top.
Little Round Top from the bottom.
Standing in the miles wide and mile across field of Pickets Charge is unimaginable. How did over 12,000 men amass along the edge of the woods and charge, wave after wave, across this mile wide field. Get all those people lined up and ready to run across a mile wide field with 10,000 people with guns and cannon shooting at you. And cannon at this time wasn’t just solid shot, they had the precursors of cluster bombs. A canister of 1” shot that was shot at the incoming soldiers. Unbelievable. Over 50% casualties…
One of the books I read talked about the strategic disagreement between Lee and Longstreet regarding this charge and the difference in their tactical training. Lee was at WestPoint at the tail end of strategy being based on Napoleon. Longstreet was in WestPoint at the beginning of an emphasis on defensive maneuvers. One reason was the difference in weapons. The new muskets with rifled barrels at Gettysburg had a kill range of 400 yards, a quarter of a mile. The prior smooth bore (non-rifled) muskets had a kill range of 50 yards. This difference led Longstreet to write at one point that to win a frontal assault against these weapons was a math problem. To eliminate one enemy soldier with these new rifles would take 3-4 dead/wounded soldiers to reach him and one more to overcome him. Longstreet recommended to Lee that they retire around the Unions rear and take the higher ground between them and Washington DC. Lee’s decision was a frontal assault to the center of the Union line.
Standing on each side of this battle and looking across the field toward what each army saw was shocking. Standing and walking in a field where such violence occurred. Where men lined up and walked into what they knew was a musket and cannon barrage…

This is shot from the Confederate side. At the end of the pan you can see the hill and trees that were the Confederate goal. Imagine walking across this field in formation while you’re being shot at. People are dropping around you, dead or wounded. You keep closing up the holes in the line. The “charge” that movies love only happens during the last 100 yards or so. Before that, just walking, walking, walking.

This is from the Union side. The stone wall where the troops lie and shoot down the slope at the approaching Confederates. Far across the field, you can see the statue of Gen. Lee. (It’s very small) I think that’s where he watched the later stages of the assault as it failed.
8-9,000 dead. Almost 30,000 wounded. 10,000 captured or missing. All in 3 days…
We went back to the Visitors Center and Museum later in the day as it got cold and wandered through the displays. I counted over 30 types of muskets and rifles. How do you manage ammunition for that variety? Examples of the types of canon shells. Deadly, deadly, deadly.
In the gift shop I found a took a photo of Bob’s History Mugs with famous Civil War General’s etc, on display and sale. ( www.historymugs.us )
On the top shelf.
At dusk we headed out of the park back in the direction of Walmart. It was getting cold. I checked the weather and it was going to be in the teens with gusty 20-30 mph winds. I chose to motel it. Sherman was happy too. Big beds to stretch out on, Big floor areas to play with his toys.
The next morning is Thanksgiving, we headed north toward my dads in Michigan.