Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

The Last Windrow: Visiting Civil War battlefield is powerful experience

Reading about some things is different than being on the ground, breathing the same air and feeling the ghosts around you at such a place as Gettysburg. Photo illustration, Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

Mr. Lewis taught American history while sitting on the edge of his desk, legs crossed, staring at the ceiling. The class in front of him, including me, glared boringly at the aged history books that sat on their desk tops with our pages opened to the Civil War.

There was not much life in that 1950s classroom. The class needed a bus trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

By the time you read this column, my wife and I will have returned from our long looked forward to trip to the Civil War battlefield. Over the years we have toured many such battlefields across the South. Each has its own significance and characteristics. I've found none of them as boring as that book in Lewis's classroom.

Tour buses by the dozen trek to this place that was hallowed on July 1, 2 and 3, 1863, by the troops of both sides. Walking the grounds marked by hundreds of memorials to the fallen gives a somber tone to the whole mindset. Even a busload of lively and chatty grade school students quiets as their guide explains what happened at Little Round Top, the Wheat Field, the Slaughter Pen and the Peach Orchard, among others.

One of my goals was to visit the Devil's Den - a pile of large boulders behind which Confederate sharpshooters picked off Union soldiers at a distance of up to a thousand yards. One can hardly see the humans who were walking atop Little Round Top from that distance. One of the more famous pictures from that time was that of a Confederate soldier lying dead with his rifle beside him behind his sharpshooter position at the Devil's Den.

Before we left the battlefield I wanted to walk the same ground as Pickett's ill-fated charge. As I trudged up that long, open incline toward the top of the ridge where thousands of Union troops lay in wait, I wondered what my thoughts would have been as one of Pickett's men, out on that open expanse with absolutely no cover of any kind, marching forward, cannons and rifles pointed directly at me and my fellow soldiers.

As I walked up to and reached The Angle and what is called "The High Water Mark of the Confederacy," I couldn't help getting a knot in my throat knowing how many of both sides gave their lives there.

I didn't get that feeling on that school day so long ago in Mr. Lewis's history classroom. It wasn't his fault. Reading about some things is different than being on the ground, breathing the same air and feeling the ghosts around you at such a place as Gettysburg. It was a great experience.

See you next time. Okay?

randomness