Gettysburg Memories: Nineteen Visits

Gettysburg has always been my favorite Civil War battlefield and I have visited it approximately nineteen times, to date. I have many favorite memories of this battlefield, from my first visit as an eight year old to my last visit, last year on Remembrance Day.

On my first visit, I was just a child who had become interested in the Civil War two years earlier when I’d visited the Fredericksburg Battlefield. This first visit was a fourth-grade class trip to Gettysburg, as we were studying the Civil War. As the bus pulled into the town, I was awed by all of the statues and monuments that I saw! When we got into the visitor center, we were taken to see the Electric Map program, which to me explained the battle in an excellent manner. Next we went to the Cyclorama, which seemed to bring the battle to life. On to the Wax Museum, which showed the scenes of battle and the carnage of battle, then showed President Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address. Finally, we had a park ranger take us on a guided tour of the battlefield. This, to me, was very thought provoking, even at my early age. During this tour, I imagined the different parts of the battle, as if I were seeing the battle as it happened in July 1863! I was so amazed and curious to learn more that I bought my first Civil War book, This Hallowed Ground by Bruce Catton. I still have that book today, and because of that visit, I became a Civil War buff.

My next visit to Gettysburg was four years later, as an eighth-grader on another class trip, while studying the Civil War. On this trip, I was beginning to research the generals; my favorites were John Buford, John Reynolds, Winfield Scott Hancock, George Armstrong Custer, and George Gordon Meade for the Union army, and James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee, and Jeb Stuart for the Confederate army.  I was also developing various ways that I wanted to see the battlefield on future visits. I had made up my mind that I would come back, on my own, and spend time exploring.

On my vacations from the various banks in which I have worked, I visited Gettysburg several times. Each time I went, I tried to focus on a different part of the battlefield or different officers. Sometimes, I went to read the various monuments. My first stop was always to the visitor center to see all of the weapons that were discovered on the battlefield or donated back to the park. The Electric Map and Cyclorama were always included in these visits. The bookstore became more important to me as well, as I purchased more Civil War books, mostly about Gettysburg.

On a couple of these visits, I took the double-decker bus battlefield tour and went up to the top of the tower to get a birds-eye view of the battlefield. On one of these trips, I bought an audiobook, Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign by Shelby Foote, narrated by Foote. I did not realize until later that this was only a chapter in his three volume narrative of the Civil War.This audiobook is still one of my favorites, and I have listened to it about a hundred times! These trips prepared me for more research and exploration of this battlefield and the entire Gettysburg Campaign.

After 1999, I knew that when I retired from the bank that I was going to volunteer at a Civil War park, I started a more concentrated focus on learning more about the men who fought at Gettysburg. Then I wanted to learn more about the strategy and the tactics of the battle. I studied Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and General Gouverneur Warren at Little Round Top and General George Sears Greene at Culp’s Hill. I wonder why more people do not talk about General Greene’s heroics on Culp’s Hill—maybe because the movie Gettysburg did not cover his defense of that hill. I became a fan of then Colonel E. P. Alexander and studied the dynamics between Generals Lee and Longstreet.

One memory in particular stands with me from this time period: I had become a senior vice president and area manager for SunTrust Bank by this time. I had let everyone know who needed to know about my vacation plans and had let them know who my replacements were. I was standing on Cemetery Hill near the statues of Generals Hancock and Howard when my cell phone rang. It was SunTrust Security calling to tell me that one of the branches had been robbed and that I needed to report to that branch. I politely informed them that I was on vacation and gave the name of the area manager who was filling in for me. About five minutes later, they called me again, telling me that one of my branches was robbed and I needed to report to the branch. I informed them once again that I was on vacation, that I was at the Gettysburg Battlefield and by the time that I could get to that branch everything would be over and everyone would be gone home. That is my most humorous memory about Gettysburg.

In November 2006, I visited Gettysburg to explore some parts of the battlefield that had been brought back to its original condition and parts I did not remember seeing on previous visits. I found out where the VI Corps had been and saw the stones marking the various regiments. I took that road back into the battlefield and entered Little Round Top and Big Round Top from the back way. I saw statues that had been erected in the early 1900’s that I had never seen. I also finally saw the area where General Elon Farnsworth had been killed. I still cannot understand why general Kilpatrick sent his cavalry into that area, but I do understand why his nickname was “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick!

Marching in the Remembrance Day Parade and participating in other Remembrance Day events since 2011 have given me some sobering memories. The most inspirational one was at the 2011 ceremony honoring the two USCT buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery.    Ms. Millicent Sparks excellently portrayed Harriet Tubman and gave an emotional speech that brought some to tears, but made me feel as if I was one of the original USCT veterans, listening to the real Harriet Tubman. That memory instilled in me the pride that those men must have felt about their service and it makes me continue to educate people of the role of the African American soldier in the Civil War!

Many visits later, I am still not finished exploring Gettysburg. On one of my future visits to Gettysburg, I am going to stay for at least three days and follow the Union army’s movements, day by day, in my Union uniform. I am going to walk most of that time, just as those soldiers had to do. I am going to try to put myself in their shoes and imagine the adversity they faced in those terrible three days! I wonder if I may just feel what they felt on this battlefield or even the way I felt when I visited as an eight-year-old boy.

I wonder…

About stewardthenderson

Civil War historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and living historian with the 23rd Regiment USCT and 54th Massachusetts Infantry Co. B. I am also a member of the Trail to Freedom Committee in the Fredericksburg, VA area and a member of the John J. Wright Museum in Spotsylvania, VA.
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5 Responses to Gettysburg Memories: Nineteen Visits

  1. Meg Thompson says:

    Huzzah! Essays like this, and the others, need to be sent to those who fee that the National Parks are a waste of money.

  2. Jane Arnold says:

    What a beautifully written column. I would love to read about your future visits to the park and learn a great deal more about your library and in what order, more or less, you added to it as you grew up. It is amazing how many of us came to our lifelong interest in the Civil War as children and were introduced to it by our parents and Bruce Catton! Even with the hundreds of fine, fine scholars who have written about the war, he is still my favorite. Thank you, Mr. Henderson.

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Robert Earl Groeling says:

    If being told that your bank has been robbed is your funniest moment at Gettysburg, Id hate to know your worst moment at Gettysburg. lol I at least slipped and fell on my bottom after walking down the steps at the tower on Culps Hill. That was sort of funny. It was raining by the way.

    • Jane, I added about 600 books to my library from 2005 to 2012, while working at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. I have bought many books pertaining to our four battlefields, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. I have also bought books about regiments, brigades, the Army of the Potomac and many books about the USCT and African Americans during the Civil War. Yesterday’s visit was to show a friend around the battlefield and the visitor center, however, I will be back for the Remembrance Day parade and events in November.

  4. As long as you did not get hurt, then it is funny, to you and the people watching you. Robert, the calls were humorous because I had told Security that I was on vacation and out of town for two weeks. I had given them my replacements but they still called me anyway, we both laughed about them when they realized that they had the info in front of them. Plus, the fact that in the robberies no one was hurt and the robbers were apprehended. If someone was hurt then I would not have mentioned this event. But the humor was because I had told them, again, on the first call that I was in Gettysburg and yet, they still called me back on the same day, when all of that information had already been input into their computers. When you have been through as many robberies as I had been involved in over the 35 years I was in banking, there is often humor in them – I could tell you a hundred stories about the failings of robbers and the jokes we made about them.

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