The view coming down Sterrett’s Gap catches me unaware. The panorama opens unexpectedly on my right: The Cumberland Valley laid out in a patchwork of browns and tans and auburns. In the distance, I can see Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and, it seems, all the way to forever—or at least the Mason Dixon line.
I have come up to the ridgeline of Blue Mountain to take a photo of the northernmost point of advance by Confederates during the Gettysburg campaign. A boulder-like monument squats next to the roadside just off Route 34, just north of a new traffic circle. Here, the cavalrymen of Albert Jenkins road north on a scouting mission as part of their screening efforts for Richard Ewell’s Second Corps.
The roads here at the top of the ridge are narrow, and following Sunnyside Drive eastward and downward, I find the mountainside steep on my left and a screen of fall-bare trees on my right. The vista opens suddenly, surprising me, making me gasp at the view—but the road is too narrow to offer a place to pull over and a white pickup truck is already trying to drive up my trunk.
I’m disappointed, but at least I got the photo I needed. Too bad, I think. The patchwork panorama was prettier.
I have spent much of the past month and a half on the road taking photos. With several new Emerging Civil War books slated to come out over the next four months, and several more in the pipeline after that, I’ve had to cram in a lot of photography this fall. Trees that still have their leaves make for much prettier pictures than trees that are naked-branched. While the black and white of the books still doesn’t capture the stunning beauty of the fall foliage, we cheat and toss some of the pictures on the blog.
My speaking schedule picks up this month and will remain busy through spring, but already I am a little road weary: Bristoe, Brandy Station, Culpepper, Orange; the steep banks of the North Anna River; downtown Frederick, Maryland, and downtown D.C.; Gettysburg again and again. I’ve even had to go just out my front door at Chancellorsville.
My photo expeditions have taken me, quite by coincidence, to Arlington National Cemetery for Veterans Day and, today, to Gettysburg on the 151st anniversary of Lincoln’s address. Those sorts of alignments always add an extra touch of awe to places already full of awesome.
The destinations always invigorate me, rejuvenating me without fail no matter how many miles I have put on my car. And at least I’m not in a cubicle, I keep reminding myself.
I never get tired of these hallowed places. It is always a privilege to visit, always a moving experience to move across the grounds. To fill one’s fall with such scenery makes these places all the more moving. Nature can indeed be resplendent, adding an element of wonder to landscapes that are already sublime.
Autumn has stripped the trees down to the bare bark. They can look bleak especially in harsh light with strong shadows; they can look especially gloomy on overcast days. But a colleague of mine who has never before photographed a battlefield is looking forward to the chance to do so this winter, hopefully with a layer of snow. He wants the stark contrast of dark treetrucks against white landscape, with sharp-lined shadows. Even winter, he reminds me, can offer a fresh perspective.
While I might not be anxious for that glimpse, I am always eager to see what else the battlefields have to show me.