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Return to Gettysburg: Part I

Return to Gettysburg: Part I

By Rick Hinton

This past August was the last Boy Scout Firecrafter Ritual for the year. It’s something I have participated in for the last 14 years. Multiple individual fires, sequentially dotting woods or meadows and casting a curtain of blue fog-like smoke, always gets me to thinking: the Civil War, and how northern and southern troops had made overnight camps such as these. The Civil War turns my thoughts to Gettysburg, PA. We are returning again. It has gotten into our blood!

The epic battle at Gettysburg marked the turning point of the war effort, effectively resulting in the last Confederate invasion. Even though the war would continue for two additional years after this conflict, the south never regained their momentum. The three-day campaign – July 1, 2 and 3, 1863 – left thousands dead, Union and Confederate. Is the battlefield park haunted? Is the town of Gettysburg itself? I believe that it very much so is. Strong emotions, violence, chaos and sudden death have been known to generate a playback. For years (even shortly after the battle) the town and surrounding ground has become known for apparitions and the continuing sounds and smells of military conflict; residual offerings emitting tragedy from the past and carrying over into the here and now. There seems to be ghosts aplenty in Gettysburg!

Morning fog during sunrise on Little Round Top produces an ethereal scene. (Photo by Kris Branch)

My first exposure to the battlefield was many years ago when I chaperoned my son’s fifth-grade school trip to Washington, D.C./ Gettysburg. By the time we crossed into Pennsylvania I had somehow contracted a case of food poisoning. My recollection of Gettysburg was a brief looking over the valley from Little Round Top and then lying in the fetal position on the bus, gently moaning as the kids and other chaperons ate dinner at General Pickett’s Buffet. It was a long ride back to Indianapolis!

My wife, Laura, and I made our first visit in 2017, meeting up with our friend Alan Hunter, who took on the duty of tour guide. Alan and his wife, Rhonda, travel to Gettysburg several times a year, and have over the course of many years. So many sites within the park … so much history that unfolded in those three days … so little time! There’s Big Round Top and Little Round Top; Devils Den, with the nearby Wheat Field, Slaughter Pen and Peach Orchard; Culp’s Hill and Spangler’s Spring; Seminary and Cemetery Ridges, with the latter culminating in Pickett’s Charge across a mile-long expanse of field; and about a hundred other sites all bearing important significance in the battle. You can hold photos of the aftermath of the battle and stand in the exact spot where it all happened or where a soldier dropped in his journey into eternity. Alan told us that wherever you walk, most likely a soldier took his last breath there. It’s unnerving to say the least, but also retains a morbid fascination.

We are returning – September 2019 – and the car is gassed, and the trunk is packed. The eastern mountains of Pennsylvania are beckoning, along with a sense of innocence that changed the small town of Gettysburg 156 years ago. For Alan, the battlefield seems to be an obsession. Quite possibly, for Laura and me, it has become ours as well.

To be continued….

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