I woke up a bit late, the damn radiator was banging all night.  The restless night melted into a sleep-in morning and by the time I got going I missed the 10:00 tour by eight minutes.  The next one was at 11:30.  Didn’t want to wait but did want to see the Eisenhower house, so I decided I’d take in the museum. 

Gettysburg is a very beautiful place, rolling hills and farm land, a quietly moving place and rightly so when you consider what happened here a hundred forty four years ago; three hot July days in the war that pitted brother against brother. 

Cemetary RidgeThe battle began on the north side of town.  The Confederate troops pursued the fleeing Union Army through the streets of Gettysburg to Cemetery Ridge on the south end of town. There were 30,000 casualties over the three days, yet miraculously there was only one civilian life lost. 

Her name was Jennie Wade.  She was kneading the dough for biscuits she would bake for Union soldiers. One bullet had already shattered a window in the parlor of the McClellan home adjacent to Cemetery Ridge, and she had moved into the kitchen as a safety precaution.

A short distance up Baltimore Street, a Confederate sniper, secreted in the upper floor of a building, fired his rifle. The bullet penetrated an outer kitchen door as well as the interior door to the parlor, which had been left open. The lead musket ball continued its flight across the room and struck Jennie in the back, pierced her heart and lodged in the front of her corset, ending her life.

Earlier that same morning, Jennie Wade’s fiancée, a soldier in the Union Army, lay wounded and dying. He was only a few miles away.  His best friend was at his side and he dispatched him to find Jennie and inform her of his imminent demise.  It was an ironic coincidence that at precisely the same moment Jennie Wade collapsed onto the floor of the small McClellan house kitchen, her fiancée’s best friend was cut down by enemy fire, barely two hundred yards away.  Those three July days in Gettysburg, 1863 yielded dozens of twist of fate stories.

The CemetaryI stroll past the uniforms, camp gear and muskets in the museum, but one of the smallest and most powerful objects drives home the reality of those three days.  On a shelf in a glass case are two musket balls that had been fused together in mid-air. The signage says there were thousands found. The reality of the thick and heavy fighting, the closeness of the moment of battle gives me pause. I smell gunpowder and find a place to sit for a moment.

As I continue I find a display of medical cases, small saws with brass ribs running along the top of the blade recline in silence on the top shelf of each case; state of the art medicine of the time, cut it off, cauterize it and move on the next one.  Near the medical field hospital tents were piles of arms and legs on July 4th, 1863.

There is a wall of photographs taken at the 75th anniversary of the battle, a lot of ninety year old men. The caption on one amused me.  When asked how he liked the celebration the ancient veteran with a broad smile quipped, “I’m havin’ a hell of a lot more fun today than I did 75 years ago.”

Site of the AddressAcross the street from the museum is the cemetery.  I walk to the place where Lincoln spoke along a path lined with old maples, oaks and long-limbed sycamores, every now and then a row of spoke-wheeled cannons. “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here,” the words echo in my ear and I smile.

As I near the tall white marble obelisk I wonder where the tombstones are.  The thought is barely formed in mind when I notice the low curb-like stones, barely protruding above the new grass and fanning out in large semi-circles. “Illinois, 419 Bodies,” is the inscription on the nearest.  My spine shudders in similar fashion as it did on first viewing the Vietnam memorial; appearing suddenly from nowhere and growing to great proportions.

Gettysburg always moves me deeply, but never in conventional form or in ways I expect.  It creeps upon you at the most unexpected moments and in surprising ways. I find it impossible to Devil's Denbe comfortable at the Devil’s Den; the physical place, the pile of enormous carelessly scattered boulders haunts and keeps a tense readiness in the muscles along my spine.

From the top of Devil’s Den the field that extends over to Little Round Top is littered with large rocks that resemble a disorderly collection of tombstones, but they’re not, they’re just stones.

Then there is Little Round Top.

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