There was so much carnage on the fields and roads and waysides after this 3 day battle, the people of Gettysburg were overwhelmed by the horrific task of hastily burying bodies, untangling the near dead from the dead where they had fallen, and treating the wounded. It took years for the town to recover. Their memories never did. And because 51,000 men lost their lives at Gettysburg, this war museum is well appointed with the relics of horrific warfare.
"The harvest of bullets was left for the citizens to glean...picking up these missiles of death and selling them to dealers two of who alone sent to Baltimore fifty tons of lead."
As you drive about, one could easily decide the whole town is a monument to this battle. Rolling hills, farmland and fields changed forever because of the events played out upon them. That someone should simply return the land back to wheat, or grazing, to simple fields, or anything but hallowing this ground is unthinkable. As a nation we erect monuments that no one forget the sacrifice these men and boys made.
The cross fencing is maintained as it was. Farmland and fields around the battlefield have been purchased with lease agreements to maintain the look of the times. Cannon aim over rock fences, at the very position where men marched to their deaths. And small monuments placed about the battlefield identify the regiments that gave their lives for all.
Then there is the nearby Gettysburg National Cemetery where men are buried by the numbers, and sometimes by name, position and regiment. A major monument stands above a semi-circle of stones, dividing the dead by state from which they came.
The two year old National Military Park Museum reminds you what went on here and we attempt to understand how countries continue to chose war to settle conflicts. During this Civil War, people from both sides were pleading to end the carnage, and to go on as before if necessary, split the union if necessary, anything to stop the horror.
A Southern General made the statement, "It is good that war is horrible or we might become too fond of it." .
The museum houses a 377 foot painting weighing 3 tons, in a special building to hold this painting in a circle. Its called a cyclorama. It was painted by Paul Phillipoteaux, who was there at Pickets charge. The museum is well done and sets the battle in the greater theatre of the whole war which enlarges your understanding of how and where the war was fought battle by battle.
While I learned much about the Civil War I'd forgotten this museum brings to life the people who lived it, their faces and their voices.
The mule driven wagons carrying the wounded away stretched for 60 miles.
"The sounds of wretched voices from that train will stay with me forever"
"Please, can't you stop for one minute, just one minute!"
"I beg you to put an end to me. Shoot me now."
"Please just lay me by the side of the road to die. I don't want to live any longer."
"I just want to die."
At times the battle front was a mile wide.
"Men fire into each other's faces not five feet apart. There are bayonet-thrusts, sabre-thrusts, pistol shots...oaths, yells, curses, shoutings; men going down on their hands and knees, spinning like tops, gulping up blood, falling; legless; armless; headless. There are ghastly heaps of bodies."
"In an assault on Confederate trenches in Cold Harbor, VA., roughly 4000 soldiers were killed or wounded in less than an hour."
This was a very emotional and moving place to visit. Every person who votes for war should be required to visit a war museum like this one, or the Pacific War Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas. (My small voice in the void.)
To do this well, you need at least three days. There is much to see and discover in the historic town as well. The National Park was gifted with the nearby President Eisenhower Farm which I will cover later.