Devin (canariesrise) wrote,

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And's It's Still Raining...

So I'm back from Gettysburg. Actually, I got back two hours ago almost, but it's taken me about an hour to catch up on my flist.

Yesterday was absolutely amazing. Dad and I left the house at 8 and drove out to Gettysburg. We had lunch (and his obligatory antique-ing while my eyes rolled into the back of my head) and then headed off to the new Visitor's Center. This new v.c. just opened this spring and it is one huge ass building. It's also really nice. We still had a little more than an hour before our tour, so we went into the museum.

And wow. Wow, wow, wow. At the old visitor's center, which by the way was a piece of crappy crap, they had a good number of artifacts displayed, but they we all just sort of layed out in cases in a couple of rooms. There was one room with an entire wall just of different guns, which was pretty much meaningless, even to someone like me. There were lots of interesting things with interesting explanations, but it still seemed very random.

The new museum is much larger and very Smithsonian in nature. Reminded me very much of the better exhibits I've seen in the National Museum of American History. Obviously, it's intended for an audience that knows only the basics of the Civil War and little to nothing about Gettysburg. But the museum did a nice job of setting up the causes of the war, going through the early stages of the war, and then going into detail about each detail of the battle. There was also some stuff for the later part of the war and about the Gettysburg Address, but I didn't really get a chance to look at it because by that point, we had to walk through to get to our tour.

There was a nice mix of stuff in there. My dad commented that there were less artifacts in there, which was probably the case. Certainly, they were more spread out. But I always say quality over quantity in this case. They did a nice job of showing the many facets of the civil war, the soldiers life, and artifacts directly related to Gettysburg. There were a number of short films playing throughout the exhibits, and from what I saw of them, they were very well done. They definitely didn't shy away from going into detail about the battle (or some of the preceding battles), but they didn't go overboard either. There were a lot of really cool quotes painted on the walls, and some nice maps as well. There was a really great map that showed both armies and Stuart's cavalry moving north, which I used to prep my dad for our tour.
To put on my historian/analyst hat for a second, the museum seemed heavily focused on slavery as the cause of the war, with a slight hint toward states' rights. Which I found a bit disappointing, because it sort of panders to the public's preconceived notions of the war, but then again, I probably shouldn't expect anyone to go off on the cultural differences, or tarriffs, or John C. Calhoun. Not that  a picture of him doesn't always make your day.  But I did have a serious nerd-squee when I walked in and the first picture I saw was of Jefferson. That was beyond cool.
Okay, so on to our tour. We went out and waited for our guide, who came and found us shortly thereafter, and who bore a surprising resemblane to General Pickett. He had notes with him ("This is the first time in a while that I've needed notes for a tour.") and as we set off for the car, I told him about my interest in the war and my independent study. Another tour guide heard me explaining how my IS was set up and what I had studied and she was like, "Hey, I wanna go on your tour." Needless to say, I was quite happy to be inspiring tour guide envy.
Anyway, we planned to spend about an hour of our tour out at East Cavalry Battlefield, though we spent 1:15, probably because I wouldn't shut up. As we were driving out there, Rich (our guide) and I discussed what I had read on the subject. He told me that the guides at Gettysburg were of the opinion that Carhart's Lost Triumph was of little use ("It's even too light to use as a door stop!") He told me that he was not of the opinion that Stuart was trying to meet up with Pickett (the view I espoused in my 10 page paper and managed to finally convince Mrs. Shapiro to actually consider). He did confirm that Stuart was trying to get down to the Baltimore Pike, but more for harrying and cutting communications and making Stuart-like mayhem than anything else.
The first good point that Rich made to this effect was that cavalry wasn't used in that way during the civil war. He said that it certainly was during the Napoleonic Wars (to which Carhart refers so often), but because of the technological advances in the 1850's, cavalry was no longer effective against infantry.
Somewhere in this discussion, Rich adds, "Isn't it sad, this guy's an instructor at West Point?"
So we drove up to the northern most point of battlefield, the Confederate artillery emplacements on Cress Ridge. And for the first time I got to see the distances and the places I'd read so much about. Cress Ridge wasn't as elevated as I had envisioned, but it still gave you a very commanding view of the field. And the view was a lot better in 1863, because there was a line of trees in the way now. But I could see the Michigan monument about a mile away and I got a good sense of Stuart's side of things.
Then we drove down along the Confederate right, passing the Rummel barn and house, and then turning to head toward the center of the field. We stopped at an area near where a lot of the skirmishing that day took place. We had a long discussion about different elements getting pushed around and moving back and forth and about the idiot subordinates that Stuart had.
Which brings me to another key point, Rich's thought on what exactly Stuart was trying to do. His opinion, basically, was that Stuart intended to get to the Baltimore Pike by taking a route almost directly south, to the west of the Rummel farm buildings. By taking this path, he would have run into a very small portion of the Union cavalry present on the field. But Jenkins's brigade of mounted infantry had gotten involved in skirmishes with elements of NJ and PA cavalry. Stuart's other brigadier generals (and its hard for me to sort out who is really at fault here, but the names Fitzhugh Lee and Chambliss kept coming up), however, were sending their men, dismounted at first, down toward the Rummel farm to help out Jenkin's men. And these forces ended up getting involved in skirmishes mostly with dismounted elements of Custer's Michigan cavalry. Which had the effect of revealing Stuart's otherwise pretty good position in the woods, and also getting Stuart entangled in something which he probably wasn't interested in dealing with. And when the 5th Michigan retreated toward their mounts, because they were running out of ammunition, mounted elements from Fitzhugh Lee and Chambliss's brigades pursued, starting up the infamous clash. There was a lot of back and forth skirmishing going on which is difficult to explain even if I could remember all the many details.
At this point, we moved toward the clash point on the field, but not before getting a glimpse of the old Rummel Lane, which never got paved, and is now overgrown and surrounded by the historically inaccurate trees. The lane runs north-south about 1/4 to the east of the Rummel farm buildings, and at the time of the battle, a fence lined the road. This comment in particular piqued my interest, because I had read a lot about a fence in my prior readings, particularly during the skirmish part of the battle. As Rich so helpfully explained to me, this wasn't one of those fences you see decoratively placed around battlefields, it was a serious picket fence which wasn't coming down. The nature of the fence came up as I questioned what sort of cover it could provide. Apparently, it took one of the park's other guides about two years to figure out exactly where this fence was. And there were other fences on the field, but this one played a significant role, because cut off contact between the two sides essentially in the middle of the battlefield.
Anyway, when we finally got over to the Michigan monument, right near the clash point, we discussed how the Confederates decided to pursue the Michigan in their retreat. I believe some of the men moved around the fence to the south, but the main body of the force, the mounted men, came from the north, directly off of Cress Ridge. Which brings me to the ultimate important point about the fences. There was another fence up north on the field (and sort of southeast of Cress Ridge) that ran perpendicular to the infamous picket fence. Part of this fence did come down, so that said forces could come through and move south. But because of the limited space they had to pass through, they were bottlenecked getting onto the field. At which point I had my epiphany, "That's why they were in columns!" Carhart uses the arrangement of the Confederate cavalry into columns of squadrons as an indication of Stuart's arrogance, that he thought that he could just march through the Union lines without fighting. But the columns were just a spacial issue, and, in fact, Stuart had really very little to do with these troops chasing down the 5th Michigan. If anything, he was probably pretty unhappy about it.
But seriously, you have no idea how excited I was about this fence revelation. All night at dinner, I was like, "OMG the fence!" Totally randomly.
I also had another misconception dispelled. Custer's brave charge with his line of 700 was only standing up to about 1400 of Stuart's men, not the main body at all. And I don't mean that to diminish Custer's bravery, but it does serve to diminish Carhart's hypothesis. Finally, Rich pointed out the area in Lott's woods where the PA cavalry emerged and mentioned that the one Medal of Honor winner from this part of the battle was over there, a guy named William Miller. Which was when I remembered that I had read his account during my IS. And that started an interesting discussion of how the Union veterans had actually started the rumors that Stuart had been aiming for the Union rear to upplay their own importance, something of which Miller is arguably guilty in his account.
I don't remember at which point this came up, but Rich had a more lenient view of Stuart than I was expecting. As he said, even though Stuart left Lee blind, he didn't really have much of a choice. He couldn't ride with the army, because the roads were too congested, couldn't ride behind it for fear of revealing the move north (a suggestion which I remembered Longstreet making to Stuart). His involvement in all of those skirmished in VA and MD after Brandy Station was, in fact, performing his role of shielding the army from the Union cavalry. And after that, his inability to make contact was unfortunate, but not really under his control. As Rich said, "It wasn't that Stuart did anything wrong; it was that the Union army was doing something right for once."
So all in all, I'm not sure what to think now. Rich was definitely very convincing, but even he admitted that it is a possibility, even if Tom Carhart is an idiot. (There's no question about that.)
Also, Rich explained something else really important to me -- a reason behind Pickett's Charge that I had never heard before. Apparently a small force from A.P. Hill's corps, about 1200 men, was able to break through the Union center on the 2nd. (If you look at a map of the Union lines on the second, you'll see visible gap between divisions that they moved through. And while they weren't able to hold the position, Lee thought that with 10 times that number, he could take it. And I thought that that was a REALLY interesting tidbit and I was shocked that I'd never heard it.
After this, we spent the last 45 minutes on and around Culp's Hill, mainly because this was the area of the battle that I felt the least comfortable with. I learned that Culp's Hill, like the Round Tops, is actually made up of a larger and smaller hill. We started out at the base of the larger hill, close to Cemetery Hill, and moved around to the west, and then turned back east, climbing up the little hill and then the larger one. I learned about the Confederate night attack on the lower hill on the 2nd, and how the hill changed hands but the Confederates failed to seize the opportunity to capture the Baltimore Pike nearby. But despite seven hours of attacking on the 3rd, they made no leeway on the upper hill.
At the top of the upper hill, there's a huge observation tower, like 3 stories high, which we climbed to the top of. It was hard to see certain things, because of the tree cover, but the view was still amazing.
So that was the end of the tour, although I learned a lot more than I could ever possibly write about. I'm sure Rich was mentally exhausted by the time I got done with him.
Today, we did a bit of a loop of the park. We went to see the Living History people out by the PA monument, they had a little encampment set up (complete with historically accurate tarps and Vitamin Water), but a lot of their people didn't show because of the rain. (At least they did better than the Virginians; none of them showed.) We got to talk to some people and this older guy talked to us about various aspects of camp life and the roles that the PA reserves played during the war. Unfortunately (for my dad) he went off onto this long tangent about Antietam, which I'm sure my dad couldn't follow. I, at least, understood what he meant by all his kind of vague allusions because I retained a pretty good basic understanding of the events from the book I read for my IS. And then he did a little weapons demonstration for us and some other people that had come, but we left then, because everything he was saying I could have already told you (about how to load the weapons and their attributes and whatnot). We drove for a while and went up Little Round Top, but we only stayed out of the car for a few minutes, because by that point it had started to rain heavily. Which was a shame, because I would have liked to climb around for a while, but I really didn't feel like slipping off one of those rocks and colliding headfirst with another big sharp rock. So instead we just went home.
Which wasn't too much fun, because it was three hours of driving in the torrential downpour of T.S. Hanna, but at least I got a little bit of reading done.
And now, after much avoidance of the stuff, I must follow my dad's suggestion and "do something productive" before the evening totally gets away from me. How sad. I really don't feel like doing anything on my to do list, but since there's only a week, I had better get my ass moving. And yes, it's STILL raining, but since I'm in the house, I don't mind.
Oh, and for the 95% of you who just skipped the last 2,500 words of historical minutia ... in short, Gettysburg was really, really, really awesome.
Tags: civil war, college, family, gettysburg, history
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