Gettysburg, Pa., was filled with tourists, media and history buffs this week to commemorate the 150th anniversary of what has become the most storied battle of the Civil War.
As many as 51,000 soldiers were killed or injured in the fighting between July 1 and July 3 in 1863 — the bloodiest battle of the war.
I retraced the events of those days on a stop in that beautiful region in Pennsylvania on the Friday beginning the 10-day anniversary period that ends on Sunday. It was one of many visits my family and I have made to Gettysburg,. And the quaint historic town and monument-filled battlefields were already crawling with people like me trying to comprehend the events, emotions and carnage of that week a century and a half before.
I walked through downtown Gettysburg to enjoy the shops, and then drove most of the auto tour through the battlefield areas. I trudged the long, steep path up Big Round Top and enjoyed the spectacular view from the scenic rocks of Little Roundtop as well.
The Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau set up five temporary welcome tents around town in addition to its two permanent facilities in advance of the expected rush of visitors this week. There were satellite parking areas in place with shuttle bus service for the expected flood of traffic. There were already media trucks all around.
And, of course, there were lots of portable toilets.
“In a lot of ways, this is the Olympic moment for Gettysburg,” National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst told The Associated Press. He said this week’s activities had been three or four years in the making.
Events began with the start of a massive re-enactment to commemorate the Civil War’s pivotal conflict. The Blue-Gray Alliance opened the schedule on Friday, June 28, with its first of three days of battle re-creations on a private farm. About 10,000 Civil War buffs took part.
The National Park Service programs included a Pickett’s Charge “commemorative march” on the actual battlefield. Nine park rangers led groups representing each of the nine Confederate brigades that took part in the failed assault on the entrenched Union positions on Cemetery Ridge.
Another re-enactment held by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee was to be held on a farm north of town from Thursday through Sunday.
About 200,000 people were expected to visit the south-central Pennsylvania town during the commemoration period. While I’m sure the events throughout the week were exciting, I was glad to be leaving before the area got really crowded and crazy.
I like it less populated so I can more privately reflect. The battlefields fascinate me. The monuments to long-dead soldiers, the silent cannons and the echoes of history create an enchanting and sobering experience.