We packed up the holiday house in a jiffy in order to head off as early as possible and squeeze another fun day out of our holiday. My in-laws had arranged to have lunch with friends in Aberdeen so we Picts went on an adventure to Gettysburg. This was entirely apt because it was last year’s 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg that ultimately led to our relocation from Scotland to America. Mr Pict is a total Civil War geek and had this idea two summers ago that we could vacation in the US so that he could be at Gettysburg on the 150th anniversary of the battle. We were just mulling that over when, two weeks later, he casually mentioned late at night that instead of just going on holiday there maybe we could investigate moving to America. So that was how the seed was sewn: the history of a bloody battle.
My husband decided to take us on tour of the highlights. He had come by himself before we arrived in the US so that he could indulge in several hours of touring around the vast site using a phone app as his guide. The only time I have been before was in 1995 and it is very different now with an impressive visitors’ centre and locations much more clearly demarcated. We went to the visitors’ centre first to use the conveniences after our journey from Virginia. Mr Pict bought pretzels as K rations for the kids and the boys also bought some things in the shop: the 8 year old bought a cuddly Lincoln and the 7 year old bought a poster showing Union Generals on one side and Confederate Generals on the other. We also grabbed a photo opportunity with a bronze statue of Lincoln before heading back to the car to start the tour of Mr Pict’s highlights.
First stop was the Longstreet Observation Tower. This involved ascending seven flights of metal stairs. I suffer from vertigo but I also have a recurring nightmare about a child falling – usually one of my own – and I always wake up at the point of impact. My other recurring dream – which I have had since I was 4 – is about a T Rex stalking me. That dinosaur turns up in all sorts of dreams. He was once scary but now he is just a pest. Anyway, as my boys charged up the pretty open staircase, my anxiety levels spiked. I felt quite wobbly. It was all probably just about maybe worth it, however, as the Tower afforded us a good view over the terrain which helped what Mr Pict was saying about tactics and strategy make sense. We could see and appreciate the significance of Little Round Top in that geographical context. And in the other direction we could see Eisenhower’s farm which was a little history bonus.
We then drove over Big Round Top to get to Little Round Top. We saw monuments to the Maine, New York and Pennsylvania regiments. The boys loved clambering over the boulders between bouts of actually listening to their Dad explaining how the battle unfolded. I meanwhile pottered around taking photos (of course!) of such things as the statue of Gouverneur K Warren, who had prompted the defence of Little Round Top, overlooking the landscape and reading poignant stories on the interpretive boards. It was not actually very difficult to imagine the terrible noise and bloody carnage of the battle.
Mr Pict and three of the boys then walked from Little Round Top, descending through the scrub, to meet the 8 year old and me (who brought the car around) at Devil’s Den, doing a reverse of confederate troop movements. The boys thoroughly enjoyed playing on the large rocks and among the crevices at Devil’s Den.
There are monuments galore all over the place at Gettysburg – well over a thousand of them. Some are plain with a focus just on the words but others are more elaborate and some are quite intriguing. Scattered across site as they are, they also serve to emphasise the scale of the battlefield and the huge number of casualties, the largest of any Civil War battle. I must explore them more some time when we return and I also want to go to the Cemetery as it was at its dedication that Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address which I think is the most perfect speech ever written.