Feb 18 2009

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Gettysburg Walk

Posted at 8:47 am under Blog Post

During a rather impromptu trip to Virginia to visit my stepson and his family, I stopped by Gettysburg.  I needed to stretch my legs after driving alone for 500 miles and the battlefield seemed like just the place to do that.  Besides, what better way to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday?

I parked my car halfway up a hill called Big Round Top then followed a path winding down through the woods.  I was not alone.  The wind blowing through the trees was ten thousand ghosts whispering a battle hymn.  A lone crow cawed in the distance.  The sun broke through the clouds moving fast overhead, then disappeared again.  The ground underfoot was soft and completely free of snow, reminding me that I was a long way from Vermont.  Wearing only a sweater and a light jacket, I walked in comfort – a pleasant foretaste of the warm season to come.

I popped out of the woods near a place called the Devil’s Den, and wandered amid dry, knee-high grass for a while.  The rocky face of Little Round Top loomed over the open field, though, so I turned towards it.  I followed a sketchy path easing slowly uphill to a low spot in the long ridge of hills, seeing as some Confederate general must have seen that here the Union line could be turned.  And sure enough, I ran into a monument marking the place where Chamberlain’s Maine regiment anchored the Union left flank.  No doubt scores of history buffs had gone this way before me.

While standing in that rather nondescript notch, I scanned the surrounding woods, trying to wrap my brain around one simple fact:  Here the fate of the Republic was determined by men locked in a struggle to the death.  A profound difference of opinion resolved by the shedding of blood.  The ground underfoot was soaked with it.  The institution of slavery did not survive the ordeal, and for that I am grateful for the sacrifice made.  But I couldn’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way to resolve differences.  Must it always come to this?

Before stopping at Gettysburg, I had been listening to National Public Radio.  The 787-billion-dollar stimulus package dominates the news these days.  Once again congressional Republicans and Democrats are lining up along party lines with divergent views about how to fix the mess we’ve made of the economy.  Looks like the Dems have enough votes to pass their spending bill.  The Reps are sure it’ll lead to disaster, as if we aren’t there already.

As I finished my walk back to the car, I wondered if our contemporary culture is what our forefathers had in mind when they created this nation.  I wondered what those boys in blue and gray would think if they could rise from their graves and see what their country looks like today.  Would they all agree that their sacrifices were well worth it?

Walking the battlefield, I really don’t know what to think.  All my philosophical abstractions implode amid those parked cannons, monuments and grassy fields.  All I know is that I feel a deep sadness every time I go to Gettysburg, and always end up wiping tears from my eyes while driving away.  So much blood.  So much sacrifice.  What a fragile Republic this is, built upon such lofty ideals.

One response so far

One Response to “Gettysburg Walk”

  1. Deedee Burnsideon 18 Feb 2009 at 9:36 am 1

    Beautiful, so well put!