Honoring Bravery at Historic Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North

America’s history is full of bravery and bloodshed, noble ideas, and flawed men. One of the places that seem to show this so clearly is Gettysburg National Battlefield.

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The Battle of Gettysburg marked the turning point of the Civil War. The North and South met for three days in the stifling July heat and fought each other in what became the bloodiest battle of the war. General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia retreated and would never cross the Mason-Dixon line into the Union side again. 

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The battle was fought as tensions between the Union and the Confederacy had reached an all-time high. In January 1863, six months before the battle took place, President Lincoln had delivered his famous Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves to be free. The objective of the war which had been kindled by questions of states’ rights versus the governments’ rights now became about whether a man had a right to be free. 

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We slowly made our way through the historic battlefield, beginning with the Union side. Gettysburg in person feels completely different from learning about the battle in a textbook.

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The Reality of War

The Battle of Gettysburg, like many battles in the Civil War, took place on the farms of civilians. Many of the farmhouses are still standing today allowing visitors to imagine what it felt like to watch war happen right outside their windows. Many picture war as separate from real life. Gettysburg intentionally reminds visitors of the ways that they intersect. The battlefield feels like a picture of the human paradox: that we are capable of both tending to soil and procuring fruit from it, and fighting one another on that very same soil. 

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The largest and most prominent monument on the battlefield is the Pennsylvania State Memorial. Standing an impressive 110 feet high, the monument looms over the battlefield. Etched into the four sides of the monument are the 34,530 names of the Pennsylvanians who served their state and country fighting in this battle.

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The battlefield monuments are designed to educate visitors on where the Union and Confederate lines were and how the fighting took place. As we moved to the Confederate side of the battle, I was struck by the number of monuments, plaques, and markers that honored the men who fought with these states. The Gettysburg Battlefield National Park website has stated their commitment to preserve “these memorials while simultaneously educating visitors holistically about the actions, motivations, and causes of the soldiers and states they commemorate. A hallmark of American progress is our ability to learn from our history.” 

The park is dedicated to providing accurate information and historical context to their visitors to reflect what really happened on the battlefield.

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The Visitor Center

After visitors wander around the field the Gettysburg Visitor Center provides a welcome relief from summer heat. More than that though, its Museum of the American Civil War is packed with information, relics, and stories from the Civil War. 

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The Soldier’s National Cemetery (Gettysburg National Cemetery), the final resting place of the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg and where President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous address, is also located in the park and is open from dawn to dusk throughout the year.

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I left Gettysburg feeling overwhelmed by the reality of war and would return again to the park to find the stories of bravery and courage in the midst of it. The battlefield is full of stories of people who in a season when their country was hanging on by a thread, summoned enough hope for what their more perfect Union could be to fight for its future. 

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Worth Pondering…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain―that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

―Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

Gettysburg National Military Park: A New Birth of Freedom

Gettysburg National Military Park offers a variety of experiences including opportunities to explore the battlefield

The Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the Civil War’s largest battle. It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing.

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To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a “Soldiers Cemetery” was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line. It was here during the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of “these honored dead…” and renewed the Union cause to reunite the war-torn nation with his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address”.

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The cemetery contains more than 7,000 interments including over 3,500 from the Civil War. 

The National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center is the place to begin your visit to Gettysburg National Military Park. Here visitors will find information on how to visit the park and what to see around Gettysburg.

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The Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War, with 22,000 square feet of exhibit space, features relics of the Battle of Gettysburg and personalities who served in the Civil War, inter-active exhibits, and multi-media presentations that cover the conflict from beginning to end as well as describe the Battle of Gettysburg and its terrible aftermath.

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The center also hosts the film, “A New Birth of Freedom”, narrated by award winning actor Morgan Freeman and the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, which depicts the final fury of Gettysburg―”Pickett’s Charge”.

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The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center is owned and operated by the Gettysburg Foundation in cooperation with the National Park Service. Entry to the center is free. There is a fee for the film experience, cyclorama program, and access to the museum exhibit hall. The center hosts a massive book and gift store operated by Events Network as well as a “Soldier’s Rest” saloon that offers a full menu throughout the day.

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Battlefield tours on your own, on a bus, or with a Licensed Battlefield Guide can be arranged at the Center.

The Soldier’s National Cemetery (Gettysburg National Cemetery), the final resting place of the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg and where President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous address, is also located in the park and is open from dawn to dusk throughout the year.

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Battle of Gettysburg

Fought over the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War. The fate of the nation literally hung in the balance that summer of 1863 when General Robert E. Lee, commanding the “Army of Northern Virginia”, led his army north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, bringing the war directly into northern territory.

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The Union “Army of the Potomac”, commanded by Major General George Gordon Meade, met the Confederate invasion near the Pennsylvania crossroads town of Gettysburg, and what began as a chance encounter quickly turned into a desperate, ferocious battle. Despite initial Confederate successes, the battle turned against Lee on July 3rd, and with few options remaining, he ordered his army to return to Virginia.

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The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg resulted not only in Lee’s retreat to Virginia, but an end to the hopes of the Confederate States of America for independence.

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Worth Pondering…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain―that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

―Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

The Absolute Best Places to RV This June

There is nothing that compares to the freedom of the open road, especially when following it takes you to some of the most magnificent scenery and interesting places in the US

The longest day of the year! The first day of summer! And, for many, the last day of school!

June may not have any long weekends but it absolutely has the best lineup of unofficial days for celebration. This is when warm weather, blue skies, and blooming flowers all coincide, and when people rush outside—or around America­—to enjoy it. Festivals happen. Baseball happens. Let’s just say it: Magic happens.

In other words, June is the time for an RV trip before the busy tourist months of July and August. School’s out and summer is in full swing which means one thing—it’s time for a road trip in the RV.

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Read on to find the five absolutely best places to visit in June. And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in March, April, and May.

Wall Drug, South Dakota

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You begin to see signs for it about 1,000 miles before you arrive in South Dakota. They promise free ice water. Five-cent coffee! There are many, many finer restaurants in South Dakota, but none are as famous as the one in Wall Drug. It’s impossible to avoid the Badlands-bordering, 76,000 sq. ft. wonder of tourist-trapping randomness, so just go in. There’s ample RV parking.

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Hit the cafe and score a hot beef sandwich and a maple donut. It won’t hold a candle to the many, better food options in the state. But you will emerge with a “Where the Heck is Wall Drug” sticker. You will have chased that sandwich with a T. Rex viewing. And you’ll be happy you stopped every time you see a roadside Wall Drug sign every five minutes for the next 300 miles.

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One of the world’s most well-known tourist stops, it’s hard to believe Wall Drug Store got its start with something we wouldn’t even turn our heads at today…the promise of free ice water. But in fact, the Husteads turned free ice water into a million dollar idea with a little determination and quick thinking.

You will find $.05 coffee here. SERIOUSLY!

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Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

This site, perhaps the most famous of Civil War landmarks, provides not only the opportunity to visit hallowed ground that witnessed three brutal days of battle in 1863, but also to conduct in-depth research at the resource library about those who fought here, and elsewhere.

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Join one of many ranger-led or living history programs; drive the battlefield; and visit the David Wills House, where Lincoln put the finishing touches on his famous address. Round off the day by stopping for a quiet moment at Soldier’s National Cemetery, where the address was given and where the power of Lincoln’s words can still be felt today.

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Massachusetts

There are sports to be watched, history to be learned, and great food to be had in Boston, but it’s the boatloads (!) of quaint seaside towns that make Massachusetts such a gem. Amble around Cape Ann’s little fishing villages, where you can hang with lobstermen and chow down on some fresh-as-heck seafood.

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Boston, the state capital, is rich in history, culture, entertainment, and cuisine. The Freedom Trail winds through the city’s sites that played a key role in the American Revolution. South of Boston, Plimoth Plantation is one of Massachusetts’ four living history museums. It brings to life the arrival of the pilgrims and the Native American experience.

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Holmes County, Ohio

The Amish established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes.

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Along the byway you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.

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New Mexico

GREEN CHILE. Also red rock cliffs. And, sprawling mesas. The desert scenery here is absolutely breathtaking.

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D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

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The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

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Northern New Mexico boasts the mountains of Taos. And White Sands National Monument is one of the most distinct—and arresting—pieces of earth in the lower 48. And we’d be remiss to leave out Carlsbad Caverns, a collection of over 100 caves and one of the state’s top attractions.

Worth Pondering…

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.
—L.M. Montgomery

Memorial Day: Honoring Those Who Served Their Country

Memorial Day is a time to revisit the stories of those who gave their life for freedom and remember the significance of their actions

Each May, America commemorates those who have died while serving in the armed forces by organizing parades, picnics, and visits to cemeteries and national memorials across the country.

This Memorial Day, honor those brave men and women by exploring the country’s national parks, many of which are home to preserved historic sites, monuments, and memorials dedicated to celebrating military history.

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In an earlier post we commemorated the sacrifices made for a revolutionary idea by exploring some of the significant landmarks that witnessed the beginning of the new nation.

In today’s post we’ll dig a little deeper into American history and find a wealth of other national parks and programs throughout the U. S. that are equally exciting. This Memorial Day, take a moment to learn more about the incredible men and women who have fought for and supported America throughout its history.

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From the soldiers that fought in the Civil War to the men and women who sacrificed their lives during the Cold War, Memorial Day is a time to revisit the stories of those who gave their life for freedom and remember the significance of their actions. 

The American Civil War

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From 1861 to 1865, the American union was broken in a Civil War that remains a defining moment in America’s history. Its causes and consequences, including the continuing struggle for civil rights for all Americans, reverberate to this day. From the war’s outbreak at Fort Sumter, to the largest battle fought at Gettysburg, to the closing chapter at Appomattox Court House, more than 40 Civil War battlefields are preserved by the National Park Service.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

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The bloodiest battle of the civil war, which served as inspiration for Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, was fought on the beautiful grassy knolls of this Pennsylvania battlefield.

Start at the National Park Service Museum and walk the trails on foot or experience them on horseback. Complete your visit with a stop at Soldiers National Cemetery, the resting place for many Union soldiers as well as those who perished in all American wars since 1865.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia and Tennessee

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In 1863, Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Chattanooga, known as the “Gateway to the Deep South.” The Confederates were victorious at nearby Chickamauga in September. However, renewed fighting in Chattanooga that November provided Union troops victory and control of the city.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Virginia

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The American Indian Wars

During the late 19th century, as the United States sought to expand its territory further west, a policy of removing the American Indians from tribal lands was adopted. The resulting distrust and broken promises ultimately led to violence, and more than 1,500 armed conflicts were fought during the Indian wars. Today, the National Park Service preserves several of the battlefield sites of the Indian War and interprets its effect on native peoples and their cultures.

Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas

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Set in the rugged beauty of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is the best surviving example of an Indian Wars frontier military post and one of the best preserved Buffalo Soldier forts in the Southwest. Fort Davis is important in understanding the presence of African Americans in the West and in the frontier military.

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The Cold War

The nearly 50-year period of political and military tension between the Western world and communist countries known as the Cold War led to the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons by both sides. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site tells the story of these weapons that not only held the power to destroy civilization, but also served as a nuclear deterrent which maintained peace and prevented war.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota

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During the Cold War, a vast arsenal of nuclear missiles were placed in the Great Plains. Hidden in plain sight, for thirty years 1,000 missiles were kept on constant alert; hundreds remain today. The Minuteman Missile remains an iconic weapon in the American nuclear arsenal. It holds the power to destroy civilization, but is meant as a deterrent to maintain peace and prevent war.

This Memorial Day weekend take time to thank those who have served and protected America.

Worth Pondering…

Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

—John F. Kennedy