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Gettysburg: The War 150 years later

June 21, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
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GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- —
Long lines of two armies — one gray, one blue — came face to face at this small crossroads town on July 1, 1863, sparking the Civil War’s greatest battle.

For three hot days, it raged, etching names like Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge into the national memory.

Waves of rebels beat against Union strongholds on high ground, fell back and surged forward again, leaving in their wake a sea  of carnage.

Sometimes, the two sides were so close, one soldier recalled, that hostile gun barrels almost touched.

It was the single largest military engagement fought on American soil, resulting in the triumph of North over South and marking a turning point of the Civil War.
But victory came with a huge price.

During the fighting, tons of artillery shells and an estimated seven million bullets had been fired, hitting everything on the field — trees, rocks, houses, barns, horses and men. The total estimated number of casualties surpassed 51,000.

When the battle ended, the once beautiful agricultural landscape was blanketed with bodies, Bibles and bayonets, as well as a stench of death so powerful, residents said it could be detected even five miles away.

“This place called Gettysburg shall surely live in Hell for all of eternity,” a surviving soldier wrote.

But on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the epic battle, this place called Gettysburg could not look more different.

Wildflowers blossom across open meadows, gimmicky attractions advertise themselves around town and the sacred ground where fierce fighting once took place is now an outdoor battle museum — Gettysburg National Military Park, encompassing almost 6,000 acres.

There are monuments, markers and memorials —at least 1,300 of them —that testify to the solemnity and significance of this confrontation. There also is a new visitor center that features state-of-the-art interpretive exhibits, artifacts and documents. And a short walk through the national cemetery, where thousands from both sides are buried, leads to the marked spot where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address.

A visit to the park is a hands-on history lesson that annually draws busloads of people from around the world.

However, in a matter of days, even more visitors will be making pilgrimages to this town as part of the milestone commemoration of one of the most significant battles of the Civil War.

While activities and programs are planned through 2013, “the actual commemorative period lasts 10 days, from June 28 through July 7,” said Allison Hagerman, media relations coordinator with the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Events will include battle re-enactments outside the park, lectures, living history programs, exhibitions, book signings and tours of the town and battlefield.

“Organizers are expecting about 200,000 people to visit Gettysburg over the course of the 10 days,” Hagerman said. “Gettysburg/Adams County is projecting about 4 million people will visit throughout this commemorative year, which is about one million more than is typical in any given year.”

According to the tourism office, most of the area’s 2,600 hotel rooms are booked and visitors are taking up rooms miles outside of the area.

The economic impart of the anniversary is expected to add $750 million to the local economy throughout 2013 — up from about $605 million in 2011, says the visitors bureau.

Planning for an event of this magnitude, doesn’t happen over night, Hagerman noted. Groups, individuals and organizations have been hard at work for a number of years to make the 10-day commemoration all-encompassing.

The Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, which has marked the battle anniversaries with re-enactments for the past 18 years, will hold its own event Thursday, July 4, through Sunday, July 7 at Redding Farm on Table Rock Road, just outside of Gettysburg. About 15,000 re-enactors are expected to participate.

The re-enactment will include at least two major battles each day, 135 cannons and more than 400 horses, as well as at least 700 living historians, who will provide an up-close look at the lives that soldiers led during the Civil War. There also will be an extensive sutler area.

For those unable to attend the event, “Battlecast” will bring the signature battle, Pickett’s Charge, live to a global audience via a pay-per-view webcast on Sunday, July 7, at 2:30 p.m. People will be able to watch the event on PCs, tablets or smart phones —technology that in 1863 would have been unimaginable. More information is available at www.gettysburgreen actment.com/spectators/live-battlecast.

At Gettysburg National Military Park, the 150 anniversary will be marked with a number of public events, including a ceremony on Sunday, June 30, that will feature readings by eyewitness accounts of the battle and the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner by country music artist Trace Adkins.

Around 9 p.m., the ceremony will move in a procession from Gen. George Meade’s headquarters to Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where 3,500 soldiers are buried. There, luminarias will mark the graves.

On July 3, the park will sponsor a commemorative march across the field of Pickett’s Charge, the battle that decimated Confederate ranks at Gettysburg. The march is open to the public and will be led by park rangers.

Many activities are being held throughout the town of Gettysburg, including tours of the historic Christ Lutheran Church and the 1776 Dobbin House. There will be concerts, art exhibitions and book signings at various locations.
While Hagerman noted that the battle anniversary will be observed throughout the year, yet another major gathering is planned this fall for the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which President Abraham Lincoln delivered at the dedication ceremony for Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

“The anniversary of the address will be marked on Tuesday, Nov. 19,” Hagerman said. “There will be events on that day, as well as the weekend after.”
A Remembrance Illumination will be held on Saturday, Nov. 23, and special tours of the National Cemetery will be offered both Saturday, Nov. 23, and Sunday, Nov. 24.

Hagerman said information on anniversary events for both the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address (Dedication Day) can be found at the visitors bureau website at www.gettysburg.travel.com or the National Park service site at www.nps.gov/gett and the Gettysburg Foundation at www.gettysburgfoundation.org.

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