Gettysburg – Does it Still Matter? (Again)

We’ve hit the one year mark for Gettysburg National Military Park’s blogs and altogether it has been amazingly rewarding experience for the park staff.  To date we have had more than 70,000 blog viewers for “From the Fields of Gettysburg,” and we have a growing audience for “The Gettysburg School Bus: The Civil War in the Classroom” as well.  Since we didn’t have many readers in early April 2011, I am reposting my for blog, “Does it still Matter?”  Enjoy, and thanks for being there…

Katie Lawhon

After 17 years of answering questions, taking calls from visitors and reporters, and acting as the unofficial complaint department for Gettysburg National Military Park, I still get that feeling.  You know the one, where in the middle of talking to somebody, say a visitor or a travel writer, about a soldier or a regiment – going over the story like you have so many times before – you find your voice cracking and you think (or I do at least):  Glad I’m on the phone, and they can’t see that this is actually choking me up! 

Why is it that the stories of Gettysburg have so much power and passion?  How can so many people from all over the country – the world even, have such strong feeling for these 6,000 acres?  The best stories from Gettysburg will never get tired and old.  We all have Gettysburg moments we carry with us.  They can be terrifying, inspiring, and even, on rare occasions, consoling.  William Faulkner described just such a moment in Intruder in the Dust.  Where every southern boy has an instant, a freeze frame that is his very own .…  It’s Pickett’s men just before the charge. 

We have these images.  We carry them around and unfurl them when it’s quiet. 

Gettysburg moments come to us from the pages of books and other places. They jump at us from stories told by Park Rangers and Licensed Battlefield Guides.  We inherit them from our families.  The great, great grandfather wounded in the Wheatfield, but recovered.  His cousin lost, nobody knows where.  The quilt that your great aunt shows you that she says he once owned.

Sometimes I tell some of these stories to my family.  To see if I can make my laughing nephews quiet down and think.  Make a few sisters’ eyes well up.  A small note or two.  Maybe the two sides of Confederate General Armistead: one who expresses regret as he fell at the Angle, and the other Armistead, close to death, who pulls raw corn from his pocket and tells the Union doctor treating his fatal wounds, “Men who can subsist on raw corn can never be whipped.”

The numbers:  When the armies left Gettysburg the dead and wounded outnumbered the living eleven to one.

The images:  Street fighting and the barricades in town.  The panic of citizens on rooftops who watched with curiosity one minute and fled the next as they realized the fight was huge, unpredictable, and out of control.

How do we pass these stories on to the people in our lives who don’t yet seem to care or want to pay attention?  More importantly, how do we preserve our battlefield – all our battlefields – unless we make them relevant to the ones who are young, and who will be paying the taxes and the bills when we’ve passed on?

Here at Gettysburg National Military Park, we have the stories and we have to keep telling them.  Maybe a blog will help capture new audiences and new visitors?  We’ll try.  I will be posting again in two weeks.  Until then, let me leave you with this passage from William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust:

“For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once, but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances…”

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant

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6 Responses to Gettysburg – Does it Still Matter? (Again)

  1. Mark Pickett-Amarillo, TX says:

    I like these Gettysburg Facebook sites. I have been to Gettysburg 4 times. I’m coming for the 150th anniversary. With these sites, it’s like I can go to Gettysburg everyday. I also like the “name the battlefield” pictures. I can’t wait to see the results of all the efforts to return the battlefield to it’s 1863 appearance.

  2. William Richardson says:

    Yes Gettysburg, and this blog still matters. They will always matter. I want to thank you and everyone involved in this blog. It provides me and many others with a way to keep in touch with the City of Gettysburg, and Gettysburg the Battlefield. For we, the many that live hundred’s of miles away and can not simply walk out our door and onto the Battlefield, I praise you for a job well done.

  3. William Kreider says:

    “How do we pass these stories on to the people in our lives who don’t yet seem to care or want to pay attention?”
    While I don’t have the perfect answer, I can relate how it is that I care. Over 35 years ago, when I was a little boy, my grandfather would take me to Gettysburg about once a year. We have no relatives who fought there, but he had a love for history and a deep respect for all that was done at that battle. As a little boy, I caught that love and that respect, and I carry them with me. All these years later, I think I can safely say that my son, nearly twenty, has caught that same love and respect from my grandfather through me.
    It may be a lot slower, and it only works one person at a time, but it seems to me that one of the most effective ways to pass on the stories is from an elder relative to a child.

  4. Marian says:

    I have been coming back to Gettysburg for several years now…and thanks to my son who has helped me appreciate the history there…as I didn’t get it at first…now though its the Park Rangers who have made a tremendous effect on me and how I feel abt the history at Gettysburg…I cannot get enough of it…Each & every ranger that I have had the pleasure of meeting and doing a tour with have been incredible…their passion for the stories never cease to amaze me ! I will be there in June to remember the 150th year anniv and I have no doubt I will once again be in awe of the stories that will be shared. So you ask does Gettysburg matter….my reply is more than ever now ! Thanks for your hard work…keep up the great job NPS !!

  5. steven1863 says:

    Thank you for your passion and resulting great work. You are in a rare and unique opportunity to touch many with a tremendous treasure of our country, thankfully, you realize the opportunity, and do not waste it. We are all better for it!

  6. steven1863 says:

    Katie,

    “You and your fellow park rangers are in a unique place, and a critical role to tell
    the ever important story to so many near and
    far, of the historic battle. We are blessed that given that unique spot, you have dedicated your life’s work to this important cause and you take it serious. For this, I / we are forever greatful. Your audience is bigger than you think and your impact is greater than you know.

    Thanks for all you do! “

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