The battle has ended. Troops have retreated. The community is left to gather the wounded and return to their devastated farms, while a divided country mourns. That was the scene in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 150 years ago.
Flash forward to 2013 – last week, the NPS GETT 150th Commemoration battled heat, severe storms, and traffic to welcome visitors from all over the world to commemorate this poignant moment in our nation’s history.
An inspiring stage presentation, Gettysburg: A New Birth of Freedom, commenced the event. Country music artist Trace Adkins sang the National Anthem, and Charlie Gibson emceed. Superintendent Bob Kirby, Joanne Hanley, president Gettysburg Foundation, and NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis greeted the crowd of (8,000-10,000). Civil War historian Doris Kearns Goodwin provided the keynote address, followed by a multimedia mix of period images and eyewitness accounts of soldiers and citizens. A 21-gun Howitzer salute signaled a candlelight walk to the National Cemetery, led by the Army Old Guard, where luminaries marked 3,500 graves.
Throughout the week, visitors walked the battlefield from sunrise to sunset, hiking alongside rangers who explained the three-day battle – rangers sought out stumps and high points to reach the overflowing crowds. Park staff coordinated activities at Museum and Visitor Center, across the Park, and a Family Tent where thousands of children earned Junior Ranger status.
Visitors to the Pitzer Woods Confederate Camp and the Union Camp at the Pennsylvania Memorial, experienced soldier-life portrayed by park volunteers. Spectators strolled through rows of tents where soldiers slept on the ground, saw the wool uniforms they wore, smelled campfire cooking and musket shots, and listened to stories of the battles of the past. Excited children marched with the soldiers, and covered their ears at cannon blasts.
The afternoon of July 3rd was Pickett’s Charge, the last battle. Visitors were invited to fan out across the battlefield to commemorate the march; approximately 40,000 people participated. The Park and community provided shuttles to the Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge, and Union lines on Cemetery Ridge. Rangers led nine Confederate brigades on a mile walk to meet three Union divisions. When the sides met, twelve buglers positioned along the expanse of the line played echo-Taps.
As Gettysburg 150th anniversary concludes, thousands of spectators and participants head home with stories to tell for years to come. Whether it was their first visit to Gettysburg, or their hundredth, the memories of this week will live on into the future for the generations to come.
The GETT 150th was made possible because of the Park’s partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation, the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, the York-Adams Transportation Authority, Gettysburg College, Main Street Gettysburg, Borough of Gettysburg, Licensed Battlefield Guides, and other community partners.
By Tami Heilemann, Department of Interior photographer