Well I saved my talk on Gettysburg for last because I did not know how to approach it. I decided that I can't, and it is impossible to do it justice without writing a whole book. Gettysburg is immense, and there is no way I can fully describe it. You will have to visit it and find out on your own. But here are a few of my thoughts. And a few interesting twists with Florida connections.
I just watched the movie "Gettysburg" after touring the park. The movie doesn't give the battle justice, and doesn't come close to describe everything that happened.
I visited Gettysburg on September 18th. This turned out to be perfect. The weather was beautiful. Breezy, with a little cool in the air; so much that I needed a light jacket in the morning. And crowds were not as bad as during summer.
Lee's big mistake was attacking Gettysburg from the beginning. If he had stayed in Virginia, he could have pressured the north to eventually seek an armistice, and peace. The result was that Lee's army was devastated from a loss they could never recover from. I am sure that people looked at it differently back then. And the outcome of the battle was not certain until the last day with Pickett's Charge. But looking back on it, it was a terrible defeat for the Confederates.
And then we know about the Gettysburg Address a few months later. I forgot to mention that the Union victory at Antietam encouraged Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. So it is quite interesting to tour Harper's Ferry, Antietam, and Gettysburg within a couple days. Some people will argue that the war was not about slavery. Well if it wasn't, it was certainly an underlying factor. Yes, there are many things that contributed to the war and caused it, but it would be impossible as well as intellectually mistaken to separate the issue of slavery.
Enough of that, now onto the park.
The new visitor center just opened (above). It is very good, arrived when it opened on a chilly morning, and spent two hours in it before hitting the street. Here you can buy the CD audio tour of the town and battlefield, which I recommend.
Here in the museum is Edward Everett.
He is a close relative of mine. The exhibit tells the story of him that my Grandma Everett told me years ago. Everett was also known as a great orator, and famous for his speeches. The day of the Gettysburg Address, Everett gave a two-hour speech before Lincoln. Everyone thought it was great, but nobody remembers a two-hour speech. Lincoln then gave his Gettysburg Address, and at the time, nobody was very impressed, and could not hear Lincoln because he was ill. The next day, Edward Everett took a copy of the speech to the newspapers and had it published, and then it became famous.
And the picture below is Lewis Powell.
About 15 years ago, this guy's skull was found in the Smithsonian, and they had a reburial of his remains in Geneva, Florida, near my parent's home. The burial ceremony had a lot of fanfare, reenactors, and parade with the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). My Mom sent me the newspaper clippings during that time. Lewis Powell was a Confederate from Florida who was wounded and captured at Gettysburg. He escaped, and became part of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. He was hanged at the age of 21 in late 1865. His head was put in the Smithsonian as part of their collection, and there it remained for about 125 years.
What I found out just recently, right after my Mom passed away, that Lewis Powell is also a close relative by marriage. It is ironic that Powell and Everett are related by marriage. I probably need to write the museum and tell them this.
Powell's niece was second wife to my great-great-grandfather Valentine Bock, who died in Fort Meade, Florida. Bock's daughter, Sarah Melinda Bock whom my Mom called Grandma Everett, wrote our family genealogy books from my Mother's side of the family, and never made mention that Val Bock got remarried after he divorced his first wife in Ocala around 1894. So it was quite a startling piece of information I found, and I just wish that my Mom were still alive, because she would have found it very interesting.
Also ironic is that where Val Bock died at Fort Meade, Florida (in 1913) is named after George Meade, commander of Union forces at Gettysburg. The Florida fort was named for Meade when he was down here during the Third Seminole War as an Army engineer.
Although the town of Gettysburg has changed over the last 145 years since the battle, they try to keep some of it the same. Some of the original farmhouses remain, and the fields. This field is where the Confederates started from Pickett's Charge, over a mile charge to assault the Union position on the other side.
Nearby is the state of Virginia monument. There must be thousands of monuments at Gettysburg, and the state monuments are the most impressive. (There is a Florida monument, but it is not so impressive--just a granite slab.)
Little Round Top is a rocky hill where some intense fighting happened the second day of the three-day battle. This is a statue to General Gouverneur Warren, who recognized that the Union position here was unprotected, and brought up troops to defend it. If he had not, the Confederates would have over-run the Union line, and the battle would have ended as a possible Confederate victory.
And of course the Pennsylvania Monument, the largest monument in the park.
The tour ends where Pickett's Charge ended. The scroll type monument in front of the cannons was where General Lewis Armistead fell.
A lot of people know about Lew Armistead, but not everyone knows that his uncle defended Fort McHenry from the British in the War of 1812. And less people know that his father Walker Keith Armistead, first graduate of West Point Military Academy, was commander of the forces in Florida in 1840-41 during the Second Seminole War. I am still trying to verify if young Ensign Lewis Armistead was at the Battle of Okeechobee in 1837.
I argued with one of the guides at Gettysburg that Lewis was expelled from West Point. It turns out that I was right! He was expelled in 1836 for breaking a dinner plate on the head of Jubal Early, who later also became a Confederate officer. Through his family's influence, Lewis gained a commission as a 2nd Lt. in the 6th Infantry in Florida in 1839.
Interesting enough, I also once worked with one of the Armistead family members in Orlando.