One of the most read blog posts so far was Cortney’s Mother’s Day post. And for good reason, it was great! I thought about writing a post for Father’s Day, but I could not compete, so I left it alone. I have thought about my dad many times along this adventure, his life and how he lived; he was always up for fun and was a huge encouragement for us hitting the road. Watching his battle with cancer leave retirement dreams unfulfilled has helped us learn to experience and enjoy each day we are given. My dad was a lover of history and in particular American history. I think his favorite, most read about event in history was the Civil War.
So when in early June we had the opportunity to visit some Civil War battlegrounds I was excited to see these historical places my dad and I had shared a love of learning about. I sure did miss my dad and wish that I could have visited these places with him before he passed away or pick up the phone and talk about what we had seen. The two battlegrounds I will spotlight this month are Antietam and Gettysburg.
I first visited Antietam; this one I did alone. Cortney and the kids stayed back at the hotel and enjoyed a beautiful day the pool. A well deserved taste of civilization and a pool, which the kids have not experienced in months. Hadley & Nolan have caught on to this road-schooling and being typical kids they now ask when we head out on an adventure if it is going to be about history. In Hadley’s own words, “We are historied out!” I was very impressed that they were willing to learn about the Civil War that day by the pool, indulging in one of their favorite chapter books series; The Magic Treehouse.
I did not quite know what to expect going to Antietam, as my knowledge of the battle was rusty. It has been some time since I cracked open a text book on the subject and though recently I have viewed Ken Burn’s The Civil War, all the information I have received over the years had become co-mingled together. Nonetheless, off I went, stopping first at the battlefields visitor’s center. I partook in the short 15 minute film, recounting the one day battle of Antietam. Afterwards, I went outside and stood and overlooked the vast majority of the battlefield. I had visited Fort Sumter in Charleston; but this was different. This was a site, where men had died in a fierce close range battle of heavy artillery and rifles. The sacrifice and bravery of the soldiers comes to mind when you gaze out at the landscape.
I won’t bore you here with all the details of the battle. If you want to do that, head on over to Wikipedia and read the article. What I will say about the battle itself, is that there were some interesting facts that stuck out to me: 1) It was the deadliest one day battle in all American history, 2) It was the first battle during the Civil War in which photographs were taken shortly after and published – a shocking thing for the people of America – nothing they had experienced before in print, and 3) Shortly after the battle, President Lincoln visited Gen. McClellan to discuss many things I am sure – but it was the photograph taken that got my attention, which I was familiar with, but had never put together that it was taken at Antietam just a couple of weeks following the battle.
There was a very cool observation tower at Antietam that really reminded me of my dad. He was not one for heights and I just got to laughing to myself, as I climbed up the tower to view the battlefield from a grander perspective.
I spent a few hours at the battlefield, checking out the cornfields, the monuments dedicated to the different states that were represented at Antietam, and the infamous Burnside Bridge. All the while enjoying the spots my dad would have loved. Again I laughed to myself, as my dad would have been reading e-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e historical placard and the time spent at Antietam would have been at least twice as long! And Cortney thinks I spend a lot of time reading the signs; she has no idea!
The following day, we visited Gettysburg together as a family. We started the day at the visitors center, where we watched a film on the three day battle, then we experienced the painting entitled “Battle of Gettysburg” which is actually a very large and impressive cyclorama of Picket’s charge. I had no idea going into the viewing area what this was – but it was nothing short of amazing. The detail of the painting was awesome, truly an experience – so very difficult to describe; static pictures can not do it justice.
Following the visitors center, we began our driving tour of Gettysburg. We hit up places like Little Round Top and Seminary Ridge. Again, this is another Civil War battle I won’t bore you of the details when you can consume as little or as much as you want over at Wikipedia.
When I walked parts of the two battlefields (we drove most of them – we are not lazy, these are just large places) and viewed the seemingly peaceful cornfields, woods, farmland, hilltops and historical fields – there is a feeling that overcomes you that is difficult to describe. If ever the chance to visit either Antietam, Gettysburg, or any other Civil War battlefield, please do so, as I am guessing you will feel it too and it is something awe-inspiring. What incredible sacrifices were made to preserve the future of our nation.
After our driving tour (mind you – it was 94 degrees out and the A/C in our car doesn’t work) we asked the kids what they thought. Hadley said, “It wasn’t fun!” I told her, “Well, that’s okay, it is a battlefield, it is not supposed to be fun.” The heat was helpful in giving us a very small taste of the plight and sacrifice these brave men made. So when you go, don’t expect it to be ‘fun’; but do expect it to be memorable and humbling. And if you do go when it is 94 degrees out be sure to stop in town afterwards for ice cream as we did!
As we celebrate the Independence of our Nation this week, we are grateful to have visited the Battlefield of Yorktown, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and many places in The South and in-between where tremendous sacrifices were made to give us the freedom we have today. Thanks for reading –
Just Happy To Be Here – miss you Dad – thanks for my love of history passed down,