Saturday, July 4, 2015


(minor revisions)
(originally published on July 4, 2013)

Lincoln coming to Gettysburg is as vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

Let's see, this is 2015 and Lincoln was last on the face of the earth in 1865.


I know, I know!

In fact Abraham Lincoln made the trek to the hallowed ground of this Pennsylvania hamlet on November 19, 1863 in order to deliver what now is known as his renown Gettysburg Address.

He came to Gettysburg to honor those who gave their last measure to ensure that the union of the states would be preserved.

But there was a second coming of Lincoln to Gettysburg probably in 1952; maybe 1953.

I was 10 years old at the time.

A former schoolmate of mine in recent days shared with me some of the details she recalled about Lincoln's second coming to Gettysburg.

She says that it was:
  • Entitled "Mr. Lincoln Goes to Gettysburg" and was sponsored by the Western Maryland Railroad in celebration of its 100th anniversary,
  • Staffed by townspeople (likely including myself as a "school child") in costume and participated in welcoming in the Lincoln re-enactment alongside professional actors and actresses brought in from New York City,
  • The participants were "wagoned" out to the Gettysburg National Ceremony to hear the Great Emancipator's famous speech.
What a memory to have carried with me all these years.

It is just one of many, many memories I carry with me of the first 18 years of my life lived out in this historic town.

I lived one-half block from this sacred field of battle.

As a child, the battlefield was my playground.

In the summer months, on many of a day we East Middle Street kids would collect at East Middle and East Confederate Avenue and repeatedly begin our adventures of traversing the sprawling 1863 battle site.

East Confederate Avenue was the starting point.

As a kid, I would stand at the corner of East Confederate and East Middle and let my imagination roam as cars came to a stop at the intersection stop sign before the out-of-towners began their historic battlefield tours.

The license plates were from all over America:  Colorado, New Hampshire, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, ... and on and on and on.

Would I some day get to these states to see them for myself, I wondered.

And indeed I have. Nearly all 50 of them.

My own children have taken my wife and I all over the country as well as international.   Though raised in Lake Township, they now are located in Virginia, Colorado and Oklahoma.  But their jobs have caused their relocations over the years to Georgia, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas and of course mom and dad have tagged along with periodic visits.

And, of course, on family vacations and holiday trips we have passed through and visited nearly all the rest of our United States.

On the battlefield itself I can remember as a adventuring kid reading the monuments (some 1,320 of them [LINK] erected on the field recounting the participation of all the then states of the nation in that contest to determine as to whether or not we were to be a United States or a Disunited States.

Over the summers of my youth, I daresay I took in each and every one of them.   Getting acquainted with those who gave so much to ensure that we would continue to be a United States of America.

A sampling:
  • 8th Illinois Cavalry Monument,
  • 1st Minnesota Infantry,
  • 13th Vermont Infantry, 
  • Oneida, New York Cavalry, 
  • Hampton's Battery F of the Pennsylvania Independent Light artillery,
  • 4th Michigan Infantry,
  • 17th Maine Infantry,
  • Irish Brigade,
  • 11th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment

There was no better place to rummage through than Devil's Den.  A massive formation of rocks which provided nests for Confederate sharp shooters from which to pick off attacking Union forces who held the high ground of Little Round Top.

For us kids, the attraction were various "rooms" we named the various rock formations as being "the Devil's bathtub," "the Devil's kitchen," and the like.

A favorite childhood stomping ground was Culp's Hill with its observation tower from which one can get a bird's eye view of the borough of Gettysburg and, of course, a panoramic of the countryside which encompassed Pickett's Charge, the Wheatfield, Meade's Headquarters, the High Water Mark of the Confederacy, Lee's Headquarters, Jeb Stuart and his high-riding, but late arriving cavalry and other marks, personages and events of conflict that were present on July 1, July 2 and July 3, 1863.

July 4, 1863 was a day of reflection on the consequences of the three preceding days of battle and a march into the future of the ongoing struggle to determine whether the land was to be two nations or one.

Childhood visitations to creeks which ran under "First Bridge," "Second Bridge," and "Third Bridge" on East Confederate Avenue on the way to "Spangler's Springs" (where Unionists and Confederates lay down their arms - as sort of a temporary "truce" site - to share the natural springs watering hole) were adventures in and of themselves on our summer day forays.

And how could I forget the haunted house on Seminary Ridge (the main abode of Confederate forces at Gettysburg) that our parents drove us by periodically after dark had fallen.  We kids would chatter among ourselves contributing various scenarios as to what had happened over the years for the house to become known as the haunted house.

On and on and on go the stories of my childhood of the numerous sites of Gettysburg battlefield day-trips which filled the summers of my youth.

We kids of Gettysburg of the 50s era knew that we had a privileged childhood in having the battlefield as our extended campground of adventure.

And we sensed a reverence and awe of those, who in all too many instances, gave the ultimate so that we could grow up in a United States of America.

While the Confederates were disunionists, they did demonstrate courage and determination for the cause they believed in.  It just was the wrong cause.

To borrow a few words from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, "it is fitting and proper" that we Americans in 2013 take time at the 150 anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg to celebrate the fact that the Union victory at Gettysburg was the "turning point" in the civil war on the march towards the union enduring and America becoming the most successful experiment in democracy that the world has ever seen.

As a native child of Gettysburg, I shall ever treasure having had a childhood and ensuing growing up years to absorb the significance of the sacrifice made in the town and on the surrounding fields to ensure that we would be a united people.  A union that has turned out to be a light to the nations of the world as a beacon of democratic-republicanism.

U.S. presidents have visited historical Gettysburg.  None was more meaningful to me than John F. Kennedy's (LINK) visit on March 30, 1963 (mere months before the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg).

Particularly meaningful to me because the toured the national shrine under the guidance (a licensed guide) of my 11th grade American History teacher Mett Sheads here pictured with the 35th president.

Sheads was the inspiration for me to continue my education beyond high school onto post-graduate work.

It has been point of pride with we native Gettysburgians that Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th U.S. president, chose to buy a farm right outside our town in 1955 (my seventh grade year) and make it his retirement home in 1961.  (LINK)

In all 24 presidents of the "United States" have been to Gettysburg (LINK1) (LINK2) beginning with Washington.

In fact, during the Eisenhower administration, Gettysburg served as a "temporary White House" for a recuperating president.

This nexus underscores the reality that the small town of some 7,000 residents is an important cog of our national identity of being united notwithstanding our history of cultural diversity.

On this fourth of July we celebrate our birth as an independent democratic-republic with a sense of purpose to remain united in making the world a better place for all of us to live in.

Living in Gettysburg as a child into young adulthood was indeed a rich experience.

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