“Right face! Left face! About face! FORWARD MARCH!” The booming voice of my fourth grade teacher shouted across our playground, making sure that we had learned the army commands that he had been drilling into our minds for the past week. We, as a class, were preparing for our reenactment of Pickett’s Charge that was scheduled to happen the next day. As we marched through the dewy field, through the infamous fence, our teacher was explaining in full detail what was occurring around us so that we could appreciate the full magnitude of what occurred that day. Most of us “died” during that march, and I came home that day with my first impression of how the Civil War affected so many people, and that has stayed with me ever since.
Growing up in Gettysburg, I have always been familiar with the battlefields and history that surrounds them. My family has gone on picnics, watched fireworks and just simply walked on our battlefields for as long as I can remember. I, personally, take battlefield roads to my school every morning, so these battlefields are just as normal to us as town streets are to everyone else. My father works at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, on Seminary Hill, which still has buildings that were standing during the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. Though we live in an extremely historically rich area, we just know it as home.
As I have continued to live here I have come to appreciate the history more and more each year. I recently took a trip to the new Visitor’s Center and was absolutely amazed at what it had become. From artifacts, to letters, to full dioramas of a common camp site, it was a greatly improved center. I especially enjoy reading letters, and it was my proximity to this historical town that sparked that love in me. There is nothing, in my opinion, which better portrays the true dimensions, feelings, pains, and triumphs of an event, than what is depicted in a letter. Normally written to a wife or other family member, by soldiers, these letters show the writer’s vulnerable side which is where people are the most honest. History books can only portray so much, and documents like letters, autobiographies, and speeches are much more effective at bringing true history to life.
The Civil War, while less discussed than many other wars, is extremely important to continue to appreciate and study. This war is what has shaped our country into what it has become today. Though I have lived here in Gettysburg for most of my life, I continue to learn more and more about it through reading and exploring new museums and exhibits. Despite all of the history, battlefields, reenactments, and museums, there is one thing that I love most about living here in Gettysburg. I love it when a family walks up to ask, “Where is the battlefield?” I then simply reply, “all around you,” and walk away with a smile.