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Chapelgate Tour of Gettysburg

Last weekend, my church held a men’s retreat in Gettysburg, PA. Once that location was chosen, my pastor brought me in to the planning process with the idea that I’d lead a tour of the battlefield as a free time option for the men who were attending. While I was really excited about that part, the experience turned out to be so much more.

Our speaker for the retreat, Drew Derreth, gave some fantastic insights on the struggles we face as men. In many ways, he led us in sort of an “anti-men’s retreat”. We focused not on how to be big manly, go-get-’em men, but on how to acknowledge that none of us is really capable of being as strong as we’d like to be, and that we should embrace the path of weakness, humility, and grace.

Since the entire group would not be going on my tour, it was suggested that I give a quick “5 Minutes of Civil War History” talk at the beginning of each of Drew’s sessions, so that everyone would get a sense for the history that surrounded us in Gettysburg. I threw together some Keynote slides on three topics:

  1. What Brought the Armies to Gettysburg
  2. Major General Daniel E. Sickles
  3. Gettysburg Aftermath

The talks were well-received by the guys, and brought questions immediately after the sessions, so they worked as a nice ice-breaker for me with some of the guys I didn’t know at the church.

It was also super cool that one of the guys, Ken – a Civil War re-enactor – brought some of his artifacts along so there was some actual, tangible history in the room. That extra touch really brought it home in my opinion.

The tour took place on Saturday afternoon, and was scheduled as a 3-hour excursion during our free time. After a quick lunch at the always-awesome Tommy’s Pizza, we rolled out to the first day’s battlefield, and everyone got a hand-out with the list of stops and some maps for reference.

At the outset, I was a little nervous. This was the largest group I’d ever been with at Gettysburg, and the spotlight was entirely on me. I was the expert. But the tour went really well. It was an absolutely beautiful day, so the numerous photographers in the group had terrific conditions to capture the scenery and the monuments. Steve even got a great shot of the group at end of the tour:

Explaining the artillery barrage leading up to Pickett's Charge.

Explaining the artillery barrage leading up to Pickett’s Charge. Photo by Steve Dallwig

As much as I love being in Gettysburg and sharing the history surrounding that little town with other people, last weekend was about so much more than that. Even though I’ve been going to Chapelgate church services for several years with my wife, and have become really close with many of the staff members there, I haven’t really felt like I was part of the “community” until last weekend. We have a great group of men who really embraced me as one of their own, and I’m very thankful for that.

Eastern Shore Tour

My wife and I were invited to a wedding on Kent Island this past Saturday (congratulations Brian and Jane!) In fact, we were more than invited – my wife Ruth was asked to be a bridesmaid for her friend Jane.

The ceremony wasn’t until 6:30pm, but Ruth had to be on the island at 9:30am to start doing hair, makeup, dresses, and photos. I wasn’t too interested in going back home only to return a few hours later, so I decided to poke around the eastern shore for a little while looking for historically-interesting sites. I had a few things in mind that I wanted to see, and I put my faith in the HMDB and my iPhone to guide me to other ones.

I’m going to do a few posts about what I found, but I wanted to start with what I didn’t find, but was hoping to.

The Area I Was Exploring

The Area I Was Exploring

As I learned from Maryland, A Middle Temperament, Kent Island was the site of the first permanent English settlement in what is now Maryland in 1631. That pre-dates St. Mary’s City by about 3 years. The reason I said “what is now Maryland” above, is because the man who settled the island, William Claiborne, was actually trying to claim it for our southern rival, Virginia. After several armed interventions, and the island consequently changing hands several times, it was eventually made part of Maryland.

I was hoping that there would be something on the island to tell that story, but if there is, I couldn’t find it. There’s a single marker along route 50 (that everyone going to Ocean City drives right past), but it only gives a sentence worth of information. There is a better one just a little bit off the main road across the island. But there is no museum. There is no marker at the spot of Claiborne’s 4-gun fort (let alone a re-creation of it – which I honestly didn’t expect). It’s a little disappointing for a site that is so important to the history of our state. You’d like to be able to see that ground without having to do a bunch of research to figure out exactly where it is.

Kent Island has plenty to offer – there’s bars and restaurants, antique shops, beautiful views, and wedding venues obviously. There just wasn’t a lot of easily-accessible history for people like me who want to find it. This is a theme I discovered in my travels on Saturday. While there is plenty of rich history to be found over there, it seems like the eastern shore of Maryland is content with being a farming community that only incidentally houses gas stations and restaurants that people use as stops on the way to the beach.

Come to think of it, that’s probably more an indictment of the beach-going crowd than it is of the residents of the eastern shore.

Either way, I’ll show what I did find in a series of posts to follow.

Trips to Gettysburg

It’s no secret that I’m a huge nerd for Gettysburg. I go up whenever I can.

I haven’t been going with my regular frequency since our son, John has been born though. You aren’t really supposed to take a newborn out too much, and it’s been kind of a lot of work to take him places. I’ve been missing it up there.

So when my friend John (not my son, John) suggested going up for the day a few weeks ago while Ruth was at work, I got excited. Little John is old enough to be out in the world now, and we recently bought a minivan so taking him places is much less of a production now. Ruth was even fine with it! We were going to Gettysburg!

First trip to Gettysburg!

First trip to Gettysburg!

Once we got into town, we hit the newly-bare and reopened Powers Hill (which none of us had ever visited), and then we went cruising around the field. At some point, the visit turned into a quest to find different pieces of artillery. We hit all the unique pieces that I knew of off the top of my head, including the only intact 6-pounder on the field (pictured above), and the little-visited Jones Ave. and Benner’s Hill. We even took a side-trip over to Hanover, PA to see 10-pounder Parrot No. 1 (which it turns out, wasn’t the first one produced).

We had such a great time doing it, that as soon as we got home, Big John and I started going through books and websites learning all we could about the guns on display at Gettysburg. As is usually the case, we found things that we missed, but REALLY wanted to see. Last Saturday, we made a return trip, this time with Big John’s girlfriend, Jess.

Daddy and his boy on McPherson's Ridge.

Daddy and his boy on McPherson’s Ridge.

We got some more artillery nerdery in (which I will post further about later), and gave Jess a basic overview of the battle. It’s always nice to go up there with a new set of eyes – it makes me question my assumptions and tighten up my story of the battle for the eventual day when I decide that I don’t really care about money and start guiding.

One a "James", the other a John. Both 14-pounders.

One a “James”, the other a John. Both 14-pounders.

These are the first of many memories that I want to make with Little John. Not just at Gettysburg, but chasing history and learning whatever we can, wherever we are. Learning is a life-long process that happens away from a school and without tests most of the time. I want John to really understand that, and I look forward to our future adventures.

Maybe mom can come along, too.

A Quick Plug….

I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to my old friend, Laura.

We used to work together at AQ way back in the day, and thanks to the magic of things like LiveJournal, Facebook, and Twitter, have been able to keep in touch through the years. She’s a cool person.

She too, has a blog and she’s very involved in 2nd Amendment issues (an area that is close to my heart as well). Go give her a read!