Over the Christmas holiday, my brother Phil – a Captain in the USMC – and his wife will be visiting from North Carolina. We’ve wanted to do an extensive tour of Gettysburg together for a while. During this visit, we’re finally going to do it.
You may think that winter is a bad time to go touring around a battlefield, but at least in the case of Gettysburg, it’s my favorite time of year. For one thing, there are NO crowds. Even at the “touristy” parts of the field like Little Round Top, you practically have the place to yourself. If you’re doing any walking around on the field, you also don’t have insects like gnats or ticks, or the ever-oppressive sun to deal with. Further, there are clear views of the terrain since the underbrush (which would not have been present at the time of the battle) has lost all of its leaves.
It should be a good time. Apart from sharing my passion with Phil, I’m really interested to see the field through the eyes of a modern infantryman. Hopefully, he’ll come with some good questions and I can really test my knowledge of 19th century tactics and how things would be different (and similar) today.
To get ready, I’ve been reading through the U.S. Army War College guide to the battle. Their suggested tour has quite a few more stops than my normal one, but I wanted to see how they portray the events for a military audience, so that I can make sure I don’t skip over anything that may be of interest to Phil. The book itself is really dry – even for being a work of military history. It’s basically just a collection of maps and quotes from the official records.
But there was at least one thing that caught my attention. In the “How to Use This Book” section, there’s a quote from George Macauley Trevelyan that really speaks to me:
The skilled game of identifying positions on a battlefield innocent of guides, where one must make out everything for oneself – best of all if one has never done it properly before – is almost the greatest of out-door intellectual pleasures.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, sir.