Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 3: Gettysburg's 150th Anniversary

We spent the third day of our vacation at Gettysburg National Military Park. I had heard some horror stories from some of the rangers at Antietam about the traffic into Gettysburg, so I doubled the 45 minute travel time estimate to get from our hotel in Frederick, Maryland, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Turns out we had no traffic whatsoever, so we were at Gettysburg nice and early, and even managed to park on site at the park, and not in their satellite spots. Score!

Alex has been obsessed with the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln since kindergarten, and it was with him in mind that the roots of this trip formed. Originally, I was going to make DC a spring break week-long trip. Then I decided I needed to add in Williamsburg, since it was on my travel bucket list. Then I decided to add in Gettysburg, to make Alex happy. And when I realized that Gettysburg was celebrating its 150th anniversary July 1-3, 2013, well, it just seemed like fate that we were supposed to be there then, and that we needed to take more time to properly see things. thus, our two week summer vacation was born.

There were huge events also taking place on either three days of the three anniversary dates, but most of these were offsite since they don't allow re-enactments on the actual battle grounds. Plus, the big family friendly events were July 1-3. July 1 also has special meaning for me, since its the day I lost my father. I decided Dad would approve of us spending the day at Gettysburg, so July 1 it was.

First up, instead of a movie to watch, Gettysburg has a diorama that tells the story and lights up. I'm not quite sure how best to describe it, but it was cool to watch. You have to stand the whole time, and of course, on our day there, it was horribly crowded and busy. I tend to think I might have preferred a film, frankly. But the kids liked it. I took a picture of it afterwards when the lights were up. After we watched the diorama, we headed into the museum in the Visitor's Center. Its a great museum, and it has several different small films you can watch.

Next. we headed outside to the Family Activities Tent.

There were lots of things to do inside the tent, like join the infantry...

Feel the inside of a musket...

And the curvatures of the bullets that go inside the musket.

Play some of the games and musical instruments like the Gettysburg soldiers did, when they weren't fighting the battle.

And, of course, we found the costumes. Like Lincoln's hat...

A Union soldier...

And the shirts worn by the soldiers.

Also - there were LOTS of people in costume here this day, and not just the rangers.

I had no problem asking random strangers to pose for pictures with my kids.

Kind of like Disney World characters

But, better, since we got to meet Mary Todd Lincoln herself.

They had a special Junior Ranger Program going on for the kids in honor of the 150th anniversary, and Alex's was a lot of work. Most of the ranger programs are age-specific. Ryan does a lot of word searches and picture drawing, for instance. But Alex's get detailed and complicated.

And he had to do a significant amount of research inside the museum, which we had already been through. Sigh... Still - we enjoyed ourselves, and we learned quite a bit more about the people involved with the battle by going through the museum on a scavenger hunt to answer questions about the battle, such as that the South's big loss at Little Round Top in Gettysburg was due to an incorrect report to Robert E. Lee by Captain Samuel Johnston that there were no Union troops on the mountain. Its believed that Lee's belief he could easily take Little Round Top set in chain the series of events that caused the Confederacy to lose this battle, and, one can argue, the Civil War. Johnston reported seeing no troops during his three hour scout, and yet, 18,000 Union soldiers were there, waiting.You can read more about it here, but I found this tidbit fascinating.

Finally, we were done with our work, and able to hand in our Junior Ranger booklets. And instead of the plastique pin we received at Antietam (and many other places on the trip to come), the boys got these super cool special edition 150th Gettysburg patches. Team Danger LOVES their bling!

We had bought tickets for a 2pm Battlefield Tour with one of the licensed Battlefield Guides when we first arrived. The traffic was such that it was recommended you not drive yourself around the battlefields. Carl and I really enjoyed the tour. It was two hours long, so for a big chunk of it, it was also known as Ryan's nap time.

Before our tour started, we killed some time in the gift shop. Alex really wanted a big toy rifle that a lot of kids were carrying around. Problem was, it was almost as tall as he was, and thus not likely to fit into our suitcases. And the TSA is just a wee bit picky about replica and toy weapons going on board its aircraft. So he made do with a little gun, and Ryan picked up a sword. I also bought them each one hat, and they both picked the Union hats. I loved our hat wear over the trip. And I really loved that Alex loved his hats as much as he did. Best $8 purchase of the trip, in my opinion, because now I have hundreds of civil war photos where my kids are wearing these hats.

There were lots of special events at most of the battlefield spots, which meant... more people in costume. This made me soooo happy. Almost as happy as if I had my own costume on.

Loved the views from Little Round Top.

Our tour didn't stop everywhere we wanted to visit, so we did backtrack to a few places we really wanted
to see, like the cemetery where Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address.

And the train station Lincoln arrived at when he came to give his famous speech.

Finally, we decided to eat dinner in town, and picked the Lincoln Diner for the evening. The food wasn't anything spectacular - its a diner, after all. But we loved the atmosphere.

And visiting more spots in the town, which was all decked up for the 150th event.

Or the 4th of July.

We'll just call it Americana, at its best.

Added bonus: more costumed folks.

Oh, and speaking of Gettysburg - they had this poster displayed just for me while we were there. How totally perfect!!

Finally, one last note about the weather. Our entire drive from the hotel to Gettysburg, it POURED buckets of rain down on us. I didn't have an alternate rain plan for the day. Skipping Gettysburg was not an option, in my mind. We might not spend a long amount of time here if it was raining, but we were still going, no matter what. Carl was sulking and making all sorts of disagreement noises, but I insisted we forward on. About five minutes before we arrived at the battlefield, the rain stopped. You can see in pictures like the one below that the clouds were threatening us throughout the day with more rain. But this was my special day, one of the days that I knew my father can absolutely hear me, and he definitely helped someone up there make sure that the rain held off for us.

Thanks, Daddy.

Day 1: Blackbirds, Canals and Poison Ivy
Day 2: Antietam and Monocacy National Battlefields
Day 3: Gettysburg's 150th Anniversary

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