It is almost impossible to comprehend the fact that 150 years ago today, the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was still rebuilding itself from the destruction, death, and decay that resulted from the climactic battle between the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on July 1-3, 1863. I must say that it was a tremendous honor to have worked with the National Park Service so far this summer and I look forward to the rest of it. Without a doubt, the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was my true test of the summer, and it was an extremely rewarding and, at times, trying experience. To describe the events that took place during the anniversary, I suppose I should start from the beginning.
The anniversary officially kicked off on June 30th, when throughout the day, the NPS and Gettysburg Foundation staff began to receive the mass amounts of the visitors that were flooding the town. While most of the permanent staff members began their anniversary programs with specific key moment stations, I was still assigned to my normal schedule, which for that Sunday included giving my 10:30 a.m. Third Day Program, which is basically a walking tour of the High Water Mark at the Angle on Cemetery Ridge. I had my biggest group yet of over forty-five people and it was extremely well received by them, especially those who were visiting Gettysburg for the first time. The big climax to the 30th was the commemorative kickoff at Meade’s Headquarters in the evening, where the U.S. Army Brass Band was accompanied by a 21 gun salute from howitzers.
On July 1st, people who weren’t already in Gettysburg began to flood in by the tens of thousands. I woke up to the sounds of cannons going off by the Pennsylvania Monument for the firing demonstrations. I was assigned to Cemetery Hill for most of the day, educating people about where the Union 1st and 11th Corps fell back to after being pushed back through the streets of Gettysburg on July 1st, 1863. After that, I made my way to the Voices Program where the living historians read the actual correspondence of the soldiers and civilians who witnessed July 1st, 1863 on both the Union and Confederate perspectives. I would do the Voices Program for July 2nd and 3rd. On the 2nd, my day actually progressed pretty slowly because I was at Spangler’s Spring for most of the day because everyone in large crowds were flocking to Little Round Top and the vicinity. Because Spangler’s Spring is at the base of Culp’s Hill, people began to flock in around 6:30 when the fighting around there was beginning to pick up on July 2nd, 1863. By then, I was at the Voices Program and that’s how I ended my day.
July 3rd was the biggest day of the anniversary because of Pickett’s Charge and it was estimated that around 30,000 people were flooding the fields of Seminary and Cemetery Ridge. I once again woke up to the sound of cannon fire coming from the Union reenactment batteries. I reported to my Key Moment Station at the Doubleday sector of the line where I answered a flood of questions from eager visitors as to where the First Annual Commemorative Walk would begin. When that event finally kicked off, it was such an amazing sight to see over 12,000 to 15,000 tourists and park rangers step off from the woods of Seminary Ridge and begin to cross the fields towards Cemetery Ridge. Where I was standing in front of the Codori Farm, it was almost a remarkable phenomenon to hear nothing but the wind, the faint rebel yell in the distant, and the loud boom of the Union guns. This was perhaps the highlight of my day which ended with Taps being played down the Union line. I ended my day at the Voices Program, and was surprised by a visit from my parents.
On July 4th, 1863, I went to the Slyder Farm to talk about their story as civilian farmers during the battle of Gettysburg, and then in the afternoon, I was stationed at Meade’s Headquarters where I helped talk about the Prisoners’ Story in the aftermath of the battle. The highlight of this particular Independence Day was me actually participating in the final evening of the Voices Program as a Gettysburg civilian, reading actual memoirs, and reciting the Gettysburg Address. In the end, just to have worked for the NPS staff during the 150th Anniversary is truly an unforgettable experience.