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Gettysburg still has lessons to teach us all

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:50 PM

This is not Disney World.

Nothing here moves or sings or lights up; there are no life-sized cartoon characters, no themed restaurants or thrilling, beautifully executed rides.

There are only stone monuments, grass and vast silences.

The silences are despite the numbers of people who mill and drive and march these streets and fields.

In 1863, approximately 165,000 American soldiers fought in terrible heat and fear on July 1, 2 and 3. It was an accident that forces under Gen. Lee collided with forces under Gen. Meade in a thriving, bustling small town called Gettysburg. Although the Civil War would limp along for two more years, after this battle, the Confederacy was broken not in spirit but in fact.

The United States was a new idea then. In relative terms, it is still.

Not everyone was of one mind.

The Northern states; and President Abraham Lincoln, disagreed about economic matters with the Southern states. The president's desire for the practice of slavery to be confined, rather than spread with the westward expansion of the country, wasn't the primary issue, but it was a big one.

Today, 144 years later nearly to the day Americans are not quite so divided as when the battle took place.

But there is full as much hate and disdain.

The town is crowded.

It's crowded with families on vacation, wearing baseball caps from Florida and T-shirts from Tennessee. There are grandparents from Indiana, moms from Massachusetts and Montreal. There are families of every age and color, with young children and with teenagers. They've come to see a place where more American lives were lost in a single battle than in any other battle fought in North America.

Today, nearly 2 million visitors come to south central Pennsylvania each year, to stand in the places familiar to grandparents and grandchildren,

As schoolchildren, we all learned from history books about Gettysburg-more famous than Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville or Antietam Creek.

At Gettysburg, we may not recognize by name, for example, the Codori Farm; but we have heard of Pickett's Charge. It began at this farm. More than 12,000 soldiers advanced across an open field toward a small ridge that looks larger and more ominous as you approach it on foot.

Of the 12,000 who walked out that day, more than 5,000 died. More than one of the most stirring moments in American history, it was one of the last times that war was fought in the classic European tradition, up close and on foot and horseback.

There were sniper battles and guerilla warfare in the Civil War, as in the American Revolution. But on both sides, the ideal of gallantry was part of the conduct of battle. For this reason, my late husband was obsessed with the Civil War, as are so many.

Commanders led their troops into battle - with the exception of the supreme commanders.

Many of them were wounded. Some died.

In fact, the so-called savior of Gettysburg, math teacher-turned soldier Joshua Chamberlain, died of the wounds he received in the battle at Little Round Top. But he died of his wounds nearly 40 years later.

Despite the fact that all of us seem to love to watch things on TV, there definitely is something holy about Gettysburg. and not only because one of the most famous speeches of all time was delivered to memorialize its fallen.

The way people gather at Gettysburg makes real a slogan we see every day on every coin in the United States: Out of many, one. For some reason, all the people visiting here seem joined in one accord. Like the soldiers who fought here, they may not agree. But like them, also, they demonstrate that their respect for each other equals their differences.

At the end of the day, they are a band of brothers.

After a long hot day, I sit and wonder. I wonder if after this long time of strife among us ends, the quirks and jokes and sentiment that unite us will win the day.

Or if, instead, we will remain, as we are now, a country united only in name.

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