After a quick stop for breakfast, we started our day at the new Visitor's Center and Museum. It was AWESOME! The movie they show was fantastic...so well done. It prepared you perfectly for the layout of the museum and what you were going to experience as you walked through the labyrinth of exhibits. From the movie we went to the Cyclorama of Pickett's Charge. If you have never seen this, it is so worth the trip! There are only two of these 360 degree paintings left in our country. They used to travel with these paintings around the country before motion pictures and television in order to show people the scenes of famous battles and such. That in and of itself was an education for our kiddos!
Since the battlefield at Gettysburg is part of a national park, we took advantage of the Junior Ranger program and Benjamin and I worked through several of the activities in the booklet we were given to help him learn the basics of the battle and life in the 1860's. I think I get more excited about the Junior Ranger activities then Benjamin! (It's the teacher in me!) The booklet was geared to match the new museum and its layout perfectly. We went through each day of the battle and looked for various items in the displays. I learned a lot of interesting, new information. The quantity of artifacts they have is quite astounding. I was very impressed at how they really tried to help visitors see the faces behind the battle. There were real people with real lives and real families who fought and died on the picturesque fields of Gettysburg those first three days of July, 1863.
After the museum and Visitor's Center, we ate a quick lunch, then headed to the wax museum where we caught our 1930's Ford Tour Car for the Kids' Tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Our guide was fantastic, stopping here and there to share some "behind the scenes" tidbits for the kids...and the adults! He took us through the battlefield chronologically, which was great for the kids since we had just been through the museum which was set up chronologically. Prior to leaving the wax museum for the tour, he also taught the kids about muskets and the nine steps to loading and shooting them. It was amazing to think that the soldiers could shoot those three times in a minute given how difficult it was!
When we returned from our tour (2 1/2 hours...well worth it!) we took a quick trip to the cemetery where Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. All of the cousins know that we are related to Abraham Lincoln (actually one of his brothers) so they have a strong affinity for our 16th president. The day was coming to an end as we quietly walked through the cemetery, looking at the hundreds of headstones representing men and women who gave their lives for our freedom throughout the history of our great nation.
I was struck again by all of the "Unknown" engravings on headstones in the section of the cemetery dedicated to those who fought and died in the Battle of Gettysburg. Each one of them represents a family who never learned the fate of their loved one. I can't even imagine that.
Benjamin and I parted ways with my sisters after the cemetery and headed home. We debriefed a little in the car, and I was happy with what Benjamin had taken from the day. His favorite part was roaming the rocky terrain of Little Round Top, darting in and out from behind the boulders which would have shielded the Union forces on that fateful second day of battle. The views from there were amazing last week. I heard one guide share with his group how the whole battlefield could be seen from that vantage point. Left undefended or taken in battle by the Confederates, the outcome of the Civil War would have been very different had the Union forces not held that hill. A sobering thought...
I couldn't help but think about the historic times in which we live today, and how we are on the eve of a very important election which has the potential of determining the future fate of our great land as I revisited the life and times leading up to the Great Civil War. Of course a lot has changed since then, but in other ways, I can't help but feel that we have not learned the lessons that we should have as a nation. I can only hope and pray that, in the words of President Lincoln, those "dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."