There is something very mystical about the Gettysburg battlefield which is hard to explain. There is a very powerful sense of uniformed men still there, lingering over the heartache, savagery, the mundane and the heroic. That is, provided you do not arrive there on a day when thousands of boy scouts are running all over the place. If you have the leisure take the short long walk up the slope and into Meade’s gunners behind the low stone wall – starting from Lee’s point of command. Attempt to scramble up Little Round Top from Plum Run. Hide in Devils Den and wonder how you would not be bit, the lines are so close. Stand in the Wheatfield with no other and wonder in the silence at the 5000 who perished in such a small space. Then stand on top of Little Round Top and understand that fixing bayonets and charging was less a charge and more a leap and jump and long skip with high risk of broken limb or worse if you slipped. The boulders that shape that knoll are not for running down. Yet we all know that was what Joshua Chamberlain did. It is an event that is attributed by many to turning the war in the favour of the north. Standing in the rocks and woods at Gettysburg makes for a profound appreciation of what he achieved up there. A gift for my recent birthday was the account of this man by Alice Trulock titled “In the Hands of Providence”. (At this link a New York Times review). We all know his extraordinary feats. But in getting into this volume I am struck by people who by our standards can only be counted as extraordinary. A young man goes to college to get a university education and studies philosophy, arts, science, theology, languages, and agriculture. He takes some of his subjects in German and Latin because they were not his strongest subjects. And this was not counted extraordinary at all! It was expected if a man was to properly establish himself. Times turn up men for their ages and Joshua would be amazed by the characters in our own time who flew to the moon. But I can’t help be impressed by a generation that extended their minds so much. I guess the counterpoint is that this educated generation slaughtered more of their own kind than have ever been slaughtered in all wars in which Americans have since been involved – combined! That makes me feel a bit better about not studying my politics in German or Latin. Just a little.
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