On Memorial Day weekend, my family and I visited two Civil War battlefields. I am fascinated with history and going to a place where history happened always makes it come alive for me. You can almost feel the life, death, and valor around you. That is especially true in the two I visited, Manassas and Gettysburg.
Manassas was the site of two separate battles, both of which ended in a victory for the Confederate forces. During the first battle, early in the war, people actually came out to watch the battle from what they thought was a safe distance. Many of these watchers got caught up in the Union retreat. The second battle, like the war itself, was larger and bloodier.
The battlefield now consists a lot of grassy fields and pleasant walking trails. There are cannons, monuments, and a wonderfully rebuilt stone bridge.
Gettysburg is the iconic battlefield of the Civil War. It was a turning point that changed the course of history. It is also home to perhaps the most famous speech in American history, the Gettysburg Address.
Sometimes when you visit a really important place, it doesn’t live up to the hype. Gettysburg, however, exceeded my already high expectations. The National Park Service has worked hard to preserve the battlefield as it was in 1863. The place is massive and filled with memorials to the troops that served. As you drive through the park, you get a sense of what it was like to fight there so long ago. You can almost hear the cannon thundering and the shouts of the men. It is remarkable.
One thing that stands out when you visit these places is how peaceful they are. That is especially true of Manassas, which was less crowded. For a brief, terrible moment, they were home to hatred, death, and destruction, but now once again they are fields and flowers as they were before. Not exactly as before, though, because now they are hallowed ground where people fought and died. They carry a special significance for all who visit.
Happy Independence Day!