Reading about Gettysburg the other day made me think of the place. Often a historic battlefield is fairly featureless, sometimes no more than a few fields or a hillside, making it very hard (for me anyway) to visualize the action or get any real feeling of the drama enacted there, beyond the resonance of the names. Gettysburg is not like that. A few years ago I was able to spend a morning on the “great battlefield of that war” and with the help of a CD guide and a hire car, covered all the key points around the Union “fishhook”. I expected to have little difficulty picking out the distinctive features and topography and understanding their significance on the ground, but I was surprised at just how clear it all was. What a defensive position to arrive at by accident! But, if the Confederates had been better coordinated and moved more decisively before the Union had settled into it… “alternate history” anyone?
Devil\'s Den and Little Round Top, and approaching and climbing the first few yards up Culp\'s Hill were highlights of an extraordinary experience. Standing roughly where Longstreet stood, or more probably sat on his horse, as he launched Pickett\'s Charge (strangely named after the otherwise undistinguished general who commanded less than half the troops in it and did not give the order for it) was most affecting of all. I wished I had time to make the gentle country walk out of the woods across the sunlit open fields and up onto Cemetery Ridge (no problems with that name!). We had lunch with one of the park rangers, who had a truly scholarly yet passionate knowledge of the battle, and whose chiseled features and crisp turnout turned my colleague\'s knees to water. I asked him rather vapidly what it felt like down there in the shallow valley between the two ridges. “Very quiet” was his answer.
Gettysburg is superbly preserved, both as a historic exhibit and as a memorial; “dedicate… consecrate… hallow” were and remain the exact words. Three days is probably the right amount of time to spend there, and on horseback not in a car. We could not do the battle justice in our single Campaign volume. I would love us to do it in three books, one for each day, just as we eventually followed up CAM 1: Normandy 1944(still selling well as an overview of the whole campaign after 17 years!) with four titles on D-Day itself, organized by beaches, Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold & Juno.
I think a chronological arrangement would work best for Gettysburg but I\'d be interested in any other suggestions for slicing the battle into multiple volumes. It would also be interesting to share personal experiences of battlefields; how easy it was to visualize the action and what it felt like to be there. The lines are open!
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