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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sunsets over Gettysburg

Blood was spilled and bodies littered the once serene countryside in the early July heat. That 1863 scene forever changed the course of Gettysburg and American history.

Until July 1, 1863, the small town awoke each morning to scenes of peaceful farmlands and the large boulders dotting the surrounding hillsides. Residents went about their daily lives, working and raising their families. Then during the first three days in July, the battle ravaged the armies, the land and the people of the town.

More than 150 years later, the fields flourish, flowers bloom and trees shade a land that still haunts the million-plus visitors each year.

Whether you tour the battlefield by car, bus, bicycle or Segway, a visitor cannot escape the pain of a war where friends and former comrades-in-arms fought as enemies.

The natural beauty belies the horrors of the past but the knowledge that the world goes on and mankind's actions have little effect on nature seeps slowly through the stories. It is the spirit that haunts us, that forces us to face the consequences of war and the importance of individual lives while recognizing that we are but a single thread in the earth's tapestry.

Does that lessen the pain and the horror?

No. Rather it causes one to ponder the concept of war and the foolishness of mankind as well as the deadly sins of greed and hate. There are many different ways to view Gettysburg - the military strategies, the causes the North and South defended, the innocent townspeople caught up in the midst of ferocious battles, the life of the soldiers, the role of medical care in the 1860s, the folly of the human race and many more.

Chris starting his Picketts Charge journey

I had Confederate ancestors who fought here and Union ancestors who fought west of the Mississippi. I suspect many of today's Americans are descendants from both sides of the war.

Chris reaching the top of Cemetery Ridge
At the end of a Gettysburg writer's retreat this week, I waited with my camera in hand while my son, Chris, walked Pickett's charge. I knew his thoughts turned to five of our ancestors who made the fateful march that day as part of Kemper's Brigade. As he walked the nearly mile-long fields on a hot day, he would imagine the 12,000 Confederate soldiers who started shoulder-to-shoulder and the more than 6,000 who died. I'm sure he could almost hear the cannons and rifles, and smell the gunpowder.

As his imagination took him back in history, I found myself fascinated by the beauty of a sunset over the green fields - the same sun that set over the broken bodies and lost souls for three long days in July of 1863.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that in spite of human pain and suffering, the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.

It is fitting that life does go on but memories should never die.

Sunset from Cemetery Ridge

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