Eighth grade was a long time ago for me but fortunately, our local school system still believes that American History is important for 14 year olds to understand. My wife accompanied our two daughters on their 5th grade and 8th grade journeys to these important locations in our nation’s history. As an avid Civil War student, I was even more excited about this trip knowing we were going to spend so much time touring pivotal locations in The War Between the States.
I can admit it; I get a little jealous at times reading some of your blog post from those of you who live in Hawaii, California, Colorado or Montana. The mountain west will always hold a special place in my heart. Ohio doesn’t seem like it’s close to anything. However, we are only a 5 hour drive from such iconic Civil War Battlefields as Antietam, Gettysburg and many others in Northern Virginia.
Our trip started off a little rocky. One of the buses had a flat tire before we even left the parking lot.
After a 40 minute delay, we got on the road. Our bus was so much fun. Many of my son’s friends he plays baseball with were on our bus along with their parents who I know. In spite of how society seems to be declining, I was impresses with how polite and respectful these young men and women were the entire trip.
You may not know, but Antietam was the bloodiest one day battle in American history. 23,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in this one 12-hour battle. This was more dead than we experienced on D-Day during WWII. This fact alone was staggering to me. Perhaps this is why these battlefields fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. I am thankful for their preservation and the knowledgeable rangers who share their passion for these landmarks. The visitor center is laid out like any you would find in other National Parks. I got my Passport stamped just because I could.
One of the bloodiest engagements that occurred that day happened on Burnside Bridge. The Union Army under Major General Ambrose Burnside attempted to cross Antietam Creek multiple times. His troops were thwarted each time by Confederate General Robert Toombs and 500 of his men from Georgia. Sadly, this battle was considered a draw and the war dragged on another 2+ years. Burnside Bridge is now closed to automotive traffic but is open to foot traffic. It has been restored to its original glory and remains photogenic to this day.
Our next stop was an expertly delivered explanation of cannon firing and operation followed by flag signaling. This was something new I learned. I wasn’t aware how much communication took place on the battlefields via signal flag. The kids really enjoyed signaling messages to each other and trying to decode them from hundreds of yards apart.
After a loooong first day of travel and touring activities, I was ready for bed. Unloading 250 students, adults and teachers into one hotel was surprisingly efficient. Our school has been doing this trip for the last 16 years so they have most of the kinks worked out.
Gettysburg is a small little town in southeastern Pennsylvania and is the intersection of no less than 8 roads. Its proximity to Washington D.C. and the road system that existed in 1863 made it a natural location for the two armies to clash. Much of the town is owned by the National Park system today but even the privately owned farms are kept in period condition. Many of the downtown residences still have bullet holes pock marking their brick exterior.
The historical significance of this town is palpable. It was considered by historians to be the turning point in the war. The war artifacts in the visitor center and shops downtown are second to none. Within the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the exact location where President Lincoln delivered The Gettysburg Address can be seen making this nirvana for any history buff.
The tour guides we had for the day were excellent. They boarded our bus and explained the troop movements and the geographic significance of having the high ground for each side. Being able to walk the battlefield really made it come alive to the students.
My appreciation for history everything we were able to see was off the charts. My heart was full watching my son interact and laugh with his friends. I have known many of these kids since kindergarten when I was able to each lunch with my son once or twice a week. These next four years of high school will go quickly and be gone before I know it. This final picture says it all. The smiles are real and will be memories they won’t forget. My next blog post will recount our adventures in Washington D.C the final full day of our trip.