Astral Nomads

One man, one woman, one rabbit......traveling with the stars.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Day for the Blue & Gray

Having yet to run out of local attractions in the general Hagerstown area, today the Astral Nomads headed north into Pennsylvania to visit the historic battlefield of Gettysburg, site of one of the major battles of the U.S. Civil War. It was a cool autumn day and we took the scenic route along MD 64/77 west from Hagerstown. This is a really cool twisty-turny, uppy-downy two lane road that cuts over Catoctin Mountain to MD 15. (The kind that says "Dear Hyundia Accent: Please turn into a Porsche. Love, Me.) The fall colors, while partially muted since it is past leaf-peeping prime, were still spectacular in the early morning sun. The downhill portion of the highway runs parallel to a catch-and-release trout stream where one could easily see the water cascading through rocky gorges. There's also a Catoctin Mountain National Park through which a portion of the roadway runs. I suspect we'll explore that for some hiking next week.

The visitor center at Gettysburg has a museum, a theater where they show a short film narrated by Morgan Freeman explaining, at a high-level, the sequences of the three-day battle, and something called the Cyclorama. We had no idea what a Cyclorama was, but admittance was included in the museum ticket, so we were going to find out. It turned out to be this rather elaborate 360-degree painting of a decisive part of the battle that was mounted in such a way that the foreground was three-dimensional and just blended into the painting. Then they played some tricks with lighting so the presentation covered the time from dawn to dusk. The painting itself was incredibly detailed and the artist even snuck himself into the painting as a Union cavalry officer leaning nonchalantly against a pine-tree. The artist and the ego, I guess.

After being unable to resist Blackbeard in Ocean City, Wendy kicks it up a classy notch by showing some affection for Honest Abe. A pattern seems to be developing that I will need to keep my eye on. So far inanimate, so far good.

The countryside around Gettysburg is quite scenic and there's a self-guided automobile tour (known more commonly as a map) that you can follow at your own pace. First thing you notice is that there's a lot of monuments and, when I say a lot of monuments, I mean A LOT of monuments. I think there's at least one for every little portion of troops deployed, a whole mess for important officers, and some general ones for each U.S. state involved in the conflict. There's even one with a statue of a Native American on top of it. I have no idea what that one is doing there because I did not think that there were any Native Americans involved in this battle. Of course, I am no expert in these matters. Seems like when you get blowed up as a peon, you get a plaque that may or not mention your name but when you get blowed up as a high-ranking person, you get a statue. Here's Shelley's take on statues:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Ozymandis - Percy Bysshe Shelley

We hiked to the top of Big Round Top which, along with Little Round Top, is the southern flank high ground that was occupied and held by the Union forces. The holding of this flank was supposedly the key to the Union victory. I don't know about that but it sure felt good to rest my butt on a rock after reaching the summit. Wendy thought she heard a bear growl in the woods so we made it downhill a lot faster. Maybe because of the bear, she also kept calling it the Big Top which seemed circus-like and disrespectful given the somber and hallowed environs.

Below Little Round Top, which unlike Big Round Top, is a relatively treeless and rocky escarpment, there's a geological formation known as Devils Den, which is basically a large crop of boulders that protrude from the valley floor. The name actually predates the Civil War, but during the battle it became a place of carnage and the gorge that runs near it became known as the Valley of Death because of the large number of Confederate casualties that occurred there.

This is the monument to the troops from New Jersey. Curiously enough, there were wild tomatoes growing in and around the thick turf at it's base. I think it's just a big stone version of an artillery shell. Wendy kept looking for a souvenir musket ball despite the signs saying 'No Relic Hunting' and I half expected her to find one. When we were at Castle Urquhart in Scotland, she reached into Loch Ness and pulled out 16th century building spike that looked exactly like the ones in the little museum there. She can't help it if she's lucky.

-Gerry (text) and Wendy (photos)


  1. Great entry! Although, fashion-conscious as I am, it disturbs me that we both have the same kind of shoes.

  2. @Mr. Michaelian: Mine or Wendy's?

  3. @Mr. Michaelian: I know you are a very grounded individual but, frankly, I did suspect shoes of bronze. Look upon me shoes, ye mighty and despair.

  4. Aargh! My mistake. I should have enlarged the photo. It’s that one of the statue seated on a rock and wearing glasses. Very life-like!

  5. Touching photos. They captured the silence and reverence the area deserves. The text writer should have stopped at "A Day for the Blue & Gray."
    Mr. Shelly (a Brit) never visited Gettysburg so his take on statues have no relevance. There is a vast difference between a statue and a memorial.
    If there was ever a time to create your own poetry, the moment is lost. Something brought you both to this place. It was a gift. One accepted it. One did not.

  6. @Anonymous: Well, It's a difference of opinion that makes a horse race. Thanks for sharing yours

  7. Great post, both of you.

    When I was a teen, my historian father, dismayed by the crappy way my social studies teacher was covering the CW, pulled my brothers and I out of school for a trip to Gettysburg. I was moved by the place and still think of it often. Thank you for sharing this.

    I had been spending my morning with Yeats, but I am always delighted to revisit a Shelley sonnet. Thank you.

  8. @Megan: Yes, the place is magical but for me, the magic was geological, especially Devils Den, which had a raw physical beauty that preceded, and will outlast, the human antics visited upon it. I find find no poetry in the senseless slaughter of war or the vanity of monuments, pointed out so well by Shelley. Gotta love the Yeats. His output is rather staggering.

  9. @Anonymous: What a buzzkill, man. If you don't like words, they're easy enough to stop reading.

  10. Beautiful pictures and words! @Anonymous: I hope you find peace and not take life too seriously. The definition of a statue "A three-dimensional form or likeness sculpted, modeled, carved, or cast in material such as stone, clay, wood, or bronze."

  11. @Colin & Sending Love: Let us not get too worked up over Anonymous. Their was a certain rhetorical majesty to the comment and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I certainly stand by mine.