Welcome to Day #100 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure and the first day of May, 2013. On yesterday's tour, I conveyed my new learning that "vibration attracts similar vibration" and so it is necessary to maintain a high level of positivity at all times. Imagine my surprise to see our beloved President Obama on television the same day, appearing somewhat dejected by the number of challenges he faces and the intractability of the opposition, and half jokingly expressing, "Maybe I should pack up and go home."
I feel that this signals a defining moment when the American people need to stand up and say, "Mr. President, we've got your back!" The future belongs to all of us and in the present moment, all of us need to determine what we will do to secure the kind of future we want. Whether we act or not, we are making a statement - of commission or omission.
I'd already decided that to celebrate the momentous event of reaching Day #100, there's no better park to visit than the one that represents the most vital turning point in the life of the nation - Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Since I haven't been there yet, my friend Carolyne Richardson Sutton excitedly volunteered to lead us to this sacred ground.
The defining battle in the American Civil War began at Gettysburg Battlefield July 1, 1863. Carolyne Richardson Sutton Photo.
Thinking about President Obama's position sent me looking for a place in President Lincoln's life when he might have felt similarly besieged on every side. And voila, what I found gave me the chills. I can almost feel fate sitting on my shoulder.
From the US Quartermaster Foundation: (Story here)
"The President of the United States and the Quartermaster General of the Army faced each other in the latter's office. In one corner of the room, into which the Quartermaster General had moved only that morning, a few logs smoldered in the fireplace, fighting a losing battle with the raw January air. People scurried up and down Seventeenth Street with their coat collars turned up and their heads hunched down, and, altogether, it was as miserable a day as Washington had known that winter.
"Somehow the gray gloom of the day seemed to find itself penetrating the hearts of the two men as they sat in the disordered office.
" 'General,' '' the President said wearily, 'what shall I do!'
"The time was 1862, and the principals in this small footnote to history were Abraham Lincoln and Brevet Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs. It was, perhaps, one of the darkest moments of the entire Civil War.
"For months the Union situation had been deteriorating, and the Administration was being criticized regularly. The Secretary of the Treasury was spending his last few dollars, and the immediate prospects of raising more were bleak. To add the final black touch, General McClellan, himself barely convalescent from typhoid fever, remained curiously reluctant to order the Army of the Potomac into action.
"The Quartermaster General realized that the President was a dangerously discouraged man. He realized, too, that if he made the wrong kind of reply, or if he indicated, by so much as the slight shading of a phrase, that he shared the fears of his Commander-in-Chief, the results would be catastrophic. He also remembered the long autumn months when the Quartermaster Department had laboriously built up the supplies and equipment of McClellan's troops, and when he thought of this latter he could not suppress a twinge of impatience at the latter's inaction.
"Now General Meigs was a professional soldier of more than twenty-five years' service, and he knew but one prescription for despondency: action. In a few vigorous sentences he recommended that President Lincoln call an immediate conference of the high command and order the Army to advance at once.
This advice had a galvanic effect upon the discouraged President, and the story of what happened during the two years which followed that black moment in the office of the Quartermaster General is well known to us all. Less well known, however, is the man whose words buoyed up the Commander-in-Chief at a time when the Union cause hung precariously in the balance. . ."
Who will that man or woman be for President Obama? I'm ready.
President Barack Obama talks with Rob Nabors, Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy, and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on the South Lawn Drive of the White House, April 23, 2013. I hope they're inspiring him! White House Photo.
Gettysburg National Military Park incorporates a significant portion of land across which the battle, its aftermath and the commemoration occurred. The park attracts 1.8 million visitors each year and is open year-round. It offers visitors hiking trails, scenic car tours on over 40 miles of roads, and beautiful vistas overlooking the battlefield and nearby town. There are also over 1,400 monuments and 400 cannons, which dot the landscape.
President Lincoln at a Civil War battle site with Allan Pinkerton (l) and Gen. John McClernand. Pinkerton was a Union spy who had saved Lincoln's life by foiling an early assassination plot. McClernand, an Illinois democrat, was one of Lincoln's closest friends. Mental Floss Photo.
Lead on, Carolyne!
"After visiting Harpers Ferry National Park twice, I felt compelled to visit Gettysburg to continue my quest to actually experience a kindred spirit with our American history as opposed to simply reading about it. While driving through the town of Gettysburg, we noticed people blissfully walking in and out of the various shops with bags of souvenirs. Conversely, once we actually reached the park, the sentiment quickly changed to one of veneration and respect. Visitors unhurriedly walked around gazing at the various monuments and artifacts, pausing to read the markers with deep concentration. The most poignant component of my visit was when we walked among the rows of grave sites imprinted with the numbers of bodies buried by state. It was unfathomable for me to truly grasp the concept of multiple bodies in one grave. This was such an immense loss to our nation.
"The Civil War remains one of the defining moments in our nation's history. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought during the first three days of July in 1863. It was a culmination of the second and most ambitious invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee and his "Army of Northern Virginia". The Union "Army of the Potomac" met the Confederate invasion at the Pennsylvania crossroads town of Gettysburg. The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg resulted not only in Lee's retreat to Virginia, but an end to the hopes of the Confederacy for independence.
"The human cost of the Civil War exceeded all expectations, as there is an estimated 51,000 casualties from the war. The young nation experienced bloodshed of a magnitude that has not been equaled by any other American conflict. The unprecedented battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers alike. Taken as a percentage of today's population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million. The average soldier was 26 years old, weighing 143 pounds and standing 5'8" tall.
Carolyne R. Sutton Photo.
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to deliver remarks that would later become the Gettysburg Address. Although he was not the featured orator that day, his 273-word address would be remembered as one of the most important speeches in American history. In his speech, he invoked the principles of human equality contained in the Declaration of Independence and connected the sacrifices of the Civil War with the desire for "a new birth of freedom".
President Lincoln believed that the world would take little note nor remember long what was said at Gettysburg. Mr. Lincoln was oh so very incorrect. He was correct with his assertion that the world would never forget what happened at Gettysburg. As he eloquently stated, 'it is for the living to be dedicated to the unfinished work of those who fought and gave the last full measure of devotion for the cause.' We must take increased devotion to that cause of freedom as all men are created equal.
Bruce Catton wrote "The battle was here and its presence is felt...you cannot visit the place without feeling the echoes of what was once a proving ground for everything America believes in."
Carolyne R. Sutton Photo.
"One must visit Gettysburg with both reverence and respect on those hallowed grounds. If you listen very quietly and get lost in your imagination, you can hear the echoes of war. As you walk past the vast rows of gravesites, you can feel the pain, sorrow and loss of the families left to mourn. As you walk toward the memorial for the Gettysburg Address, you can hear President Lincoln saying, 'Fourscore and seven years ago...'
"The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is being celebrated from June 29-July 7 of this year. This is the perfect opportunity plan a visit (Website) No visit is complete without the Cyclorama Painting and film that give an intensive overview of the sights and sounds of the battlefield. Reserve guided battlefield tours. Tour the Museum of the American Civil War with its 12 galleries featuring interactive displays and artifacts. Now, is the time to ignite your passion to relive the history that is Gettysburg because to paraphrase the 18th Century statesman Edmund Burke, 'Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.'"
Carolyne Richardson Sutton is an intrepid outdoors adventurer whose passion takes her to national parks across the country.
Thank you Carolyne! We're happy to welcome you back as our tour leader anytime. And let me take this opportunity to correct an error I made yesterday in giving our esteemed Park Ranger Betty Soskin's age as 93, when she is in fact only 92. Ranger Soskin is such a sage that she probably cares little about that error, but it's important to me to be accurate. And wait till you read the responses I've been getting from her story. President Obama should probably have a talk with her!