Walking These Fields
“I’m so glad you’re enjoying this. I love doing these things, and don’t mind doing them by myself, but it’s great to have a friend along.”
Enjoy it? This stirs something in me that is way down in the depths of my being. It connects me in ways I don’t even understand, but just know that it is right.
We were in the middle of an all-day walking tour of the Gettysburg Battle Field, walking through, and across, the fields of battle where much of the action that took place on the second and third days of the battle there took place.
I had contemplated bailing out of it when I saw the weather predictions — it was to be the one cold day, highs going only to the mid-50’s, sandwiched between days where it would be up into the 70’s. Rain was predicted as well. Instead, I just showed up prepared for the cold and rain.
It wound up being colder than predicted, and very overcast the whole day, but the rain held off until just a very light spritz for the last half-mile or so of the seven mile hike.
My friend Doug is a member of the Civil War Preservation Trust Fund, a group that works to preserve, and reclaim, Civil War battlefields. Doug has been a heavy contributor to the cause in the past, and is a real buff. He spends a good deal of his free time doing things like this.
Last year, he was after me to come up here with him all year, and finally led a tour with about six of us on Veterans’ Day, a date I told him I would like to come up and do a tour. He gave the most detailed and extensive tour I’ve ever had of the place I’ve come to know so well. However, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I really know about it.
What I do know is, my great grandfather Martin was here for the battle, at age 15, making diary entries each day, as he did, and thanks to his grandson, my father, I still have the transcripts of his diary to refer to, to help me connect with a man who died fifteen years before I was born, but who had a significant impact on me, through my father.
Dad grew up in Martin’s house, where for the first 20 years of his life, Martin was his chosen father figure. His own father was often on the road, a traveling salesman, and in many ways, they just didn’t see eye to eye. Martin filled the void for my dad, and Dad looked up to and revered his grandfather. He passed that reverence, and much of what Martin passed on to him, on to me.
I had similar problems with Dad that he had with his father. We just didn’t see eye to eye on most things. I really just wanted his approval, but that didn’t come until it was almost too late. But, we finally managed to connect, and began to build a genuine relationship, late in his life, in the middle of my own. That’s when I began to appreciate all the things he had to offer, in terms of a code for living, and a love for life, that he’d learned from his grandfather, and picked up along his own journey.
I’ve always felt it one of my life’s great blessings that I woke up in time to be able to receive those gifts from Dad. Now that he is gone 21 years, I still feel a strong connection with him, with his spirit, and sometimes, I feel a similar connection with the man I never met in the flesh, but have always felt a deep connection with, through Dad.
Walking those fields yesterday, I felt that connection stronger than ever. I’d been up there many times, driven around the entire battlefield, and walked out to the section where he’d been sent upon his arrival, to guard the far right flank of the entire Union army. But, walking a major portion of the rest of the field, on such a dark and gloomy day, I felt like I was walking with my ancestor, and with my father, a good part of the time. It felt very sacred to me, being out there, walking the fields of battle.
There was a large group that came for the tour, about 60 or so, and the tour guides were just tremendous, filled with indepth stories about the battle, and more, about the people involved in the battle, and about the people the battle impacted. So many tremendous stories.
But largely, I walked with Martin Hager and James Bridgeman on those fields. As we walked the entire length of where Pickett and Pettigrew and the rest of the Confederates who made that ill-fated final charge that culminated in bitter defeat for the Rebels, and a resounding victory for the Union, I felt it most strongly.
This was the very field that Martin walked over on July 5th, 1863, two days after the battle ended, a day after he’d spent a rainy day working in the field hospital, witnessing the bloody impact of the unprecedented carnage that had taken place for three days, and was then, on the 5th, sent out to pursue the retreating Rebel army to the banks of the Potomac as they fled south.
His entry that day in his diary read, simply, “Marched over Battle Field — what a sickening sight! Our regiment now deployed as flanking skirmishers firing in front.” As I walked those same fields, 153 ½ years after young Martin did, I could not imagine the level of carnage he must have witnessed as he walked these fields.
I could only feel something stir deep in my soul. I could only feel a connection that, at times, burns strongly within me.
Yes, Doug. I do enjoy this. More than I can say.