Travel Day to Gettysburg (January 18th)
Above is the gorgeous view out of our Gettysburg hotel window.
Thankfully, the Gettysburg portion of the trip is only 2 nights and one full day. By this point of the trip, we were all ready to go home and a bit sick of museums. Additionally, there aren’t many restaurant options in the town. We ate at TGI Friday’s once which was altogether disappointing and then ordered delivery from Tommy’s Pizza one night which was a much better decision.
Main Day (January 19th)
Gettysburg National Military Park
I was pleasantly surprised at Gettysburg’s treatment of slavery and its role in causing the Civil War. Slavery was a key point of discussion during the orientation film and throughout the museum exhibits. The orientation video began by explaining that in the year 1860 when the country was preparing for a new President, slavery was the hot topic. The question was not whether or not to outlaw slavery but whether or not the institution of slavery would be expanded. For the south, slavery was vital to the agricultural economy. One third of white families owned slaves. When Lincoln (a Republican against slavery) won the Presidency, southern states began to secede. A devastating war would soon follow. By the time the Union claimed victory, 620,000 soldiers died.
The cyclorama was probably one of the coolest things that I’ve ever seen. It is absolutely incredible that something that big and realistic could be created in about a year. During the audio explanation of the battle the technological effects dramatized the painting in an awesome way. I was not surprised to hear that veterans who have seen the painting wept in remembrance of the day. Despite how awesome the painting is I noticed that the audio soundtrack unnecessarily repeated a lot of things that we had just heard in the orientation video. The cyclorama focused more though on the battle itself rather than the causes of the war and the issue of slavery. I thought that this was okay considering that the orientation video and museum focus on it plenty.
The Gettysburg museum argues that the Civil War was fought over three issues: Union survival, the fate of slavery and the common rights of citizenship. I thought that these points were all very well developed via the orientation film and museum exhibits. Although slavery is discussed the most, the museum also does a good job of dealing with the other causes. It argues that while the South’s reasoning for rebellion against the Union is to end slavery, the Union cares more about trying to preserve America. The North refused to recognize the legitimacy of secession and feared that the Civil War would tear the states apart and delegitimize democracy.
Additionally, the museum argues that the war was fought over the common rights of citizenship. Lincoln reminds us all during the Gettysburg Address that all men are created equal. Indeed, this is the great contradiction of the United States and its acceptance of slavery during the time period. In several places throughout the museum and in Lincoln’s speech it is mentioned that the soldiers have not died in vain. The North used the Civil War as a way to accomplish something huge: freeing the slaves. No longer would the Constitution be a contradiction. Very few men during this time believed that blacks were equal to whites. Although progress would be slow, the Civil War was the beginning of turning America into a better and more equal nation.
I did not find the Gettysburg museum suffered from a pro-Confederate bias. The orientation video, cyclorama, museum and bus tour all stayed focused on telling about each side’s reasons for war and efforts during the battle. Even though the Confederate side was weaker, they refrained from pinning them as ragtag underdogs like McCullough does to the American side in 1776. I think that the Gettysburg makeover did a great job of getting rid of any bias towards either side. Slavery was pinned as the key reason for the war and the issue of secession was not treated lightly. I remember talking about in class how it was the Sons of Confederate Veterans who did a lot of the retelling of the war, especially in the South. I did not see evidence of their impact on the Gettysburg museum and sites (but perhaps just on the monuments themselves which we did not analyze closely). Both sides of the war were spoken of as facts and while southerners weren’t pinned as the devil for wanting to preserve slavery, they certainly were not praised either. During the bus tour though we did see some of the state monuments that Loewen talks about in his book. Our tour guide did not really delve into the issue of their bias and whether or not they served to praise the Confederate cause. It makes sense though that the Sons of Confederate veterans and other groups would try to glorify the cause their ancestors fought for.
The downfall of my Gettysburg experience was the bus tour. I was trying to stay positive and remember that this was our last history lesson of the trip, but unfortunately Bob’s rudeness made it hard to do so. This tour was also a lot of detail about what seemed like every moment of the battle and each side’s position on the grounds. We had already covered a lot of the basics about each of the 3 days during the museum portion. While it was cool to see where the battle was fought, I found it very hard to stay interested during two whole hours of discussion on the details. I felt very singled out and uncomfortable by Bob’s questions throughout the tour. The tour could’ve been better had we had a better guide and perhaps more about the monuments and the Civil War as a whole. I felt completely overwhelmed with the amount of detail about Gettysburg and I cannot imagine that many people who want a bus tour want or can retain that much-detailed information about a battle.
Headed Home (January 20th)
The History Study Tour was such an incredible class and experience and I wish I could live it all again! From Jim’s jokes, to endless museum days, to Italian food in North End – I wouldn’t change a thing. It is the opportunities like this that Elon provides that makes our teacher education program so special. We aren’t just memorizing facts in a history textbook, we’re getting out in the world and learning about it!
Back to The Lon’
Unfortunately, the last day in Gettysburg does not equal the last day of class. You still have your journal and thematic essay due when you get back. Keep in mind that Jim does grade these and does not give out the “easy A.” Try to finish your journal on the bus so you can have it ready to turn in on that last day of class! Then, you can switch gears and knock out your thematic essay.
Thanks for following along with me on the History Study Tour! Good luck on your own traveling and blogging escapades. Stay hungry for adventure ❤