“Forward men, forward for God’s sake
& drive those fellows out of those woods.”
Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds U.S.A.
Commander, First Army Corps.
These were very likely the final words of Union General Reynolds before he was killed by a Confederate sniper’s bullet.
This morning I found myself at the very spot where he fell.
The engagement occurred on July 1, 1863 at about 8:00 a.m. It involved 7000 confederate troops attacking 3,200 dismantled Union Cavalry.
We are on Reynolds Avenue. A wide expanse of gently rolling ground. No wonder Generals on both sides wanted control of this land so badly. It is easy to ascertain that it was the ever coveted “high ground.”
No more are there sounds of cannon and gunfire. Rather, they have given way to the sound of a cacophony of birds noisily resounding us with song from all sides as well as annoyed mothers chastising their children to be mindful of the narrow road and the cars driving by.
Several years ago as I toured through one of the museums here in Gettysburg, I came across two rather plain wooden chairs sitting on display, side by side.
Now, what could be so important about these chairs, I wondered as I leaned closer to the glass so that I could read the page of text which described their significance.
I read how General Reynolds used these two chairs as a bed the night shortly before the battle which ended his life.
The sky is again grey, telling me that the weatherman made the wrong call this morning when he announced that we were in for a sparkling day. The only sign of blue is a narrow strip along the horizon.
As we drive along Buford Avenue we find ourselves at The Peace Memorial, which was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the observance of the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. If you have ever watched Ken and Rick Burns Civil War Series, there are actual clips of film showing President Roosevelt speaking to a vast audience which includes a number of Civil War Veterans.
On this memorial is an inscription which is cut deep both in stone and meaning.
“With firmness in the right
…as God gives us to see the right.”
In an effort to get a clear picture of this statement, I take it upon myself to try and climb two very steep stairs. My attempt at the first one succeeds quite well and with grace to boot, but stepping up to the second one brings me quickly to my knees. Once again, I am reminded that I’m not a kid anymore. Still, I made it up and got the shot. …Yay!
After a little while, I take a seat at a very lovely stone bench alongside this monument. Taking a good look around me I notice something strange about the circle of trees running the perimeter of the park directly behind the monument.
All of their branches are leaning directly towards the monument. There are no branches, leaves, twigs or otherwise reaching in any other direction. I find this most intriguing.
It is then that I spot a dead bee lying on a stone block only inches from my feet. I gently kick it into the waiting clover of green and purple which is only a few more inches away. Certainly, this a more fitting burial for a bee that was squished by an unobservant and uncaring foot.
It is about that time that a pathway catches my eye. The curved pathway gives no hint as to what lies beyond. I am immediately smitten and Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken,” instantly comes to mind. I know that I must follow this path and let it lead me where it will.
Through profuse bushes of orange and white honeysuckle I am led to an opening which frames two very different and very large trees in all their glory. One is straight ahead and leans seductively into a big red barn. The other is off to my left and sits alone in the middle of a field of wildflowers. After a few moments, these images are captured in the digital memory of my camera, for all time. As I turn, I hear a rustle in the brush just in front of me. In silence, I wait for a few moments to catch a glimpse of some sort of small furry animal but to no avail.
It seems that not only do ghosts run and hide from me, but now animal wildlife does too.
As I turn and follow the path back to where my segway began, I pause for a moment to stop and smell the honeysuckle.
As we head out we stop in one last place.
I’m not sure why, but I am drawn to old cemeteries. Catching a glimpse of one out of the corner of my eye, we stop the car and with camera firmly in hand, I walk towards it in a reverential quickstep.
It is the Gettysburg Almshouse Cemetery. The graves that I encounter go back to the 1870’s. The picket fence surrounds what I guess to be about two acres of land. There are maybe fifty to sixty graves here. The headstones are simple but in good shape. Two have been vandalized.
Towards the back corner, the graves seem to haphazardly clumped together. There are no headstones here. Only small signs of green plastic no bigger than a postcard. The dates begin at 1997 and go up. The very name Almshouse Cemetery tells me that this is most likely a paupers cemetery.
After returning to my room, I immediately do a search on the computer and find out that this cemetery was prepared for the indigent and insane.
As I ponder this I am reminded of the small bee which now rests for all time in the clover.
I am very thankful for those who saw fit to provide a proper resting place for those buried in the Almshouse Cemetery. Otherwise, they too would have fallen underfoot and unobserved and in effect, be ultimately forgotten by history.
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