Gettysburg Trip, May 2006 Photo Gallery
By Michael Aubrecht, Photos by Michael and Thomas Aubrecht (5/06)

As a resident of Spotsylvania, I have enjoyed the privilege of living at the "Crossroads of the Civil War" for most of my adult life. And although I still treasure our four local battlefields, I recently had the pleasure of traveling to another, perhaps even greater "Hallowed Ground" in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This journey was a reunion that I was able to share with my father, who originally traveled with me there in the late seventies. That trip still remains as my most-treasured family vacation, as it was the weekend when I was introduced to the War Between the States.

In essence, both of these outings will continue to influence me as a writer and historian. An editor once told me that to really know your material, you need to get out and live it. She was right. It's one thing to research the accounts of war as recorded by strangers and attempt to communicate those events in an accurate and entertaining way. But it's a far greater experience to walk in the very footprints of the men whose memory you portray. In other words, seeing really is believing, and a history writer can only do justice to his subject matter, by immersing himself firsthand in as much of that history possible. That is why we must preserve our battlefields for future generations, so that they can walk the grounds at places like Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Mere words are not enough to keep their stories alive.

A few years ago, I posted some reflections from my original trip in a casual piece entitled Birth Of A Buff. I anticipated writing about this latest experience from a more mature perspective in hopes of comparing my own past and present interpretations of the battlefield. That task now appears impossible, as I could not help but revert back to that same wide-eyed adolescent shortly after my arrival in Adams County.

Making the short, two-and-a-half hour drive from Fredericksburg, Virginia, my father and I set out for three days of non-stop hard-core history. After arriving early on Friday morning, we both marveled at the comparable distance that was traveled by the troops (140+ miles on foot) from the Old Dominion to the Keystone State. I doubt that their trip through the valley was as pleasant as ours, and I can really appreciate the tenacity and fortitude of both the Northern and Southern forces. Despite the arrival of heavy rainstorms back home in the South, the weather in Pennsylvania was perfect, the crowds were nowhere in sight, and we literally had the place to ourselves. Over the next sixty-plus hours we did it all and every stop was just as magical and memorable as my childhood recollections. Our itinerary included the National Cemetery, the Electric Map, the Wax Museum, the Hall of Presidents, Charlie Weaver's place, General Lee's Headquarters, the Lutheran Theological Seminary, and every monument and farm along the Battlefield Tour. Each and every step of our journey was filled with reverence for the valiant men who had fought and died there.

Perhaps my most "spiritual" moment occurred late-Friday afternoon, when I walked the first stage of Pickett's Charge alone, around the time of the actual engagement. After reaching the fence line (midway), I turned and saw no one else for miles, with the exception of my father, who was off in the distance by the Virginia Memorial. It was eerie to be the only one on the field, standing in the exact spot where thousands of men had fallen. I found myself getting chills and although I cannot accurately describe the exact emotion that I felt, it will be one that I will never forget.

Along the battlefield route, my father and I stopped frequently to take in each and every place of interest. We hiked the steep wooded trail up to Big Round Top, and stood atop the cliffs on Little Round Top looking down into the Valley of Death. We walked among the high grasses of the Wheatfield and along the split-rail fence lining the Peach Orchard. We climbed the monstrous boulders at Devil's Den, and stood under the copse of trees near the High Water Mark. Although a few of the farm buildings and monuments were being repaired, the grounds at Gettysburg were just as beautiful as the last time that I had visited them.

Walking through the downtown area, it was interesting to see the conflicting campaign signs that were posted in the local businesses stating "NO CASINO" or "YES CASINO = GOOD JOBS." It appears that the town's residents are clearly divided on the issue and I couldn't tell which side stood in the majority. As usual, there were groups of Union re-enactors giving demonstrations on the lawns and the only problem I had with their presence was meeting a group of New York Zouaves that were encamped on the grounds at General Lee's Headquarters. I jokingly inquired as to why a bunch of Yankees were on duty at the Army of Northern Virginia's headquarters and I fear that they failed to find any hint of humor in my Southern sarcasm. Still, they were all very gracious and more than happy to pose for pictures. In fact, over the course of three days, my digital camera rarely left my hand and I snapped 310 photos without skipping a beat. I am posting a few of the better pictures here as a pictorial essay of our travels. I also want to add a couple observations for those of you that may be traveling to Gettysburg during the upcoming tourist season.

First, even if you don't take the Self-Guided Audio Tour, I highly recommend purchasing the updated CD set, which has been digitally re-mastered and appears to be improved with better music and sound effects that are of "HD" quality. When you listen to it later, I promise that you will be able to truly experience the battle from beginning to end in your "mind's eye." Second, do not be alarmed by the tree clearing that is going on around the park, as several areas of the battlefield are in the process of a re-transformation. Apparently many of the period photos that are posted on the park signage no longer match up with the "actual views" due to the natural growth of trees and brush over the years. I was informed by one of the historians that the National Parks Service is working diligently at cutting down some of the "newer" foliage in an effort to restore the landscape to its original state, as it appeared in July of 1863. Third, do not plan on seeing the Gettysburg Cyclorama as it is currently undergoing restoration and will not be open to the public until 2008. Unfortunately, the building that houses the painting has fallen into poor condition and I was very disappointed to see how dirty the exterior of the structure appears. Other than that, every other attraction was spotless and more than met my expectations.

Thankfully, little has changed over the years and in some cases it's gotten even better. If your trip to Gettysburg is anything like my weekend there, I'm sure it will be an experience that you will never forget.


A proud, published member of

Copyright 2005 Michael Aubrecht - Best viewed in Internet Explorer at 1024x768+