Friday, December 19, 2014

Battlefield sentinels speak loudly in Gettysburg

September 26, 2010 |

Enterprise columnist

I went to Gettysburg to learn more about why people risk their lives in war, and by the third day I was steeped in Civil War history and able to chat about generals Ñ Sickles, Longstreet, Hancock, Lee Ñ as if they were old friends.

However, it was the survivors who surprised me, especially by the changes they made to the battlefield.

Overall, the terrain was much less dramatic than I expected for a bloody three-day battle where the goal of both sides was to gain the high ground. Maps in my book pointed to essential knolls like Oak Ridge and CulpÕs Hill.

And yet, as my husband and I and two friends drove around the battlefield (we drove because it was miles wide), we found ourselves saying, ÒIs that the high ground?Ó ÒIs that ground higher?Ó Only when we got to the most important promontories, Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge, could we fully grasp the higher ground advantage.

But there was another aspect of the battlefield that was immediately evident, something unexpected that came to dominate my mind more than generals or hills.


Picture this: Every flat field, every rolling hill, every patch of forest has monuments.

They stand at every site where fighting occurred, from a skirmish to a slaughter. Made of stone or metal or both, they range from corner markers no larger than a fire hydrant, to life-sized bronze sculptures of men on horseback, to a couple of state memorials as big as houses.

Some attend at roadside; others scatter the fields like cattle munching grass. Numbering about 1,400, they make it certain, very certain, that Gettysburg will never look like any other town.

Our traveling companions, who live back East, told me they had seen monuments on other battlefields, but never in such quantity.

Many of the monuments describe what the unit in question did. They list how many wounded, how many dead. Some focus on leaders and contain a physical likeness of that man. Others list everyone. The huge Pennsylvania Memorial has everything: sculptures of its generals, a list of soldiers (those who lived and those who died), and a tower you can climb to look at the battlefield.

We pulled over for one sculpture that puzzled me because the soldier had his back to the road. It turns out that there were rules: every sculpted soldier in Gettysburg faces in the direction of battle, looking toward his foe.

One memorable monument includes a bronze image of Sallie, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier who was the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Sallie was renowned for standing vigil over the wounded and dying in her company even when she had no food.

In general, monuments were erected at key intervals, 25, 50 and 75 years after the battle. In July 1938, the 75th anniversary, Franklin Roosevelt helped dedicate the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. At that time, a couple-thousand soldiers in their 90s were still alive.

Now they are all gone, but in various pockets around the country the Civil War burns on. Some study it, some reenact it, some raise money to maintain the monuments.

Some find new things to rage about, like Pennsylvania English professor Bob Myers who I encountered on the Web while writing this column.

He catalogued monuments as a hobby but wrote in 2008, ÒI am no longer updating my list. I believe that the National Park Service has ruined the battlefield by destroying 500-plus acres of trees so that the imaginatively challenged can picture the battlefield as it was in 1863 (of course, following their logic, the vandals at the NPS should blow up the monuments as well). Gettysburg has been a part of my life since I was a child, but I am no longer interested in going to see the latest desecrations ÉÓ

My husband wanted to see the battlefield precisely because it had been restored.

I, too, appreciated the change. What is known as PickettÕs Charge, the catastrophic confederate assault on Cemetery Ridge on the third day of battle, would be hard to imagine accurately if you saw a forest.

Instead, I looked out on vast open terrain. The mile-wide field was so large that I could barely make out the monuments on the other side. There were no trees to hide behind.

It took astounding bravery, bravery I almost cannot fathom, to march toward an enemy perched on the promontory with canons and guns. The Confederate infantry was 12,500 strong, but in 50 or 60 minutes half were gone: wounded, captured, dead.

It is no surprise that survivors on both sides searched for a way to honor the living and the dead. Many of the monuments were commissioned by relatively small groups of people Ñ 300 men from a regiment, for example. IÕm sure that many a family member went to such a monument and shed tears.

As I stood looking out from Cemetery Ridge, trying to grasp the sweep of battle, I felt the monuments hovering nearby. When I turned, they spoke to me. Every one of them, even the smallest, said Òwe were here,Ó Òsomething important happened hereÓ and Òsomeone who was loved was lost here.Ó

We have all heard of survivors who never talk about their experience of war. Perhaps for some, memorials in bronze and stone are easier than words to family.

I can vouch for the fact that stones speak.

Ñ Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at Her column appears Sundays.



  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    Former foster youths aided by UCD’s Guardian programs

    By Sarah Colwell | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Rain Recyclers saves water for another day

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    City plans signs to improve flow on Fifth Street

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    U.S., Cuba patch torn relations in historic accord

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    State gets more rain, big mudslide

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Boston bombing suspect in court for first time since 2013

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Nominate teens for Golden Heart awards

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Journalist will join post-film discussion Thursday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    City offices will take a winter break

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    New technology chief will join McNaughton Newspapers

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Feds will discuss Berryessa Snow Mountain protection

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    ‘Longest Night’ service Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Yolo County needs a few good advisers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Per Capita Davis: Time to stop fooling around

    By John Mott-Smith | From Page: A4

    NAMI-Yolo offers free mental health education program

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5



    Disagreement on mother’s care

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    Marovich is a brilliant diplomat

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    And a jolly time was had by all

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Remember that all lives matter

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Pollution from electric vehicles

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6



    On skiing: What to know when buying new skis

    By Jeffrey Weidel | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Devil boys host Les Curry beginning Thursday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    UCD women gear up for second half of swim season

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Aggie men begin 4-game road trip at Air Force

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Youth roundup: DBC Juniors rider Kanz wins a cyclocross event

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery



    College Corner: How does applying for financial aid work?

    By Jennifer Borenstein | From Page: B3

    What’s happening

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: B3

    Anniversary: Barbara and Jan Carter

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    Something growing in the mailbox

    By Don Shor | From Page: A8 | Gallery



    Sing and dance along to Cold Shot at Froggy’s

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    Point of Brew: Recollections of Christmases past

    By Michael Lewis | From Page: A7

    Golden Bough brings Irish holidays to The Palms

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    Come ‘Home for the Holidays’ and benefit school arts

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7





    Rena Sylvia Smilkstein

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4



    Comics: Thursday, December 18, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6


    Last Minute Gift Guide

    Young phenoms make YouTube success look like child’s play

    By The Associated Press | From Page: LMG1

    Classic or contemporary, it’s all holiday music to our ears

    By The Associated Press | From Page: LMG2

    Teen gifts: ideas for hard-to-buy-for big kids

    By The Associated Press | From Page: LMG3

    Holiday decorating contest winners light up our lives

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: LMG4 | Gallery

    Gift ideas for the health-conscious

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: LMG6

    Hall of Fame proudly puts these toys on the shelf

    By The Associated Press | From Page: LMG7