Back in November I took a one-credit undergraduate history class through the University of Maryland University College on the Battle of Gettysburg. Although I live only about an hour-and-a-half away from the battlefield and have visited it several times, I had never actually studied anything about the area. Our history classes in junior high and high school always seemed to get stuck on the Civil War, but somehow they never really seemed to teach us much about the war itself. I decided it was time to really learn something about such an important event.
The class itself was conducted over two weekends. On the first Saturday, we spent the day in the classroom learning about the basics of the battle. We talked about terrain and tactics, and the kinds of weapons that were used, and why the American Civil War is considered to be the first “modern” war. We also talked about the Union and Confederate armies, their strengths and weaknesses, and a bit about the personalities of the leaders. I learned more in that one day about the Civil War and Gettysburg than I had ever been taught in all the years of public school history that I’d had to take.
Our second class was a field trip to the battlefield. We drove ourselves there and met up at the new Visitor’s Center. During the day, we watched a movie, toured the museum, and then had lunch. Afterward, we went outside to walk the battlefield. The mid-November day was overcast and it even snowed a little. We were cold, but the walking and climbing (Gettysburg battlefield is not flat) kept us warm. I had worn a pedometer that day so I could see how much we walked, but somehow I managed to reset it. I’m fairly certain that we walked at least five miles. Later, we returned to the Visitor’s Center and had our final exam. We sat on benches by the window or at empty lunch tables and did our paperwork. It was the most unusual final exam that I’ve taken.
Gettysburg is well worth a visit, not only for the Civil War buffs, but for anyone who wants to learn a little more about our country’s history. I would recommend to anyone who wants to visit that they do a little background reading before getting to the battlefield park, because understanding the events that took place here gives meaning to the monuments. And there are a lot of monuments at Gettysburg; plan to spend a day or more touring the battlefield and Visitor’s Center. But don’t rush home — the town itself is also worth a visit and has numerous restaurants, boutiques, and Civil War related stores.
Photo: This mile marker is one of several at the Pennsylvania Memorial in Gettysburg National Military Park.