July 1, 2012 marks the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point fight of the Civil War, 1861-1865. In June of 1863, General Robert E. Lee began a march (Map) of his army, north, from Culpeper, Virginia. His intentions were twofold: win a decisive battle on Northern soil and further divide the Union states politically over ending the war. Many Copperheads, or Northern Democrats wanted an end to the bloodshed. Southern independence was not worth the lives of more Union boys.
Thus, the Battle of Gettysburg commenced on July 1, 1863 and ended on July 3, 1863. The Confederates seem to have won the military offensive on the first day of the battle. However, the defensive maneuvering went to the Union side. (Map) Union generals, Winfield Hancock, John Buford, John Reynolds and Otis Howard saw the importance of maintaining a hold, defensively, on the high hills south of the town of Gettysburg. This high ground was the key to victory in the battle. General John Reynolds was killed at about 10:15 a.m. on the morning of July 1, but his efforts in holding off General Ambrose Hill’s Corps and General Harry Heth’s Confederate Division stand has a monument to the Gettysburg story.
What better way for motorcyclists to celebrate the history of the Civil War than to ride through the park and visit some of the great monuments of the fight. The National Park Service has done a great job organizing the monuments on this battlefield. Beside the monuments, the natural scenery is majestic. Houses, barns and fences duplicated from the time period are set against a backdrop of mountains and beautiful sky. Motorcyclists of all ages would enjoy the landscape as well as reading the history of the battle from the monuments and landmarks. A visitor’s center, that is only 5 years old is very well organized and contains an eatery and bookstore.
On July 2, the Confederates made flank attacks on the hills north and south of Gettysburg in an attempt to steal the high ground from the Union commanders. With attacks on Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Hill and to the south, Little and Big Round Tops, the Confederate infantry and artillery came within yards of winning the high ground. The Union stood its ground. Motorcyclists can visit these landmarks where history was made. The outcropping rocks on this part of the battlefield are a geologic phenomenon that illustrates, even more, the efforts of the soldiers on both sides.
On July 3, 1863, the largest artillery duel in North American history began at 1:08 p.m. according to a professor at Pennsylvania College in the town. Over 140 Confederate cannon and more than 200 Union cannon blasted away at each other before the embarkment of Confederate infantry. General Lee’s plan was to use General Longstreet’s and General Hill’s Corps – 13,000 soldiers – to demolish the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge (Map) directly in the center of their position. It is a great experience to view the battlefield from this vantage point when visiting Gettysburg. However, to walk the three quarters of a mile to the Union center is fabulous.
Motorcyclist have a rich history in Pennsylvania for fantastic rides and historical stop over points for tours. 150 years ago, our United States was on the brink of eternal fragmentation. Subsequently, a Pennsylvanian, General George Gordon Meade, appointed by President Abraham Lincoln only days before the great battle, organized an uncommon Union victory for the North, and a battle long seared into the American psyche.