Gettysburg: The Hallowed Hills and Fields

Recently, a fellow traveller from Iceland was discussing his journey to a mystical place in Pennsylvania—Gettysburg.  Gettysburg in 1863 was a small hamlet with a Lutheran college and seminary.

Little did the inhabitants of this rural community in June realize what was coming their way. Two massive armies were converging for one final, bloody battle.  The final battle was the hope of General Robert E. Lee who wanted an end to the bloody conflict between North and South. President Abraham Lincoln desperately wanted the two sides to be one American soil again.

Unfortunately, what happened there on those green fields and hills of Pennsylvania left the ground soaked with American blood.  It made no difference to the ground or the carrions if the blood belonged to a soldier from the North or the South.  Blood was blood.

It is estimated there were over 50,000 casualties of the blue and gray.  These soldiers were farmers, teachers, laborers, professionals in business and the military; and many, far too many, were young teenagers.  In death on a battlefield it makes no difference to the silent reapers who or what you were in life on this planet traversing the cosmos.

Death brings finality and stillness to a battlefield.  As one looks over the vast fields of carnage, weapons lay silent and death adds sacredness to the place hallowed by innocent blood spilt in a conflict between brothers.

The morning after a battle of this magnitude one feels the morning mists hovering with a chill, a bone-deep chill which shakes one to their very core. The air smells musky with a taste of iron lingering in the mouth.

As you stand there, you wonder why.  Why did free-spirit Billy have to die; Johnny was going home to be married; Teddy at 16 was yet to embrace manhood; Sam had a farm and family; Tom could win at horseshoes with a blindfold; Old Mark should never have come; and the list goes on and on and on…

Back homes around both Northern and Southern tables there were empty chairs.  When news did reach those many families of their loved one’s final hour, the chairs become symbols of remembrance and honor.

A mother’s tears and a father’s grief for the loss of their son cannot be expressed with justice in mortal words. A wife’s loss is a hurt which can only be uttered in tears on the bed pillow as her husband’s place remains vacant.  Children in their innocence gaze up with questions about why daddy is not coming home.

I will close this post with words from someone who was there on those July days of 1863. The words apply to all who gave their lives on those green hills and fields.

After he had buried his men on Round Top, General Joshua Chamberlain wrote

I sat there alone, on the storied crest, till the sun went down as it did before over the misty hills, and the darkness crept up the slopes, till from all earthly sight, I was buried as with those before.  But oh, what radiant companionship rose around, what steadfast ranks of power, what bearing of heroic souls.  Oh, the glory that beamed through those nights and days.  Nobody will ever know it here!—I am sorry most of all for that. The proud young valor that rose above the mortal, and then at last was mortal after all; [the] chivalry of hand and heart that in other days and other lands would have sent their names ringing down in song and story.

“They did not know it themselves—those boys of ours whose remembered faces in every home should be cherished symbols of the true, for life or death—what were their lofty deeds of body, mind, heart, soul on the tremendous day.

“Unknown—but kept!  The earth itself shall be its treasurer.  It holds something of ours besides graves.  These strange influences of material nature, its mountains and seas, its sunset skies and nights of stars, its colors and tones and others, carry something of the mutual reciprocal.  It is sympathy.  On that other side it is represented to us as suffering.  The whole creation travailing in pain together, in earnest expectation, waiting for the adoption—having [the]right, then, to something which is to be its own.

“And so these Gettysburg hills, which lifted up such splendid valor, and drank in such high heart’s blood, shall hold the mighty secret in their bosom till the great day of revelation and recompense, when these heights shall flame again with transfigured light—they, too, have part in that adoption, which is the manifestation of the sons of God!” Conclusion, THROUGH BLOOD & FIRE AT GETTYSBURG

G. D. Williams       © 2013

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National Park Service

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the war’s bloodiest battle with 51,000 casualties. It was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address”.

George Armstrong Custer led a brigade of Michigan cavalry at Gettysburg, his first battle as a brigadier general.


Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau

National Archives

Gettysburg College

Tensions that threatened to tear America apart were already simmering in 1832, when anti-slavery theologian Samuel Simon Schmucker founded what would become Gettysburg College. Five years later, the Lutheran-affiliated institution—then known as Pennsylvania College—moved into Pennsylvania Hall, built on land provided by abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, whose illustrious career in Congress included authorship of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed full civil rights to citizens of all states.

When the Civil War erupted, the College stood in its midst. Elements of two great armies swept through campus on July 1, 1863, the first day of the decisive Battle of Gettysburg. Pennsylvania Hall became a hospital for hundreds of soldiers from both North and South.”

Gettysburg Foundation

History Channel


Through Blood and Fire At Gettysburg

The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote

The Killer Angels

Gettysburg 1993

Bing Videos On Gettysburg