But in a larger sense... we cannot restrict ourselves to our most recent trip to Gettysburg. It goes without saying that the greater DC region is surrounded by, and built upon, our Nation's history. Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields are all around us. Some are no more than empty fields with a few cannons and statues. Others, like Gettysburg, are historical theme parks with state-of-the-art museums, multi-media experiences, and tours aplenty. J and I, in our endless quest to fully soak in everything the area has to offer, have experienced and enjoyed both types.
Manassas (pictured above) is the site of two early Civil War battles and is representative of the more understated, and in my opinion, more peaceful and solemn battlefields. This is probably accentuated by the fact that we took in the grounds on foot, and did so in winter. On the other hand, Gettysburg, the most famous of Civil War battlefields due to Lincoln's speech and its role in the war, is far more of an interactive and academic experience.
Local battlefields in general offer more history than anyone other than Ken Burns could digest in a single day. Alternatively, if you'd prefer a quieter or more leisurely time through some beautiful country, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore. Whichever way you decide to experience these sites of unthinkable bravery and tragedy, you'll find yourself among plenty of reminders, like this BALCO enhanced monument of General Stonewall Jackson at Manassas,
or this Gettysburg monument to the soldiers from Pennsylvania.
Perhaps those of you who grew up next to 400 year old homes in New England or churches with plaques saying that 'Washington prayed here' take all of this for granted, but for these two West Coasters, we can't help but wander the hallowed grounds of Lincoln, Lee, Grant, and others without saying repeatedly, "You're not going to find this an hour's drive from LA." The point is that people who live in the DC area are privileged to have access to these historic walks through our country's past, and any extended time spent in our Nation's Capitol should include at least one journey to these hallowed grounds.
While B can spend hours and hours in a museum reading each display and taking in every exhibit, I'm more likely to do the "highlights" tour and seek out the cafeteria and gift shop. As ironic as it may be, we've found that battlefields are one place where our "war" of learning styles reaches a truce. I like learning history in the great outdoors where I can walk in the footsteps of those who helped make this country what it is today. If you take me to a museum and try to teach me about battle strategy, I'll be on my way to the gift shop before you can say "assault the rear flank." But, if you move this lesson outside and let me climb up observation towers and watch civil war reenactors shoot guns, I'll listen for hours.
We had a blast at Gettysburg (wow, these puns are getting terrible). We opted to buy an audio tour CD and drive through the 15 different Gettysburg stops. While we made silly jokes about the CD's music and rear flank comments, we learned a lot. Five hours later, I was hot and a bit worn out but I left feeling excited about history and eager to learn more. We drove home and ended our Civil War day by watching Glory (it was my first time seeing it and I highly recommend it to the 2 people out there that haven't seen it yet).
I can't even imagine the horrors that those at Gettysburg or Manassas experienced. Spending a day there made me feel eternally grateful that I live in a relatively peaceful time and, thanks to the advancement in fabric technology, I don't have to wear wool in August.