Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.” It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. This week she writes about a recent trip to Gettysburg. Enjoy! –JF
When I first heard about Messiah in the spring of my junior year, I was thrilled to find out that Gettysburg National Military Park is about a thirty minute drive from campus. The first time I visited Gettysburg was in early February last year; my Dad and I had traveled to Pennsylvania so I could interview for Messiah’s honors program and stay overnight on campus. We flew into Baltimore on a Wednesday and anticipated a full morning exploring Gettysburg the next day before he dropped me off at Messiah that evening.
Little did we know, Central Pennsylvania had just been hit by a bout of freezing rain, and most of Gettysburg was not open to the public. What we could see, though, was stunning. Icicles dripped from Confederate and Union soldiers immortalized in bronze–they hung lazily from the brims of their hats and pointed earthward from their outstretched arms. Simple objects like cannons, zig-zag fences, and tree trunks were made all the more beautiful from a thin layer of glistening ice. Even though we couldn’t see most of the battlefield, visiting it that day was still an incredible experience. It almost seemed as if time itself was frozen.
It took a little over a year for me to get back to Gettysburg after my first visit. This time I went with my boyfriend Nolan and his family, who all came to see me at school on their way south from Michigan for spring break. The weather was beautiful, and the park was a lot busier (and much more accessible) than it had been when I toured it with my Dad. First we walked through the museum, took a break for lunch, and then made our way through all sixteen stops on the driving tour through the battlefield–stopping to look at monuments, climb up a couple observation towers, and clamber around the massive boulders tumbling down from Little Round Top. We finished the day with a solemn walk through the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and got to see the very spot from which Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
I’ve visited my fair share of National Parks and historic sites throughout life, but Gettysburg still manages to stand out among them. While still visually grand like the rest, with its impressive monuments and picturesque overlooks, Pennsylvania’s notorious Civil War battlefield is beautiful in a different way. Namely, because today in the United States we live in a time when discord seems to drown out even the simplest conversations. In the midst of all the noise, Gettysburg reminds us that we aren’t as different as we fear.
As I’ve grown up and studied history, I’ve learned that there are a scarce few things that all Americans agree on. Nonetheless, I do think most of us can agree that the Civil War remains a part of our narrative that we never want to see replayed. Walking through Gettysburg reminds us of this; it’s a place where, at least for a brief moment, we can all look back, set aside our differences, sit in the middle of one of our nation’s greatest tragedies, and grieve.