John Oyler: an unexpected trip to Gettysburg
Last weekend, I had an unanticipated treat thanks to my daughter, Elizabeth — a trip to Gettysburg.
Elizabeth is heavily involved in a symposium on the premiere of a play that will be presented in the Stephen Foster Memorial on the University of Pittsburgh campus at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14. The play is based on one of the fundamental subplots in the drama of the Battle of Gettysburg, the overpowering friendship of two key antagonists in the conflict – Confederate Gen. Lewis Armistead and Union Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.
The opportunity to revisit the battlefield was too much for either of us to pass up. In addition, I wanted to see first-hand the monuments commemorating the three local companies we discussed in a recent column — Company C, Company H and Company K.
At the visitor center, we toured the Cyclorama and enjoyed a brief presentation on the battles. It is certainly wonderful that the Park Service has rehabilitated this magnificent work of art. Produced by French painter Paul Phillippoteaux, it covers a circular wall 42 feet high; its circumference is 377 feet.
An important stop was the “Friend to Friend” monument in the Cemetery Annex. This monument is capped by a magnificent statue of Union Capt. Harry Bingham administering to a severely wounded Rebel Gen. Armistead.
Armistead has given Bingham his watch and requested it be sent to Hancock’s wife. The watch is a key component in the play Elizabeth is promoting; confirming its significance in this marvelous sculpture was relevant.
The next morning, we set out on a self-guided auto tour of the battlefields and were rewarded by finding all the specific sites and monuments that interested us. We located the monument to the 149th Pennsylvania Regiment, not far from McPherson’s Barn, where Company D fought. We then drove down Confederate Avenue along Seminary Ridge with its view of Cemetery Ridge where the Union forces were entrenched.
We then went up over Round Top and onto Little Round Top. Gen. Warren’s statue there was every bit as impressive as I remembered from the first time I saw it, eight decades ago. From there, we drove through Devil’s Den and the Wheatfield, where we found the 62nd Infantry monument right where Company H fought so valiantly.
After taking a loop to the east to Culp’s Hill, we returned to Hancock Avenue and Cemetery Ridge, the site of Pickett’s Charge and Armistead’s downfall. We found the modest monument marking the spot where Armistead fell, and, not far from it, the monument to the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry with its fine statue of a dismounted “horse soldier.” I wonder if he was from Company K?
We visited the Pennsylvania Monument and found plaques for all three companies. The most emotion I felt all day was reading Richard Lesnett’s name, knowing he had survived this battle only to expire the following year from wounds received at Hawes Shop, Va.
Visiting Gettysburg this time, equipped with specific knowledge and specific interests to be investigated, was a memorable experience. It is remarkable a subject so extensively documented still possesses so many nuances that have not been resolved.
I am grateful to Elizabeth for dragging me along. I hope the symposium and the play will enhance my understanding of this significant event.