Backpacking on the Gettysburg Battlefield

I live approximately 30 minutes away from the Gettysburg Battlefield. The town of Gettysburg is surrounded by history and intrigue. The Gettysburg Battlefield is noted, in history books, as the Highmark of the American Civil War. It’s called this because, the Confederate Army, or the Army of Virginia, never reached any farther north than the town of Gettysburg. The Confederates were driven back by the Union Army.

The battlefield is covered in woods and trails, along with roads winding here and there, to allow people to reach most of the monuments erected in memory of the soldiers who fought there. The main traffic on this historical site is mostly on the paved roads. A friend and I wanted to see behind the scenes, where the fighting was in forested areas and fields that cover the National Military Park.

One Saturday morning just after sunrise we headed for Gettysburg. Since we are both Civil War buffs, of sorts, we took battlefield maps. These weren’t just tourist maps, but trail maps and horseback riding maps. We both have lots of history books about Gettysburg. We had some of those with us. The books we had were books about unusual things that happened in around the time of the battle. They tell about personal things some of the soldiers experienced and the places these things took place. We were determined to find these places on the field of battle.

We set out with our backpacks loaded with fruits and bottles of frozen water. The water was frozen, so when it melted we had cold water to drink. As the day went on, we were sure glad to have that water. We strapped on our backpacks and set out to hike the battlefield. We started out on the north end of Confederate Avenue. This avenue runs nearly the whole length of the battlefield. The battlefield actually encompasses the entire outskirts of town. We walked between fence row and paved road.

The first thing we noticed were deer tracks. Back in the early 1990’s, there were hundreds of deer to be seen there. The herds were since culled to keep farmers fields more productive. We were just out of site of the Virginia Monument; we spotted a line of ants on the ground. Now, I know this doesn’t sound very interesting, but have you ever just sat and watched what they do and how they do it? They never let anything get in their way. All the while, they carry food and I suspect building materials, over, under, and around things. Nothing is too difficult for those little creatures. That line of ants must have gone on for a quarter of a mile, at least. We compared them to how the soldiers of the Civil War must have been.

On we went. We crossed the road, looking for the Rose Farm. This was a place during and after the battle that was used as a field hospital. It is said to be haunted, like so many homes and farms in and around Gettysburg. Just through a small stand of trees, we spotted the farm. This particular farm is shown in many history books, defining the death, in photos of the time.

As we rounded the South end of the battlefield, we stopped for a break. We dug into our backpacks and pulled out some bananas and cold water. Those backpacks may not have saved our lives, but it sure would have been hard to carry all those books and food and water, if we haven’t had them on our backs.

One of our books had a picture of a carving. It was described as being carved by a soldier on the field of battle wanting to leave his identity, as a reminder that he was there. Not on a regular tour map, we had to find it. We walked through an open field and saw a collection of large boulders. As we came to the site, we began looking all over and around the boulders, and sure enough, we had found the carving pictured in the book. There it was carved neatly into the side of the rock, a soldier’s name, rank, and unit, present at the time of the battle in 1863. I took my camera from my backpack, once again to record the fact, we had actually found it.

The next place we wanted to find was Devil’s Den, called this because of the massive boulders piled high off the ground and because of the sharp shooters who had taken up residence there at the time of the three day battle. One of the books said the real Devil’s Den was a narrow cave at the bottom the enormous mountainlike pile of rocks. Sure enough we spotted a small opening. Examining it closer, we could feel a cool breeze coming from within the opening. We had found the real Devil’s Den. We took pictures of each other standing in front of the opening.

Nearby, we searched for what was said to be a water trough. We pushed through weeds and overgrown brush. As we reached a large rock, w pulled away brush and weeds until we got to the top of the rock. The rock stood about waste high and had a hole carved into the top. The hole was rectangular in shape and carved with such precision it looked like it was actually carved with a machine. Back then, in the 1860’s, horses would be watered at the trough.

It was getting late in the afternoon, we decided to head back to where the car was parked. We walked a little while and stopped for our last break. I pulled some tour maps from my backpack. I was looking to see actually where we were and where we had been. I had the battlefield tour map. I began looking at some places marked on the map. I discovered, by the time we would get back to the car, we will have hiked eight miles. We were both astonished at how quickly the day had gone by. What a day this had been. What memories and knowledge we could take home, form this day of backpacking the Gettysburg Battlefield.

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