Thursday, June 7, 2012
Week 3: Interpretation
This week was another busy week for me as a ProRanger at Gettysburg. It started off with Memorial Day where I participated in the annual Memorial Day Parade in downtown Gettysburg. Ranger Rick Pearce drove the Law Enforcement Ranger squad car, while I rode in the passenger seat. I was reminded of my childhood and how I used to watch the parades in my township growing up. It was a lot of fun riding in the parade and waving to the citizens of Gettysburg, many of whom thanked us for our service to the park. After the parade, I helped the other rangers supervise the Memorial Day Ceremony in Gettysburg National Cemetery. The ceremony involved a reading of the Gettysburg Address by a reenactor of President Abraham Lincoln and a speech by former Pennsylvania Senator and retired Admiral, Joe Sestak. It was a moving experience and I was glad to be a part of it.
The rest of the week was spent with the Interpretive Rangers, who guided us on how to create and implement a historical-education program for park visitors. The First Day of the battle was taught to us by Interpretive Ranger Scott Hartwig. Ranger Hartwig is a prominent figure in historical studies on the Civil War and I grew up watching him give lectures and battlefield tours on television. To be able to meet and share a tour with such a prominent ranger really hit home with me!
Rangers Matt and Angie Atkinson taught us about the second and third days of the Battle of Gettysburg and the major themes that we could use to explain the battle to visitors. Furthermore, we were given in-depth tours of the battlefield and its monuments. During one tour, Ranger Angie Atkinson walked us through the steps of how to load and fire a cannon, complete with a Civil War cannonball. My personal favorite was actually walking Pickett’s Charge with Ranger Matt Atkinson. Pickett’s Charge is often called the High Tide of the Confederacy as it was the farthest advance of the Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia into Union territory in the Civil War. Over 15,000 Confederate troops marched over a mile, across open fields, towards the Union battle lines, all the while being shot at by cannon and rifle fire. Despite advancing up to and through the Union lines, the charge would fail, leaving over 6,500 Confederates dead, wounded, or captured. It was an emotional event as we retraced the steps of these soldiers on the battlefield, imagining what they must have seen and experienced as they approached the enemy lines. These soldiers were fathers, sons, and brothers, each with a life like ours, crossing the field, many never to return.
All of them touched on the human emotion and significance of the Battle of Gettysburg and related its greater significance to the Civil War. Such programs are vital parks of our National Park Service and really help visitors connect with the larger story behind their national and historic parks. Over the course of the next week I will have an opportunity to formulate my own interpretive program to present to the public. This opportunity to lead a tour on a battlefield that I have grown up with is truly a dream come true for a historian like me.