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Gettysburg National Military Park, Traveling Back in Time

Story and photo By Jim Schlett

Since its inception, Dulles Airport has been a pipeline to numerous business possibilities.  With the expansion of the Washington Metro system those opportunities have been growing at a steady rate.  This area is also a gateway to many educational, historical and recreational areas, including many of our National Park sites.  Within a very short distance of the Dulles corridor, a large number of those sites can be visited and enjoyed.   

One of the most historical, hallowed and significant locations is Gettysburg National Military Park, an easy 90-minute drive up Route 15 out of Leesburg to the Park’s Visitor Center.  This park and town are still centered around a battle that occurred back on July 1-3, 1863 in a great Civil War over 150 years ago.

In 2018, I was fortunate enough to be selected as the Artist-In-Residence at several National Parks, including Gettysburg.  Being an avid Civil War buff, this was a bonus of combining all of the historical aspects of an epic battle located within the beautiful landscape of the area.  This is a program that a small number of National Parks sponsor each year.  At Gettysburg, the Gettysburg Foundation and the National Parks Art Foundation are part of the AIR.  The program allows selected artists to create works and present at least one workshop or talk while in a specific park for a 2 – 4 week period of time.  The park generally provides housing to the artist.   We arrived in August in the middle of a hot and humid summer day and settled into our housing at the Klingel Farm, directly in the middle of the battlefield where Picketts’ Charge occurred.  The farm house dates back to before the Civil War, and we had the sense of being a guest in another time and place.  While walking the fields of battle in search of photographs, I could often sense the presence of some of the soldiers and “hear” voices that affected me in a profound way. 

As a photographer, being right in the middle of the battlefield allowed me to rise very early to make sure I was at specific locations for that special light of the “magic” hour.   Some of the views in the early morning, with a fog creeping across the ridges, fields and orchards were truly incredible.  An added bonus at that time of day is that the battlefield is generally devoid of tourists.  Many of the sunsets views were equally as stunning as those at daybreak.

It is very ironic that this battlefield – witness to so much carnage on those 3 days – now is often looked on as a peaceful and scenic location by many visitors.  Having been to Gettysburg on numerous instances over the past 40 years, I decided to pick the collective knowledge of the park’s employees and volunteers as well as the staff of the Gettysburg Foundation.  To put this park in perspective, Gettysburg was the largest battle ever in North America, with an estimated 150,000 soldiers, over 50,000 casualties and over 400 cannons. The Park is quite large, encompassing approximately 4,000 acres and one could easily spend several days there.  Some of the names of the Generals have become part of the lore of American history, like Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, George Pickett, George Meade, George Custer, Winfield Hancock and John Buford.  Each played a significant role in the final outcome of the battle.  This Union victory at Gettysburg, coupled with the surrender of Vicksburg, truly was the major turning point of the Civil War.    

Almost every day, after my sunrise photos were finished, I would head over to the Visitors Center, check in at the desk and ask the rangers and volunteers for lesser known or photographed areas of the battlefield they would recommend for new images.   I received an incredible number of suggestions for sites throughout the battlefield, so many that I was unable to fit them all into my schedule during my
time there!  

 Those suggestions led to daily hikes both with ranger-led walks/talks and on my own to famed sites such as Culp’s Hill, the Wheatfield, Coster Avenue mural, the Wills House, the Peach Orchard and Devils Den to name just a few.  The hikes and tours with the rangers provide an interesting perspective, with each ranger crafting a unique story about the individual tours such as the Round Top, so that on each day the program would be different.  On an interesting note, one day while at the National Cemetery, the ranger spoke of a “poem” written by a soldier that had striking similarities to the Gettysburg Address long before the Address was given.  The ranger talks are extremely informative, interesting and moving.  On more than one instance, I would see visitors tear up while listening to a ranger about action that took place back in 1863.  

I would also mention that adjacent to Gettysburg National Military Park is the Eisenhower National Historic Site, the home and farm of our 34th President of the United States.  Dwight D. Eisenhower was also the Supreme Allied Commander of the Armed Forces in Europe in World Was II and had a keen interest in the battle and this area.  The home and farm also offered some great photographic opportunities and is worth a visit with the many facets of the Eisenhower’s later years.  

The Artist-In-Residency Program continues the tradition of artists and writers creating new works that capture the essence of the parks and spark the interest of new visitors.  I am hopeful that people will respond to my work in ways that will benefit the parks, such as recruiting new volunteers.  I will also be exhibiting some of my photographs from this and other AIR experiences at the ArtSpace Gallery in Herndon, Virginia in the near future.  

More of my photographic images in individual galleries by subject matter can be found at photomanva.zenfolio.com. 

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