Visiting Gettysburg last year renewed my interest in history. I read Killer Angels and a biography of Grant and have interest in visiting all the important battlefields closer to home. One question that’s continued to nag at me is why is Gettysburg the tourist destination that it is? What is it about this battle and this town over say Petersburg or Ft. Monroe?
The answer came to me today that it’s everything. Lincoln gave one of the most famous speeches in world history not one mile from where I now sit. As important as that is Lincoln was at Ft. Monroe for the Hampton Roads Peace Confrence but you see that’s in Virginia. Freedom’s Fort isn’t good propaganda in the segregated schools of the south and never fit the narrative of the lost cause. Even when I was in school in the late 90’s in Fairfax, Virginia the Civil War was taught as being about state’s rights.
So, the southern battlefields with as much and possibly more importance to the eventual United States victory those weren’t going to be as commercially successful as a battlefield in the north. Then there is the battle itself.
Gettysburg fits into the myth of the lost cause. It is an active effort by the Confederates to try and win the war and they almost did. The first day of the battle saw the Confederate army meet the Union army starting on McPherson’s ridge and chasing them across seminary ridge and finally to cemetery hill. The day is considered a victory for the Confederates but the Union held the ground and that ground was the deceive point of the battle.
On the third day of fighting the Confederates made a last ditch and desperate attack on the Union high ground. The Confederates marched over a mile into artillery and musket fire before charging uphill and for a brief moment breaking the Union line. Then they collapsed and retreated but they were that close. An easy narrative to sell to lost cause enthusiast southerners. Here is where you came so close.
Add it all up and it’s the perfect storm for a tourist destination.