|It's not hard to imagine what this ride up Devil's Den will teach you about the Battle of Gettysburg.|
(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
For a perspective you won't get from your car or by walking the ground, I highly recommend riding a bike through a Civil War battlefield park. At Antietam, I especially enjoy the rush I get zooming from the parking lot above Burnside Bridge down the steep park road and past the John Otto farmhouse. And there's nothing quite like a slow ride down Hagerstown Pike, or on historic Keedysville Road, outside the national park boundary.
"Your senses are bombarded" on a battlefield bike ride, writes Sue Thibodeau, an educator, technologist and "bicycling historian," whose book, Bicycling Gettysburg National Military Park, will be available in the spring. Here are Sue's 10 tips for riding through that fabulous national park:
By Sue Thibodeau
In the above photo, you can see Little Round Top on the right and the cannons of the 4th New York Independent Battery straight ahead. I am riding under the bough of an oak "witness tree," so-called because the tree is old enough to have "witnessed" the Battle of Gettysburg. On a bike, your senses are bombarded with picture-perfect scenery, smells of grass, sounds of chatter (and silence), and even the salty taste of sweat. For history buffs, the battlefield is an outdoor classroom that provides an exciting opportunity to learn -- on your timetable, your way. Like a kid.
I am grateful that John invited me to share with his blog's readers 10 tips for cycling the Gettysburg battlefield. My "10 tips" are simply 10 examples of learning by doing:
RIDE THROUGH ROSE WOODS: Rose Woods is an ideal cycling experience, partly because this area is not on the official National Park Service (NPS) auto tour. That means no busses and less cars. Find a good park map, because the ride through Rose Woods has lots of twists and turns, and at least one confusing intersection. Brace yourself for a hilly ride through a heavily wooded area lined with many regimental monuments. If you make it up the short but steep incline that ends at the 2nd Delaware Infantry Monument, you will enjoy a fast glide down to The Wheatfield.
|View from Little Round Top, looking southwest.|
TRY TO SPOT MONUMENT SYMBOLS ... And connect them to the Army of the Potomac's seven Union corps that fought at the Battle of Gettysburg:
--full moon (circle) = 1st Corps (Reynolds)
--trefoil (clover) = 2nd Corps (Hancock)
--diamond = 3rd Corps (Sickles)
--Maltese cross = 5th Corps (Sykes)
--simple cross = 6th corps (Sedgwick)
--crescent moon = 11th Corps (Howard)
--star = 12th corps (Slocum)
... But why?
|2nd Delaware Infantry monument.|
COLLECT "THEMED" PHOTOS ON YOUR RIDE: In other words, pick a topical area and then hunt for and photograph the monuments that fit that topic. Here are some examples (all of which are documented in my forthcoming book, Bicycling Gettysburg National Military Park, March 2019):
--State monuments (USA, CSA)
-- Equestrian monuments
-- Bronze statues of individuals
-- Corps Headquarters monuments
Then try to figure out the meaning behind each monument's placement and history. The George G. Meade (USA) and Robert E. Lee (CSA) Equestrian Monuments, for example, each face the other, just as their two armies squared off with each other on July 2-3, 1863, across a one-mile wide field.
|Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade Equestrian Monument, Cemetery Ridge.|
|Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee Equestrian Monument (on top of Virginia State Monument), Seminary Ridge.|
WHERE DOES THAT CANNON POINT? The roughly 400 cannons at Gettysburg are positioned for historical accuracy. So, pick a cannon and peer down its barrel to where it points. In the next photograph, for example, you might want to research Confederate Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright's (Georgia Brigade) attack through the Codori farm to Union positions protected by this rifled cannon on July 2, 1863.
|Union cannon on Cemetery Ridge facing the Codori Barn and Seminary Ridge (in the distance).|
|Looking west from the Copse of Trees on Cemetery Ridge. The Virginia State Monument |
is visible in the distance.
|Looking east from near the Virginia State Monument.|
|200-million-year-old dinosaur footprint|
on a stone bridge over Plum Run,
South Confederate Avenue.
--Witness Trees (click here for GPS coordinates for 17 trees)
--Monument sculptures that include dogs (39.84222, -77.24256; 39.79703, -77.24511)
--Dinosaur footprint (39.78479, -77.24475)
KNOW THE "SECRET" MEANING OF THE PARK ROADS: Did you know that most of Gettysburg's park roads are named after Union officers, and that the shape of these roads roughly matches the officers' most significant battle lines? Simply by reading park road signs, bicyclists can learn basic battlefield formations without the drudgery of rote memorization.
PARK YOUR BICYCLE AND VISIT SOLDIERS' NATIONAL CEMETERY: Read the Gettysburg Address on the bronze plaques of the Lincoln Address Memorial, visit the Honey Locust Witness Tree (39.81788,-77.23152), find the grave of Sgt. Amos Humiston (154th New York), or enjoy a quiet circular stroll among labeled species of native trees.
WRAP-UP: Over the decades, I have toured the battlefield many dozens of times -- on foot, by car, by bus -- and since 2012, by bicycle across all four seasons. I learn something new every time. I look forward to hearing about your learning adventures cycling Gettysburg National Military Park. Take a ride back in time ... on bike.