Haunts & Jaunts: Gettysburg – the first night

  Long ago, far away, life was clear…close your eyes.

                                         (Harry Nilsson-”Remember” 1972)

At the summit of Devil’s Den, first night. The Triangular Field lies just to the left. Alan is in story mode as the author leans on the cannon and listens. (Photo by Kris Branch)

   It was growing dark as we arrived in the parking area at the base of Devil’s Den in the Gettysburg Battlefield Park. Thursday night, and the weekend would soon be upon us with an invasion of tourists. But, for this evening, we had it all to ourselves. We surveyed the Slaughter Pen, a boulder-strewn low area, and then inched up the path to the top of the den , enormous hillside boulders instrumental in stopping a Confederate onslaught on the second day of battle.  Alan led the charge, stopping occasionally to point out significant points of interest, such as: “This is where a Confederate soldier was moved and posed for a photo after his death. It’s a famous photo! He wasn’t a sharpshooter, the rifles don’t jive.” After the battle (and for years afterward) the remains of soldiers were found in the deep cracks of these boulders. The group listened in silence. Alan smiled. He was in his element.

Devils Den with the parking lot below. (Photo by Rick Hinton)

   It was dark now. Little Round Top was above us. Alan directed us to the Triangular Field at the summit of Devil’s Den. Now an overgrown triangle shaped field, yet back in the day, a major skirmish point on that second day of battle as forces from the 1st Texas Infantry and 3rd Arkansas surged upwards toward Little Round Top. As a result, the field was littered with the dead and dying. The Scoobys claimed this was one of the most haunted places in the park. I soon agreed. There was a sense of uneasiness as we proceeded into the field, feeling like you were being watched from the nearby treeline; ancient eyes upon us. And the silence! Laura—my wife and gallant warrior—moved into the depths of the field alone, away from everyone else, and heard rustling she couldn’t explain. Critters? Maybe. She, however, knew when it was time to rejoin the group. It’s an instinct thing.

One of the most famous photos of the Gettysburg battle, also a posed one. This purported sharpshooter was actually killed 72 yards away and carried to this location for a “dramatic” photo within Devil’s Den. (Photo by Alexander Gardner)

   First night was an eye opener, and an awakening—a glimpse of history unfolding under Alan’s tutelage, revealing the sense of urgency of battle, those in charge leading the troops, the horrible aftermath, and secrets and stories carried over to this day. I have read extensively of the Battle of Gettysburg, yet, suddenly realized I had never really gotten it. I also realized, as the hush of the night masked other ramifications, you had to be physically there to do so!

   Laura and I had a lot to talk about when we returned to the hotel room that night. We were looking forward to the next day!