Many years ago, I kept a journal. It was mostly a travelogue. I came across it recently and thought some of the entries might be interesting to reproduce here, in my writer’s blog. One in particular detailed my visit to Gettysburg National Cemetery on June 16, 2002. In keeping with the spirit of my civil war novel, here is the entry from that day:
Today I saw the actual Gettysburg battlefield. It was both amazing and poignant to see, and at moments, unexpectedly ordinary to view its grassy slopes and valleys. I think that’s what surprised me the most, those mundane moments in which I marveled over the fact that all these years and generations later, it is still only land, and its significance exists merely because we allow it.
Or is it so much more than that? Do the heightened emotions of battle, the blood of thousands soaking into the ground, somehow change the energy of a piece of land, even nearly one hundred-forty years after the fact? A part of me expected to feel the fine hairs on my arms stand on end as I walked through the tall wrought-iron fence enclosing the Gettysburg National Cemetery. I thought I might even feel the shiver of an otherworldly presence as I viewed the unmarked graves belonging to soldiers who had fallen at Gettysburg and were never identified, but mostly I felt pensive. It seemed slightly inappropriate snapping photographs of those small, white marble markers jutting from the ground with only an apathetic number to distinguish its cold occupant.
The battlefield itself was enormous—acres upon acres of gently sloping hills, valleys, and woodland. Much of the eighteen-mile battlefield is historically accurate: stone and wooden fences and hundreds of cannons aiming across the fields, eternally unleashing mortar upon hapless ghostly soldiers. Everything is still and quiet now, but I could easily imagine a glimmer of what it might have been like; I reflected on the noisy tourists around me and winced at our collective indelicacy.
Little Round Top, though…a lovely spot where the wind blew constantly and made the grass and wildflowers dance and ripple. If a ghostly stain indeed exists at Gettysburg, that stain did not linger at Little Round Top even though historically, it was a very bloody place. The large hill rose prominently above the entire valley. Thousands of ancient gray boulders were strewn across the hillside, as if the earth had split and burst eons ago and expelled the granite from its wounds. Sometimes a piece of land can feel like a living thing with a heartbeat and memories, and that is what I imagined as I stood on that hill and looked out over the parkland. The earth beneath my feet seemed to breathe. I suspected its vast and varied memories had been collected throughout the ages with quiet precision, and three bloody days almost one hundred-forty years ago were mere flickers of awareness in comparison to all that had transpired there over millions of years.
It was a comforting, anonymous thought.