For the last fifteen years I have visited Gettysburg National Battlefield in Pennsylvania, Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, and numerous battlefields, cemeteries, and theaters of the Civil War in Virginia. To walk on the land where terrible battles occurred is an intensely spiritual experience and I have been deeply moved at every location I have visited. I have been honored to stand on the ground at Gettysburg where my 2nd great granduncle Oliver Bates fought valiantly with the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment on July 3, 1863 to repel the massive infantry assault known as Pickett's Charge. I have also walked along the route where my 2nd great granduncle Augustus Fairchild advanced with the 27th Connecticut Infantry Regiment on December 13, 1862 at Fredericksburg and was tragically killed in a doomed assault on Marye's Heights. I have visited the gravesite of my great granduncle Nathaniel Caverly of the 13th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment who was killed at Suffolk, Virginia on May 5, 1863 and buried in a place of honor far away from his home in Barrington, New Hampshire. I have visited cemeteries in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to honor the fallen on both sides of the war.
The feeling of experiencing the past through a personal journey in the present is beyond compare. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Colonel of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, spoke of the spiritual nature of battlefields during the dedication of the 20th Maine Monument at Gettysburg in 1889:
In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.1Thank you, Ken Burns, for your wonderful gift of filmmaking; in the Civil War you propelled me on a personal odyssey into the past and instilled in me a lifelong appreciation for Civil War history and for the sacrifices of the participants on both sides of the war.
1Joshua L. Chamberlain, Speech at Gettysburg to dedicate the monument to the 20th Maine Regiment, October 3, 1889.