In the morning stillness, when the breaking sun warms the air just so, mist nestles in nooks between rolling, green hills topped by rows of cannons -- a sight preserved for 150 years in memories, photographs and soldiers' letters home.
Gettysburg is a lesson, a hub, an apex, an Address. It is tragedy and victory, a battlefield and a home. It is fertile land and consecrated ground.
"There is something about this place," said Gene Wellens of Green Bay, Wis., during a recent visit to Gettysburg National Military Park, where commemoration of the battle's 150th anniversary begins Sunday night.
Like many, Wellens struggled to pin down why, exactly, Gettysburg occupies a place in contemporary American culture so much more prominent than other Civil War battles. It was a turning point, certainly, but many historians argue that other battles -- including Vicksburg, Miss., which surrendered at the same time as Robert E. Lee's defeat at Gettysburg and snapped the Confederacy in two -- held more strategic value.
Rather than any single facet of the three-day battle, perhaps Gettysburg owes its enduring prominence to a confluence of factors, just as the confluence of roads in this quiet corner of Adams County led to the battle in the first place. Here, monument-adorned fields of grass and wheat submit themselves like the body of a young hero, at once warning of the colossal cost of war and testifying to the best attributes of those who fight it.
"There were so many points in the battle over those three days where it could have gone differently ... and each one of these has lessons," said Robert Wilburn, director of Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College in Washington, who teaches a class called "In the Footsteps of Leaders."
The program, one of several coordinated with the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation, takes business and public policy students to Gettysburg to walk the battlefield and examine leadership decisions made by commanders in the places where they made them.
"You get into things like leadership style -- the way Robert E. Lee managed his generals versus the way Gen. (George) Meade did," Wilburn said, comparing Lee's hierarchical leadership at Gettysburg to Meade's more hesitant, collaborative style.
Col. Joshua Chamberlain's command of the 20th Maine, memorialized in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Killer Angels," offers modern managers an abiding lesson in how to bring wayward or skeptical subordinates into line, said Greg Hanifee, who teaches a program similar to Wilburn's at the University of Maryland.
Just before the battle, Chamberlain took charge of a group of deserters, Hanifee said. Rather than shoot them, Chamberlain led them with the rest of his unit to Little Round Top on the Union Army's left flank. When the Confederates attacked, he offered them rifles; almost all of them joined the fight.
"Had he not done that, they might not have been able to hold Little Round Top," Hanifee said.
Chamberlain's leadership culminated in a last-ditch bayonet charge down the rocky hillside when his men ran out of bullets, just one example of "the dramatic nature of the fighting" that contributes to Gettysburg's place in history, said Lt. Col. David Siry, a history teacher at United States Military Academy at West Point.
On July 2, the day of Chamberlain's charge, the 262-man 1st Minnesota Volunteers
Most Popular Stories
- NSA Defends Global Cellphone Tracking Legality
- Top Websites for U.S. Hispanics
- Networks Vie for U.S. Hispanic TV Viewers
- Ad Counts Rise in 2013 for Hispanic Magazines
- Saab Gets Back into the Game; U.S. Auto Sales Soar
- Apple Wants Samsung to Pay $22M for Patent Dispute Legal Bills
- Apple Activates Customer-Tracking iBeacon
- Starbucks Gets Grinchy; No Gingerbread Lattes for Tampa Customers
- A Biography of Jonathan Ive, Apple's Creative Chief
- Jobs Report Brings Cheer As Unemployment Drops to Five-year Low