In case you missed it, this summer was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was also the fourth time that I have toured that battlefield, the first time being some forty years ago in 1973 during the 110th anniversary of the battle. It was our family vacation in the 1972 Plymouth 8 passenger station-wagon and there were 8 people in the car. I have written previously that I associate my family vacations while growing up with the specific car repair that was undertaken on the trip. For reference purposes this was the vacation where the propane tank bottle fell off the front of the trailer (subsequently reattached with a bit of baling wire), followed by my Father and Grandfather replaceing the rear shock absorbers while encamped at Chincoteague, Virginia. On that trip the eight of us toured the battleground in the station wagon with my mom providing the narrative from a pamphlet.
The second trip was with Nancy in 1986. We toured the battlefield in her Mazda GLC but this time with a cassette tape that we checked out from the visitor’s center. The tape descriptions contained much greater detail but still the presentation lacked something.
In August of 2001 we toured the battlefield via a 12 mile bike ride. This grand misadventure had 8 year old Maggie riding a tag-a-long attached to my bike, while Katie and Nancy rode a tandem bicycle. Since Katie was an inch taller than her mom, she had the front seat, the steering seat. Since Maggie was only 8 she was really enthusiastic about pedaling downhill, but not so responsive when going uphill. Nancy now admits that she began to have doubts about that adventure in the first mile (of 12) when Katie veered into traffic while trying to start on an uphill slog. I had my doubts about mile 8 when Maggie was pedaling furiously downhill while I was trying to brake before a corner.
The bike ride in July did give us a greater appreciation for the exhaustion that troops on both sides experienced. It was a great idea in the planning stage of vacation but not so much in its execution. Sort of what might be said about Pickett’s Charge. However there were two positives to the experience: First, we read a lot more of the descriptive markers, as you will use any excuse to stop riding when you’re exhausted. Second, we burnt enough calories, in our collective opinions, to justify shakes and pie from the Lincoln Diner in a late afternoon lunch. And it is the most vivid memory we have of that trip.
In addition to the bicycle options which can be pursued at your own pace, the National Park Service also offers bus tours, walking tours with rangers, and horseback tours, all of which have a two hour duration. But this year we did it right, we toured the battlefield in the convertible, with the top down, and with a National Park Service Guide. The personal guided tour was only $5.00 more than the cost for the bus tour, for the two of us and it is a flat fee for up to 6 people if you had a large enough car.
Our guide drove the tour which went through the town of Gettysburg stopping frequently to point out shell strikes on various buildings. He took us through the three day battle showing how the movements of both armies collided in this small town. It was the best tour I have ever experienced for truly understanding how the battle unfolded, developed and ultimately ended.
We finished the tour at the Pennsylvania State Memorial where our guide explained that the walls of the memorial contained plaques listing every soldier from Pennsylvania who fought in the battle. Nancy knew that one of her ancestors had fought for the Union in a Pennsylvania Regiment. So at the end of our tour we returned to the research room at the Visitors Center to see what we could find. After a bit of technical frustration with assorted computers in the research room, along with a weak wi-fi link to her Ancestory.Com family tree, Nancy decided to call her mom since she has the hard copy of the research.
Armed with the name we returned to the monument. The plaques are by regiment, so this was the proverbial search for the needle in the hay stack. We started at the left side of the front of the memorial and began to read names. Thankfully they were in alphabetical order. When we reached slightly beyond the halfway point we found him, Private Frederich Kraiser, Company E, 74th Pennsylvania Infantry. He was 32 years old, fought in Gettysburg, on Seminary Ridge, and lived to tell about the ordeal. Without our guide, we would have missed this link to Nancy’s past, just as we had the two previous trips in 1986 and 2001. The monument is at the end of the tour when our minds were focused on the next objective, so it is easy to look at it as you drive by, rather than get out of the car and really study the names. The guided tour of the battlefield was a great experience, but seeing Nancy’s face light up when she read that name made it money well spent.
The memorial also listed a plethora of Armstrong’s including several who were officers, but I don’t believe any of them were my ancestors. Why you ask? Well three reasons come to mind. First, my family arrived in Missouri about 1820. Secondly, my great-great Grandfather served in Doniphan’s Expedition during the Mexican War, and thoroughly exhausted his appetite for war. Finally, my family hailed from Virginia.