Posts Tagged ‘michael Shaara’

Last week, Sherrylee and I spent two of our vacation days in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I think Sherrylee agreed to visit Gettysburg mostly to humor me because while she is a history buff as I am, she does not get excited about visiting battlefields and old forts.

I made sure to plan a visit to the Eisenhower farm which I thought might be especially interesting enough to her. Though interesting enough, the time we spent on the battlefield at Gettysburg and going through the Gettysburg National Military Park was an extraordinary experience for both of us!

I had been to Gettysburg while in college, but had only spent an hour there, so my entire recollection was of a field full of monuments and a not very sophisticated museum show that tried but failed to connect you to this moment and battle.

I don’t know who recommended Michael Shaara’s historical fiction novel The Killer Angels (1973) to me, a novel which he wrote after too visiting the battlefield and becoming enthralled with the events and the people, but let me recommend it to you too, even if it is not the kind of fiction you usually read.  In fact, when I was teaching literature at Oklahoma Christian, it was the book that I recommended first to those students who either hated reading or simply had never read a novel. The Killer Angels never failed to capture their attention—and some even turned into avid readers afterwards.

Anyway, Sherrylee and I decided to buy the auto CD tour, the one that guides your drive through the park, giving you background and telling stories all along the way, while stopping you at certain sites to identify what you are seeing both up close as well as in panorama. The drive lasts 3 ½ hours if you listen and look at everything—very thorough and fascinating.

We drove and listened and looked until it was too dark to see anything else that day. Then I got up early the next morning and drove back to Little Round Top and to the Highwater Mark, just to see those special places in the daylight and to take some pictures. (If you don’t know those sites. . . . keep reading!)

If you know us at all you can guess what we did as soon as we got back home! We bought the movie Gettysburg (1993) and watched it—not for the first time, of course. No, we saw it when it first came out—but what a difference it makes to really know the history and to have walked the battlefield.

Put this movie into your queue. You’ll find it long (over four hours) and sometimes the pace is slow. You may think that Martin Sheen’s southern accent could be improved and that Tom Berenger needs acting lessons, but try to watch it for the history. Perhaps not absolutely, but the film is certainly highly accurate in its depiction of the people and the events.  And much was filmed on location, so you truly get a good picture of these important three days that changed the course of history in this country.

I have felt as moved before; for instance, at Pearl Harbor, at Omaha Beach, and (don’t laugh) at the Alamo, but what makes Gettysburg unique among such memorable war sites is that this deadliest battle ever fought on U.S. soil (over 53,000 killed on both sides) was brother against brother—sometimes literally.

We heard the story of the Schwarz brothers, two young men who immigrated at different times from Germany to the U.S. On the very first day of battle at Gettysburg, the younger Confederate brother is captured in a skirmish. As he is being taken back to the Union position, he asks if a Rudolph Schwarz is in this company from New York. The older brother Rudolph, whom the younger had not seen since leaving Germany, is located and the two are re-united briefly.  Literally minutes later, as the younger brother is being taken away as a prisoner, his brother Rudolph is killed in the fighting.

Many of the generals and commanders had gone to school together and served together, sometimes for years, before Ft. Sumter. The film focuses especially on Generals Hancock (US) and Armstead (Conf), very dear friends, who must fight each other at Gettysburg. Both are severely wounded, Armstead mortally and at the hands of Hancock’s own men.

President Lincoln made the words famous perhaps, but Jesus said it first: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall” Luke 11:17.

Before we pick up our muskets and march against our brethren, we should count the cost of civil war. One hundred fifty years ago, our great grandfathers were slaughtering one another, were lined up–cannon fodder—because both sides believed themselves right—and God was on their side!

Blue vs. Red has replaced blue vs. gray. I pray that even as divided as we are, that we can find a way to avoid even the rhetoric of civil war.

We dare not forget Gettysburg!


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: