“Located 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the site of the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a hallmark victory for the Union “Army of the Potomac” and successfully ended the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee’s “Army of Northern Virginia.”
Historians have referred to the battle as a major turning point in the war, the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing. To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a “Soldiers Cemetery” was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line.
It was here during the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of “these honored dead…” and renewed the Union cause to reunite the war-torn nation with his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address.”
And it was here we joined 21st Century Cyber Charter School students from across the state for our school-wide end of the year field trip.
Throughout the school year our cyber school offers outings across the state. These outings allow students to connect face to face with other students and their teachers. Since the student body is spread across the entire state of Pennsylvania these outings occur regionally, allowing every student access to at least some of the school’s outings. The exception to that rule occurs every May when all the students, teachers, and 21st Century families come together for one big field trip. It is always very well orchestrated and is the highlight of our school year. In the past our school has taken us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mount Vernon, and Annapolis, Maryland.
This year the school took us to Gettysburg.
As a way to encourage attendance and lessen the financial strains on their families, 21st Century charters buses to pick up families from various corners of the state and bus them to the field trip. This means an early morning for those students on the western side of the state but there are rarely complaints from my crew as they find it to be a grand adventure waking up at 4:00 am, boarding a bus with all their friends, and taking a road trip across Pennsylvania.
By 9:30 am buses from each corner of the state rolled into the parking lot at Seminary Ridge and unloaded.
Students, families and teachers were split into four different groups and were given colored wristbands to guide them through the schedule of the day ahead. Each group was 25+ people strong and the amount of preparation and planning that went into this event was evident in how smoothly our large group moved through the activities of the day…much like a well-oiled machine.
Our day was broken up into 45 minute chunks with 15 minutes set aside for moving from one activity to another. It was a perfect set-up as it allowed the kids to really delve into the history of Seminary Ridge in a meaningful way without losing their attention.
Our day began with the kids in the blue group stepping into the shoes of a Civil War soldier, quite literally, with field training.
Each student was given a harversack bearing the name of an actual Civil War soldier. On the outside of their harversack was their name, age, occupation, and their status as a confederate or union soldier.
Using the information on their harversack they went around and introduced themselves allowing the gentleman who was leading the exercise to illustrate the wide variety of men who came together to fight side by side during the Civil War.
Once introductions were sufficiently made, training began. The students began by learning the basics of standing at attention and marching.
Once they could march seamlessly as a group then they were issued their riffles for war and guided through the motions and movements of various commands.
The kids really enjoyed this hands-on activity and the soldier leading the exercise did a wonderful job of bringing a sense of reality and connection to something that had previously been only words in a history book.
When our time at that station was done the students were allowed to open their harversack and pull a paper from within that revealed what happened to the soldier they were representing for that exercise. It made it all the more personal to discover their fate as they read what happened to the soldier whose name they bore.
The next station we visited was the medical tent where students learned about the important role of field doctors during the Civil War.
Once again they were each given a biography of a soldier who was injured on the battlefield and were able to learn about how that particular injury would have been addressed and treated at that time.
They quickly realized that the risk of death by infection was higher than deaths actually caused by the injuries themselves.
They also gained a lot of respect for the tenacity and strength of those Civil War soldiers as they read the accounts of bullets to the brain and amputated limbs, only to read that soon after being patched up from injuries that would land you in an ICU ward today, these men would be back on the battle field again as soon as they could walk and carry a gun.
The shock over conditions at Civil War field hospitals only escalated when they were introduced to the surgical tools and procedures of surgery during that time in history.
During lunch break we enjoyed a stroll around the grounds of Seminary Ridge before joining our group for the next activity of the day.
Following lunch it was our group’s turn to tour the Seminary Ridge Museum. To make the experience more interactive and engaging we were each given a scavenger hunt to complete. The answers to the questions on the sheet were found throughout the four floors of the museum.
As we searched for answers, we became acquainted with the history of Seminary Ridge and its significance to the Battle of Gettysburg.
“The museum touched on three main topics: the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, care given to wounded soldiers at Schmucker Hall, and moral questions from the Civil War era.”
Our last activity of the day was an interactive tour of the grounds. The historian that led our walking tour guided us through the events that occurred on the grounds around the seminary building on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg.
Role in the Battle of Gettysburg
The Seminary building served as a lookout on 1 July 1863, the first day of battle. From the cupola, Brig. Gen. John Buford both observed the opening of the battle to the west of Seminary Ridge and witnessed the arrival of the I Corps under Maj. Gen. John Reynolds marching to his relief from the south. By the late afternoon, the Union lines on McPherson’s Ridge, west of the seminary, were forced back to Seminary Ridge by Confederate troops. Before the troops could dig in on Seminary Ridge, a further attack by Pender’s Division broke the line. The I Corps streamed across Seminary Hill and through the town of Gettysburg, covered by a delaying action on the grounds by the famed Iron Brigade. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia occupied the seminary grounds and held them until the Army’s retreat on 4 July 1863.
There was no further infantry combat on the seminary grounds, but it continued to play a prominent role in the battle. The seminary building had begun to be used as a field hospital for soldiers of both armies during the first day, and this continued throughout the engagement and after the battle was over. Artillery was posted on the hill and participated in action against Union artillery on Culp’s and Cemetery Hills on July 2nd and 3rd.
Confederate troops also used the seminary building cupola as a lookout.
The day came to a close all too soon as students said good-bye to their friends and teachers and boarded the busses for the long haul home.
It was another amazing field trip with 21st Century Cyber Charter School!