Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 23, 2012

Gettysburg and the 150th: Civilians, not just soldiers


— No disrespect intended, but the battles of Gettysburg and their strategies elude me. Re-enactments too.

I’ve skirted Gettysburg for a lifetime.

See the error of my ways now that I’ve walked the battlefield, visited homes and hospitals, toured the Visitor Center, Cyclorama, Museum in the National Military Park and paid attention to Civil War civilians.

This is a story suggesting where to muse about the citizens.

Seminary Ridge Museum, Shriver House Museum, bed and breakfast inns with echoes from battle days.

“Voices of Duty and Devotion” will open July 1, 2013 at the brand new Seminary Ridge Museum: four floors of personal, reflective, history-based conversations in the 1832 building from which Union General John Buford watched early battle developments July 1, 1863.

In Gettysburg I found civilian stories, people embattled for sure but not in battle. Preparations for the sesquicentennial bubble with discoveries.

Hettie Shriver was 27 when the soldiers appeared in front of her house on Baltimore Street; daughter Sadie was seven and Mollie only five.

Husband George, of course, was off to war. Next door lived 15-year-old Tillie Pierce who later wrote her view of a neighborhood suddenly filled with soldiers, guns and canons, wounded, dying and dead men and dead horses.

I time traveled, exploring every bit of the Shriver family home. Sometimes I put myself in Hettie’s shoes, sometimes the little girls’.

Their home is 152 years old, meticulously restored.

As I tried to be Hettie, I found scant personal wisdom to process life with 24,000 seriously wounded men in a town of 400 buildings, and 12,000 dead men and horses.

Shriver House museum is in the midst of a charming downtown so let the musing settle with some strolling, shopping, dining, sipping.

Then go to Seminary Ridge Museum. Formal opening is July 1, 2012.

“We will talk about history and religion in ways not always possible,” Barbara Franco told me, because of being a historical society and an active seminary. She’s the founding executive director, passionate about ideas and the stories behind the stories.

“The Seminary was in the center of the battles,” she said, America’s first seminary and still active today.

Videos on every level. Music true to 1863. Diary stories. Interaction with the children, growing up in the Seminary when the soldiers arrived.

“More than 600 patients were here,” Franco said, “and we know the names of at least 400, plus nurses and doctors.”

The museum is already reaching out to their descendants, Franco said. “We want to know what happened afterwards.

“What is the continuing impact of what happened in Gettysburg in July 1863?”

Should you choose to go for opening week and all the 150-year commemorations, start studying the plans because they are abundant.

A good website is and July 1 – 7, 2013 are busy days.

Consider a November trip this year. Nov. 16 is Remembrance Day with a parade, ceremony and somber luminary in Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Nov. 19, 2012 is Dedication Day and Lincoln’s brief remarks delivered four months after the battles will be the focus. Steven Spielberg guest speaker.

Here’s a tip: stow away in the National Park Service Cyclorama -- so fascinating the 15-minute limit is not sufficient.

Entry is a long escalator. Exit a stairway. Linger quietly on the steps and you might see the show again.

This detailed painted battle scene is 42 feet tall and 377 feet long, hanging on rings like a shower curtain with weights on the bottom.

Weighs 11 tons. Apparently a short-lived genre, replaced by motion pictures.

Good idea to sleep comfortably and dine well while traveling; more true perhaps in Gettysburg with much to contemplate.

I mused in an 1812 bed and three-course-breakfast inn built in 1812, Hospital Road address, battlefields on three sides, bike-riding distance from the National Military Park.

Baladerry Inn was a Civil War hospital - powerful concept standing at the original front door, wondering about wounded Yanks and Rebs.


Christine Tibbetts covers travel destinations for The Tifton, Ga., Gazette. Contact her through

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