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Considering the Horse - Diaries 05/2003

 

KIM LANKFORD SUMMER 2003 MONTHLY DIARY - September Part 3

Gettysburg

What is in front of us now is something that Mark and I have been waiting for all year.  We have a full 48 hours off and our main stop is Artillery Ridge, in Gettysburg.  While we were in Vermont I called and made reservations for a campsite.  No problems.  We figured it was going to be about a 10 hour drive from Vermont.  The long awaited Gettysburg is in our sights now.   Gettysburg, Pennsylvania or bust!  Gettysburg is as far North as the South got in the Civil War.  It was the turning point of the Civil War.  Seminary Ridge, Little Round Top, Big Round Top, Devil's Den, Bloody Wheatfield and Bloody Run. Obviously this is where Lincoln made his famous Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in history, which only lasted about two minutes.

Edward Everett Hale was the principal speaker that day.  I think his speech was four hours long.  It's a known fact that Lincoln felt disappointed with his speech.  Isn't it ironic?  When we talk about recognizing our successes… I wonder if Lincoln ever dreamed that his speech would hold this much impact over time?

A little know fact here -- My grandfather was named after the Southern General, General Earl Van Dorn.  My mother was given the middle name of Earlene in honor of her father and that General and I was given the middle name, of a contraction of Van Dorn, "Dorn", again in memory of my grandfather and that General - so a little bit of Southern blood runs in my veins.  It must of been that bit of southern blood that thrilled me so as I rode over Gettysburg, or it could have been just the fact that this is what American History is about, the United States of America, emancipation and freedom, democracy -- it's something that I have never thought much about until now.  Not that I'm so worldly, but opportunities to travel always seemed to me, Europe or other places over seas.  Israel was a very exciting place for me.  Not just because of all the history there but this is my heritage on my mother's side.  My mother's great grandparents came from Germany and Russia, and being Jewish it was a comfort to feel my homeland, as comforting as it was to be in Gettysburg.  I think we get so wrapped up into the antiquity of Europe and we forget, at least for me, the history that's in our own backyard or front yard depending on where you are standing.  Today, I'm living in the past, present and future of our United States and it's quite exciting.  More exciting than I'd dreamed.

We pulled into Artillery Ridge.  I tell you from the second we turned the corner it felt like the 4th of July.  The campsite's there are fantastic!  They too are laid out on battlefields.  We pulled our rig into the designated spot.  There's a wonderful turn-out for our ponies.  We fed and got them watered, cleaned out the trailer and Mark and I went out to explore the town of Gettysburg.  We picked up a map on the way out to have dinner and Mark and I would chart our trail out for tomorrow.  We planned to ride as much of the battlefields as we can.  Everywhere you look there are Memorials and Monuments to our forefathers.  We had asked a gal at the campground's General Store where she thought would be a good place for dinner.  She mentioned a pizza house, how perfect!  One of Mark's favorite food!  Let's go!!  There sitting at the dinner table we unfold the map of the heart of Gettysburg and start to plot our ride.  Some trails were closed, so we wanted to be sure that we stayed within the guide lines of what was open.  We decided on about 9 miles of trails riding over the most bloody and sacred battlefields this country has ever known.  After dinner we did a little shopping and then back to camp to get a good night's sleep.  After all, we had a lot on our plate for tomorrow. 

Morning came and we saddled up our horses to start out for our ride which was incredible!  To think that we were actually riding over history.  I kept saying, I can't believe we're riding on the same ground where all of this took place.  Mark told me that it wasn't really the same ground, that time, wind, rain had changed the top soil but it seemed the same to me.  The air was thick with feeling.  It was like riding through a sponge of time.  The ground seemed to absorb the hoofbeats of our horses.  Over five thousand horses were killed in the battle of Gettysburg.  I think Smokey and 'the Girl' felt this and heard the call of history, too.  Here we were in a completely new place, new smells, new sights, and 'the Girl' and Smokey were as soft as ever. 

The trails weren't as well maintained as we thought they might be.  In fact, there were places where it was very boggy.  Mark was riding out in front and I always appreciate that.  He goes through all the spider-webs, branches, and what not before me and 'the Girl'.  However, at this particular moment the trail sort of disappeared and Mark had to stop.  He looked around and found what appeared to be the trail behind us and to the left.  But, we were in such a narrow spot that he couldn’t get passed me to retake the lead after we turned around.  As a result, I got out in front and we turned onto what appeared to be the trail again. ‘The Girl' went to take a step on what looked like the trail and sunk almost to her belly in boggy mud.  She just lifted that foot and a big old suction cup noise came out.  She stepped right out of it and we kept going.  I was so proud of that.  It was no big deal.  A lot of horses would have really come apart in a situation like that, but not 'the Girl'. 

Mark got out in front again and we continued on.  We rode through and around the Bloody Wheatfield.  We saw farmhouses where there are still bullet holes and cannon ball holes in the walls.  That has not changed.  Farmhouses where they set-up hospital beds.  We rode over the Bloody Run (a small creek actually known as Plum Run, but during the battle so many confederate soldiers had died on it’s banks that the water in the creek turned blood red) and Little Round Top and Big Round Top.  You could see why these were strategic points that were very important in winning the battle.  We saw monument after monument, statue after statue, immortalizing this time in our history.  We finished our 9 mile loop and now we were going to let the Smokey and 'the Girl' have the rest of the day off.  We once again, started out on foot and in truck.

We planned to go to the visitor's center and museum and see some of the artifacts of war.  At the visitor's center they had an electric map, a whole room with seats on all four sides and the floor is a map of Gettysburg.  Your seats run up the sides of the walls like bleachers.  The narrative starts and at different times little lights came on and off on the map to show you where the North and the South are.  How the South moved and the North maintained this fish-hook type strategy.  It was very clear with this map and brought a certain perspective that I really appreciated.  We saw original pictures of that time and quotes from various soldiers.  We saw how cannons were manned and at that time the state of the art cannon was a Napoleon.  It took ten men to operate this cannon and they didn't always use lead balls.  Sometimes cans were filled with nails and what-not and were shot from the cannon.  If you were hit you were lucky if you died instantly.  Most deaths were slow and folks were maimed and bleeding to death. 

To me, once again, politics showed with money.  It seemed to me the more money you had, determined the kind of bivouac you dwelled in.  It wasn't just that you were a General that you got a better tent or utensils to eat with, it's what you could afford.  If you could afford to bring a mattress you brought your mattress. 

After we viewed the visitor's center we went we took the truck and drove to certain points of interest and got out and walked.  One of these high points was Devil's Den.  This is a very famous sniper's spot and those rocks have not changed.  They're huge, there's no way they could blow away.  Forget the rain, hail, wind and time -- these rocks are here to stay!  We actually walked through the crevices of time.  It was an eerie feeling, to feel that so much death took place there for our way of life now.  This spot has been immortalized in many photographs.  There is a photograph where a young soldier is slumped up against the rocks, dead.  It's a famous photograph, however, admitted by the photographer, the soldier did not die there, as the picture would have you think.  The soldier was actually killed 40 yards away.  The photographer dragged his body over and set up several props.  In fact, I think, the rifle is not even a real sniper rifle, as if the drama of the time was not enough.  Human behaviour is so fascinating to me. 

---We walked Little Round Top and Big Round Top and again perspective was very clear.  I wish we would have had more time.  I think you really need about three days because it would have been nice to ride all the trails of Gettysburg, but we did what we could.  I had gotten a call leaving Vermont that a dear friend had passed away and I needed to fly back to Los Angeles.  As luck would have it I was able to get a plane out of Baltimore, however, that entailed leaving Gettysburg early, quite early the next morning.

Like I say, the next day we woke up early.  It must have been about 4:30am.  I think my plane left at 8am from Baltimore.  Mark was up and out tending to the horses when he told me what had happened.  Suddenly, Smokey’s ears perked up and he went to the side of the corral and started to nicker.  He always nickers when he sees mark or me coming.  Anyway, Mark looked up.  He was expecting to see me although he thought it might be a little soon for me to be there, and sure enough I wasn't there.  Then 'the Girl' went to the side and she started to nicker and I still wasn't there.  A few minutes after that I came out to the corral and Mark told me what had happened and I saw Smokey and 'the Girl' standing there looking at something.  Something had their attention, something that we couldn't see, but they sure could see, and then I started to feel it, the ghost horses of Gettysburg.  I'm sure that's what Smokey and 'the Girl' were feeling.  For a moment we all just stood there with all our senses prickling. 

Back to work, back on the road.  We loaded Smokey and 'the Girl' and made our way for Maryland to drop off the rig and our horses and Mark would continue to take me to the airport in Baltimore.  This was the only clinic I missed in the year -- our Maryland clinic, and I had feelings about leaving Mark to drive that long way home by himself, but what are you going to do?  Life and death and how we move through them.  Sometimes, things are as hard or as easy as we choose them to be.  Mark was great support and I appreciate that.  For me it was confronting a time in my life that I had safely tucked away, that was now making itself known in the present that I would revisit and come full circle.

So I leave you now on my way to Los Angeles sitting on a plane instead of my horse.  Our next and last leg of clinics of the year will be two clinics in Washington State and one in Central California and then one in Texas.

 

 

 

 

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