We promised each other that we’d try something new as often as we can.
It took 29 phone calls to Gettysburg area bed and breakfasts before we got a hit. Not many answered the phone, and many who did laughed in response to: “Do you have any rooms for tonight?”
Finally I asked, “Is there something special going on in town tonight?”
“It’s just a beautiful weekend in October.” Ah, say no more. Because that’s why I was there.
We arrived in town after a wonderful meal and dining experience at Knickers Pub in York, PA. Any time spent on a golf course is wonderful, but when you add good food, good company, good conversation, the sunset, and the scenery included a junior prom or homecoming dance or something. The kids looked so grown up and so young at the same time.
Anyway, the 29th time was the charm. We arrived at The Swope Manor about 7:30 pm and were met in the kitchen by Kyle. She apologized for not being in period dress but she had been home for too long that evening and we didn’t give her enough time to prepare. She promised that the morning would be different. As she showed us around the house, she commented on how much fun it was to walk down the magnificent front staircase in hoopskirts.
The house was originally two separate townhouses that the Swope’s remodeled together to accommodate a growing family. The front door of the left side house was moved to the corner of the dwelling. Period pieces are spread throughout the living areas and there is even a huge library in the back room. Two dining rooms are needed to feed the almost thirty potential guests. Since we got the last room, I assumed the place was full.
Our room was dominated by a queen-sized four-poster bed covered with a hand-made quilt in an antique rose pattern and surrounded by bed curtains. All-in-all it was very fancy, very historic, and very romantic.
Since we rolled from home early that morning with no plans to stay the night anywhere, we had no change of clothes let alone any toiletries. We walked a few blocks up the street to a gas station. There was one single toothbrush on the shelf. We got the kids three-pack of some cartoon animals I’d never seen before because, even for one night, Mia was not about to share a toothbrush.
Back in the room, we wasted little time settling in as we wanted to dive into the new books we’d purchased at the York Book Expo that afternoon. One of them is entitled “Embattled Freedom” It’s a heavily researched nonfiction work about a safe haven for runaway slaves in an all-white town in Pennsylvania written by Jim Remsen. Mia read the first chapter aloud to me from the bed while I sat in an antique armchair drinking a beer. This is living, folks.
After that, we decided to turn in as it had been a very long day. There were seven of what I call ‘girlie pillows’ on the bed. You know, the ones purely for show. They all got tossed off at some point.
Breakfast was actually a quiet affair with nowhere near the full capacity I’d expected. The main course consisted of a wonderful baked blueberry and crème French toast. We thanked our hosts and headed out to the next adventure.
Mia had never been to Gettysburg so we drove through the pretty little town for a bit and then up to the battlefield. (I forgot to take pictures. You can blame her for distracting me.)
Our first stop was The Angle—the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. It was a cloudless morning with a slight breeze from the West. As we got out of the car, I explained the various monuments and how the Union defenses were set up on Day Three, waiting for Lee to attack.
On the first two days, the Confederates had attacked both flanks of the Union line. On Day Three, July 3, 1863, the attack was expected in the center of the line. Over 12,000 boys in grey amassed in the early afternoon along the entire Confederate line upon Seminary Ridge. After a withering cannonade, the boys started to march across the low valley. Shortly thereafter, the Union cannon opened up on them so they started to move a little faster. They crossed wheat and corn fields and struggled through a peach orchard. They crossed a road and a number of fences.
When they got within musket range; another threat filled the air. They moved even faster through the hail of lead. When they could smell the Union soldiers, they broke into a run—screaming their famous ‘Rebel Yell’, designed to terrify the enemy. The enemy was dug in behind a low stone wall on top of the low rise in front of them. They seemed so close; yet never any nearer. The southern troops moved closer to each other and charged faster toward the Union line. Some of them actually leaped over the wall and breached the defenses.
Due to the nature of this war between the states, and the war between ideology, friends and brothers fought on both sides. Not enough of the attackers got over the wall and the attack could not be sustained. The attack was well-designed and thought out, but so was the defense, and the defense usually has the advantage. That was the case here also.
Within a very short time, the attackers started to fall back. They left their dead, their dying, their wounded, and sometimes their muskets on the field and they retreated. They turned and ran back to their lines followed by the lead and shot from Union muskets and cannon.
We stood at that High Water Mark of the Confederacy for a few moments appreciating the enormity of the whole scene. It’s one thing to read about it but it’s a whole different story to stand on the field and imagine reliving the action. Then we wandered up to Little Round Top and looked down on Devil’s Den. I loved being able to share my knowledge about the events that had taken place there a century and a half ago.
I’m a big history buff, and Mia tolerates history until her eyes glaze over, but we make it work. She enjoyed the battlefield much more that I thought she would, for example asking questions about the native American statue we’d passed by before. We looked it up and discovered that the bronze Chief Tammany is the monument to the 42nd New York Infantry regiment. Then, we stood hand in hand, silently taking it all in, and feeling the weighty significance of place.
This is what happens when you look for the extraordinary in every day. You find it.