For years, the kids and I have been going on what I whimsically call Family Field Trips--where I basically drag them around the countryside, in order to visit all kinds of historical and cultural sites that I find fascinating. (Um, I mean "expose them to unique opportunities for furthering their education and deepening their understanding of their heritage"...or some such nonsense...) And really--aside from a good-natured groan or subtle eye roll at Mom's foibles--they've always taken it completely in stride when I suggest such outings...because they're good sports. But a couple of months ago, Derek suddenly asked if we could go to Gettysburg before we move. I was equally stunned and pleased by his request, especially when he elaborated, "We learned all about the Civil War this year, and it was interesting. So now I actually want to see the battlefield." Let me get this straight, son: you're actually requesting an excursion...to an educational location...simply for your own enjoyment? Welllll, I'll think about it...just kidding! Heck, yeah we can do that!
Of course, certain factors had to be taken into consideration. Like this year's endless Winter weather, for example. (I know, I know, it's a battlefield, there's supposed to be adversity...conflict...and whatnot. But for me--wimpy 21st century scholar that I am--fighting the wind chill and tromping over frozen ground is just not as much...fun...) And then, we had soccer season, when every Saturday for 2 months was booked. Oh, and of course that little thing called "getting ready to move" which recently started sucking up every available moment of time. So finally, with the calendar showing less than a week left before we head south, we tossed aside our responsibilities for a day and headed across the Mason/Dixon Line to Pennsylvania. Did we care that it was forecasted to be a humid 94 degrees, with a Heat Advisory? Actually, I purposely neglected to tell the boys that, so the answer is "NO! We're intrepid adventurers, and we laugh scornfully at these conditions!" (While chugging cold water, fanning ourselves, and resting in the shade...but whatever!)
I have to say, this particular jaunt was a bit different than our previous ones. Usually I'm the one pointing things out and giving all the exposition. But having studied this period of history extensively in 8th grade Social Studies class, Derek brought his own background knowledge to the conversation this time. For example, he informed me that according to the research he'd done for a project on Robert E. Lee, the famous Confederate general didn't believe in slavery. Therefore, he would have fought for the Union, had he not felt obligated to support his home state of Virginia. (Ooh, it just gives me...nerd chills...I love this stuff, I tell ya...) We discussed the moral implications of slavery, and the plantation way of life as it related to the ultimate downfall of the South. On a related note, we talked about the battle of Vicksburg and its importance as a turning point in the war, with the North prevailing and gaining control of the Mississippi River, thereby cutting off the South's major shipping route and crippling its ability to move supplies to its troops and citizens. The last point I remember Derek making (before heatstroke fogged my brain) is that for one of the early skirmishes, townspeople came out to watch the action, bringing picnic baskets as if it were just a pleasant day at the park. When they witnessed the actual blood and violence and death involved in armed hand-to-hand combat, it began to sink in that this "War Between the States" was REAL...and could become a horrific event in our young country's history.
Soooo, having survived the hiking portion of our day...and our little seminar...we retired to the air conditioned "cantina" for some non-authentic LUNCH. I'd venture to say we paid a heck of a lot more than 1860s prices...but never has a cooooold fountain soda tasted so good. After that, I promised the weary travelers they could relax during the Auto Tour phase of our afternoon. (In which you follow the map, drive from #1 to #2, and so on, and get out when something strikes your fancy.) Some of the markers--plaques...fields...random statues of men on horses--we gave a cheery wave to, while motoring right on past. Others--scenic overlooks, towers with awesome views of the surrounding countryside, cool monuments--we hopped out and afforded our full attention. Altogether, while it was quite an exhausting whirlwind Tour de Gettysburg, we agreed that it had been well worth our time and energy. Hmm, I wonder what historical topics they'll be focusing on NEXT year in school...I have all Summer to find out...and pre-study!