My wife, son, and I visited Gettysburg this weekend. The weather was incredible both days, 75 and crystal clear. There were huge crowds in town, in the restaurants, on the battlefield, everywhere. There were license plates from Ohio, Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Iowa, even California. I thought it odd, though, that I saw very few blacks. I probably would not have noticed but for the fact that I was still mulling over Brett’s blog from last week which debated whether freedom and emancipation should be emphasized at every battlefield. Thinking back on my many battlefield visits, I don’t recall ever seeing very many black visitors.
So I ask, is there a disconnect with African Americans and the Civil War? I wonder if they have a certain unease in visiting such places. Is it too painful a period to revisit? I know there’s a discomfort anytime slavery is discussed in mixed company. Yet the history is undeniable, there were many black regiments, and from what I’ve read they displayed valor and ability. So blacks were not just victims and bystanders. They were also participants. They fought for their own freedom. Some fought for the confederacy. Yet there is, at least from my humble observations, a paucity of black visitors at most battlefield parks. I would like to hear from anyone regarding this subject.
I know I’m not the first to report on the cyclorama. I can only tell you that you MUST go and see it. The 20 minute presentation before, narrated by Morgan Freeman, is also excellent. But, the painting itself and the presentation, words won’t do it justice…. life-like, awe-inspiring, almost a religious experience. At first, the scene is eerily dark, as if you’re there in the moments of pre- dawn. Then the red sunup slowly begins to light the field. Gray and black silhouettes give way to blues and browns. Its almost as if the whole scene is coming to life. The sun is up shortly and now the whole terrain is ablaze in brilliant color, and the three-dimensional feel leaves you with your mouth open. As the narrator takes you through the charge, different parts of the field are lit as artillery explodes. You hear the horses, the bugles, the confusion, you feel the desperation. Above it all, I was amazed at the sheer magnitude of the work. Of course, this from a guy who’s put off painting the hallway for two years. Oh, well, I’m glad I qualified this by saying that my words would be inadequate, because they are.
I found it curious that Philippoteaux is never mentioned in the narration. Regardless, just as I feel that the diorama with the miniatures is a must-see requirement no matter how many times I go to Gettysburg, so too will the cyclorama be a definite every time I visit, no matter how many times I visit.
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