by Barbara J. Finfrock
The Friends of Gettysburg is comprised of many generations among its membership, stretching from those in their 90s to newborns in a few cases. The newest classiﬁcation of membership is called the Recruits. Our educational musters, lectures, and events are tailored toward those with interest and perhaps education about either the battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War in the whole, preservation, and/or collections of Civil
War items, both military and civilian. Our National Park Service (NPS) partners, the Licensed Battleﬁeld Guides (LBGs), and academic historians provide programs for us.
Recently, a young generation learning about those long-ago generations and what that history means to them came to the Friends Desk for some time on the battleﬁeld—Friends member Jeff Myers and two of his sons, 9-year-old Jack and 7-year-old Ben. For the past 17 months, Jeff and these boys have been making trips to Gettysburg from their home in nearby Chambersburg—71 trips total at this time. They had a mission to ﬁnd and actually touch all monuments and markers included in one of many available books, “Guide to Gettysburg Battleﬁeld Monuments” by Tom Huntington.
Prior to setting out on their mission, father and sons had an LBG personalized tour of the battleﬁeld, and the boys had completed the NPS Junior Ranger program. They also visited other nearby battleﬁelds in their father’s broader educational mission. He and his wife Stacy also have three younger children, all of whom have been on some of the trips to Gettysburg.
Jack and Ben Myers atop the Pennsylvania Memorial.
The boys are adventurous and full of life, but they are also very attentive to learning about the stories behind the monuments. Jeff said they had talked about “bravery, courage, honor, duty, sacriﬁce, and the price of freedom” so their trips would be “more than a scavenger hunt or to see who touches the monument ﬁrst.” When asked which monuments were their favorites, it was good to see that there were some from each side of the battle. They were looking at the story on the monument itself and how they interpreted it.
Their agreed-upon favorite monument is the Pennsylvania Memorial, as they are from a long line of commonwealth natives—a great grandmother was born in Johnstown, so history is part of their heritage. One of Jack’s favorites is the Mississippi state monument on Confederate Avenue. He was quick to explain that it demonstrated courage and trying to protect a fallen soldier. He was very interested in learning more about the ﬂag bearers and how one soldier rushed to pick up the ﬂag so it would not be captured by the enemy.
At the 20th Maine monument, Ben was eager to talk about Col. Joshua Chamberlain ordering a bayonet charge, and they had also searched for and found the small Company B marker in the woods downhill behind the 20th Maine monument itself. At this point, Ben ran off up a trail, perhaps looking for more ticks or bees, which were also enumerated in their book notes. Their notes (see below) are special reminders not only of the monuments but also of the moments spent on the battleﬁeld where they met several people and obtained their autographs, such as Stephen Lang and Ron Maxwell.
The boys have visited the Kentucky monument in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and know about the pennies placed there in memory of Abraham Lincoln. They promptly supplied the information “because he was born in Kentucky.” Their adventures have taken them to every part of the battleﬁeld, where their notes are special. On Culp’s Hill it was reported in their notes that “Dad fell down.” They are having an excellent time together and at the same time receiving an education that they will never forget.
Educator/ reenactor Rich Pawling said this about history:
“History is not merely a chronological record of events that took place with no relevance to us today. History starts coming alive when we realize it is people that make up history, not dry facts in a text book. By looking at the past, we can learn more about who we are in the present and where we are going in the future.”
Through the monuments on the battleﬁeld and with their father’s guidance, two young boys are having history come alive for them. In a few more years they may be building fences and helping take care of some of the historic monuments and markers that they are just now exploring for the ﬁrst time. Welcome to the Friends!
This Preservation Spotlight originally appeared in the November 2019 edition of "Preservation & Progress," the quarterly publication of the Gettysburg Foundation.