There's No Movie About Culp's Hill
On any given day, Gettysburg tourists crowd both Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top to near capacity. Busses and cars line the roads. Annoying motorized Segways zip here and there. Meandering sight-seers flock to famous spots...lumbering inexorably toward the 20th Maine marker - where Joshua "don't call me Lawrence" Chamberlain single-handedly saved the Union. They crowd around the famous "copse" of trees that marks the culmination of Pickett's ill-fated charge. They ramble in and alongside the Steinwehr Avenue gift shops, taking in the sights and sounds of the Disney-esque atmosphere.
I absolutely insist that all my students have this experience. Yes, the commercialization of Gettysburg can be a bit much. The Gettysburg film and Michael Shaara's Killer Angels novel have guaranteed that. Would-be generals and common soldiers alike love to retrace the steps made famous in both of those cultural efforts, while making sure to get in a bite and a t-shirt between Civil War takes. This experience tells us many (many) things worth knowing about popular memory and commemorative culture. The students clearly get it (mission accomplished).
There's plenty of tourist-free elbow room on the Union right: Culp's Hill. Thankfully. This gives students and other visitors space to move around, to be alone with their thoughts, to contemplate the gravity of the battle both in the immediate and broader senses. I take my students there to review monument dedication speeches - free from the noise and congestion typical on other parts of the field. There is much more room for reflection when you are not trying to avoid being run over. The students clearly appreciate it (mission accomplished).
I'd like to posthumously thank Michael Shaara for leaving Culp's Hill out of his story. It didn't make it into the novel and thus did not make it in to the film...so even on the busiest holiday weekends you will find few if any visitors. While it is a shame that no one seems to care about those who risked their lives there (much as JLC risked his on LRT), the absence of tourists sits just fine with me. I like my classrooms free from distractions, thanks.