Of the thousands (literally) of places I could take my advanced Civil War class for their yearly field trip, Gettysburg is my numero uno must see spot. This choice might not resonate so well with the Civil War crowd. They might say that Gettysburg gets way too much attention in the bigger scheme of things. Why not Antietam or Petersburg or even Washington City? Why not the battlefields of the western theater? Shiloh...Vicksburg...?
Look, all of those places make my list, but with limited time and even more limited funding I have to make choices. I am not (repeat, not) enamored with the Joshua "don't call me Lawrence" Chamberlain story, nor do I overly romanticize Pickett's charge. But it is precisely because people do these things that I find Gettysburg so fascinating. To many, the entire war pivots on this single battle. And this is nothing new. Both Union and Confederate veterans looked to Gettysburg as the deciding contest. Twentieth-century popular culture helped reinforce this very persistent idea. People for over 150 years have traveled to the battlefield to see where the clashing armies decided the fate of the country (or, if you like countries). And the forces of commercialism have most certainly profited from the story.
Understanding the why of all this seems to me a remarkable educational opportunity...to get a crack at why we as Americans (all of us) have turned that site into a national shrine that eclipses most others. Anyway, it's my class so I make the rules :)