Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Fruition of a TwentyYear Dream

It is appropriate that this is the 150th post on this blog, as it reflects both the zenith of the Civil War Sesquicentennial and a twenty year dream come true for me. 

In 1993 the United States commemorated the 130th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. At that time I was ten years old and living in Phoenix, Arizona, about as far away from the battlefield as you can get. Yet I was captivated by what I saw on tv and wished I could be there. Knowing that was not possible, I concluded that if they were making that big a deal out of the 130th anniversary, the time I would really want to be there would be for the 150th. That summer I determined that, no matter where I was living or what I was doing in life, I wanted to be present on the Gettysburg battlefield from July 1-3, 2013.

That same year Ron Maxwell and Ted Turner produced the film "Gettysburg," an account of the battle based on the largely unknown book "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. The film propelled the book to the bestseller list and drew a great deal of attention to the battlefield, particularity to the fighting that took place on and around Little Round Top on the Second Day. In the years that followed the previously unregarded Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain became a common name associated with the story of Gettysburg. Like many others, my interest was piqued by his story and I made a point to learn more about the professor turned infantry officer.  

Any time I have been on the Gettysburg battlefield I have paid a visit to Little Round Top where a monument to the 20th Maine (Chamberlain's regiment) marks the left flank of the Union position. When I worked on the National Mall I did several first person living history programs as Chamberlain.

Last fall when Alison and I were traveling through New England, I insisted we stop in Brunswick so that I could see Chamberlain's house on the edge of Bowdoin College and visit his final resting place nearby. A few years ago I was given a shirt for Christmas that is emblazoned with Chamberlain's silhouette and the words "Joshua Chamberlain is my homeboy." I think it is safe to say that I am, indeed, a fan of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. 

When I was living in Oroville and started thinking about working for the Park Service, the first thing I did was to go out to Gettysburg to talk to one of the rangers there about how to go about doing it. Gettysburg is, without question, on my short list of top parks I would love to work at.

I have greatly enjoyed each of my experiences serving as a part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial Interpretive Media Team, but the one battle that I was most looking forward to was unquestionably Gettysburg. It is very difficult to get a job at Gettysburg, and the chance to work there in any capacity was a pleasure I was very much looking forward to. Last November I had the opportunity to be a part of the 149th anniversary of the dedication of the National Cemetery and meet Steven Spielberg, which was pretty special. 
But to be there for the 150th anniversary had an even deeper significance. It was, quite literally, the realization of a twenty year dream.

My primary job at Gettysburg, like at all the events I have worked, was to provide coverage of the commemorative events via social media outlets for those who could not be there in person. It is exactly the sort of thing I would have loved as a ten year old, following the 130th commemoration from across the country. In addition to its scope and scale, Gettysburg would also be different because I would be focused exclusively on video rather than on photography. This was an exciting prospect, as I greatly enjoy the creative opportunities that video provides, but it was strange to not be a part of the photography process after being at the center of it in so many other instances.

Our experience began with a Planning Visit on June 20 to gather the team together so we could both familiarize ourselves with details of the battlefield, and also strategically plan how we would attempt to capture particular elements of the commemoration. Jason and I returned on June 25 to get some initial B-roll video and to interview various park staff so that I could use clips of what they said in the production of videos during the event. All of that was merely a prelude, however, to the event itself, which officially began for us on Saturday, June 29.

That first day I checked another personal goal off the list, which was to photograph and capture timelapse of a spectacular sunset from Little Round Top. It turned out to be the most dramatic sunset of the commemoration, so I was glad I seized the opportunity. Since we were going to be out at Little Round Top for sunset anyway, and programs had not yet started in earnest, I asked the other guy that was doing video with me if he could film a short interview with me telling my story (as relayed above) by the 20th Maine Monument.

Although this footage didn't make it into one of the videos I produced, it was still very meaningful to me to have the opportunity to record it. It was quite difficult to film actually, because people kept coming up and asking questions. I was a ranger wearing a flat hat, standing by the 20th Maine Memorial on Little Round Top, so people naturally assumed I could tell them what they wanted to know. Luckily, almost without exception, I could. By the time we were finished I had given at least four informal interpretive programs about Chamberlain, the 20th Maine, Little Round Top, and the fighting on July 2 and answered countless additional questions. It was a special moment for me. Even if I never set foot in Gettysburg in uniform again, I can now say that I have interpreted the battle where it occurred as a Park Ranger.

June 30 began with a beautiful parallel of the night before, with a glorious sunrise over the battlefield. Although I went out for sunrise two more times over the next three days, the most impressive was unquestionably the morning of June 30. Gettysburg is a truly beautiful and tranquil place in the early morning.

Later that morning we had an all employee meeting which included an address by none other than Jon Jarvis, the Director of the entire National Park Service. Since this was potentially the only time our entire team would be in one place I had already planned to take a group picture following the meeting. On a whim, as we gathered for this picture, I asked Jason if it would be appropriate to ask the Director to be in the picture with us. What you see below is the result: the Gettysburg 150 social media team along with Director Jarvis, the Northeast Regional Director, and the Superintendent of Gettysburg with Little Round Top behind us.

The rest of the commemoration passed in a blur as I ran from one event to the next or sat in the office with headphones on editing video. My fellow videographer and I were able to produce a separate recap video for each of the five primary days of the commemoration even as the events were taking place. Anyone who has edited and produced video knows this is no small feat! Those five videos, along with a special video for the Pickett's Charge program can be found on the Gettysburg YouTube Page. All of the footage you see in these videos was filmed by either myself or Michael (the other videographer) and he and I worked together to edit the six videos below.

June 30 - The Eve of Battle

In this video you see timelapse of the sunrise that I described above as well as of the opening program that occurred the evening of the 30th. You also see and hear footage that I filmed of various different speakers including Director Jarvis and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Alison came up to the battlefield that afternoon and attended that program as well as several the next day. It was very fun to have her be there as a part of the events along with me.

July 1 - The First Day

July 1 began with a program about the last march of the Iron Brigade, as they entered into the fighting when the battle began in earnest that morning. It was one of the most impressive programs I have ever seen as living historians dressed as members of the Iron Brigade led the way as nearly 1,000 people streamed across the fields of Gettysburg. I was sprinting through the fields trying to get one shot after another with Alison right beside me. She stayed with me despite being attired in shorts and sandals, which was most impressive. Unfortunately it also meant that she exposed herself to poison ivy, which she has been dealing with for this past week!

July 2 - The Second Day

On July 2 I followed in the footsteps of the Confederate advance in two separate programs, both of which are featured in this video ("In the footsteps of Captain Johnston" and "The Valley of Death). I also managed to capture some memorable footage of Confederate living history demonstrations, which is likewise featured in the video.

July 3 -The Final Day

The highlight of the third day, and really of the commemoration, was Pickett's charge. More than 15,000 visitors followed in the footsteps of the 12,500 man charge, crossing the same fields along the same paths taken by the nine brigades that made the charge on July 3. It was an impressive sight, and all told roughly 40,000 people were present for the program, making it by far the largest of the sesquicentennial. You can see additional footage of the program in the Pickett's Charge Program video as well.

July 4 -The Aftermath

Among the programs focused on the aftermath of battle was a fascinating presentation about the dead, given on the Rose Farm with 3D pictures and glasses to help visitors more fully appreciate the experience. Even I donned the glasses as I filmed the program.

Being a part of the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg was, without a doubt, one of the high points of my Park Service career. It was an honor and privilege to help tell the story of what happened there so many years ago. It was a dream come true and the fruition of 20 years of learning and study. It was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

For more of the pictures I took of the commemoration check out This Album of My Favorites. You can also see many of my pictures featured in This Final Album on the Gettysburg Facebook Page that I put together.

Since returning from the commemoration I have dedicated nearly every moment to producing a final video for the entire commemoration. I finished it this morning, only hours before departing for Phoenix. You can view that video on the Gettysburg YouTube Page or directly at This Link.

I can think of no better way to conclude than with the words that Joshua Chamberlain spoke at the dedication of the 20th Maine Monument on October 3, 1889:

"In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls...And reverent men and women from afar and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; and lo, the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls." 

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