Another piece for the 1st Minnesota newsletter – my last. I used to enjoy walking around Gettysburg with Frassanito’s book, finding photographic spots. - Jonah
Miscellaneous Ramblings – October 1985
Going "off the beaten path" has a special meaning at Gettysburg. In order to really know the battlefield you have to get away from the familiar auto tour paths and muck around on the forest trails; that's where you can get away from the tour busses and the passenger cars blasting the dramatized cassettes out the window.
A few months ago I was fortunate enough to find myself with some time to explore around the most major (and most heavily commercialized) Civil War battlefield site. I took my copy of Frassanito's Gettysburg - A Journey in Time and was determined to discover the precise locations of some of the more interesting old photographs. I started in the place that doesn't appear in any old photograph of the period but is nonetheless important to us: the forested area where the 1st Minnesota made its famous charge.
It's directly in battle front of the big 1st Minnesota monument and you have to get to it by jumping a fence, which may be an iffy proposition. Somehow I kept getting images of shotgun-wielding farmers threatening to blow me off the face of the earth if I didn't get off their land. Of course, I could argue that the sacrifices that American soldiers made there sanctifies it (far above our poor power to add or detract) and somehow puts it above private ownership, but this probably wouldn't wash too well.
It's a neat place to go, anyway. On a warm still day all you can hear are the insects buzzing about and the occasional sound of a woodpecker. The small creek that was fought over is still there, and flows with a quietness that belies the violence that occurred there 122 years ago.
There is one lone and forgotten monument in those woods, and it marks the spot where Colonel George L. Willard, the commander of the 125th New York, was mortally wounded. You can see his picture on page 154 of the new book on Gettysburg by the Time-Life people.
I should like to also mention that on pages 110 and 111 of this book is a painting of the very conflict that took place in and near these woods. It presently hangs in the Minnesota state capitol building and shows a bareheaded Colonel Colville waving on the assault of his regiment. The really interesting thing about the painting, however, is that it depicts most of the soldiers wearing slouch hats of several varieties. If this picture is indeed an authentic rendering (actual photographs of the soldiers of the 1st Minnesota do not exist or are very rare) we need to rethink our policy on the wearing of non-regulation headgear.