GETTYSBURG, Pa. — The booms of ground-rattling cannon fire Monday marked the ceremonial start of the Battle of Gettysburg, 150 years to the day after Union and Confederate troops fought the defining encounter of the Civil War.
But instead of sabre-carrying soldiers, tourists and history buffs are now swarming the battlefield in this small, south-central Pennsylvania town to commemorate the milestone anniversary of the three-day battle.
Little Round Top figures to be one of the most popular destinations Tuesday. No place in Gettysburg has become more popular to visit in recent years than the hill desperately defended by the 20th Maine Regiment on July 2, 1863 — Day 2 of the three-day encounter — in one of the key moments that ultimately led to Union victory.
Thank a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, a Ken Burns documentary and Hollywood for turning the Maine soldiers and its commander, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, into Civil War stars 150 years later.
Chamberlain said, “Bayonets!” 6-year-old Luke Johnson recounted with a yell as he held a toy rifle above his head as if he were swinging around a sword. He was acting out a scene from the 1993 movie “Gettysburg,” in which Chamberlain was played by actor Jeff Daniels
Luke’s mother, Wendi, 39 of Carterville, Ill., said Luke and his 5-year-old brother Andrew had been watching the PG-rated film every day in the weeks leading up to their vacation to Pennsylvania. Andrew “gets upset when I try to turn the movie off. He says ‘The battle’s not over, Mom,” Wendi Johnson said with a laugh. “I say, ‘You know how it ends!”’
Burns’ seminal 1990 documentary about the Civil War also looked at Chamberlain. The 1974 novel, the “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara inspired the movie “Gettysburg.”
The movie has had an influence on some history buffs who decided to take up the hobby of re-enacting. When asked, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett called Chamberlain his favorite figure who emerged from Gettysburg.
“The Civil War came on in some respects for troops on both sides so quickly, and so many people had to become leaders so quickly,” Corbett said during a news conference for the opening Monday of the Seminary Ridge Museum, Gettysburg’s newest attraction. “If you think of the story of Joshua Chamberlain and had the opportunity to read the “Killer Angels” and what he went through, he became my favorite.”