Day 17 brought one of the most incredible travel days of our journey. We packed up camp and headed out by 9am, drove through Maryland in an hour, and found ourselves across the Pennsylvania line heading for Gettysburg. Being from Missouri, and average-sized state in the Midwest, it takes at least four hours to arrive at any major city, so driving one hour and having gone past a major metropolitan area (Baltimore) to arrive at another historical site is so odd, but very enjoyable, especially on the fuel budget!
We walked up to the Gettysburg Battlefield visitor’s center, and as we approached, I felt the weight of what transpired on those fields nearly 160 years ago. It reminded me of one of my favorite lines from the Disney movie Remember the Titans, in which Coach Herman Boone said the following to his new team of black and white football players:
“This is where they fought the Battle of Gettysburg. Fifty thousand men died right here on this field, fightin’ the same fight that we’re still fightin’ amongst ourselves today. This green field right here was painted red, bubblin’ with the blood of young boys, smoke and hot lead pourin’ right through their bodies. Listen to their souls, men:
‘I killed my brother with malice in my heart. Hatred destroyed my family.’
“You listen. And you take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together, right now, on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed — just like they were.”
It is well worth the trip to the visitor’s center to see the incredible movie describing in detail the events that led up to the Battle of Gettysburg, the carnage that happened in that place, and the aftermath for those living in Gettysburg. It’s hard to imagine 51,000 soldiers who either died, were injured or were captured during three days around this small town two hours west of Philadelphia, overwhelming the community with inured and maimed soldiers, dead bodies scattered throughout the surrounding fields, littered too with dead & injured horses and scraps of cannons and other weapons. It took months to begin the cleanup, which started with burying as many bodies as they could find, and in November of 1863, led by Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, they dedicated a National Cemetery in honor of those who died in the battle, many of whom were never identified.
Gettysburg was a pivotal battle in the Civil War, as a win for the Confederate Army may have been the final blow in Lincoln’s quest to preserve the Union. Through two days, the General Lee and the Confederate Army had the upper hand, but a gamble by Lee to deliver the knockout blow was met with reinforcements Lee didn’t know had arrived. The Union’s win pushed Lee into full retreat and gave energy to a Union Army that was struggling to survive after major losses in the months prior. It also galvanized the North to continue investing in the struggle to bring it to an end, which finally happened two years later.
We ended our tour in somber appreciation for the sacrifice so many were willing to make, as Lincoln described it, “the last full measure of devotion to their country.” Throughout the exhibits, learning so much about the battle, it seemed inappropriate to take pictures, as we took in all in. The girls decided they hate death and were done with learning about wars, and to that I say, “Amen”. It’s so sad how many men and women throughout history lost their lives too early because of the seeming necessity of war.
After Gettysburg, the mood slowly changed as we headed for the chocolate capital of the World, Hershey, Pennsylvania. As we planned this trip last winter and discovered Hershey would be on the way from Gettysburg to Valley Forge, it was a no-brainer to add in a stop! We Griggs are chocoholics, which would account for my awesome love handles and mini spare tire around my waist!
We started our tour of Hershey at the Hershey Story museum, which took several wrong turns to get there, but we made it. Then we headed to Chocolate World, which is a Disney-like theme park with a huge store, other shops and stops, as well as roller coaster rides. It was completely packed, and I had to park the RV nearly a mile away from the entrance, which ended up being a blessing with all the carbs awaiting my arrival! We enjoyed a small pizza and the best soft pretzel we’ve ever had, complete with cheese sauce, a spicy honey mustard sauce and, of course, chocolate sauce. It held us over as we took the tour of the Hershey factory and the story of Milton Hershey, who started nearly everything in the town of Hershey.
As it turns out, Mr. Hershey was a serial entrepreneur, starting several companies that failed before finally experiencing success with a caramel company, which he sold for $1M to pay for the opening of his chocolate factory, which he didn’t do until his mid- to late-30s. It’s always good to hear the grind that led to a breakthrough, as there is no such thing as an overnight success. Milton Hershey was a classic example, but through hard work and determination, he created an empire out of a small piece of land in central Pennsylvania.
We of course did a little shopping, grabbing only a few chocolate items, instead choosing to add to our collection an oversized sweatshirt (Hannah), a new coffee mug (Tammy), a Hershey’s Princess Barbie Doll (Naomi) and a Chocolate Shake Set (Trey). I tried to claim that my souvenir was the most valuable, as it not only contained two Hershey’s branded shake glasses and an ice cream scoop, but also a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips and another goodie, so my souvenir would be a reminder of our visit and something to enjoy. They weren’t having it.
We ended our trip to Chocolatetown with a walk around the shops, the girls got some ice cream, and we headed back to the RV, another mile-walk, which was helpful in burning off a few extra calories we had consumed. We hit the road for our destination, which was the Walmart SuperCenter in the town of King of Prussia, right next to Valley Forge. We filled up the gas tank, picked up a couple Domino’s pizzas, found a good, level spot on the back side of the Walmart parking lot, turned the generator on, and we were set for the night. It’s amazing how self-sufficient an RV is all by itself.