The Struggle for Devil's Den
The Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides
Spring Seminar, April 8-9, 2011
A few months ago my friend Phil called and told me about this event, and asked if I wanted to go. With advance warning to be able to plan for it I said "sure", and I am extremely glad that I did. The Gettysburg ALBG apparently does two of these a year, one in the spring and a full weekend one in the fall. This specific one focused on the attack and defense of Houck's Ridge and Devil's Den.
The first part of this was a lecture and slide show at 7pm on Friday evening at the Grand Army of the Republic hall in Gettysburg. Just being in that building on that site was pretty cool. The talk was given by LBG Tim Smith, a guide who I have seen several times on the PCN channel's battlefield walks that are shown every year around the anniversary of the battle. I also have one or two of his books, including one titled "Devil's Den; A History and Guide". The talk focused on the history and legacy of Devil's Den, with a major focus on the contemporary and near-contemporary photographic record of the site. Truly fascinating stuff, and a talk which made me go out and buy a couple of William Frassanito's books on the photographic history of Gettysburg.
The Saturday part was the main event, and was to consist of three hours of walking the battlefield from the Confederate point of view in the morning, followed by lunch, then three more hours of walking the battlefield from the Union point of view in the afternoon. The weather, which had rained on my geocaching Friday during the day, was not supposed to be an issue on Saturday (although the forecast was for cool and overcast), but there was a more serious threat. The government budget was set to expire at midnight, and if the budget impasse could not be broken and a settlement reached (however temporary), the park would be closed, as would all other federal facilities, and we would be unable to walk the field. Which meant that the Saturday program would be conducted as a series of lectures in an indoor room. Ugh. Fortunately, that would not come to pass, as a one-week extension was reached at 11:45 pm that would keep the government from shutting down.
I will follow this up with a post on each of the morning and afternoon sessions, with pictures, but suffice it to say that this was a FANTASTIC day and a half of hardcore history geekiness. I can't stress enough what a wonderful job these guides do, and what a tremendous wealth of knowledge they are. I would strongly recommend that anyone with a serious interest in Civil War history in general, or Gettysburg in particular, do whatever they can to attend one of these. They are well worth the modest cost of about $100 for a day-plus of immersing yourself in the history of the battle with people who know it all, inside and out.