Musings about life, love and genealogy.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Nation Comes Together

October 15, 2015 |

The small plastic bag that I’ve been carrying around since we left Gettysburg reads, “Our Country’s Common Ground.” It was a turning point in the Civil War, and its bloodiest battle. We spent three days there, just like the warring armies. Robert E. Lee was in command of the Army of Northern Virginia and General George Meade led the Army of the Potomac.1 However, the casualties were not limited to the battlefield. The aftermath of the three days of fighting left dead and dying soldiers in fields, public buildings and private homes. It took until January 1864 for the last of the patients and medical staff to finally leave the small Pennsylvania farming town the war disrupted six months earlier.2

Even before the war was over, concerned citizens looked to preserve portions of the battlefield as a memorial to the Union soldiers and in 1864, the Gettysburg Battlefield Association (GBA) was formed.3 When the GBA transferred their land holdings to the federal government in 1895, Gettysburg was designated a National Military Park.4 Within 2 years, there were no less than 90 monuments on the battlefield. There are more than 1,300 today.5

The monuments range from simple to spectacular, including the towering Celtic Cross of the Iron Brigade and the Pennsylvania State Monument, the largest on the battlefield with an impressive 90 bronze plaques listing the names of each of the 34,530 Pennsylvanians who fought there.6 Among the names inscribed on that monument were Loren and Ira Burritt, members of Company K, 56th PA infantry. Loren and Ira were Jason’s great-great uncles, the older brothers of his great-grandmother, Lilian Burritt Brock.

The 56th PA was the second regiment on the battlefield and part of the opening fire on the afternoon of 1 July 1863.7 The company’s monument, on Reynolds Avenue, is a bronze sculpture of three rifles supporting furled colors, a symbol that the regiment has completed its work.

A trip to Gettysburg is something every American should experience. You don’t need to have a veteran ancestor to appreciate the enormity of the sacrifices made by soldiers and citizens on both sides of the conflict. The blood shed on those three days in July, regardless of which flag it was lost for, defines our history as a nation, and in that recognition, we come together on common ground.

Click here to see additional pictures of monuments at Gettysburg.


  1. “Gettysburg History and Culture,” NPS, ( : accessed 15 October 2015).
  2. “Gettysburg History and Culture,” 2015.
  3. “Gettysburg History and Culture,” 2015.
  4. “Gettysburg History and Culture,” 2015.
  5. “Veterans, Monuments and Memory,” Civil War Trust, ( : accessed 15 October 2015).
  6. “Veterans, Monuments and Memory,” 2015.
  7. Monument, Company K, 56th PA Infantry, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA, photographed by Donna Brock, 12 October 2015.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Ghost by Any Other Name

October 13, 2015 |

I’ll admit, I’m writing this blog in between innings of game 4 of the NLDS series. The Mets – my Mets – are down 3-0 after 3 innings. Grrrr...... but, I’m already behind on blogging about our vacation so I’ll soldier on. And speaking of soldiers, yes, we’ve left Gettysburg, but I'm going to re-engage a time or two before I fully retreat.

Our ride from NJ to Gettysburg was scenic, beautiful and relatively uneventful. And then this happened...

...requiring a detour to a Verizon store to buy a new phone. With the new phone safely stashed in the Harley’s tour pack, we mustered on to Gettysburg traversing the pristine and perfectly manicured farmlands of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

We arrived in Gettysburg and checked in to The Swope Manor, a fabulous bed and breakfast a quick double time walk from the center of town. The inn was originally the home of George Swope. George, his wife Margaret and son John were living in the home during that fateful summer of July 1863. We stayed in the Meade Room, a nod to General George Meade, and our friends were in the Lt. Pohlman Room, named for the Union soldier who died there on July 21.1

Does the ghost of Lt. Pohlman still walk the floors of the Swope Manor? Someone does. At breakfast on Saturday morning, while telling the tale of the lieutenant’s demise, and assuring Liz and Jeff that he died in one of the first floor parlors and not the room they spent the night in, my teacup unexplainably started to rattle in its saucer.

That was the closest we got to the paranormal this trip, despite the ghost we took through the Farnsworth House, advertised as one of the most haunted houses in Gettysburg. It started in the garret (attic) of the Farnsworth House (where we had a lovely dinner prior to the tour) and tales of sharpshooters volleying ammunition across Baltimore Avenue and a mischievous young ghost who is drawn to blonde with blue eyes and likes to untie shoes. My bright white laces remained untouched, but Jason’s ball cap was pushed up on his head.

But it was the story of the Murphy brothers, James and Brady, soldiers with the 54th NY Infantry, that had us most intrigued. Brady, after losing his sight to exploding cannon fire, is escorted to a tree near the medical tent by his brother, James. Long story short, and believe me, it was a looooong story, James was killed in that explosion, so how could he possibly have taken care of his younger brother? My curiosity got the better of me and I researched the Murphy brothers and the 54th New York.

The 54th New York Infantry, under the command of Major Stephen Kovacs, was part of the Army of the Potomac’s First Brigade, First Division, 11th Army Corps. One of several German regiments in the division, the 54th NY, also known as the “Hiram Barney Rifles”, saw action in the Confederate attack of East Cemetery Hill on July 2, 1863.

Unfortunately, neither James nor Brady Murphy were on the roster of the 54th New York, so the bigger question is, how could they haunt a battlefield they were never on?

Not a ghost of a chance.


  1. Melody Asper, “Gettysburg Swope Manor Becomes a B&B,” 2 May 2013; online edition, The Evening Star, ( : accessed 13 October 2015).
  2. National Parks Service, “The Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg”, NPS, ( :accessed 13 October 2013).
  3. National Parks Service, “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System,” NPS, ( accessed 13 October 2015), search for Brady and James Murphy, New York. Search yielded no results.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Wedding Belles

October 12, 2015 |

It’s now Day 4 of our 2015 Harley vacation but the first day I’ve blogged about it. Unusual, yes, but after a stopover in NJ to see the munchkins, 3 amazing days in Gettysburg and a daylong Harley ride to Elkins, West Virginia, there’s finally time to sit and put thoughts to keyboard.

There’s so much to tell about our Gettysburg experience - battlefields, monuments, ghost tours and a photo shoot as a Civil War officer with his southern belle. And speaking of belles, the sweetest one on this trip was the wedding variety.

We haven’t seen our friends Jeff and Liz since we left Massachusetts for Virginia. Since we’re both motorcycle and history enthusiasts, we thought Gettysburg would be a phenomenal opportunity for North and South to meet for a fall getaway. Unknown to us, they hoped to get married while we were there and two weeks before our rendezvous, they honored Jason and I by asking us to be witnesses at their wedding. It was a privilege to stand with our very good friends as they exchanged vows, rings and giggles. It was a simple but touching ceremony in the courtyard of The Swope Manor, the lovely bed and breakfast we called base camp while we explored the battlefields and history of Gettysburg.

The bride was radiant and the groom dapper. The love in their eyes was as beautiful as the sunset over Little Round Top and their future as promising as this morning’s sunrise. The ceremony was followed by champagne, the giggles became belly laughs and we celebrated the nuptials with dinner at The Dobbin House Tavern, Gettysburg’s oldest and most colonial home.

There’s something to be said about writing the first chapter of your history together in one of the most historic towns in our country. Congrats, Jeff and Liz!