Gettysburg Lost

something sacred and holy in the warfare

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. No American gets through a public education without at least once learning of this watershed event. Immortalized by Lincoln’s words, Romaticised by Michael Shaara’s pen, embalmed by the National Park Service, and commercialized by tourist traps, this small Pennsylvania valley town thrives in a region of America that isn’t nearly as lucky—the Appalachian Piedmont.

The linguist me in savors the unintended double entendre of the word “civil” in the phrase “American Civil War.” That title is even deceiving—most of the Civil War was waged in Virginia, most of the South’s command was from the Old Dominion. Burial sites are not called tombs but shrines—a powerful word sentimentalizing the loss of Dixie; relics to a lost culture. There was nothing civil about this war. It was either genocide of a culture, waged in the Deep South, or the righteous emancipation of the enslaved. It was also the nail in the agrarian coffin, and the triumph of the industrial revolution. The Civil War lives large in our culture because through it, our modern culture was born.

Stonewall Jackson Shrine - Virginia

“Never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep…”–Paradise Lost, Milton

To this day, the scars on America from this conflict are still oddly visible, in places where the poor who fought this war on behalf of the philosopher kings of the US Senate, House of Representatives, Governorships and White House passed down their bile for one another. When I moved south of the Mason-Dixon, into the Confederacy, I found that the scars of war remain all over.  Battlefield signs litter every rural town. The war was common place here. People know who their ancestors were that fought in the war.


“Who overcomes, by force, hath overcome but half his foe.”–Paradise Lost, Milton

Gettysburg is unique among the battles for its location, victors, and bloodshed. Sons of Pennsylvania in particular know the story of Gettysburg well. In 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee made a push into the Union, taking the war to the Union, to turn her soil into battlefields. For the first three years of the war, Lee was the victor in every major conflict. The north suffered from clumsy and arrogant leadership in the Army. Lincoln replaced generals constantly. Lee was perhaps the greatest tactician to have graduated West Point, and he wasn’t on the Union’s side. Lee’s plan was to rally in the North, then invade Washington, DC from the top of the map. His hope was to force northern politicians to abandon the bloodshed and begin to negotiate with the South as an equal nation. Had he been successful, the path to DC from Gettysburg would be unimpeded. The maneuver was audacious in vision.

The Federal Advance

“Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell. ”–Paradise Lost, Milton

Yet, by accident, the northern army’s Calvary intercepted Lee’s divisions outside of Gettysburg. The Northern army had the enviable “high ground,” so necessary in field combat. The southern army would have to march over open farmland and up the Pennsylvania foothills to dislodge the army from the hilltops. Lee knew he could not win here, yet that odd chivalry captured so well in Shaara’s “The Killer Angles” compelled these generals to send their infantry into the great maw of battle.

...Through the Valley of Death...\

“Be strong, live happy and love, but first of all
Him whom to love is to obey, and keep
His great command!”–Paradise Lost, Milton

What do people seek when the come to these Pennsylvanian fields of war? Or any old American battlefield for that matter? America is still largely rural, and every battlefield of every conflict remains consecrated ground. In old Europe, many battlefronts are obscured by development as there is no room for such preservation. And among those hallowed park lands, Gettysburg lives largest among battlefield sites. The tourist industry keeps the little town afloat. The latest generation of tourists seem to seek some sort of wholesome entertainments for their families–soft serve ice-cream, souvenirs, and ghost hunting. Previous generations littered the battlefield with Roadside Americana neon and kitch. And before them, the survivors of the conflict in the height of late 19th century Romanticism encrusted the farmlands with countless monuments to the fallen men, regiments, divisions and corps.

When the Sun Shone

“What though the field be lost?
All is not Lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And the courage never to submit or yield.”–Paradise Lost, Milton

Historians differ on whether Gettysburg is worth the fuss. The northerners, yellow journalists and victors declared Gettysburg the “high water mark” of the Confederacy. Lee’s first major defeat would linger–he would never win decisively again. The South’s only hope after Gettysburg was for stalemate. Disregarded at the time, Lincoln made a rather pithy speech compared to the two-hour oration of Everett, yet the Gettysburg Address is one of the great sentiments of American Oratory, etched on every schoolboys heart. Yet the battle was not decisive, as the war would continue, more lives would be lost elsewhere.

The 500 Kepis of Private Bartholomew Cubbins

Gettysburg is a destination that is a mirror–it shows the admirer what he want to see. Civil War re-enactors display a living tribute to that age on those fields as a sign of respect. Or perhaps they are the original fanboys. Ghost hunters wander Elysium at night, seeing shadows and mist, in the believe that the carnage of a century and a half ago is indelible on this landscape. Of that notion, I too am romantic, but know full well that many tourist who know nothing of the events of the day see just farmland and soft-serve ice cream.

Distelfink - Gettysburg Pa - 2005

“Solitude is sometimes the best company”–Paradise Lost, Milton

However, the austere beauty of the place, high up over the battlefields from Little Roundtop, can allow for contemplation if you are there at the right time of day. Truly summer is the season for Gettysburg, with its throngs of tourists marching through the fields, riding the tram along major sites, and even driving along roadways–much like a cemetery’s row. My last visit to Gettysburg was in summer. I was staying in nearby Emmitsburg, Maryland for a business meeting, and I knew that travel adventure awaited me a mere 10 miles up the road. I benefited from the early morning sun waking me at 5 AM. And before the tourists’ wake, I took to the fields early, to walk in solitude (with the occasional local morning jogger doing his routine) among the fields. I thought of my own ancestors–some of which fought here–and the stories passed down to me. Of my ancestral grandfather whose horse doctoring made him good enough to wield a field “surgeons” bone saw. Or how many lead bullets caused amputation–including his own.

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Gettysburg National Military Park - Pic 39

I saw the remnants of the modernist Richard Neutra cyclorama building, which used to house a 360 degree painting of “Pickett’s Charge.” The building, despised by re-enactors and historians and now demolished, was replaced with a derivative historicist barn that looks just as awful. I loved that contrast–the stark white building behind the copse of trees, but I suppose I was in the minority. But that struggle typifies the new Battle of Gettysburg. Nearly half of the battlefields are preserved–the rest have been developed with ticky-tack homes, economotels, and neon signs. Sometimes the historians win, as in the defeat of a casino developer. Sometimes they lose. In those loses, I see Gettysburg as lost. Others may see Gettysburg found.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

And still others see none of it. When I saw families wander down West Middle Street with dad agog in boyhood nostalgia, mom window shopping among the old Victorian storefronts, boys in union caps and daughters with the soft-serve, I noticed that perhaps Gettysburg offers something for every personality in a rather organic way. Gettysburg’s industry is not commanded by some Miltonian despot governing an Epcot Center conglomerate that has burnished the entire town under one brand. Rather, each small, independent enterprise adds to the whole. And seeing this sacred place in total, rather than its component parts relieves that discord, that in this paradise a war once happened.

Town of Gettysburg from Culp\'s Hill

“They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”–Paradise Lost, Milton

Gettysburg sunrise Photo credit: thelearnedfoot_ / / CC BY-NC-ND

Soldier Photo credit: Soaptree / / CC BY

Monuments Photo credit: fauxto_digit / / CC BY

General Lee Photo credit: Mathew Brady / / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Skyline Photo credit: thelearnedfoot_ / / CC BY-NC-ND

Ice Cream Photo credit: cam_rich345 / / CC BY-SA

Shrine Photo credit: / / CC BY-NC-ND

Tourist Trap Hats Photo credit: crowolf / / CC BY-NC-SA

Reenactors Photo credit: Rob Shenk / / CC BY-SA

Neutra Photo credit: thelearnedfoot_ / / CC BY-NC-ND

Downtown Gettysburg Photo credit: Dougtone / / CC BY-SA



Myron Cope 1929-2008

A typical conversation around the Three Rivers–the Allegheny, Monongahela and the Ohio:

“Wat’s he yammerin’ abaht?”

“I dohn’t know, what didya bring fer lunch?”

“Why are you sow nebby? I didn’t bring anything, ya jagoff.”

“Well, let’s got dahn to the Giant Iggle an’ get some chip-chop ham hoew-gies.”

“Can I get brick cheese ahn it?”

Rarely do I slip into the diglossia that plagues my family, and by extension—my race of Western Pennsylvanians—who have spent the better of two centuries butchering the queen’s English. When I  do so, I notice that I slip back into the quaint regional dialect like well worn pair of jeans. Since leaving the Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands in the 80’s, I have spent a lifetime apologizing for my dialect. My siblings didn’t have it so well. Too young to fight off the public schools, they were forced into speech therapy to correct the Pennsylvania dialect, to be replaced with, dare I say it, a Cleveland brough!.

My Western Pennsylvania dialect is known as “Pittsburghese”–named for the big city in the region. It is the closest I may come to experiencing an “ethnicity” in the same manner that so many Americans do. Don’t get me wrong, I am proudly American. But, I am Pennsylvanian first and always, no matter where I live. Rather than hide this rather idiosyncratic speech, I find myself landing on each “Pittsburghese” word more and more forcefully. Sure enough, I will put aside my dialect when in mixed company. But when I am among family, I notice the familiar patterns slide right back where they belong.


Pittsburghese has been described as if a German-born speaker, say an Amish person, tried to learn English from a Scots-Irishman. And well, that is exactly what happened. Anyone who has driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike can’t help but think they have been transported back to the old Irish countryside, with placenames like Donegal and Somerset, then onward to England via York and Lancaster, and then old Germany Strasburg and Womelsdorf. Early settlers, away from the east coastal towns, were forced to learn English in the thickest fog of accents. And so, until the late 20th century anyway, these dialectical oddities survived in Pennsylvania.

I am surprised that, given the ubiquity of American culture now, that any of these phrases have stood the test of time. I am glad that they have, for these little “incorrect” parts of speech and colloquialisms tie me right back into my Pennsylvanian motherland. When I travel through the Allegheny mountains to visit what remains of my family, I am heartened by these little things.

Some of these words and phrases meandered into my vocabulary through my dad’s side of the family, where his mother’s line, the Kriders, were likely Pennsylvania Dutch–Amish–at some point. My own surname has been in Pennsylvania since at least the 1780’s, and we have all mastered the dialect, if not contributed to its continuation. While I might not use some of these words and phrases, I certainly hear them when around my dad or my extended family.

So, if you ever catch me in a moment of speaking in my Pennsylvanian tongue, I hope this little guide below helps you get through the conversation. The following phrases and word pronunciations come through Pennsylvania Dutch and Scots-Irish, and have something in common with Appalachian, Kentucky and Ohio River valley dialects for good reason—as they share a common ancestry.(sources:

  • Crick, not Creek. Also, Warsh, not Wash, and Root, not Route.
  • “Dawn” and “Don” are homophones.
  • Eagle is “Iggle”—so much so that Giant Eagle grocery stores once had a mascot named Iggle.
  • Elisions of couldn’t, wouldn’t and shouldn’t to “coulda, woulda, shoulda”
  • “Ignernt”—said just like this, not necessarily meaning “ignorant” but “rude.”
  • The lack of  the infinitive “to be”—“This needs washed” rather than “ This needs to be washed.”
  • Yammerin—babbling—as in “What is he yammerin’ about?”
  • The lack of an “—ing” ending on most verbs—e.g. “Where are you goin’?” Note that this pronunciation is different that the Italian-American “go-in.” It is more like “go-un.”
  • Words ending in -ower are pronounced -ar. Shower is pronounced as shar, power as par, etc. This also applies to the word hour (pronounced as “are”).

Pittsburghese—the mother tongue of Pittsburgh–is as unique as the three rivers that flow through the city. I have to imagine that once KDKA radio started broadcasting over the air in the 1930’s, that the Pittsburgese dialect landed in many a living-room, including my grandparents, who gave me these nuggets:

  • Babushka—a head-scarf
  • Buggy—a grocery cart
  • Chipped, or “chip-chop” Ham—a low quality deli-meat found mostly at Isley’s, now at Giant “Iggle.”
  • “City Chicken”—pieces of pork skewered on wood to resemble a chicken leg. Pronounced “Cee-e Chicken.”
  • Cruds, or Cruddled Milk—Cottage Cheese.
  • Brick Cheese—Muenster Cheese
  • Dippy Eggs—this is from the Amish “Dippy Ecks”—but basically, over-easy eggs. Dippy lends itself to the more colorful “dipshit.”
  • Dahn-Tahn is “downtown’”. However, dollar is “dauwler”, college is “cauwlege”
  • Mall is more like “maul”
  • Gumband—rubber band
  • Sweeper—vacuum
  • Hoagie—sub sandwich
  • Jagger—a thorn, or something like a thorn, or a pejorative (jagoff).
  • Jumbo meat—Bologna
  • Kennywood’s Open—your fly is down.
  • Neb, nebby—nosey person.

So, when you make your next sojourn or accidental pit stop in Western Pennsylvania, you will be about as ready as any Berlitz guide will make you for another foreign land. Everyone fawns over Boston’s accent or New York’s attitude. The greater Pittsburgh area is full of the same dialectical charm and abuse of the Received Dialect.


Primanti Bros. Mural Photo credit: wallyg / / CC BY-NC-ND

Myron CopePhoto credit: Hryck. / / CC BY

Pittsburghese Photo credit: jparise / / CC BY-SA

Old Country: River Rats, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania


Some immigrant families to the US talk of life in the old country–the ancestral homeland. They speak of their family traditions and culture, and often highlight the best of their old traditions that do not translate well to the American lifestyle. As the migrating generation becomes a parent, then a grandparent, those traditions fade. For the new generation, at some point they may ask questions about the homelands, and hope someone can answer them.

Most people do not know too much about their grandparent’s grandparents. As living memory departs, only the detritus of their lives remains. Photos and newspaper clippings, old deeds and lock boxes, obsolete watch fobs and old clothes are left to reconstruct the story for the young generations who care to listen. The only connection we moderns might have to our ancestral homelands is to actually go there, to see the same vistas that perhaps our grandparents did, to walk in the woods that they too might have walked, to find neighborhoods and street addresses and take in a scenic site that might have been around in their time.

Americans whose families have been here awhile do not have those immediate stories of  the old country. They have been stewing in the great American melting pot for so long that any unique heritage has been well-boiled. Surely, we know that we are from some place “over there,” and maybe an odd tradition or foodstuff is still used in the home.

My family roots in America are older than the Republic. My pioneers became farmers, then smithies, then coal miners and factory shop guys. They are all Scots-Irish. My ancient kin were the kind of Scots that no one wanted around. First they were kicked out of Scotland by the landed gentry, then off the Ulster plantation because they couldn’t get along with the Irish. They found their way to the ends of the new world at that time, the Appalachian Mountains and in the valleys of what would become Western Pennsylvania in the 1760’s. And in those hills they named their villages after the towns in their old country that showed them the door–Donegal and Somerset, and after the people who expelled them, Lords Pitt and Westmoreland.

My old country remains the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. On a clear evening, up in those old, withered mountains, you can keep an eye on the city folk in Pittsburgh, the peaks of the PPG crystal castle sticking up over the horizon. General Washington had a similar idea 237 years ago, when asked what he might do if the British won the war:


If defeated everywhere else, I will make my stand for liberty among the Scots-Irish…”

Washington knew that from this vista, he might see the British coming. And given the Scots-Irish were born fighting, from the Scottish lowlands, to Ulster Ireland, to Colonial America, it must have seemed to Washington like the best way to go. Intriguingly, thirty years later, the wily Scots-Irish rebelled against father Washington himself, when the federal government proposed a whiskey tax here in these foothills. Perhaps Washington remembered his allegiance to the Scots-Irish, for when he quelled the Whiskey Rebellion, he pardoned many of the fighting Scots-Irish, and left them to their hollers and hillsides.

The Laurel Highlands are still peppered with those descendents. The mountains get their name from the “Mountain Laurel”–the spoonwood plant. Mountain Laurel is a signature plant in the Appalachia, growing along the mountain range from Georgia to New York. The waxy leaves cover up old logging in old growth forests. The people in those hills have been called a lot of things over the years, “Hilljack” being the most pejorative. Some of us got off of the mountain, and are barely recognizable to those family we left up there. But we share that old country, and that vista.

Mountain Laurel in Bloom by a Little Waterfall

River Rats

Before the age of amusement parks, people had to find their fun for free. And in the Laurel Highlands, locals headed to the watering holes that can be found all over southwest Pennsylvania. Ohiopyle, a small village of 59 people in Fayette County, still offers those experiences. Ohiopyle is a river rat’s home. Canoing, whitewater rafting and cheap beer–Stoney’s, Straub and even Iron City–by the case (as that is the only way it is sold in Pennsylvania) abound in this country corner. The summers are cooler in the mountains, the water runs briskly. Ohiopyle offers the water slide enthusiast a singular experience–a “natural waterslide” carved into the creekbeds around the Youghiogheny River.



Before too long, the city slickers found out about the whitewater, and with the advent of the automobile and the transcontinental Lincoln Highway, they arrived. The most famous of the new money to find their way to Ohiopyle was Edgar Kaufmann, the owner of a major department store in downtown Pittsburgh. His family set up a modest campsite at Mill Run, just outside of Ohiopyle. Kaufmann decided to set up a more permanent weekend retreat, and connected with an architect looking to re-start his career as the eminent architect of his, or any era. Kaufmann’s wallet and Frank Lloyd Wrights ceaseless creatively created one of the most famous residences in the world, Fallingwater.


Fallingwater earned Frank Lloyd Wright world-wide acclaim. Franklin Toker, in his book “Fallingwater Rising” points out that so much of this house’s international acclaim was due to the efforts of Kauffman himself to promote Wright’s work to William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce–media moguls who spread the word about this oddity in Hearst’s newspapers and Luce’s Time magazine. In the years that followed, celebrities and global personalities would make the winding trek to Fallingwater to experience high architecture with nature running through it. What the hilljacks must have thought when Albert Einstein rolled past the one-stop-light towns, perhaps stopping for gas, hair akimbo, seeking directions to Kaufmann’s house at a local general store.

For this trip to Ohiopyle and Fallingwater, I teamed up with the Elder Eclectic–my dad. These woods and hillsides were his homeland. Yet, in the fifty plus years of his life, he never managed a visit over to Fallingwater.

“Too fancy,” his response.”But Ohiopyle has some nice campin’.”

It sure does. Ohiopyle State Park surrounds the little town, and offers a lot of seclusion under the mountain laurel, easy access to those natural water slides, and if you clean yourself up, a visit to Fallingwater once dry.

Cucumber Falls, long exposure, Ohiopyle State Park, PA

I did get my dad in the front door of Fallingwater despite the fanciness. That Scots-Irish DNA is indelible. Suspicion of those gentry in any century, and a love of the outdoors. When Kaufmann built his dream cabin, few homes in the Laurel Mountains had indoor plumbing, let alone running water or electricity. Those cabins might have had a few rooms, maybe. The city slicker built a pleasure dome for himself right in the middle of the Lost Tribes of Scotland.

Many a tourist has written their impressions of the home, and I will offer a few of my own here. The building is an engineering marvel, cantilevered into the bedrock, the floors are the burnished cliff side, Mill Run flows right through the house. Wright constantly plays with the senses of where nature ends and where the home begins. The tour ends with a women’s committee–the city folk–making a pitch to save Fallingwater and other Wright treasures in the region. I have to say, this bit of the tour falls on deaf ears, as any donation to southern Pennsylvania might be better spent at a food bank or shelter. Wright has global support, the Scots-Irish do not.

PA - Mill Run: Fallingwater - Dressing Room

Many tourists march through my old country without taking much of that scenery in. That is their folly. The reason Kaufmann built the house in the Appalachian foothills was because he was seeking the vistas and solitude it provided. He wanted that experience in the woods as well, just on his terms. As for Fallingwater, to best understand Frank Lloyd Wright, you have to appreciate his effort to blend all of his architecture into its natural surroundings. Wright’s first homes evoked the horizontal line of the Midwestern prairie. His Arizona homes would never be built taller than the Saguaro cactus or as he called it “Arizona’s skyscraper.” Both Kauffman and Wright loved the nature that surrounded Fallingwater as much as the building itself.  To visit there without keeping that in mind is to miss the whole spirit of the place.

Fallingwater remains the reason why most tourists will bear the descent from the civilizing Pennsylvania Turnpike into hollers and ravines and into towns where even fast-food hasn’t penetrated, to get a glimpse of Frank’s masterwork. Yes, dear reader, it is a draw for this collector of the eclectic as well. But as the tourist holds onto his lunch, praying for the hillside drive to end quickly, I take in the vistas, the streams, the mountain laurel, the cold mountain air of my old country. And if you allow for a moment, it can be your adopted old country as well.

Laurel Mountains Photo credit: macwagen / / CC BY-NC-ND

Pittsburgh vista photo credit jmd41280 / / CC BY-ND

Fallingwater Photo credit: pablo.sanchez / / CC BY

Natural Waterslides Photo credit: y0chang / / CC BY-NC-ND

Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle Photo credit: Alaskan Dude / / CC BY

Fallingwater Interior Photo credit: wallyg / / CC BY-NC-ND

Mountain Laurel Photo credit: Thruhike98 / / CC BY-NC-SA