Every summer for the past 21 years I've taken a week off to go to the Civil War Institute, held annually — and certainly most appropriately — on the campus of Gettysburg College.
I make the long journey with my friend, Chris, and when we arrive, we meet up with Richard, who is from Pennsylvania, and Paul, who is from Arkansas. We are dormitory roommates for the week (our tuition provides us with a room and three square meals for the length of the seminar), and have been for all those 21 years. It's great fun. I like to call it Boys Week Out.
One of the things the four of us have done the past decade or so is to hire out one of our favorite Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, Charlie Fennel. We pick a portion of the battlefield that we want to focus on and Charlie, armed with his books, maps and PhD, gives us incredible insights and minutiae about the battle for the next two hours or so, right there on the field. It can get pretty intense and pretty involved. And for Civil War buffs like us, it's a little slice of heaven on earth.
Anyway, this year Charlie suggested we go to the north slope of Little Round Top to explore a very close breakthrough of the Union lines by a Confederate brigade under William Wofford during the second day of the three-day battle. We were having lunch at the Lincoln Diner, and Charlie, who would drive his own car, said to meet him "at the four-way on the Wheatfield Road."
What is important to understand next is that between the Four of Us roommates, we've probably covered every square inch of the massive battlefield over the years. We know where stuff is located. You can drop us blindfolded onto any portion of the field, lift the veil, and we'd know immediately where we are.
Except on this day, when we all suffered from a collective brain freeze.
The critical mistake is that we didn't follow Charlie out in our car. But, you know, we knew where we were going and it didn't matter when we got separated in the short five-mile drive. So when we got to the foot of Little Round Top, at a four-way, we parked the car and got out. Only no Charlie. We didn't even know what Charlie was driving.
Chris said he had Charlie's number, so he called, only to discover that it was Charlie's home phone and consequently he ended up talking to Charlie's wife. Oops. Excuse me.
We recalled Charlie saying something about the wheatfield, so Richard, in an effort to locate our guide, took off on his own, heading to Devil's Den presumably to get to the wheatfield — probably about a mile's walk. Chris shortly took off in pursuit of Richard, I think thinking that Richard actually might be on a fool's errand and to bring him back.
I stayed back with Paul. We headed to the car, all the while Paul rewinding in his mind what Charlie had said and where he wanted us to meet. Suddenly, it occurred to Paul where we were supposed to be. We drove across Little Round Top to the north side, at the four-way there, and there we saw Charlie marching up the hill.
The troops were finally converging.
Paul said he would go find Chris and Richard, so he broke off. Now the Four of Us were scattered across the field. "You've got your cell phone, right?" Paul asked me before he left. "Yep," I said, and he drove away.
Charlie and I walked over to where he would start the tour. I reached in my pocket. No cell phone. "Nuts," I turned to Charlie. "My phone's back at the dorm recharging." Charlie chuckled as one cluster bomb after another in this mess seemed to keep falling on us.
In the end, though, we all found each other. I thought Charlie's tour, starting about 40 minutes late, ended up being one of the best he's ever given us. And I'm sure we'll certainly remember our object lesson in battlefield communications and advanced planning.