The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

June 24, 2013

Shaped by history, Gettysburg celebrates milestone

— GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gettysburg changed the direction of American history 150 years ago, and the town hasn't been the same since.

The couple of hundred thousand visitors expected at events to mark the anniversary of the 1863 clash won't have to look far to find remnants of the pivotal campaign of the Civil War, even outside the grounds of the meticulously maintained national park.

Cannonballs and shrapnel remain embedded in a few of the roughly 200 buildings that remain from the period.

Many of the businesses in the rural county seat cater to the throngs of tourists that stream into one of the country's most historic places, from General Pickett's Buffet to Abraham's Lady, a battle-era clothing shop.

And residents can be eager to share their expertise — and their pride.

"To have one of the most iconic battles in the history of our country or the world to take place here and to have this historical heritage in our community is wonderful," said Randy Phiel, the county's top elected official and the logistics manager of an annual re-enactment. "This opportunity won't come again. It's our Olympic moment."

Gettysburg was a quiet backwater in the mid-19th century, but roads connected it to all points on the compass, including south, where the Confederate Army under Gen. Robert E. Lee had launched his army to take the war to its northern opponents.

With a population of 2,400, about one-third its current size, the town was dominated by the carriage industry when war broke out, said Bob Alcorn, a 73-year-old Air Force veteran who leads walking tours of the town. The story that Confederates arrived in Gettysburg looking for shoes appears to be apocryphal, as there was not a single shoe factory in Adams County — though there were 30 in neighboring Franklin County.

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