KINGS POINT, N.Y., October 20, 2016 - History was recently brought to life for seven members of the Class of 2017 during a staff ride to the Gettysburg Battlefield. Held over the weekend of October 15th, the staff ride was organized by Dr. Jennifer Speelman, Associate Professor in the Kings Point Humanities Department, with the intention of enabling Midshipmen to relive the events of Gettysburg through the eyes of expert historians.
Midshipmen Catherine Don, Danielle Garcia-Lance, Chris George, John Darling, Christopher Svatik, Vera Gilbert, and Mary Catherine Zehnder participated in the event and prior to the trip, read Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels to give them a context for the historical events occuring in July 1863. After reading the book, MIDN Garcia-Lance reflected on the parallels with leadership issues here at Kings Point. “I really felt for General George Meade. He was given the command just before the battle. Just imagine if you were made Regimental Commander three days before INDOC started.”
As an initiative of the Humanities Department, the annual staff ride has emerged as a unique way to blend leadership training, critical thinking, historical analysis, and communication skills in the Humanities curriculum. An avid scholar of the Civil War, Rear Admiral James A. Helis, Superintendent led the battlefield tour and provided commentary explaining how the conflict unfolded. His efforts were augmented this year by Maritime Administrator Paul N. Jaenichen, Sr. and Executive Director Joel Szabat.
During the seven hour battlefield tour, the group visited Reynolds Statue, Oak Hill, Cemetery Hill, the North Carolina Memorial, Little Round Top, the Angle, and the National Soldiers Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. Leadership was at the forefront at stops where the battle raged, as Helis asked the Midshipmen to do a visual inspection of the terrain, to assess the information each commander had, the options open to them, and the decisions they made.
While Midshipmen are exposed to a variety of different cultures while at sea, the Gettysburg staff ride was an opportunity for them to be exposed to the history and culture of their own country. As they stood in the spot where the 20th Maine participated in the desperate struggle to hold the far left of the Union line during the 2nd day of the battle, all of the participants involved were moved as Helis repeated the words of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who said, “in great deeds, something abides, on great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream.”
“This was a very rigorous academic exercise,” Dr. Speelman noted. “Usually, staff rides are done at the graduate school level, but I was so proud of how our First Classmen performed. They provided excellent analysis of the battle.”
Midshipman Darling said “This was my first trip to Gettysburg and I was just blown away by the Museum and Cyclorama at the Visitor’s Center. Everywhere you looked were priceless artifacts connected to the battle.” One million visitors a year visit this National Park Service site.
The Midshipmen’s trip was funded through the generosity of the Class of 1962.