Birth Of A "Buff"
A retrospective essay by Michael Aubrecht
Photographs (1978 & 1979) by Thomas and Linda Aubrecht

In 1978, I was a scrawny six year-old kid with only two real interests in the world; GI Joe and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unlike today, the 70's was a much simpler time, and playing army or sports in my backyard was all that really mattered. Family time was also an important part of my childhood and vacations were eagerly anticipated in the Aubrecht house. Over the years, we had driven or flown to several destinations including Disneyworld, Niagara Falls, and Sea World. All of them were magical, but none as special as the place we visited in 1978.

That was the summer my family traveled to the National Military Park at Gettysburg. I remember it like it was yesterday and how funny the name "Gettysburg" sounded to me at the time. I also recall how I had absolutely no idea what was there. Did it have an amusement park, or a beach, or maybe some natural wonder, or a water park? Those were the types of getaways I was used to. "Nope." my mother said, "Don't worry. I think you'll like it." For some reason, both my mother and father kept the main attraction a surprise and I vividly recall asking them repeatedly on the drive there, where were we going and what we would see.

After what seemed like days, we finally arrived at this little tourist town in Pennsylvania greeted by miles of wooden rail fences and wheat fields. "What is this?" I asked myself, "Some kind of farm?" Pulling into the town, I can still picture all of the flags (both Union and Confederate) that adorned the doorways of virtually every store and hotel in sight. I also remember seeing what I thought were blue and gray cowboys painted on the signs for several museums and attractions. "Whatever took place here," I told myself, "it happened a long time ago."

As we checked in, my parents gave me a very brief introduction on where we were and why we were there. Hearing the key word "war," my mind began to race as I tried to take it all in. A Civil War? Americans fighting Americans? Soldiers? Slaves? Instantly a mass of both familiar and foreign terms sparked my interest. As we departed the hotel and began to sightsee, I found myself becoming more and more excited about where we were and what I was about to experience. I recall seeing real cannons for the first time and lots of big gray statues and monuments. I remember feeling so small while looking up at these giant bearded guys on horses that were wielding guns and swords. Very cool. Very cool indeed!

The battlefield itself was a bit of a bore initially as endless rock outcroppings and miles of grassy fields failed to capture the imagination of this six year-old boy. On the other hand, the many museums and other attractions we later visited really caught my eye. I clearly remember every sight we saw including the Wax Museum, Robert E. Lee's Headquarters, Jenny Wade's House, the Gettysburg Cyclorama, and of course the National Cemetery where miles and miles of tombstones mark the graves of our fallen brothers in arms. After attending every show and spectacle available, the battlefield took on a whole new meaning and I vividly recall our second tour out to hallowed locations like Seminary Ridge, Little Round Top, High Water Mark, the site of Pickett's Charge and Devil's Den.

I remember ducking down behind the stone walls and pretending it was July of 1863. Often I would force my little sister to play the role of the "loser" in that particular melee and I must have "shot" her dead a thousand times. (Sorry Melissa.)

As our vacation progressed, the tales of these men and the three-day battle in which they participated captivated me like nothing had before, or has since. I began to understand the impact of the Civil War and respected the North's battle to preserve the Union, as well as the South's fight for state's rights. Initially, I struggled to find the "bad guy" in all of this. After all, when I played army at home it was always me, the American, fighting any number of our previous enemies whether the Germans or Japanese or Russians. This "civil" war however was very different and even I could not bring myself to judge either the blue or the gray. Ultimately, neither side were "true enemies" and I felt that both were acting on behalf of their country and God.

Over the next few days, I spent every waking minute possible soaking up as much knowledge as I could on the War Between the States. I also soaked up a ton of souvenirs and went home loaded down with a kepi hat, musket pistol, books, toy soldiers, postcards, maps and even a bunch of View Master discs (remember those) that featured the photography of Matthew Brady. In retrospect, Mom and Dad definitely shelled out some cash on that trip. The following year we returned again and I don't think I ever anticipated a family vacation as much as that one. By then I was a seasoned seven year-old Civil War Buff who had even memorized the Gettysburg Address. "Four score and seven years ago…" This time, I understood exactly where we were and the sacrifice of the men President Lincoln honored in that speech.

What had started off as a simple family vacation changed my life forever as Gettysburg left an indefinable impression on me that remains to this very day. Now I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia and the same magic that I experienced in the north now surrounds me in the south. Just as I cannot forget this childhood experience, I cannot forget the men who fought and died so that America could be reborn in unity.

God Bless every Billy Yank and Johnny Reb who fell on the fields of battle all across America and God Bless my parents who introduced me to them all.




A proud, published member of

Copyright 2005 Michael Aubrecht - Best viewed in Internet Explorer at 1024x768+