If you have been touring battlefields as long as I have, you have listened to more than your share of recordings over a tinny speaker scattered around the auto tour routes of our national battlefields. I call them "squawk boxes." Sadly, many of these no longer work, and I wonder if the parts to repair them are still available. On my recent trip to Petersburg National Battlefield, almost all of them were broken. I won the dollar in the picture from my friend when I bet the next squawk box would be out of order.
I don’t recall many of these at Gettysburg, but one stands out that was installed on Oak Hill near the observation tower. The narrator described how the XI Corps line was “smashed” by Jubal Early’s Division. The narratives may not have weathered the test of time well, and might seem a bit camp to modern ears, but they bring to mind the days when my Dad first introduced me to these places. For me, they are as integral a part of the landscape as the cannon, rail fences, and monuments.
My favorite squawk box of all time stands along the line of artillery pieces facing the Hornet’s Nest at Shiloh. “Get every gun you can find,” the narrator booms, quoting General Ruggles. This one still worked four years ago when I visited Shiloh – impressive considering I first listened to it almost twenty years before. Antietam has one at the Cornfield tour stop. I am planning to spend Thursday there for the all day anniversary hike, so I’ll be sure to check on it.