Battle of Gettysburg remembered 150 years later; battle has personal connection for CBS' Jan Crawford

(CBS News) This weekend, events marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg begin. It's widely seen as the turning point of the Civil War.

CBS News' Jan Crawford recently traveled to the small Pennsylvania town where the pivotal battle was fought, where she found a surprising personal connection.

It was the "high water mark of the confederacy" -- the closest the South came to victory, and the North to defeat.

Gettysburg Mayor William Troxell is a licensed battlefield guide. He described the scene during the battle, saying on one of the fields, "Over 12,000 Confederate soldiers along that tree line came out. As soon as they got out of the wooded area, the Union artillery opened up on them. But the Confederates keep coming and when they reached this wall they came over the wall and in this area we are in right now, this was hand-to-hand combat."

At Gettysburg, 160,000 men fought at Gettysburg. Some 50,000 soldiers -- North and South -- were killed or wounded. It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil and it changed the course of U.S. history.

But to Troxell, it was just the other day. He has a photo taken 75 years ago during the 75th anniversary of the battle. He said, "This is a picture of my mother and a Confederate soldier and me at 11 years old."

About 1,800 Civil War veterans were at the 75th anniversary of the battle -- and met at the site of the great charge. Troxell recalled, "They had them lined up -- Confederates on one side of the wall and Union troops on the other -- and they reached across the wall and shook hands with each other."

It was the last time the veterans were together, but their mementos and memories live on at Gettysburg.

The collection of the Gettysburg Military Park includes more than a million historical artifacts, said Greg Goodell, curator of the Gettysburg National Military Park. In a climate-controlled vault underneath the museum and visitor center is a remarkable collection of documents, weapons, uniforms and other artifacts that tell the story of the battle.

Goodell, with one of those artifacts, explained, "This is actually the slouch hat of Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday. And on July 3rd, two pieces of shrapnel hit him in the head."

CBS News' Jan Crawford said, "There's a hole there -- that's not from shrapnel?"

Goodell replied, "That is the hole from the shrapnel on July 3rd, right there. And he survived that."

At Gettysburg, the past is always present, Crawford said. "Growing up, I heard stories that my great great grandfather W.T. Crawford fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, but I didn't really know much about what he experienced until D. Scott Hartwig, a National Park Service historian, pointed out where Crawford's relative -- part of the 48th Alabama -- would have fought.

Crawford said there were photographs of the area where he fought -- it's called "The Slaughter Pen." Hartwig explained at the location: "The 48th Alabama came to the edge of the woods over here and they were firing across, so they exchanged fire for a long time."

Crawford asked, "What do people need to understand about the significance of this battle of this place?"

Hartwig said, "Most Americans today believe we stand for equality, liberty, freedom for all, and we didn't all stand for that through a part of our history. That's what Lincoln talks about in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln is talking about who we are as a nation."

In that famous address, President Lincoln wrote it was important that "these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom."

Watch Jan Crawford's full report in the video above.

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