GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Gettysburg National Park Service rangers were shocked this week when high winds blew a 7-foot-high, 1,500-pound bronze statue of a Union soldier off its granite base.
The statue is of the soldier swinging his musket and bayonet in hand-to-hand battle, as was done by real soldiers of both the North and South in the fierce fighting in July 1863.
"At first we thought it might have been vandalism, but it would have taken someone with a big truck and heavy straps to take it down," park Ranger Mike Litterst said Friday. "Then we noticed trees in a straight line by the statue knocked down also, and we figured it had to be a strong blast of wind."
The statue represents the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, one of many units from the state that took part in the historic Battle of Gettysburg. The 150th anniversary celebration of the battle began Friday, with a 10-day program featuring 500 festivities, speeches, events and battle re-enactments through July 8.
Park service officials knew they had to put the statue back on top of its 10-foot-high granite base quickly, with 300,000 or so visitors and tourists expected to visit here over the next 10 days.
"We couldn't bear not to have that famous statue in place for the anniversary," Mr. Litterst said.
There are still some longer-term repairs needed to the statue's right shoulder and to the rifle and bayonet, which were bent when the statue hit the ground. But National Park Service spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said the damage is almost invisible to the untrained eye, and final repairs will be made starting July 8, after the large crowds have left.
The statue stands on Cemetery Ridge, which marked the Union battle lines on July 2 and 3 of the battle. The site is where Confederate Gen. George Pickett attempted to lead an attack July 3 on the Union lines, only to be turned back, leading to the Southern defeat.
Tom Barnes: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-623-1238. First Published June 29, 2013 4:00 AM