The professor sets up his flip chart and introduces the historic background and the day's itinerary. Students sign in; hand-drawn maps are given out. Sometimes there is a walking tour associated with the lecture.
Back at the parking lot, Dr. Poland explains directions to the next stop. Participants travel by private vehicles to the next stop, which has been scouted out in advance as having sufficient parking for 20-30 cars. (Even though some students carpool, some come alone or with a friend or family member, so there are LOTS of cars!)
The next stop may be longer or shorter, but will feature visual aids, probably a map or diagram, possibly a reproduction of an old photo. Later stops will feature more charts and maps, a walk on the battlefield or a museum visit, and with luck, restrooms!
Sometimes the vehicles stay together in a caravan; sometimes each driver is on his own with directions and a map. Yes, folks get lost sometimes, especially since back roads are not always marked clearly.
Lunch is usually a picnic in some pleasant spot, although not necessarily featuring picnic tables or other niceties. It is a chance to socialize and relax.
The tour continues after lunch, with stops in historic spots both well-known and little-known, some so obscure that most participants would never find them without their guide, Charles Poland!
Often the afternoon includes a stop at a Civil War cemetery, or at least a building that was used as a hospital. We are reminded of the tragedy of men fighting their own friends and relatives, young men wounded and dying for a cause that they believed in, but for which many of us must struggle to understand today.
"On our field trips we see a faint fog of history. If we could see what it was really like, how hideous it was, we wouldn't dare to set foot here." [Cold Harbor]
NEXT Experiencing the Drama of History (with tips for planning your own field trip)
The first two photos on this page were taken by Linda Walcroft. The picture of the author walking through the cemetery at Romney is courtesy of Leona Strich.
Revised Feb. 2004