By LARRY WOODY
Race driver Sterling Marlin doesn’t give a second thought to slinging a stock car through screeching 200 mph traffic.
But he said a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield ”gave me cold chills.”
”When I looked across that long field where Pickett’s Charge was made, I wondered how in the world they did it,” said Marlin, a lifelong student of the Civil War who was asked to help promote awareness of the Gettysburg national battlefield. ”They marched across that field right into those guns, knowing they didn’t have a chance.”
More than 50,000 men fell in three days of fighting at Gettysburg in early July 1863, climaxed by the annihilation of George Pickett’s division in a final assault on the entrenched Federal position.
Marlin’s family farm in Spring Hill is located near some major battle sites. He has always been intrigued by the Civil War and the men — including some of his ancestors — who fought it.
”I grew up hearing stories about what all happened around here and collecting relics on some of the old battlefields,” he said. ”I’ve found everything from bullets to belt buckles. I’ve never lost that interest that I developed as a kid.”
A few years ago Marlin’s reputation as a Civil War scholar attracted the attention of Jeb Stewart IV, descendant of the famed cavalry commander. Stewart contacted Marlin and they became close friends. Stewart took Marlin on a tour of some prominent battle sites around Richmond, Va., and intends to visit Marlin’s home after the racing season and tour some area sites.
Gettysburg park officials worked with NASCAR to coordinate Marlin’s half-day tour, which included a horseback ride around the battlefield accompanied by a guide. Park officials hope the publicity will help generate interest and support of Gettysburg and other national battlefield parks.
”I was glad to help out,” Marlin said. ”I’d been to Gettysburg before, but with a guide I was able to learn a whole lot more about it.”
Robert E. Lee lost the battle outside the little Pennsylvania town, marking a major turning point in the war. The following year Hood’s Army of Tennessee marched through Spring Hill on its way to a major battle at Franklin — where Hood lost 12 generals — followed a few days later by a crushing defeat at Nashville that represented the last gasp of the Confederacy.
”That war is an important part of our history and a lot of it was fought right here in our back yard,” Marlin said. ”You have to admire the soldiers who fought on both sides.”
© Copyright 2004 The Tennessean