WHO: Gene Nichols, 71, of Peabody
WHERE: Gettysburg, Pa.
WHEN: One week in May
WHY: Nichols had been on a similar trip with Elderhostel a year earlier. He returned to learn and see more about the 1863 Civil War Battle of Gettysburg.
THE SEQUEL: ''Gettysburg the second surpassed all my expectations. We concentrated on the battle itself and we walked the battlefield three or four hours a day. We walked with one of the best guides I've ever encountered," Nichols said of Tim Smith, a battlefield guide and historian. ''It's such a fascinating place and it can be overwhelming. All you see are markers and markers and markers. But if you take the time, you can know precisely where the troops were and who commanded them every day of that battle."
PEACE AND WAR: ''I'm not an ardent Civil War fan, nothing like that. My interest is somewhat casual, but I enjoyed Gettysburg because this was such a huge battle. There were 51,000 casualties in three days," he said of the battle that started on July 1. ''You go through the park now and it is so peaceful, with lots of tourists and schoolchildren on field trips. And you say, my God, how did all these people die here?"
AFTER THE BATTLE: Nichols's Elderhostel group of 15 stayed at the Gettysburg Hotel in the town square. ''It's a charming town. You can just about walk all over the entire place," he said. '' . . . If you look at the roads, you see how, strategically, it became so important. There're about eight roads leading in to it."
BAY STATE SOLDIERS: Smith made sure Nichols saw the monument honoring the 20th Massachusetts Infantry. The officers of the 20th killed at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, were Colonel Paul Joseph Revere (grandson of Paul Revere), First Lieutenant Henry Ropes, and Second Lieutenant Sumner Paine, all from prominent Massachusetts families. ''The monument is significant in that it was the first there erected to an entire unit. Also, all the others are made of granite, but this one is made from Roxbury puddingstone," a conglomerate once quarried in Roxbury. ''It was absolutely so beautiful."
FIGHTING IRISH: Another tribute Nichols appreciated was the statue of Father William Corby, chaplain to the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry for the Second Brigade, known as ''the Irish Brigade." In the statue, Corby is giving absolution to the troops before they make their charge. He later became president of the University of Notre Dame.
ANOTHER HOME: Nichols grew up in North Carolina. At Gettysburg, ''there are monuments to different states' troops, but it took a while for Northern states to agree to accept the Southern states' [monuments]," he said. ''They're all along what they call now Confederate Avenue. . . . I thought by far the North Carolina monument was the nicest. It was created by Gutzon Borglum," who carved Mount Rushmore.
NIGHTLIFE: During the evening the group had various presentations. One night, they watched the movie ''Gettysburg" with Martin Sheen; another night there was a presentation of Civil War era music. They were also treated to a living history performance by an Abraham Lincoln character. Nichols said, ''I just have to stop and sort of bring myself to reality and say I can't believe that where I'm standing or where I'm sitting, that these events occurred in 1863 that changed the course of history in this country."