Three men in search of peace roamed the ridges and meadows around this town yesterday, seeing for themselves the somber reminders of three days of the bloodiest warfare in American history.
One of them, Jimmy Carter, stood at the top of Seminary Ridge and pointed east across the meadow so that his guests, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, could see the path of Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett's Confederate troops on the last day of the great battle.
Later, the three men looked out across the meadow from Cemetery Ridge, where on July 3, 1863, fire from Union troops under Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade shredded Pickett's line and with it the Confederacy's hopes of victory.
It was both a curious and appropriate place for the three men to come in the midst of a summit conference that seeks ways to avoid another Middle East war between Israel and he Arab neighbors.
Yesterday afternoon, after the three had returned to nearby Camp David, Md., from the Gettysburg battlefield, the summit discussions resumed as Carter and his top advisers met with Begin and key aides from the Israeli delegation.
Nothing was known of the meeting, part of what has become known as "the secret summit," and there was little to be gleaned from the offhand remarks of the leaders as they toured the battlefield.
"You can see they're going well." Begin said on Seminary Ridge when asked how the talks were progressing.
Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, part of the party, later told reporters that "we need another two or three more days for things to crystallize."
However, pessimistic reports, including one that quoted Egyptian sources as saying they were "unhappy" with developments at the summit, continued to swirl around the discussions.
At the very least, yesterday's tour - suggested by Begin despite reported U.S. objections - brought the three men together for almost four hours in the back seat of Carter's limousine.
It was from Seminary Ridge, their first stop on the battlefield, that Confederate forces launched their final assault, since known as Pickett's charge, on the Union lines. Some 13,000 southern soldiers set off down the ridge and into the meadow that July day, with Pickett's units in the middle. About 350 of his men reached the focal point of the attack, the "highwater mark" on Cemetery Ridge, before being driven back.
In yesterday's cool, overcast weather, Carter and Sadat, dressed casually, and Begin, in a three-piece suit, stood beneath a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee while Robert Prosperi of the National Park Service explained what happened in that meadow more than a century ago.
Carter, who toured the battlefield in July, gestured toward the meadow frequently as he added his observations and explanations.
He then led Begin and Sadat along a pathway into the meadow to the point where Lee had ridden to meet his shattered troops and tell them emotionally that he had failed them.
From Seminary Ridge, the huge party moved to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where 3,555 Union dead, including 979 unknown soldiers were buried after the three-day battle and where, on Nov. 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
Security was extremely tight and the crowds were relatively sparse at each of the stops. Reporters had been informed of the tour on Saturday on the condition they not report it until it had begun.
Sadat and Begin smiled dutifully and often for the cameras, and at one point fell into an animated conversation amid the cannons that mark the spot where Union soldiers beat back Pickett's men.
The tour was clearly a brief diversion from the serious business of the summit, but just as clearly a vivid reminder of the cost of war.
There were 51,000 killed and wounded at Gettysburg. The casualty rate for Pickett's forces was 75 percent. When Lee led his defeated army away, according to a guidebook, the wagon train carrying the wounded stretched for 17 miles.