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Oct 28

Government of the people, by the people, for the people…

Posted on October 28, 2013 at 10:01 AM by Craig Jacobson

American Heritage Gettysburg Symonds.jpg150 years ago, On July 1st, a battle was fought for that cause.  It would be one that we would not be able to forget and it would be a turning point for America.  Shortly before, from April 30th to May 6th, 1863, the Battle of Chancellorsville was fought between Union Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac and Gen. Robert E Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. There was no match even though Lee was outnumbered 2 to 1.  The Union had fought this battle with the hope of taking Richmond and ending the war.  This battle ended in retreat for Hooker and his men.  For Lee, it was his first invasion of the North and with this victory under his belt, he wanted to start a second invasion of the north to fight and destroy the Union army once and for all.  Hopefully, this would persuade the Northern politicians to end this war.  However, Lee’s army had been radically changed by the death of Lee’s most trusted general, Stonewall Jackson after the battle at Chancellorsville.  Many wonder if the outcome of this war would have been different had he lived.  The Union’s leadership also changed three days before the battle, when Hooker was replaced by Major General George Gordon Meade.

It was more happenstance than some great battle plan that brought these 2 great armies together again at the town of Gettysburg, to fight the costliest battle of the whole Civil War.  Neither commander intended to fight at Gettysburg.  Some say that a Confederate brigade, looking for much-needed shoes, instead, ran into some Federal cavalry and a small skirmish began. By the end of the first day, the battle favored the Rebels, but as the battle shifted and continued through two more days of fighting, it was finally won by the Union.  Great maps and battle details as well as first-hand accounts of those who fought there, are found in the following books:  These Honored Dead Desjardin.jpgAmerican Heritage History of the Battle of Gettysburg, These Honored Dead , Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, Gettysburg: a Battlefield Atlas, They Met at Gettysburg, and  Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign

In Gettysburg: A Journey in Time, the story of this battle is told through pictures, including one of 69-year old,  John Burns, a citizen of Gettysburg who couldn’t just sit around and just watch it all happen.  He had fought in the War of 1812 and he was the only citizen of Gettysburg to fight in this conflict.  He fought the first day along with the 150th Pennsylvania regiment and later with the Iron Brigade which included the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiments.   He suffered 3 wounds and went on to become one of the most famous heroes of the battle.  When Abe Lincoln came to Gettysburg in November, he requested to meet the “Old Patriot”.  

Sometimes history is best told through those who have lived through the experience.  In Witness to Gettysburg, the story is told by the men and women, both military and civilian, who lived through these three days.  Another unique perspective is shown in The Gettysburg Nobody Knows.  The author has brought together nine experts that focus on the unknown, the controversial and what might have been during these three days.  They also shed light on what the battle did to the people of Gettysburg and how common soldiers influenced the battle.

Hearts touched by fire McPherson.jpgA few days after the twentieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the editors of The Century Magazine were trying to decide which battle was truly the bloodiest battle of all.  They thought it would be great if they could offer their readers “a series of papers on some of the great battles of the war to be written by officers in command on both sides.”   Those papers ended up being a four- volume series, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.  We have this series as well as many other volumes about the Civil War in our Kenneth Jamron Civil War Special Collection.  You are more than welcome to come into the library and browse through this collection.  In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Hearts Touched by Fire was written containing “the most enduring entries” from this set.  A special feature of this book is an introduction written by well known Civil War historians including James McPherson, Craig L. Symonds, and James I. Robertson, Jr. for each year of the war, adding their comments of all that transpired that year.

When at last it was all over, 51,000 soldiers from both armies were killed, wounded, captured, or missing in action.  It was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.  No other battle claimed as many officers as this one did.  Of the 120 generals gathered there, nine were killed or mortally wounded.  Later on, both Lee and Meade would submit their resignations, Lee for having failed to win at Gettysburg and Meade for allowing Lee and his men to get away.  As disappointed as both presidents were, neither Lincoln nor Davis could afford to accept their resignations.  In Retreat From Gettysburg, you get to see what a challenge it was for Lee to move his people, equipment, scavenged supply wagons, and ambulances fifty-seven miles through mountain passes and quagmires and all the time trying to avoid Meade’s army while trying to get back to the safety of  Virginia.                                               

Gettysburg dvd.jpgTo get a more visual picture of this battle you might want to watch the DVD Gettysburg.   In yet another DVD by the same title, Gettysburg, 13,000 volunteer Civil War re-enactors were used “who paid their own way, provided their own props and uniforms, fought the battles presented on screen using the same tactics as were current at the time”.  Ken Burns did a whole documentary on this war.  In, The Civil War Vol. 2, he focuses on Gettysburg.

Historical fiction will help you feel like you were there.  A vivid portrayal of this conflict is found in Killer Angels.  In this Pulitzer Prize winning book,  Michael Shaara opens your eyes to the two dreams of this battle, ”one dreams of freedom, the Cain at Gettysburg Peters.jpgother, a way of life”.  Cain at Gettysburg , winner of the American Librarian Association’s W.Y. Boyd Award for Excellence in Military Fiction, and Seen the Glory  would be two other fictional choices.

After the fighting ceased, bodies of men, horses, and mules lay scattered throughout the farm fields of Gettysburg.  It was decided to burn the 5,000 carcasses of the animals.  One can only imagine the smell of rotting bodies added to the smells of burning flesh on those hot days following the conflict.  The bodies were quickly buried in shallow makeshift graves with vague information scrawled on wooden boards to mark the graves.  It wasn’t long before body parts appeared from the impromptu graves and people began to fear the spread of disease.  It was important from many standpoints, that a soldier’s cemetery be planned for the proper burial of the dead.  Confederate bodies were taken to cemeteries in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. 

The design of the Gettysburg National Cemetery is that of a semi-circle.  It was done in such a manner, so that each grave would have equal importance.  The bids for the contract of reburial went as high as $8.00 per body.  The winning bid was for $1.59 per body.  The cemetery was to be consecrated shortly after it was started in the fall of that year.  A speaker was needed for this event but, Longfellow, Whittier, and Bryant all refused.  They needed someone who could do justice to the job at hand and Edward Everett was chosen to dignify and consecrate Gettysburg.  He moved many to tears as he relived the battle and denounced the enemy.  Lincoln was invited to deliver “a few appropriate remarks”.  Lincoln never mentioned anything about the battle.  He came to this devastated place “to explain to the nation why the horror of this war must go on”, which he did simply and eloquently in two minutes with 272 words.  Both Lincoln at Gettysburg: the words that remade America and The Gettysburg Gospel: the Lincoln speech that nobody knows, help us to better understand these words.

Hopefully the items listed above will help the reader to have a clearer picture of all that took place during this battle and a better understanding that those who died at Gettysburg “gave their last full measure of devotion” that this nation “shall have a new birth of freedom”.


Book covers courtesy of Easicat