Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg - day 3

     The day dawned hot and humid.  Both armies were facing each other and prepared for confrontation.  Thousands had been killed in the last few days, and even more wounded or captured.  This was not just another ordinary day of war.

     At 1 pm there began a two hour bombardment from both ridges - with the Confederates having 163 cannons along Seminary Ridge and the Union forces having 119 guns along Cemetery Ridge.  It is said to have been the largest engagement of guns in the war.  I read in a book that places over 100 miles away heard what they thought was distant thunder on a clear and cloudless day.

     Then came a textbook military maneuver that ultimately failed - a direct assault by the Confederate troops under the command of James Longstreet and George Picket - over 12,000 strong.  This assault was over open fields, with fences that served as barriers, and an uphill climb to the strongly held Union forces on Cemetery Ridge.  Over half of those men were killed or wounded in Picket's Charge, before the Confederates retreated and the day ended.  One of the leaders of the charge who actually reached the Union stronghold was General Lewis Armistead, whose uncle commanded Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1812, who served in the U.S. Army until the war, and who was a good friend of General Winfield Scott Hancock, who was his opponent in Gettysburg.  He was severely wounded and died of infection on July 5th, in Union captivity.  He left his bible and a note to Hancock, who delivered it to his widow following the war.

     The next day, the General Lee gathered their wounded and troops and began a move south, away from the battle, heading home.  The Union leadership, under General Meade, declined to follow and put an end to the Army of Northern Virginia.  Thus the battle of Gettysburg ended, with a moderate Union victory that engaged about 158,000 troops (83,000 Union & 75,000 Confederate) in three days of fighting in and around this little town, leaving 51,000 dead, wounded or captured (23,000 Union & 28,000 Confederate).  And it was three days that changed the history of Gettysburg Pennsylvania and the outcome of our Civil War.  And it happened 150 years ago.

     A Soldiers National Cemetery was dedicated in Gettysburg in November of 1863.  President Abraham Lincoln gave a few brief remarks - remarks that are remembered throughout time.

Four score and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth on this continent,
a new nation, conceived in liberty,
and dedicated to the proposition
that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war,
testing whether that nation, or any nation
so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field,
as a final resting place for those
who here gave their lives that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -
we can not consecrate - we can not hallow -
this ground.  The brave men, living and dead,
who struggled here, have consecrated it,
far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember
what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here
to the unfinished work which they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated
to the great task remaining before us -
that from these honored dead
we take increased devotion to that cause
for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -
that we here highly resolve that these dead
shall not have died in vain -
that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom -
and that government of the people,
by the people, for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.

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