Since we’re in the middle of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War; and based on the presumption that you’re interested in it at all, it’s just about time to start planning a trip to one of the two sites that marked the turning point in that conflict – Gettysburg, Pa., and Vicksburg, Miss. In July 1863 the South lost both critical engagements, essentially on the same day.
The three-day Battle of Gettysburg took place on the first, second, and third of July; and the Siege of Vicksburg ended with the surrender of the city to Northern forces the next day on July 4. The double victories during the first days of July changed the course of the war and insured, finally, that the Union would emerge from that terrible struggle victorious. What’s even more significant, at least to my way of thinking, is that there really aren’t very many places in the world where one can stand on the exact spot where the history of the world changed. It’s possible to do that at Gettysburg. The same is true of Vicksburg, perhaps with not quite the same degree of precision, but the city still retains many of the key spots that were crucial to the outcome.
The significance of these two engagements can be seen in the fact that, after Gettysburg, the South never again went on the offensive – at least in any serious way – and the eventual outcome of the war seemed certain. Vicksburg, on the other hand, was the only bastion left on the Mississippi River able to interfere with the flow of Union troops and supplies up or down the river. As Abraham Lincoln said upon hearing of the fall of Vicksburg, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” Not only did the fall of Vicksburg open the Mississippi to Northern river traffic, but also split the Confederacy in half. The states in the so-called Confederacy west of the river were completely cut off from the rest of the South for the remainder of the war.
From the modern tourist’s perspective, both Gettysburg and Vicksburg are around a day’s drive from Rush County – a long day’s drive, but both can be reached easily in one day. From here to Gettysburg is right at 500 miles, or about an eight hour drive, not counting stops. From here to Vicksburg is about 730 miles, or approximately a twelve hour drive – so you might want to make the trip to Vicksburg a two-day journey if you’re planning to drive, but it could be done in one day. On the other hand, it’s slightly over 1,000 miles between Vicksburg and Gettysburg – that’s definitely a two-day trip!
Of all the Civil War Battlefields that have been saved, Gettysburg is by far the most well preserved and most well marked. Even a novice will find it relatively easy to traverse the battlefield in the order in which the battle actually took place.
Just to give you a perspective on the size of the actual battlefield, let’s pretend that it was fought in and around Rushville. On the first day, the Confederates would have advanced on Rushville from the west and north, roughly coming in along highway 52 in the west and down Old Ft. Wayne Road from the northeast. The first contact between opposing troops would have been west of Rushville about where Pioneer is located. From the north, the Confederates would have made contact with Union troops in the vicinity of Intat. The Confederates would have pushed the Union troops back through Rushville south to about Circleville where the Union army would have formed a fish hook-shaped defensive line running about from about Curtis Brothers through Circleville and then down old State Road 3 for approximately a mile. The Confederate troops would have matched that fish hook roughly from the Animal Hospital of Rushville, through the middle of Rushville itself; then the Confederate line would have swung south along the western edge of town and then down for a mile along a line about half a mile west of State Road 3. Given those very general dimensions, one can easily see that the actual Battle of Gettysburg was quite a large affair!
Now, to give even more perspective to the size of the battle, imagine that there were approximately 75,000 Confederate troops headed this way from the west and northeast. Then picture over 82,000 Union troops fighting their way back through town and lining up in that fish hook formation south of Rushville – that’s how many soldiers were engaged at Gettysburg – a total of over 157,000 men in the geographic area I previously sketched out for you.
Finally, let’s imagine that this community had to deal with the aftermath of the battle fought here over the course of three days. There would be more than 51,000 dead scattered from Intat on the North to more than a mile south along the line of State Road 3, and from Pioneer in the West to Dr. Fred Phillips offices southeast of town. Oh, and by the way, that’s not counting the thousands and thousands of wounded scattered in the same area. If you can imagine Rushville as the site of the battle, you can get at least some notion of the magnitude of the Battle of Gettysburg. It would be a tragedy of epic proportions today – just imagine what it would have been like 150 years ago this coming July!
Vicksburg isn’t as well preserved or as well marked as Gettysburg, but its surrender on July 4, 1863, was nearly as significant to the outcome of the Civil War. So, if you’re thinking about where to go for a special vacation this summer, either location would be an excellent choice; and, if you’re not into Civil War history, there’s great shopping in Gettysburg, too!
That’s –30—for this week.