Paul W. Barada Rushville Republican
---- — Gettysburg, PA. — If you’ve never been to this place, it should definitely be on your priority list of things to do. Gettysburg was the largest battle ever fought on this continent. More significantly, it started exactly 150 years ago today. On this day 150 years ago, Union soldiers, including the famous Iron Brigade, were fighting rebels from General Henry Heath’s division of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps just east of the town of Gettysburg. There, in the distance, Heath’s men were deploying into a line of battle to face the soldiers of Union General John Reynolds’ First Corps. The Iron Brigade, also known as the “Black Hat Brigade” because of their distinctive headgear, was composed of soldiers from Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. Hoosiers, from this part of the state, made up the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, a few of whom were from right here in Rush County. A rebel soldier who saw The Iron Brigade coming reportedly said, “Its them damn black-hatted fellers a’gin! T’aint no militia. It’s the Army of the Potomac!”
From our view high atop the cupola of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, we are looking out over the same ground that General John Buford saw from this position as the rebels approached from the west. In the distance are the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. Nearer are the well-kept farm fields just outside this quaint town. As I have written before, Gettysburg is just about the same size as Rushville. A few of the differences are the ten roads that radiate out from Gettysburg, compared to the nine roads that leave Rushville – for those of you counting, I include the three county roads, along with State Roads 3, 44, and 52. Gettysburg also has a college and a seminary, Gettysburg College and the previously noted Lutheran Theological Seminary.
The battlefield is really too large, over 60 acres, to walk, and there’s too much to see to just zip around it in the family car, so youngest son, Jonathan, and I rented bicycles this morning and started our visit by going out to the Seminary. One hundred and fifty years ago to the day, the rebels pushed the Union Troops back through the town of Gettysburg and south to Cemetery Ridge, the position they would hold during the remaining two days of the battle. Gettysburg, incidentally, was one of the few battles in the Civil War that involved street fighting. Rebel troops were converging on the town from the west and north, while Union troops were slowly dropping back through the streets and alleys of Gettysburg, fighting as they went.
As we walk our bikes down the streets we notice most of the buildings that were there at the time of the battle are still pockmarked with bullet holes in their walls, particularly at the second floor level. One building has over 100 bullet holes in its south wall. Union troops were shooting at rebel sharpshooters who were firing at them from the third floor of this particular building. The bullets didn’t penetrate the brick, but left a deep indentation. The owner tells us that when they recently tuck-pointed the brick, they found several spent rounds lodged in the brick and even more just below the surface of the ground where bullets had hit the building and fallen.
Walking down the street, Jon and I talk about the logistics of having more than
150,000 troops in a town the size of Rushville, because that’s how many Union and rebel troops were in and around Gettysburg during the first three days of July 1863. Worse yet, imagine, if you will, the magnitude of caring for the dead and wounded in a town our size. The total deaths at Gettysburg were nearly 8,000 dead and there were more than 27,000 wounded scattered throughout the town and all through the fields and woods around us. Even today, it is difficult to imagine finding the help to care for 27,000 wounded men, let alone 150 years ago!
Jon and I are now riding our bikes along Seminary Ridge, which was the main rebel line on the second and third days of the battle. Across the way, just about a mile, is Cemetery Ridge which was the main Union position during the remainder of the battle. Off to our southeast we see Little Round Top and Big Round Top, the two hills that marked the southern end of the Union line. In all, the Union line stretched about a mile from south to north before curving back east around Cemetery Hill to Culps Hill. The forward slope of Cemetery Ridge is dotted with monuments that mark the Union line.
It was from where we are standing now that Pickett’s Charge began on the third day. Upon reflection, it’s easy to see why General Longstreet, one of Lee’s corps commanders, objected to Pickett’s Charge. It would be difficult for modern troops to cross this open field without artillery and armor support, particularly against a well-entrenched and comparably armed opponent. Longstreet knew at the time, not in hindsight, that Pickett’s Charge would fail and, of course, it did.
Today, what’s more interesting is the battlefield itself. It looks exactly the way it did 150 years ago. We can almost envision the rebel troops forming up around us in the woods that line Seminary Ridge. Gettysburg is one of the best marked and most well-preserved battlefields in the world. But, after all, that is as it should be. There aren’t many places in the world where one can stand and say, “The history of our country and, perhaps, the world, changed on this very spot. On this very ground upon which I stand history was made.” You can do that at Gettysburg.
That’s -30- for this week, from Gettysburg.