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!