Of the three wars we are in the middle of commemorating, or will next year, today’s column is about one of them.
As related in a column last week, the Battle of Gettysburg is the most written about battle in U.S. military history. That being the case, one might wonder what military genius decided that a major battle should be fought at a quiet little Pennsylvania market town with terrain of rolling hills, a junction of 12 roads leading to Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and the mountain passes to the west.
The answer is none. Several accounts I’ve read said the battle occurred because Confederate troops under Gen. Robert E. Lee needed shoes, and Gettysburg had shoes for sale.
Not sure what a 400-word column can add to the untold volumes that have been written about one of the most storied battles in U.S. military history. OK, probably nothing at all. But since today is the last day of the three-day battle, it is timely, so here it is.
The names of many participants are as common today as they were uncommon 150 years ago. Sure, everyone knew of Lee and Meade, the “adversaries in charge.” But few had heard of a Confederate general named George Pickett, or a Union colonel named Joshua Chamberlain, one of the many recipients of the Medal of Honor during those three brutal days and nights.
The two mentioned above did not meet on the battlefield at Gettysburg, but their troops did. Some 15,000 Confederates under Pickett ran, screaming the famed “Rebel yell”, across a mile-long field toward high ground on what was called Little Round Top. Col. Chamberlain’s men, among many others, were on top of the hill, and during the battle, out of ammunition, they fixed bayonets and charged down the hill.
The rest, as they say, is in the history books. Many names entered military history those three days, including Cemetery Ridge, Devil’s Den, the sunken road, Seminary Ridge, and the Jenny Wade House.
President Lincoln made one of the most famous speeches ever made, the Gettysburg Address, at the cemetery shortly after the battle. Today the battlefield is probably the most visited battlefield site in America, turned more into a shrine than a battlefield. Ike chose to retire there.
As you read this thousands of Civil War re-enactors are winding down from three days of re-enacting the long-ago battle. One among them from the area is Ret. Col. Jim “Spike” Speicher, a former CGSC department director, member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, who has looked forward to the trip for months.
Last month Lt. Col. (ret) Rick McKee, a former CGSC Air Force instructor now a USAF civilian, was there for a wedding and said the preparations for the big three-day event were well under way then. He brought me a T shirt proclaiming the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, which I look forward to wearing.
Page 2 of 2 - The unplanned battle was costly. Of 90,000 Union troops and 75,000 Confederates, there were more than 51,000 casualties. Of that total, more than 7,000 were killed in action. It wasn’t the bloodiest battle of the war, but it was way up there.
It was not the end of the war, but never again did the South try to invade northern territory. Lee’s retreat caused unhappiness in the North when his army was halted by the flooded Potomac River, but Meade did not pursue and attempt to destroy the army when it was unable to cross the river.
Would love to be in Gettysburg for the 150th festivities, but will have to wait until the 200th I suppose. Or, maybe not.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.