Gettysburg, July 1, 1863

One hundred and fifty years ago, in a small town in southern Pennsylvania, two armies began the battle that became a defining moment of the Civil War.

The Confederate forces were led by General Robert E. Lee.  Flush with a crushing victory at Chancellorsville, Lee decided to lead his Army of Northern Virginia in an invasion of the North.  Lee knew that the situation in the Confederacy was growing increasingly desperate.  Hundreds of miles to the west, General Ulysses Grant and his Army of the Tennessee were continuing a methodical siege of Vicksburg, hoping to win the surrender of the starving Confederate Army encamped there — and, with its surrender, achieve control of the mighty Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.  Union blockades of Confederate ports were choking off trade and supplies.  Politically, the Confederacy was splintering.  Lee concluded that an invasion of the North, if successful, might bring the Union to the negotiating table and save the Confederacy from the inexorable forces that were strangling it.

The Army of the Potomac was led by a new commander — the goggle-eyed, waspish George Meade.  President Lincoln picked Meade to be the latest in a long line of Union Army generals to lead the North’s principal army.  All of Meade’s predecessors had had been outfought, outmaneuvered, whipped and humiliated by Lee and his supremely confident army.  Only a few days before the battle of Gettysburg began, Meade replaced General Joseph Hooker, who had lost the battle of Chancellorsville.  As Lee marched north, Meade pursued him, always striving to keep his army between Lee’s forces and Washington, D.C.  Meade feared that, if Lee somehow took the Nation’s Capital, a Union tired of years of bloody war might decide to sue for peace.

On June 30, as the two enormous armies moved through the quiet Pennsylvania countryside, ill-clad Confederate troops heard that shoes might be found in Gettysburg.  Rebels skirmishers visited the town, found some Union troops there, and told their commanders — who decided to press the issue.  On July 1, lead elements of the Army of Northern Virginia moved into Gettysburg. clashing with Union cavalry.  The Confederates drove the Union Army through town, leaving the Army of the Potomac clinging desperately to two hills south of town — Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill.  In the meantime, the main armies were wheeling slowly into position, and Meade decided that Gettysburg might be the ideal place for a pitched battle.

Most of the soldiers in the two armies were farm boys who hailed from towns much like Gettysburg, which at that time was home to about two thousand people.  They had seen their fellow soldiers killed by the score in battles that were appallingly bloody by modern standards, with brave men ordered into ill-fated charges in which they would be torn to shreds by minie balls and cannon shot — but they were determined to do their duty, no matter what the cost.

As night fell, the Union forces dug in, hoping to hold the high ground, and the Confederate generals planned their attack.  As the armies gathered around their crackling campfires, both sides suspected, correctly, that the big battle lay ahead.

Grant’s Tomb

Ulysses Grant should be counted as one of the great Americans.

Grant’s two terms as President were marred by scandal, and as a Civil War general he was derided by some as a soulless butcher who attacked relentlessly, without regard for casualties.  Yet when Grant was living, he was revered — because the people of his time recognized that he not only assembled and then led the team of generals that had the fortitude to see the Union through to ultimate victory, but also that his easy terms of surrender and his gentle treatment of the former rebels helped the nation to quickly overcome the deep divisions caused by our bloodiest war.

Grant’s Tomb, located along Riverside Drive near the Columbia University campus, gives a sense of how he was beloved by his contemporaries.  It is a huge mausoleum with a columned dome and other classical features, reached by a wide path shaded by trees along each side.  The inscription above the entrance reads, simply, “Let Us Have Peace.”

Grant and his wife lie in red granite coffins in an open crypt at the well of the Tomb.  If you stand at the foot of their coffins and look up, you can see a representation of the famous scene of General Grant graciously greeting Confederate General Robert E. Lee before accepting the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.  It seems fitting that the scene that is visible is not a depiction of a battle or some other feat of arms, but rather the simple handshake greeting that began the process of reunification of a war-torn land.

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (III)

For many Ohioans — me included — our favorite statue at the Ohio Statehouse is “These Are My Jewels.”  That statement is carved on the large circular monument underneath a female figure representing Ohio, and refers to the Buckeye State’s pride in the enormous contribution that the seven Ohioans depicted on the monument made to the Union cause during the Civil War.

Who were these Ohioans?  Foremost is Ulysses Grant, the hard-headed, unflappable, relentless commander who initially achieved great successes in the War’s western theater.  Grant was the “hero of Fort Donelson” who advised the Confederate forces defending the fort that “no terms except unconditional and immediate surrender” would be acceptable, and who later led Union troops to victories at Shiloh and Vicksburg.  Grant then was brought East by President Lincoln to lead the Army of the Potomac — a position at which many before him had miserably failed.  Grant, however, led the Army of the Potomac to bloody but ultimate victory, graciously accepted the surrender of the Confederate forces led by Robert E. Lee, and crafted the generous surrender terms that some historians believe accelerated the nation’s eventual recovery from the deep wounds of the War.

To Grant’s right — appropriately — is William Tecumseh Sherman, Grant’s trusted lieutenant and resolute supporter.  High-strung, mercurial, and gifted, Sherman often is credited with being the father of modern warfare.  He engineered the fall of Atlanta, cut loose from his supply lines, and then led his army on a cruel swath through the south, from Atlanta to the sea and then up the Carolina coast.  His drive through the South crippled the Confederacy and helped to crush popular support for the war and demonstrate the inevitability of the Union’s victory.  Like Grant, Sherman also had a knack for coining a memorable phrase.  When he was mentioned as a potential presidential candidate after the War he famously responded “If nominated, I will not accept; if drafted, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.”

To Grant’s left is Philip Sheridan.  Sheridan proved to be a formidable commander in battles in the western theater, where his record included participating in the charge up Missionary Ridge in the battle of Chattanooga.  Grant then tapped him to command the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, and Sheridan filled that role with enormous distinction.  He led the cavalry on an extended campaign through the Confederate stronghold of the Shenandoah Valley that destroyed the ability of the Valley and its residents to feed and support Lee’s Confederate army.  Later, Sheridan’s cavalry relentlessly chased and harried Lee’s retreating forces, helping to bring about Lee’s surrender at Appomatox Court House.

The other “jewels” on the monument were not quite as important to the Union effort.  They include Salmon Chase, who served as Treasury Secretary and was one of Lincoln’s “Cabinet of Rivals,” Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s second Secretary of War, James Garfield, one of Ohio’s Presidents, and Rutherford Hayes, another of Ohio’s Presidents.

Of these remaining four “jewels,” my favorite is Stanton.  A brilliant lawyer, Stanton was a prickly personality who also was indefatigable and incorruptible as Secretary of War.  He also was present at Lincoln’s deathbed and stated, at Lincoln’s death, “Now he belongs to the ages.” (I also freely admit to liking Stanton’s statue because he is shown wearing glasses.)

Interestingly, Hayes was an afterthought, added to the “These Are My Jewels” monument only after it was first displayed at the World Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.  When the monument was then erected on the Statehouse grounds, near the northwest corner of the Statehouse, then-Governor William McKinley pushed for adding Hayes, McKinley’s former commanding officer, as the seventh “jewel.”

“These Are My Jewels” should make any Ohioan proud about the Buckeye State.  It shows, in well-rendered granite and bronze, why Ohio does not take a back seat to any other northern state in its central contribution to the Union’s victory in the most important war in  American history.

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (II)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (I)

Putting A New Buckeye In Statuary Hall

When Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., one of my favorite places to take visitors was Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.  Statuary Hall is the former location of the House of Representatives chamber and is now the home of dozens of statues of American luminaries.  Most of the statues are bronze or marble; the notable exception that I recall was the towering black and gold depiction of Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I, who looked like he could have walked off the pedestal and competed successfully in the Arnold bodybuilding competition.

Many of the individuals depicted in the collected statues have long since faded into obscurity.  Most of them are politicians, and some of them are a bit embarrassing to see displayed so prominently at the seat of our Nation’s government because of their support for slavery.   One such example is William Allen, who served as Governor of Ohio from 1874 to 1876 and was pro-slavery and opposed to the Civil War.  Allen is one of only two Ohioans in Statuary Hall; the other is former President James Garfield.  Allen is an exceptionally bad choice to represent Ohio, which was home to the Underground Railroad, to countless men who fought and died in the Civil War, and to many of the Union’s most successful generals, including Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.

Appropriately, the powers that be have decided to remove the statue of Allen and pick from a list of 10 Ohioans who are viewed as better representing the values and heritage of modern Ohioans.  The list of candidates is interesting:  James Ashley, Thomas Edison, Ulysses Grant, William McCulloch, Jesse Owens, Judith Resnick, Albert Sabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Taylor Upton, and Wilbur and Orville Wright.  Some of these names are familiar, others less so.  James Ashley was a prominent 19th century abolitionist and politician, William McCulloch was a civil rights activist who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 25 years, Judith Resnick was an astronaut who was killed in the 1986 Challenger explosion, Albert Sabin was the medical researcher who developed the oral vaccine for polio, and Harriet Taylor Upton was a leading proponent of women’s suffrage.

Ohioans will get to influence the final selection through a popular vote.  I think all 10 are worthy candidates, but my preference would be for Thomas Edison, Jesse Owens, or Albert Sabin.  There already are more than enough politicians in Statuary Hall.  Adding an inventor and businessman who brought electric light to the world, or an athlete whose Olympic triumph electrified the world and exposed the stupidity of the racial superiority rantings of the Nazi regime, or a researcher whose hard work and inspiration freed millions from the debilitating effects of a terrible disease, would be fitting reflection of the many contributions that The Buckeye State has made to America.