Gettysburg, July 4, 1863

It was the Glorious Fourth, but to the soldiers of both armies it was just the fourth day of a brutal, bloody battle.  The fighting had stopped, but the terrible signs of the battle were all around them:  the bodies of dead and dying soldiers, the desperate cries of the wounded, the carcasses of horses, fields littered with bodies and debris, trees clipped and gouged and splintered by minie balls and cannon shot.

On the Confederate side, commander Robert E. Lee was beset by regret about the decimation of Pickett’s brigade during the charge that Lee had ordered — but Lee could not waste time in recrimination.  Having made the gamble to invade the North, Lee faced the predicament of extricating his army from hostile territory and retreating in the face of a victorious enemy.

Lee’s problems were intensified by the enormity of the Confederate casualties.  The retreat was not merely a matter of ordering able-bodied soldiers to march; the Confederates had thousands of wounded to attend to, and every expectation that the Army of the Potomac would attack their retreating army as it fled southward.  Lee gave orders that the train of wagons and wounded had to move at a steady pace and, if a breakdown occurred, the vehicle must simply be abandoned at the side of the road.  The retreating Confederate column reportedly was 14 miles long as it headed first west, and then south, to cross the Potomac River and return to Virginia.

On the Union side, the Army of the Potomac celebrated their victory over the rebel forces — but also had to attend to thousands of its own dead and wounded.  In the North, the Fourth of July was celebrated with special zeal that year, as newspapers reported both Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg and the surrender of long-besieged Confederate stronghold Vicksburg to Union forces far to the west.

After more than two years of hard, bloody fighting, the news finally was good for the North:  a rebel invasion has been repulsed, and with the fall of Vicksburg the entirety of the Mississippi River was under Union control.  Northerners could be forgiven if they hoped that the good news on July 4, 1863 meant that the war would soon be over — but it was not to be.  Almost two more years of blood and death lay ahead.

Gettysburg, July 3, 1863

July 3, 1863 dawned hot in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  The soldiers of the two huge armies groaned in the stifling overnight heat, and then Union forces began another day of fighting with an artillery barrage that started at 4:30 a.m.  The rebel forces responded by attacking, and the sound of battle drifted over the countryside.

Confederate commander Robert E. Lee had spent the night reflecting on the day before, when the rebels had come close to breaking the Union lines and winning a devastating victory.  Lee concluded that another assault on the Army of the Potomac might produce a breakthrough.  This time, he planned on a direct attack on the center of the Union position.

Lieutenant General Longstreet, whose troops were to carry out the assault, adamantly opposed Lee’s announced plan.  Longstreet believed that no forces, however capable, could successfully carry out a direct attack on the prepared enemy positions.  But Lee was not to be dissuaded, and the duty to carry out the assault was given to Confederate General George Pickett and his fresh force of Virginians.

At 1 p.m. Confederate artillery began shelling the Union positions along Cemetery Ridge, hoping the soften the lines so that Pickett could break through.  But the barrage was ineffective, and when Pickett’s 12,000 men began their famous charge across the field toward Cemetery Ridge later that afternoon the Union forces were ready.  The Federals poured cannon fire and rifle volleys into Pickett’s troops, tearing huge holes in their lines and leaving thousands dead and dying.

Amazingly, some rebel troops reached the Union lines, and the soldiers fought hand to hand.  Union reinforcements soon appeared, and ultimately the rebel losses proved to be too great.  The Confederates recognized that the charge could not succeed, and then the living remnants of Pickett’s decimated brigade retreated over the bloody ground.

Lee knew that he had blundered and accepted full blame for the carnage inflicted on Pickett’s brigade.  But the tide had turned, and the die had been cast.  The fighting ended, with the Southern forces suffering 28,000 dead, wounded, and missing over the three days of clashes compared to 23,000 casualties for the Army of the Potomac.

The numbers, however, did not tell the full story.  The Confederate invasion of the North had been repulsed, and the Army of the Potomac had finally won a real victory against the seemingly unbeatable Robert E. Lee.  Rather than inflicting a blow that might cause the North to sue for peace, Lee’s plan had given the Union a great, if bloody, victory that stiffened its resolve to fight on.

Gettysburg, July 2, 1863

As the second day of the battle dawned, the Army of the Potomac held the high ground south of the little Pennsylvania town — but its hold was precarious, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee was determined to dislodge the Union forces and win another stunning victory over the beleaguered Northern army.

Lee decided to swing a mighty hook at the Union left flank.  The attack would be led by his dependable “War Horse,” Lieutenant General James Longstreet, while the rest of the rebel army would pin the Union center and launch diversionary attacks at the Union right to prevent reinforcements.  Lee hoped Longstreet would be able to turn the flank and roll up the Union forces, crushing them between his men and the remainder of the Confederate Army.  On the Union side, commanders were frantically moving into position, seeking to plug holes in the line to deal with the attack they knew was coming.  After two years of fighting, the Northerners knew that General Lee would be aggressive.

It was a brutally hot and humid July day.  The Confederate attack took time to develop, but by late afternoon it looked like Lee’s plan had, again, succeeded.  Longstreet had smashed into the Union left, sending soldiers scattering through a bloody wheat field, and Lee ordered a further attack on the Union left, hoping to deliver the coup de grace that would send the entire Army of the Potomac into another disorganized, embarrassing retreat.  The rebels attacked, shouting their eerie rebel yell, but the Union forces refused to buckle and sent fusillades of artillery into the attacking Confederates.  Attacks were launched and repelled at murderous cost, and the bodies of dead and wounded soldiers from both armies lay baking in the sun.

It was the day that would make Joshua Chamberlain immortal.  On the far point of the Union left, on Little Round Top, Chamberlain was a colonel in the 20th Maine.  The Men of Maine rebuffed several attacks by the 15th Alabama infantry until they ran low on ammunition.  At that point, Chamberlain ordered his men to attack with bayonets and the Mainers swept down the hillside, sending the Confederates fleeing and securing the Union flank.

As the day ended, both sides had suffered devastating casualties.  The Confederate attack had almost succeeded, but the Army of the Potomac had held for another day.  General Lee considered whether another assault the next day might win the battle, and Union commanders weighed how to prepare.  The common soldiers in both armies, on the other hand, found it difficult to sleep in the sweltering heat, as they listened to the screams of injured horses and wounded men and thought about the battle that lay ahead.

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.

Submarine, Casket, And Time Capsule

The American Civil War was a time of great advances in warfare and technology — sometimes both at the same time.  Most people know that the first “ironclads,” the Union’s Monitor and the Confederacy’s Merrimac, appeared during the Civil War, fought to a draw, and foretold the end of the era of wooden warships.  Fewer are aware that the War also witnessed the first successful combat submarine — the H.L. HunleyNow the Hunley can be seen, in full, for the first time in 150 years.

The Hunley was supposed to be one of the Confederacy’s secret weapons, and a way to break the strangling blockade Union warships placed around Confederate ports.  It was a 42-foot-long, cast iron cylinder that was powered by a hand-cranked propeller.  Built in Mobile, Alabama in 1863, it was transported to Charleston, South Carolina, where it was supposed to move underwater and attach explosive torpedos to the hulls of Union ships.

The submarine turned out to be a death trap.  It sank twice in sea trials, killing 13 sailors, but was raised by the Confederacy both times.  In 1864, the Hunley and a new 8-member crew left port, traveled four miles out to sea, and successfully attached a torpedo to the Union ship Housatonic, which burned and sank.  The Hunley never made it back to port, however, and sank with all hands.

In 2000 the Hunley was raised from the briny deep and deposited in a fresh water tank to leach salt from its iron hull.  Since then, scientists have worked on the sub.  Inside they found, and then carefully removed, 10 tons of sediment, the remains of the Hunley‘s last crew, and the crew’s belongings, including a gold coin kept by the captain as a good luck piece.  Now tourists will be able to see the ship in full, kept in a water tank to prevent rusting.

Although the humble Hunley had a short career, it pointed the way to the modern, nuclear-powered underwater behemoths that prowl the ocean seaways.

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)