as told by GFS JIM/James L. Walker in
the American Civil War History chat (on AOL)


This is our third and final Fireside on the Battle of Gettysburg. To bring all of you up to this day, I'll back up a bit. Marse Robert had pulled a pretty incredible victory at Chancellorsville over Hooker and the Federals against almost impossible odds. Hooker had tried to trap Lee and his Confederates by pulling all the classical moves he knew to do it, but Lee didn't do anything that was "classic" and drove the Federals from Chancellorsville. The cost had been very high, though, losing 14,000 Confederates and the Federals losing 17,000. Marse Robert had lost something greater though, as "Stonewall" died on the 10th of May just 4 days after the battle was over.

Marse Robert wasted no time though. With permission of his government in Richmond, Lee gathered his army and headed north. The Federals had no idea where Lee was and went out to hunt for him. They found Stuart and his Calvary at Brandy Station on the 9th of June and following the largest Cavalry Battle of the entire war, they knew that Lee was headed north again.

Fighting their way through Winchester, Virginia on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains Marse Robert and the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac and moved on up into the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania.

Five days after the Cavalry Battle at Brandy Station, Hooker pulls the Federal Army out of Fredericksburg and retreats north. As Hooker and the Federals reach Frederick, Maryland, still moving north behind and about 40 miles to the east, Hooker is relieved of command and replaced by Meade. Meade continues to move the Federal army north until after a cavalry skirmish at Hanover, Pennsylvania on 30 Jun 1863, Meade orders Reynolds to occupy Gettysburg. Brigadier General John Buford's Federal Cavalry Division occupies Gettysburg late on the 30th and is discovered there by flankers of the long, strung-out Confederate Army. That night Lee sends out orders for all his commanders to turn and converge on Gettysburg.

July 1st dawns and the 1st day at Gettysburg begins. General Buford has told his commanders to hold the Confederates off until General Reynolds can get the rest of his Federal Corps into position. Federals and Confederates first meet northwest of Gettysburg on the Chambersburg Road about 8 am. The Federals hold out until about 3:30 in the afternoon, when the combined push by Pender, Heth, Ewell and Early force the Federals south through Gettysburg to Culp's and Cemetery Hills. Buford's desire and fervent wish has come true. The Federal's have the "High Ground".

Through the night and early morning of July 1 and 2, the Army of Northern Virginia continue coming in and occupy Gettysburg and spread out west and south down Seminary Ridge all the way to the Emmitsburg Road, while the Federal army moves up the Baltimore Pike and Taneytown Road until six of its seven corps' line Cemetery Ridge, Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill.

As the sun rises on the 2nd day of Gettysburg all the Federal forces except the VI Corps which will arrive in the afternoon after a 36 mile forced march and Confederate forces except Picket's division and Stuart's cavalry are assembled . Starting at the far Union left, the two armies seem to fold together rippling up from south to north. It begins in Devil's Den below Little Round Top and folds together up through the Wheat Field, which changes hands four times that day, up through the Peach Orchard, and on up to the southern part of Cemetery Ridge. The whole southern half of both armies are locked together from 4pm until after dusk, with no letup. About 6:30 p.m. the Confederates assault the northern edge of the Union line on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. Both armies lost 9,000 men each on this day.

Now, for the final day of this story about Gettysburg, I want to shift the focus in the telling from an overall view as if we were sitting on a hill watching down on the events, and move down into the ranks of the men (north and south) that actually did the fighting. What a difference it is just in shifting that perspective. So, grab your stuff an climb onto this supply wagon and we'll take off.

While we're heading over to Seminary Ridge early on the 3rd of July, I'll light this lantern and read you an excerpt from an unknown southern soldier's journal.

"Few and short were the prayers we said; And we spoke not a word of sorrow, As we steadfastly gazed on the face of the dead, And bitterly thought on the morrow". A Soldier's Poem

At two a.m. on July 3, the New Orleans Washington Artillery wheeled their guns into position and pointed them roughly toward the middle of the Federal line up on Cemetery Ridge. The ground around them was scattered with Union dead, mostly from Sickles' impetuous deployment the previous day. As they rolled their cannon and caissons into place, one of the lumps they passed over emitted a mournful wail. "Jesus, Willy, watch out," a soldier hollered at the driver. "You just ran over a live ne." "What do you expect? It ain't lit up like Bourbon Street out here."

The battery had been traveling hard all day and into the night, and hadn't eaten anything in two days. A gaunt sergeant with glistening eyes approached the battery command. "Cap'n, I'd like permission to take a party foraging." "Foraging? Have you lost your mind? Where are you going to forage in the middle of the night?" The sergeant pointed toward the lifeless heaps on the field. "Out there."

The buglers sounded reveille for Picket's division at three a.m.. The men rose, yawning, stiff-limbed after the long forced march in the beating sun the day before. They had snatched a few hours' sleep in a copse off the Chambersburg Pike, about three miles from the battlefield. They totaled fifteen regiments, all Virginians, a young army, average age nineteen. Many had never been under fire. They had been held in reserve at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and the fighting was over before they had arrived on those battlefields. As they formed up to march out to the Chambersburg Pike, they formed a gray, blind snake a mile long. John Dooley felt a light, bodiless sensation overtake him again. How can I not fear death, he wondered. In every battle I see, it takes us in unexpected forms, and mutilations. I am terrified to have survived and then to face it again. But, an unthinking momentum propelled him.

As they swung onto the road, Dooley saw in the faint light of dawn the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, alone, watching the men stream from the woods. Robert E. Lee sat athletic, erect in the saddle. From a distance he looked a man of forty. Up close, the snow white beard and patriarchal expression aged him beyond his fifty-six years. As they filed past, Lee, it seemed to Dooley, lacked the serenity that always seemed to possess him on the eve of victory.

Over on the far right of the Federal line at Culp's Hill, each side faced the other, waiting only for a glimmer of daylight to illuminate the enemy. All through the night the sounds echoing through the trees on Culp's Hill had suggested a logging camp. Union soldiers chopped down trees, piled the trunks into stout breastworks, and dammed every ravine, gully, and rock formation that offered shelter. They would need that protection. The troops across from there were the vaunted "Stonewall Brigade". By four a.m. Culp's Hill was ablaze with flaming cannon and flashing muskets.

The Union cannoneers met the first Rebel infantry advance with shot and canister. The Federal guns ripped off parts of men and flung them around the hillside. The blows stunned and stopped the rebels. They reformed and charged again. Checked again; but each fresh advance was launched a little further up the hillside than the previous one.

The men of the 150th New York found war a swift school. Twenty-four hours before, they had quailed at the sight of one bloodied arm. Now they loaded and fired oblivious to comrades dropping beside them. They knew their foe. The enemy now stalled before them was the Stonewall Brigade. That they had met the Confederacy's finest and stood fast emboldened them.

Repelled three times, the officers of the Stonewall Brigade now called for a fourth charge. The men ordered to make it were numbed, mute beasts. No sentient being would have yielded to these repeated invitations to die. As a wild-eyed young lieutenant yelled "One more time men. One more time'll do it;" they began moving straight up the hillside. No thought of seeking protective rocks or trees, stumbling forward, scraping legs on jagged rock, stepping on lifeless comrades, climbing toward the gun flashes. They crashed against an unforgiving wall of fire and fell back.

On this hill the greatest bloodletting thus far at Gettysburg had taken place. The slain lay in great mounds. Here the blood of brother was mixed with brother and neighbor with neighbor. In the early days of the war, each side had recruited regiments from the same part of bitterly divided Maryland. Now a perverse fate had thrown the Marylanders from both armies at each other here on a small Pennsylvania hillside. By eleven a.m., seven hours after the first cannon had barked, it was quiet on the battlefield. Lee's hope for a coordinated assault by Ewell in the north and Longstreet upon the Union center had vanished. The fighting on the Confederate left had ended. The fighting in the center had yet to begin.

P.H. Taylor of the 1st Minnesota, out in fields before Cemetery Ridge, could hear the fighting over on Culp's Hill. But it was not his war today. He was busy writing an inscription on the headboards of his brother Isaac's grave.
I.L. Taylor
1st Minn. Vols
Buried at 10 o'clock a.m., July 3rd, 1863
by his brother
Sgt. P. H. Taylor
Co. "E" 1st Minn. Vols.

Over on Baltimore Street, in Gettysburg, a sharpshooter's bullet struck a kitchen door with a splintering crash. A baby shrieked. Mrs. Wade rushed to the kitchen "Georgia!" she screamed above the baby's wailing. "Your sister! Your sister! She's shot!" Jennie Wade lay on the floor, her hands still powdery after changing the baby, a red spot swelling beneath her body.

Following Lee's commanders meeting at a place called "point-of-the-woods", Longstreet was sick with hopelessness. He tried one last time to alter General Lee's plan. "You know, I can't commit two of my divisions to this assault. I've already got Hood and McLaws cheek by jowl with the Federals. There's no pulling them out without my right collapsing." Lee responded, "You will have some of Hill's people to compensate. I'll detach men from Heth's and Pender's divisions to your command for the assault." Longstreet didn't respond. As finally determined, the charge against the center of the Federal line would be mounted by one division of Longstreet's corps under Picket, one full division from Hill's corps, and two brigades from another of Hill's divisions.

The 8th Ohio were down close to the Emmitsburg Road. Lt. Galwey and his company were patrolling a dismantled fence. Thirty yards ahead of them a concealed Rebel sharpshooter called out from a lone tree. "Don't fire Yanks!" As Lt. Galwey's company peered over the rails, the Rebel sharpshooter, his musket now slung over his shoulder, swung from a low-hanging branch and dropped to the ground. Twenty Union rifles trained on him. The sharpshooter held up a canteen and walked half the distance to them. He knelt beside a wounded Union soldier lying in no man's land and tipped his canteen to the Yankee's mouth. The Union skirmishers stood up for a better look. A private hollered out, "Bully for you, Johnny." Now all the Rebel skirmishers were standing too. All shooting stopped. the sharpshooter finished his errand and went back to the tree. He turned toward the Union line and shouted, "All right, Yanks, y'all get back down, now. We're gonna start shooting again." They instantly obeyed.

Over east of the peach orchard, Private Garth Johnson of the 18th Mississippi, was startled by the well-booted feet strolling casually among his prostrate comrades. As bullets sang through the air, Private Johnson, heard Lee tell Longstreet, "You'll mass your artillery behind that hill. At the signal, bring the guns to the top of it and turn them loose." "Hear that?", Garth whispered to his neighbor. The skirmishers immediately began scooping the ground with bayonets, with sticks, with anything that would move dirt. the Yankee artillery would surely begin to return the bombardment they had just heard Lee order. And just as surely, the shot would land where they lay, unprotected and exposed.

Longstreet had deployed 176 heavy guns, mostly brass, smooth-bore 12-pound Napoleons. The gun crews worked furiously building up piles of solid shot, spherical case, hollow projectiles, and canister around the guns. The Federals confronted this Confederate power with fewer cannon. From Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top, 103 guns pointed toward Seminary Ridge. Of the 176 rebel guns, 102 of them were trained on a virtual pinpoint, the clump of trees on Cemetery Ridge. This object of Rebel attention was defended by only 31 Union guns.

Along Cemetery Ridge, stretching south, a low stone wall seamed the ground like an ancient scar tissue. It started at a stand of trees called Ziegler's Grove, ran south several hundred feet, then made a right angle and ran west in the direction of the Rebel lines for 230 feet before it bent southward again and finally petered out in a few scattered stones. At the southern tip, the men scratched the stony earth with bayonets, boards, and sticks. They piled up earth a foot high, stacked up rocks and fence rails, and filled knapsacks with dirt to thicken their meager barricade. In one unprotected section the men did nothing. The had heard their commander tell another officer. "There's no Reb fool enough to charge up here."

Cushing, a twenty-two-year-old West Pointer, commanded battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, a unit of six guns. Those six guns were positioned between the clump of trees and the angle in the stone wall.

Over on Seminary Ridge, Colonel Walton of the New Orleans Washington Artillery signaled Captain Buck Miller to give the order to fire. The gunner jerked the lanyard on Number One, and flame and smoke burst from the barrel. The gunner yanked the lanyard on Number Two. Nothing! Number Three fired clean. Its discharge unleashed the most deafening thunder ever heard on the North American continent as the remaining 173 artillery pieces poured out their "death".. Back over on Cemetery Ridge, the cry of "Down! Down!" echoed along the line as heat-dazed Yankees leaped to life, dove for cover, and hugged the earth. A shell exploded in the cemetery and flung twenty-seven bodies in all directions, left men hanging grotesquely n burial monuments and pitched them into open graves. A solid shot burrowed into the ground directly in front of a Union soldier and he sank safely into the excavation. A near-identical hit burrowed under another man, the force flinging his body into the air and spinning it about helplessly. He fell dead to the ground without a mark on him.

On Little Round Top, General Hunt, the Union artillery chief was all too aware that the Confederate cannonade would precede an infantry attack. So to amass as much firepower as he could when the inevitable gray tide came rolling in, he ordered his battery commanders to hold their fire. However, understanding Hunt's reasoning, General Hancock, seeing the frightened Union troops crouched behind the stone wall taking punishment, unresisting, he became concerned they would become demoralized and ordered Hunt to open fire. The seemingly unsurpassable din of the Confederate batteries was now almost doubled. Gettysburg was a vast, shoreless, sea of sound. A "quirk" of fate during the artillery activity was that the Confederate artillerymen had logically assumed that most of the Union forces would be taking shelter on the reverse side of the slope, and so cut their fuses for this range. But many of the Union infantry were crouched behind the stone wall on the forward slope of the ridge, toward the enemy. Therefore the Confederate cannonade largely overshot its target and instead rained is fury down on the rear-echelon troops. The noise became so constant, that many of the Union soldiers were put to sleep.

Running out of ammunition after over an hour of non-stop cannon fire, Alexander, empowered by Longstreet, sent word to Picket that it was now or never. Just prior to Alexander's message to Picket, General Hunt, commanding the Union artillery called a cease fire to conserve ammunition, giving Alexander the mistaken belief, that he had driven the Union artillery back. Fifteen minutes after the cease-fire, at 3:15 p.m., Picket's charge commenced. 2,800 strong, six layers deep and a mile long, they started for the clump of trees in the middle of Cemetery Ridge, led by General's Kemper, Garnett, and Armistead. Their lines were in perfect order until they had to climb over the fence at Emmitsburg Road. Then they began to break up.

When the charge reached that ideal artillery range, General Hunt gave the order for the Union guns to open up again with canister only. The result was instantly evident as large green patches of ground became visible. When the Rebel charge came within 250 yards of the stone wall, the Union Infantry opened up and fired as fast as they could. Soon after that, the 8th Ohio started firing and advancing into the Confederate right flank from the south. A single shot from the 8th advance would frequently pass through three to four Confederate soldiers at a time, causing the entire Confederate right to shift toward the center. Further up on the Confederate right, the Vermonters seeing, what the 8th Ohio was doing, starting firing and advancing. Again with the same devastating effect. The result had squeezed the Confederate advance from a line to a column lined up heading straight into the angle of the stone wall. Sensing he still had a chance to punch through, General Armistead stepped out in front of the column and charged with 200 men straight toward the wall. The Rebels had advanced well into the Federal line and were into the defenses when the Massachusetts men finally became unrooted and charged down on the stalled Confederates. Disarmed men wrestled and beat their enemies' heads against the stone wall.

All along the rebel front, handkerchiefs and bits of white cloth fluttered. The clatter of falling muskets sounded all along the line as hundreds of Confederates gratefully chose Yankee captivity over death. Less than forty minutes after the Confederates had stepped smartly from Seminary Ridge, the charge had been crushed.

The remaining Confederates began streaming back across the valley to Seminary Ridge. On the following day, July 4, Lee had assembled the remnants and was headed back to Virginia. Meade could have possibly ended the war at this point if he had chosen to send his unused 5th and 6th corps after the Confederates, but he didn't.

Gettysburg had produced the greatest bloodletting to that point on the North American Continent. 5,664 men had died in three days. Over 27,200 men were wounded, thousands of whom would die of their wounds. Over 10,400 were missing or were prisoners. Ten generals were killed, four Union and six Confederate. At least one out of every four of the 170,000 men on the field became a casualty. The total loss for 72 hours, for both sides, dead, wounded, missing, was over 43,000. Some 6,000 horses died at Gettysburg, unwitting conscripts to the violence of men.

To close this tale, tonight, in my ramblings through Civil War writings, journals, and poems, I came across a local tale that Samuel Clemens writing as Mark Twain put in his "Autobiography". It is called "The War Prayer" and even though he wrote this as another war was in progress, the "point" here is that all wars are the same war. You decide:

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the by fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks they while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such stern and angry warning that for their persona; safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in the golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation "God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory -----

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag.!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God !" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you it's import -- that is to say, its FULL import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think."

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and they unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it."

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it-- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. and ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant this it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient, the WHOLE of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow a victory -- MUST follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!"

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun's flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen"

After a Pause

"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said......

The story of Gettysburg should never be diminished and always passed on from generation to generation, that we as a nation should never do this again......

My sources for this Fireside are: "My Enemy, My Brother" by Joseph E. Persico;
This ends The Second Day at Gettysburg.

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