Sunday, June 23, 2013

Civil War Sunday - All Roads Lead to Gettysburg

In September of 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia had invaded Union territory, in Maryland, and had fought an epic battle near Sharpsburg, Maryland on a field near Antietam Creek.  Robert E. Lee's eventual goal was to capture Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  His hope was that the will of the Union to continue the war would be broken by Harrisburg's capture, and the Union would then have allowed the Confederate states to go their separate ways.

Harrisburg, at the time, was the capital of the second most populous state in the Union, Pennsylvania and a major railroad center.  But the capture of Harrisburg was not to be.  The Confederates lost at what we know as the battle Antietam, and retreated back to Confederate territory.  It was a dear loss of lives on both sides, with approximately 22,717 casualties (dead, wounded, captured).  Antietam was the bloodiest one day battle in the Civil War, but the worst was yet to come in 1863.

Now, in June of 1863, Lee's army is on the move again, invading Maryland.  His aim, once again, was to capture Harrisburg and break the will of the Federals.   On June 24, 1863, there would be another skirmish at Sharpsburg, Maryland.  Through the rest of June, there would be various skirmishes and actions, as Lee brought the war again to Union territory.  Various places in Maryland, and then north into Pennsylvania, became places of battles.  McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania.  Hanover, Pennsylvania.  Carlisle, Pennsylvania. 

Lee, at the last minute, had to divert from Harrisburg, because the Union Army of the Potomac, he discovered, was closer than he thought. So he ordered troops poised to invade Harrisburg, to march to another place instead... a small town called Gettysburg, where 51,000. people would be killed, injured or captured between July 1 and July 3, 1863.  The mind can barely comprehend it.  

Our local regiment, the 137th New York Volunteer Infantry, under the command of one David Ireland, would help hold Culp's Hill on the night of the second day of battle.  A local photographer has produced this collage of his photos of monuments (mainly of New York but some Confederate) and vintage photos of Gettysburg.  It is only a few minutes long, and well worth your time.

The Confederates lost the battle, and retreated, and with them retreated their hope of victory in Pennsylvania.  But the war would go on for almost another two years.

Why do people pour into Gettysburg for the 25 year anniversaries?  What makes it so special, so sacred?  Part of it is its proximity to the most densely populated part of the United States.  Gettysburg is 50 miles from Baltimore, 90 miles from Washington, DC and 250 miles (approximately) from where I live in upstate New York.

I won't be there this July, due to circumstances. But I have been to Gettysburg, and I hope to return later this year.  But what a gathering it will be between next weekend and the weekend after. Not just because of the local connection but because Gettysburg created the modern United States we all live in.

13 comments:

  1. Interesting history lesson.

    :-)

    Kathy
    kathyhadleylifecoach.com

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  2. Very well written, detailed and informative post - especially interesting for a non-US citizen like myself...

    History is where our roots get their strength. History should be taught, learnt and always remembered by all generation. So sad that in this era of easy access to information, so few youths actually get an interest in history.

    And THAT is what is the common link - both where you live as well as where I live, it's the same phenomenon.

    All the best,
    Steve ✉ Master eMailSmith ✉ Lorenzo
    Chief Editor, eMail Tips Daily Newsletter

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    1. Thank you. You "get" the meaning of the study of history, unlike so many others. I'm saddened when youth aren't interested. It's the story of the human race and we must learn from it, or make the same mistakes over and over. I try to make history more enjoyable in my Sunday posts even if it means I sometimes bring in "trivia".

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  3. I love history but unfortunately I'm not very knowledgeable on the subject. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. There's a lot of turbulence in our education system just now over the Scottish government's decision to cleave the history syllabus in our schools and insert a huge swathe of Scottish history. Because, up until now, it's always been British (or the wider world - we did the American Revolution for our Higher exam - but, of course, that had a large British component, too!). And for British, read English, even though we weren't joined until 1707!

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    1. There is a lot of turbulence in our educational system, too although we do not (yet) have a national curriculum. We were never (I grew up in New York State)taught about huge swathes of world history. It would be interesting to compare notes one day about what you learned about the American revolution vs. what I was taught. (first I have to dredge it up from my memories of some 45 years ago, though). I can tell you what I was taught about Scottish history though: zero, or close to it.

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  5. I'm always amazed at how recent the War of Independance was. The new citizens of America wanted to break away from England. Why did they have to fight? Why couldn't they have shaken hands over a cup of coffee? Of course, I know. Greed. The King of England wanted their booty.
    Then, they fought with each other over the rights of individuals. I agree with their aims but how sad that so many had to die.
    These are just the views of a former Australian living in England. My facts might not be right. Correct me and give me a firm rebuttal if I'm wrong.

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    1. We still debate the causes of the Civil War and "who did what" 150 years later. I fear we are still fighting the war, just in a different way. Just mention topics like slavery, Sherman's March, the "incident" at Ft. Pillow in Tennessee, the Andersonville POW Camp,Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan. We like to use the expression "the elephant in the room" to mean an issue that plainly needs to be confronted but everyone ignores it, hoping it will walk out of the room. The most painful part of the Civil War is yet to come and it is going to dredge up some very painful memories and a whole lot of elephants. The next two years will be interesting.

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  6. Alana,
    We took a vacation years ago, as a family, to many of the Civil War sites, including Gettysburg. It was an impressive and sobering trip. Gettysburg was one of my favorite stops. I agree with Francene (above) that it's a shame that so many had to die. Fascinating history lesson, Alana!

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    1. It is a terrible shame, Amy - so much suffering and it wasn't restricted to any one part of the United States or the former Confederate stats. That would have been a long trip for you and your family and I'm glad you all got a lot out of it.

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  7. Very interesting history lesson! Will remember this lesson if I ever make it down to Gettysburg. Thanks for sharing. Best Regards, Wendy http://wendybottrell.com

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    1. I hope you do make it to Gettysburg one day - soon, but maybe not this year. After April of 2015, the crowds should be way less.

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  8. Great history, detail and links - as usual! Have re-enactor friends going up for the big 150!

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