Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 9/12/15: Day One-The Battle of Gettysburg

One hundred and fifty years ago, America experienced a bloody battle like none other in our history.  The Battle at Gettysburg left 51,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers dead, maimed or missing in just three days of battle.  And the battle covered an impressive, considering most were on foot, 25 square miles.  We hired a private licensed battle guide, and if you visit this National Military Park we highly recommended the licensed guides.  They are reasonable, tested and licensed, passionate and knowledgeable and ride in your vehicle with you.  gettysburgtourguides  Our guide Kyle was super and he had us stop at various key locations over this huge area.  At each stop he shared battle maps and pictures of key players and then pointed out from where we were standing, where the items on his maps occurred on the terrain we were looking at.  Kyle had so much to share on battle strategy, what worked, what didn't and Bob was so in his element.  We do not have a lot of pictures-while our tour was almost 3 hours, Kyle really filled the time and there was little time to spare for pictures with us not wanting to miss any of the stories that Kyle had to share.  There are many monuments, and for those interested, the following link not only shows pictures of those monuments but also gives links to discussions on each.  Monuments of the Battlefield

Even though this is the most documented battle in American history, we were surprised at how much debate there still is over the strategy and tactics employed by both sides. Union General Sickles, who disobeyed orders to extend his lines forward to the Peach orchard, is a particular controversy.  Also James Longstreet on the Confederate side, who was supposed to launch an attack early on the the second day (July 2) was yet another.  Longstreet it is said was not happy with the plan, drug his feet, and didn't attack until after 4 P.M.  Even with this late attack, they still made significance progress and the Union forces barely hung on.  Even today, while Confederate forces will claim this battle was a draw, most historians believe this was a turning point of the Civil War.  We also heard the story of Lincoln's unsent letter to Major General Mead.  In this letter Lincoln wrote: "Again my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape- He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other successes, have ended the war-As it is the war will be prolonged indefinitely."  Writing such letters and storing them away was said to be a favorite coping mechanism for Lincoln. 

On the return from our tour with Kyle we visited the Cyclorama and also the National Park Museum.  In a day prior to motion pictures and televisions, the Cyclorama brought images to life for many.  The cyclorama at Gettysburg was painted in the late 1880's by the French painter Paul Phillippoteaux and depicts the final day of battle on July 3, 1863. This painter spent months on the battlefield researching prior to spending over a year with assistants painting this impressive 377 foot in circumference and 42 foot high painting.  The cyclorama of the battlefield that we viewed was first exhibited in Boston in 1884.  As was the case in 1884, the foreground of the painting is enhanced with 3 dimensional landscape objects, trees, fences and life sized figures.  Viewers stand on a central platform, placing viewers in the center of the painted battlefield action.  The story is then enhanced with sound and lights that make the painting come to life, giving the appearance of cannons firing and guns blasting.   We then toured the on site museum and while worth visiting, we felt the the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg that we visited a few days later was much better. (soon to be posted)

To get a feel for the civilian side of this historic battle we also visited the Shriver House. George Shriver at the young age of 16 inherited not only a 200 plus acre farm but also a distillery and 3000 gallons of liquor.  Two years later in 1855 he married Hettie Weikert, they were both just 18 years old and full of excitement and dreams for their life together.  In 1860, with two young girls now, Sadie 5 and Mollie 3, they sold most of the inherited farm and built a house on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg.  They had big plans for their life including plans to establish and open the Shriver Saloon and Ten Pen Alley. The Saloon was to be opened in the basement of their home and the Ten Pen Alley, in their large backyard.  Construction of the Saloon and Ten Pen Alley was completed in 1861.  With the business not yet opened, and believing the war would be over by year's end, in August 1861 George volunteered and enlisted with the Union forces.  The business would have to wait especially because it was not considered proper in the day for a lady to step into a saloon, much less run one.

After two years with George still fighting in the war and Hettie raising two young girls alone, the war unexpected by Hettie, came to the town of Gettysburg.  As the sounds of cannons approached, Hettie decided that she and her girls would be safer at her Parent's farm located 3 miles away.  She took her neighbor's youngest child, 15 at the time, Tillie Pierce with them.  Of note, Teri is reading Tillie's book, a short journal of sorts: "At Gettysburg: Or, What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle". Tillie  Hettie, unfortunately, would not realize as she set off on foot for her parent's farm with these three young girls that she was headed to where some of the worst of the fighting would take place.  Her parent's farm was located right between Little Round Top  little-round-top and Big Round Top big-round-top. It was frightening for all at her parent's farm and the noise of the battle was so loud that they had to shout to hear one another.  When the fighting finally ended, the dying and wounded were everywhere and Hettie helped out where she could, with accounts stating that the amputated limbs were higher than their farm fence.  Four days later, on July 7, Hettie would make her way with the three girls on foot, along the three mile journey back to their home.  The walk back was horrific as they walked around and stepped over the thousands of dead and dying soldiers along with dead horses, bloody body parts, broken wagons, rifles, canteens and swords. One can hardly imagine how difficult it had to be exposing one's children to such sights.

On arriving home, Hettie found that her home had been set up as a hospital.  She also found that the confederate soldiers had taken all their food, clothing, blankets, basically left their home bare except for all the trash and bloodied rags thrown throughout her home.  Even some of her furniture had been burned to cook with.   The confederate soldiers had also knocked holes in her attic, where they had stationed themselves to pick off Union soldiers up on Cemetery Hill. cemetery-hill

Five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, George Shriver was granted a four day furlough and he spent Christmas with Hettie and their girls. This is the last time Hettie would be with or correspond with George.  George returned to duty on December 29, 1863 and just a few days later on New Year's Day 1864 near Rectortown, Virginia, George was taken prisoner.  He was held at the notoriously cruel and deadly Andersonville Prison in Georgia until his death in December 1864. andersonville-prison-camp  Two years later, never having had the opportunity to open the Saloon and Ten Pin Alley, Hettie was plagued with financial troubles and was forced to sell her home and move her girls.

While the residents of Gettysburg had a horrific experience, it is amazing only one civilian was killed.  Most of the Families stayed in their cellars and although the Confederate soldiers took all their food, for the most part they left the Gettysburg residents alone while they hid in their cellars.  When the three days of battle were over, however, the town was left with total devastation- there were dead bodies in every direction, very poor sanitary conditions, no food and contaminated water.  And, it was the local Gettysburg citizens that were left to tend to the 21,000 dead and injured, and the 3,000 dead horses scattered about not to mention the rest of the horrendous damage done to their homes, farms and  town.. Over 37,000 rifles, 24,000 of which were still loaded were also left behind and injuries to local children were common. Even after the dead were finally buried, with some mass burials, we were told that people would put peppermint oil above their lip to try and get through the day as the smell of the dead lingered for months in their town.  It took the arrival of the bitter cold winter to finally have the stench dissipate.  So often wars are thought about in terms of strategy and execution and while that too is of great interest, so should be the impacts that war has on its surrounding citizens.

Cyclorama depicting Day 3 of the Gettysburg Battle
Cyclorama depicting Day 3 of the Gettysburg Battle
Cyclorama depicting Day 3 of the Gettysburg Battle
Eternal Light Peace Memorial
Oak Hill, Gettysburg Battle Field
Location where Woodrow Wilson,
the first elected Southern President
Declared the War Forgotten on the 50th Anniversary
of the Battle of Gettysburg
At the 75th anniversary, Franklin Roosevelt in front
of  1800 Civil War Veterans dedicated this Memorial
The flame on top burns continuously and the inscription reads:
"An Enduring Light to Guide us in Unity and Fellowship"
Looking back on the city of Gettysburg
from the site of the first day of the Battle(McPherson Ridge)
 Devil's Den
Gettysburg Battlefield (Day 3 of the Battle)
Pennsylvania State Monument
Gettysburg Battlefield
Shriver House on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg
Shriver House on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg
Shriver House on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg
Depicting what Hattie returned to

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