Detail of the Soldiers National Monument at Gettysburg's National Cemetery (Tom Huntington).

Detail of the Soldiers National Monument at Gettysburg’s National Cemetery (Tom Huntington).

Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg’s third and final day. The fighting here in 1863 had been fierce and bloody, with something like 8,000 dead from both sides. Most of the fallen were initially buried near where they died. Many of the Union troops were eventually laid to rest in the new National Cemetery, site of President Lincoln’s address on November 19, 1863. General Meade was invited to the cemetery dedication but had business with General Lee in Virginia at the time. On July 1, 1869, he returned to Gettysburg to speak at the dedication ceremonies for the Soldiers’ National Monument in the National Cemetery. It was, for its time, a short speech so I have posted the entire address here. Especially interesting are Meade’s remarks about the Confederate dead at Gettysburg.

My fellow citizens, ladies and gentlemen,

Six years ago I stood upon this ground under circumstances very different from those which now surround us. These beautiful hills and valleys, teeming with luxuriant crops, these happy faces around me, are widely different from the tumultuous roar of war and the terrible scenes enacted at that time. Four years ago I stood here, by invitation of some honorable gentlemen who have brought me here this time, and laid the corner-stone of the Monument which we are brought here to-day to dedicate; and now, for the third time, I appear before you at the request of the managers of the Monument Association, to render my assistance, humble as it is, in paying respect to the memory of the brave men who fell here, by dedicating this Monument to them; and at the request of these gentlemen I am about to make to you a few, a very few remarks which are incident to this occasion and suggested by it. When I look around and see, as I now see, so many brave men who were by my side in that memorable battle, among them his Excellency the present Governor of Pennsylvania, General Geary, and others who were with me at that time; when I look back and think upon the noble spirits who then fought so well, and now sleep that sleep that knows no waking—gallant Reynolds, my bosom friend, as well as my right hand officer; brave Vincent, and Zook, and Weed, and others, far more in number than I have time of words to mention,—my feelings are those of mingled sadness and joy,—sadness, my friends, to think that there ever was an occasion when such men should be arrayed in battle, as they were here; that we should ever have been called upon, as we were upon this held, to defend the flag of our country and Government, which had been handed down to us from our forefathers. It is sad to think of the mourning and desolation which prostrated our whole land, North and South; it is sad to contemplate the vast destruction of life which we here wrought in obedience to our highest duty. I am filled with sadness to think of the host of mourning widows and orphans left throughout the land by that deadly struggle. Such thoughts necessarily crowd upon us. At the same time I give thanks to the Almighty, who directed the event, and who selected me as an humble instrument, with those then around me upon this field, to obtain that decisive victory which turned the tide of that great war, and settled for ever the trust in this country of the great principles of personal liberty and constitutional freedom. I feel grateful, too, that our fellow-countrymen have been moved to such respect and honor as we are now paying to the memory of those men who, in the discharge of their duty, laid down their lives, proving, by the highest sacrifice man can render, their devotion to the cause they were defending. Gratitude to those present to-day, who, by their presence, contribute to render the high honor justly due to the fallen brave.

There is one subject, my friends, which I will mention now and on this spot, while my attention is being called to it, and on which I trust my feeble voice will have some influence. When I contemplate this field, I see here and there the marks of hastily dug trenches in which repose the dead against whom we fought. They are the work of my brothers in arms the day after the battle. Above them a bit of plank indicates simply that these remains of the fallen were hurriedly laid there by soldiers who met them in battle. Why should we not collect them in some suitable place! I do not ask that a monument be erected over them; I do not ask that we should in any way endorse their cause or their conduct, or entertain other than feelings of condemnation for their course: but they are dead! They have gone before their Maker to be judged. In all civilized countries it is the usage to bury the dead with decency and respect, and even to fallen enemies respectful burial is accorded in death. I earnestly hope that this suggestion may have some influence throughout our broad land, for this is only one of a hundred crowded battle fields. Some persons may be designated by the Government to collect these neglected bones and bury them without commemorating monuments, simply indicating that below sleep misguided men who fell in battle for a cause over which we triumphed.

I shall delay you no longer, for you are about to listen to one of the most eloquent men in this country. My purpose was simply to comply with the kind invitation given me to speak meet words of praise for the dead heroes sleeping around, and to aid in the solemnities of this occasion. I thank you for your attention, and will now unveil the statue.

From The Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg: With the Proceedings at its Consecration, at the Laying of the Corner-stone of the Monument, and at its Dedication by John Russell Bartlett (Printed by the Providence Press Co. for the Board of Commissioners of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, 1874). Available via Google Books.

A Quick Note (July 3, 1863)

Meades HQJuly 3, 1863, was the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle on the North American continent. It climaxed with the Confederate attack we now remember as Pickett’s Charge. Before that happened, General Meade found time to write a quick note to his wife.

All well and going on well with the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking and we completely repulsing them; both Armies shattered. To-day at it again, with what result remains to be seen. Army in fine spirits and every one determined to do or die. George and myself well. Reynolds killed the first day. No other of your friends or acquaintances hurt.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 103. Available via Google Books.

Day 2 +150 (July 2, 2013)

Meade with rainbowI had a tremendous and exhilarating day at Gettysburg yesterday (July 2). The day began for me when I arrived on South Confederate Avenue to appear live on PCN with Jim Hessler and Tom DesJardin. We had a fun and informative discussion about July 2, 1863, including lively talk about George Meade and Dan Sickles and even a little bit about the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.

Jim and his wife drove me back to my car. As we were heading up Hancock Avenue, windows down, we passed Meade’s statue and a visitor standing on the side of the road said, “That’s Hancock.”

“No it’s not,” replied Jim, a licensed battlefield, and we drove on. I thought it was an excellent bit of drive-by guiding.

A life-like Civil War surgery at the Seminary Ridge Museum.

A life-like Civil War surgery at the Seminary Ridge Museum.

After that I spent the day on the battlefield. First I visited the new Seminary Ridge Museum, which was quite impressive. The exhibits cover not only the fighting that took place around there on July 1, but also the experiences of citizens, African Americans, and the wounded as well as the role religion played in the Civil War era. One image I took away with me was the photo of Rowland Ward, of Co. E, 4th New York. He stares at the camera, eyes bright and almost challenging. At first I thought he was heavily bearded but gradually–and with growing horror–I realized that his entire lower jaw had been blown away. It was hard both to look and to not look away at Ward’s photo and equally difficult for my mind to grasp the horror of his injury. More than anything else, that one image brought home the horror of the things that had happened on the battlefield 150 years ago and the sacrifices the soldiers had made there.

Visitors peer out from the cupola atop the Seminary Ridge Museum.

Visitors peer out from the cupola atop the Seminary Ridge Museum.

The seminary building, of course, is where John Buford and John Reynolds met on July 1 and Buford used the building’s cupola (the original was destroyed by lighting in the early 1900s) to observe the approaching Confederates. Today you can pay $29 to go up into the cupola. Not feeling quite that flush, I contented myself with peering up from the ground at the visitors who were recreating Buford’s experience.

A happy visitor to LIttle Round Top poses with "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain" at the 20th Maine monument.

A happy visitor to LIttle Round Top poses with “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain” at the 20th Maine monument.

After that I set out to explore the battlefield a little. Little Round Top was jammed and traffic crawled all the way down below Big Round Top. I parked my car and walked up instead. A living historian from the Confederation of Union Generals was portraying Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at the 20th Maine Monument. The people there treated him almost with reverence, as though he really were Chamberlain, or at least his proxy. He and his regiment may have gained too much prominence in the Gettysburg story today but you can’t let that detract from the reality of what they did here.

Ever vigilant, Gouverneur K. Warren stands guard on Little Round Top.

Ever vigilant, Gouverneur K. Warren stands guard on Little Round Top.

The crowds had subsided by the time I left the Round Tops and traveled over to Cemetery Ridge for the Voices of Gettysburg performance. So far the weather had been surprisingly cooperative, despite the forecasts of rain and a large crowd turned out to hear several actors repeat first-person accounts of the fighting on July 2. At the very end of the performance it began to rain slightly, but it came with a surprising bonus–a magnificent double rainbow that arched over the Meade statue (at least that’s the way it appeared to me).

Living history on Little Round Top.

Living history on Little Round Top.

The final event of the night was the ranger-led walk/talk about Meade’s “council of war” on July 2. The program began at the Meade statue at 9:30 and I was flabbergasted by the turnout. I’m not good at crowd estimation but I would not be surprised if there were 1,000 people present. In fact, there were really too many people. It was difficult to handle such a large group (well behaved as it was) and the battlefield sound effects blasting across the fields from a park-owned property on the other side of Taneytown Road made it difficult to hear. As part of the program, everyone in the group was able to go inside the little Leister House, but only 12 at a time. Rather than wait for everyone to file through the tiny building and hear the end of the program, I decided it was time to head home.
What a day!

Little Round Top on the late afternoon of July 2, 2013. One hundred and fifty years ago there would have been fewer tourists; more death and destruction.

Little Round Top on the late afternoon of July 2, 2013, with Devil’s Den in the background. One hundred and fifty years ago there would have been fewer tourists; more death and destruction.

Meade Rainbow2

The Second Day (July 2, 1863)

General Meade reached the Gettysburg battlefield sometime around midnight on July 1-2. On July 2 he sent the following message to Henry Halleck:

I have concentrated my army at this place to-day. The Sixth Corps is just coming in, very much worn out, having been marching since 9 p. M. last night.

The army is fatigued. I have to-day, up to this hour, awaited the attack of the enemy, I having a strong position for defensive. I am not determined on attacking him till his position is more developed. He has been moving on both my flanks apparently, but it is difficult to tell exactly his movements. I have delayed attacking to allow the Sixth Corps and parts of other corps to reach this place and rest the men. Expecting a battle, I ordered all my trains to the rear. If not attacked, and I can get any positive information of the position of the enemy which will justify me in so doing, I shall attack. If I find it hazardous to do so, or am satisfied the enemy is endeavoring to move to my rear and interpose between me and Washington, I shall fall back to my supplies at Westminster. I will endeavor to advise you as often as possible. In the engagement yesterday the enemy concentrated more rapidly than we could, and towards evening, owing to the superiority of numbers, compelled the Eleventh and First Corps to fall back from the town to the heights this side, on which I am now posted. I feel fully the responsibility resting on me, but will endeavor to act with caution.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 72. Available via Google Books.

The Battle Begins (July 1, 1863)

Whitelaw Reid, a correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette, passed through Taneytown, Maryland, on July 1 and noted the confused activity of an army on the move. “Army trains blocked up the streets,” he wrote; “a group of quartermasters and commissaries were bustling about the principal corner; across on the hills and along the road to the left, as far as the eye could reach, rose the glitter from the swaying points of bayonets as with steady tramp the columns of our Second and Third corps were marching northward.” He found Meade’s headquarters at the Shunk farm. “In a plain little wall tent, just like the rest, pen in hand, seated on a camp-stool and bending over a map, is the new ‘General Commanding’ for the Army of the Potomac.” Reid went on to describe Meade: “Tall, slender, not ungainly, but certainly not handsome or graceful, thin-faced, with grizzled beard and moustache, a broad and high but retreating forehead, from each corner of which the slightly-curling hair recedes, as if giving premonition of baldness–apparently between forty-five and fifty years of age–altogether a man who impresses you rather as a thoughtful student than a dashing soldier–so General Meade looks in his tent.”
It was while at Taneytown on July 1 that Meade issued what became known as his Pipe Creek Circular. The pages of the Official Records with that order are below.
Pipe Creek1
Pipe Creek2