Monday, September 21, 2021
We pulled into Gettysburg last night, and are lodging at an inn downtown on Lincoln Square, right next door to the house where President Lincoln stayed the night before giving his Gettysburg Address at the National Cemetery.
Many of the buildings in this area date from before the war, including our inn, built in 1824. One building has a shell casing still embedded in its wall. Buildings that were here at the time are identified by sign, and many have stories of the people who lived or worked in the buildings. In spite of three days of spirited battle, only one civilian was killed during the battle.
Before visiting the park, we had breakfast at Ernie’s Texas Lunch, a diner that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and it was easy to see why it’s survived for so long. The food was good as was the service (our waitress has worked there for 33 years). We’ll probably go back tomorrow.
This is Mark’s first and my third visit to Gettysburg National Military Park. My first visit was in the early 1990s, my second in 2013. Each visit is emotional. Over three days, from July 1 through July 3, 1863, about 50,000 people were killed, injured, captured or missing.
We watched the movie, ”Gettysburg,” based on the novel ”Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara, before coming here. The movie was filmed on location here, so we could get a sense of just how large the scene of battle was, about 18 square miles, and encompassing the town of Gettysburg. We also hired a private guide, well worth the money, only $75 for two hours of driving around the battlefield and telling the story day by day.
Fighting was fierce throughout the campaign. Possibly best known of the various actions, Pickett’s Charge took place on the last day, an infantry assault by the Confederate Forces that cost them 9,000 casualties our of a force of 12,500 infantry. The Union forces lost only 1,500.
Our own state of Minnesota played a role at this battle. The 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment was indeed the very first group of volunteers to the Union. When Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey learned of the attack on Fort Sumter, he immediately volunteered 1,000 men to President Lincoln. Then he went home and recruited the volunteers, who signed up for a five-year commitment. By the time the 1st arrived at Gettysburg, there were only 262 men left. Under orders from General Winifred Scott Hancock, and let by Colonel William J. Colvill, they faced 1,200 men from General James Longstreet’s corps and Richard Anderson’s Division, protecting a vital Union position. Within minutes, 215 of these brave soldiers were wounded or killed. They attacked with bayonets, buying time for more Union forces to be brought up, earning high praise from General Hancock (“there is no more gallant deed recorded in history”) and future President Calvin Coolidge (“Colonel Colvill and those eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank as the saviors of their country.”) Yay for Minnesota!
The State of Minnesota was the first to put up a memorial at Gettysburg Battlefield, a flower urn that resides in the National Cemetery, where 52 Minnesotans are buried.
Instead of advancing further north, Robert E. Lee was forced to withdraw his troops to Maryland. General George Meade halfheartedly pursued, but seems to have squandered the opportunity to quash the rebellion and end the war. Instead, it continued for almost two more years.
States that participated in this battle, from both sides, raised money to build and install monuments here at the park, often in the area where they played the greatest roles. Virginia’s monument has General Robert E. Lee astride his horse, looking across Pickett’s Field to where General Meade looks back.
The Gettysburg National Cemetery holds the graves of more than 3,500 Union soldiers who died on this battlefield. Initially, bodies were buried on the battlefield, in shallow graves. A few months later, a cemetery was created. Mostly Union soldiers were buried here, all but a few of the Confederate soldier’s bodies were relocated to cemeteries in southern states. The cemetery also has graves of veterans from succeeding wars, and there are now over 6,000 soldiers buried here.
It’s been a wonderful trip, but like all good things, it’s coming to an end. We’ll be heading back to Minnesota where the temps are a bit lower than they are here. Oh well!