Doug Smith: Remember Gettysburg, our Republic, on our Independence Day

4 Jul



Doug Smith:  Free State Patriot History and Social editor



What began as skirmishers in the pre-dawn from Buford s Federal Cavalry and Heth’s Confederate Infantry has grown into a meeting engagement involving 3 Union Corps. General John Reynolds of I Corps has been killed. 2 Union Corps have retreated through the town of Gettysburg to the high ground of Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill, with orders to fortify.

Confederate General Jubal Early arrives on the field and is ordered by Lee to attack the Union flank ” if practicable”. He declines.
Both decisions were to prove seminal for a battle in which Union forces retreated, but held the all-important high ground.


 It is quiet now at Gettysburg. The cries of the wounded cut across the heavy air, hot from the July sun, coppery smelling from the blood.

Exhausted men chew hardtack and curl up to sleep, or peer over their breastworks for movement in the night. The heat and the flies do their grisly work on the dead, men and horses alike. Tens of thousands move up in the night to join the battle with the coming of the dawn.

As they smell the odor of battle, gunpowder, decay, blood, intestines, fear sweat, and hear the crackle of fires, and the occasional scream from the relentless work of the surgeon’s saw, they wonder if they turned off the road and marched into hell in the darkness.

Tens of thousands settled for an uneasy night, grimly resolved not to flinch away from the horrors that would come with the sun of July 2, 1863.

Meade arrives to take command. He determines to stay and fight from the high ground held by his Army.

So, the first day of battle ended, but the worst lay ahead.

It was night at Gettysburg.

Day 2.

  4 pm. After a long day of march and delay, Longstreet attacks the Union flanks.
Col Strong Vincent of NY places Col Joshua Chamberlain ‘s 20th Maine at the far left of the Union line with orders to ” hold at all costs.” Both men knew if the 20th retreated, Longstreet’s Alabamans would roll up into the rear of the Union lines. It could sway the entire battle. It could sway the entire war.

The 386 men of the 20th began a desperate 3-hour battle that would test their resolve to its limit, and burn Little Round Top into the consciousness of the nation forever. Of the 386, 38 died, 91 were wounded, 5 missing, and every shot was fired from their muskets.

Still unwilling to yield, Chamberlain orders the regiment to fix bayonets and charge downhill into the attackers.

The 20th held.

The 20th prevailed.

And as the 20th, thus the Republic.

Day 3

 Pickett s command of some 15,000 men were ordered by Lee to assault the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. For the 3rd time now, Alabama on the Left, Texas on the Right, and now Virginia up the center, Lee orders his men to assault fortified high ground.

About 3 pm, Longstreet, who had argued unsuccessfully against the attack, reluctantly gave the go ahead to Pickett to send in his men at Lee ‘s insistence. They would go in across nearly a mile of open field, against entrenched infantry and artillery.

Union artillery fired directly into their ranks. Infantry flanked and fired from multiple directions. Only a few hundred, out of 12,000 reached the Union barricades. They were all promptly killed or taken prisoner. Over 7,000 men were killed or wounded, effectively destroying Pickett ‘s Virginia Regiment.

Demoralized and badly beaten, the Army of Northern Virginia retreated to lick their wounds.

The Battle of Gettysburg was over. Lee had been beaten decisively. Unknown to him, or to Meade, Vicksburg had fallen, and Grant had taken control of the Mississippi, and cut the Confederacy in half.

Meade had won, but in caution or timidity, did not send his exhausted Army of the Potomac to pursue and finish Lee. He would not recover from that decision, and would soon find himself subordinate the Lt Gen U.S Grant.

On Independence Day, 1863, the Civil War still raged. But the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Only the butcher s bill.



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