The Army of the Cumberland charged Missionary Ridge on the afternoon of November 25, 1863. Among the leading regiments was the Milwaukee-based 24th Wisconsin, part of Major General Philip Sheridan’s division. Its color-bearer fell at the base of the ridge. Eighteen-year-old Arthur MacArthur, the 24th’s adjutant, grabbed the colors and cried, “On Wisconsin!” as he led the regiment up the hill. This action earned him the Medal of Honor. (His son, Douglas, also earned the Medal of Honor in World War II, making them the first father-son combination to be so honored.)
On July 4th, 1863 Meade’s Union army rejoiced as the sights and sounds of a Confederate army in retreat ensured them of their victory. For the North, Independence Day 1863 was a day of rejoicing and confirmation with victory at both Gettysburg and Vicksburg. But in the midst of victory, July 4th was also sobering for the men who fought around that Pennsylvania town for it was the first chance they had to inspect the battlefield and attend to the dead. After three days of fighting, 7,058 dead men lay scattered in and around the town: 3,903 Confederates and 3,155 Federals. The nearest comparison in terms of outright dead bodies was the Battle of Antietam with 3,900. In addition to the human corpses, there were 3,000 dead horses, many injured horses that also would need to be destroyed, and large numbers of dead mules and civilian livestock.
The Union soldiers and Gettysburg civilians that looked over the battlefield on July 4th saw a level of death and destruction that was overwhelming and seemingly impossible to take care of. Faced with over 7,000 human bodies to bury and many more wounded to care for, the Union army only paused for a day before it too left Gettysburg in pursuit of Lee’s retreating army, leaving doctors behind to care for the living and provost marshals to organize the civilian population into a burial corps. The 2,400 citizens of Gettysburg, traumatized by three days of war in and around their homes, would now have to cope with roughly 22,000 wounded and an estimated 6 million pounds of carcasses, both human and animal. Continue reading
For most people the Gettysburg Address is something they had to memorize in school or a vaguely understood document from the Civil War. For me, the Gettysburg Address represents inspiration for my future as a historian.
A poster of the Gettysburg Address hangs on my kitchen wall where I see it every day. You could call me a Civil War nerd since at least half of my apartment is covered in Civil War items, books, and pictures. My Gettysburg Address poster is something I picked up cheap during my semester-long stay at Gettysburg College when I was an undergraduate student, but I hang it proudly wherever I live (in my dorm rooms and now my apartment) because I love what it says. Continue reading
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
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This is another post in the series “Tales From the Tombstone.”
George Edward Pickett was ecstatic on the morning of July 3, 1863. His division, which had missed the fighting at Chancellorsville in May and had been way in the rear during the first two days at Gettysburg, was about to lead the decisive charge on the third day of fighting around the small Pennsylvania town. (Joined in this fateful charge by two other divisions and plenty of North Carolinians).
When given the permission, Pickett was remembered saying “Up Men, and to your posts! Don’t forget today that you are from Old Virginia.” His three brigades that had made the northward trek, marched defiantly toward the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge and suffered tremendously in doing so. All three brigade commanders were hit–two would die and the third would never hold active field command again. Also, among the mortally wounded was the great-uncle of George Patton. Continue reading
Dogs are “man’s best friend,” but in the case of war it is the horse that fills that role. Often overlooked in the study of the Civil War, horses filled crucial roles such as transporting men and supplies and pulling artillery in battle. In hard times horses suffered poor conditions and low supplies just as much as the men and could become exhausted or injured on the march with less chance of recovery than a human. Horses carried officers into battle, and were often shot out from under their riders to ground that officer and make them more vulnerable. In many cases, approaching soldiers targeted the enemy’s artillery horses to prevent the gun crews from saving their pieces. At the end of a battle hundreds or thousands of dead horses lay on the field among the dead soldiers and burial crews had to bury or burn their carcasses in addition to burying the dead men. Continue reading
On the evening of November 7, 1863, two Union brigades commanded by Colonels Peter C. Ellmaker and Emory Upton seized Confederate rifle pits on the Rappahannock River protecting the vital crossing of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Their success eliminated the Confederate presence on the north bank of the river, one which Robert E. Lee would never regain. Success owed to excellent small-unit leadership in employing innovative tactics under the cover of nightfall. However, close analysis of the primary sources from the battle still reveals a chaotic experience for those engaged, especially in their auditory descriptions.