"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Into myth, blood & tears, 150 years-- Gettysburg

A mile away, across open fields into deadly fire, the men in gray stepped forward, into death and myth, 150 years ago
North Carolina looks at the objective.
You can't stand there and wonder how...
how men could have stepped into that open field, a mile away from a ridge where other brave Americans waited to kill you.
But they did, 12,500 of them, in butternut and gray, edged from the woods of Seminary Ridge at 2 p.m. 150 years ago. It's known as Pickett's charge, though Pettigrew's division also charged.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, after two deadly days of fighting, with stalemate, the Army of Northern Virginia attacking the Army of the Potomac.
The line they formed as about a mile long. On Cemetery Ridge, the Union soldiers gasped in admiration, and perhaps in fear at what they knew was coming, and in determination not to yield. 
Today, monuments to the Union units, identified by states, line the top of Cemetery Ridge. Where the Confederates massed a mile away on Seminary Ridge, monuments to those states stand.
As a child, I was taught the "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was Lincoln's favorite song. I don't know if that's true or not, but I'd like to believe it. Even as a southerner, I think it captures the emotions of that day and time so well. So turn up your volume and listen to this first clip of the Presbyterian choirs singing the song at the recent Westminster church tornado music benefit.



They first stepped forward out of cover in the trees, lining up for the charge.
The monuments do not hint at the bravery, the horror, the sadness of the day. They do help tell the story, and testify to the importance of this battle in American history. If you've not been there, even with the traffic, there's a huge sense of quietness across the fields.
The star-crossed battle flag was not the national flag of the Confederacy, but created so it was easily identified. The real Stars and Bars looked too much like the Union flag from a distance. At least one shell torn flag, under which men died that day, is on display in the park visitor center and museum. Today, the flag has become almost a racist symbol, and I detest those fanatics who have made it so.
Then  they began walking, in butternut and gray. 



The farther they went, the more died


At first, the Federals gasped at the mile long sight, and then they waited as artillery took its toll.
They reached the wall, but that was all they could do.
This is as far as they got that day,
briefly breaching the rock wall, but in not enough force to carry the day. It was the Confederacy's "High Water Mark," and the day the Union survived.
I can't look at these photos, walk the fields, and think about this day without tears.
If you don't get it, I'm sorry, because this battle is part of our American blood.
Some go this close. One of every four killed here was from North Carolina
one hour after it started, almost 6,000 Confederates had been killed or wounded. Pickett lost 3,000 of his division alone. They straggled back to their lines, greeted by General Lee. It was his army's first defeat, and the charge was "Lee's mistake." Told to reform his division, Pickett told Lee, "General, I no longer have a divison."
Union general Meade also made a mistake, by allowing the Confederates to retreat back to Virginia beginning July 4, and prolonging the Civil war for another two bloody years. That's why for years, July 4 was a subdued holiday in the South. You couldn't escape the memories.
Fifty years later, survivors of Pickets charge marched over the ground again.
There are thousands at Gettysburg today, and reenactments as well. I'm thankful for those, because they can give us a sense of the humanity involved, in living color, rather than old black and white photos.
But reenactments aren't new. For years, veterans gathered there to remember, to honor, including these aging Southerners in 1913. For some great photo coverage of this year's re-enacments, check the photos from the Baltimore SunBattle photos
More than 6,000 casualties in less than an hour.







Lincoln was right. We can never forget what these men did here. The men marched into death and history, and myth, that continues today.
Pause at 2 p.m. Eastern time today, and in silence, remember, and salute. Here's another clip of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Graves of unknown Union soldiers at Gettysburg, killed 150 years ago in the first three days of July.

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