Monday, July 1, 2013

A Rememberance Essay on The Battle of Gettysburg 1863-2013...

     150 years ago today 2 armies (Union at 93,921 and Confederate at 71,699) from 1 country came face to face in a small town in Pennsylvania named Gettysburg. When I was in 8th grade I sat in a social studies class and one of the main history lessons I learned that year was on The American Civil War. The North vs. The South, The Blue and The Gray. In that same year a movie with the same name as the town was released into theaters and my entire class got to go see it. If you know me or have read anything I have written here then you know that I would much rather spend the day in a dark theater then a brightly lit classroom, especially if it was math class. The film is over four hours long and by the time the lights had turned on I had forgotten I was on a school trip. Later that same school year we went on another field trip...

Many years have passed and the film, the town and the events that took place there still have a special piece of my heart.

     The movie Gettysburg was written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell and is based on a book called The Killer Angels written by Michael Shaara, which I recently re read (Gods and Generals a prequel was written by his son Jeff Shaara years later). It is a story about what happened those first three hot summer days in July of 1863. A story of the men who met and fought for what they believed in. Two sides with completely different viewpoints and ideas on how one still young ("Four score and seven years") country should be run. Throughout The Civil War many Generals were in charge/command of the Union Army of the Potomac, including McClellan, Hooker and Grant at Gettysburg it was Major General George Gordon Meade (portrayed in the film by Richard Anderson) in charge. It was the farthest north The Civil War would end up.

     In the film we meet General Robert E. Lee portrayed by the great Martin Sheen. Before Lee became the commander of the Confederate Forces he was a young Virginian man who attended West Point. He was a superb student and ranked 2ed in his graduating class. Lee would first meet his future Union Commander rival during The Mexican-American War where he and Grant fought together during a march from Vera Cruz to Mexico City.  Lee was Lincoln's first choice as commander of the army prior to the Civil War but when Virginia seceded Lee resigned in order to command The Virginia Forces. Three years into the war Lee would invade the north for a second time this time at Gettysburg. It was there where General Lee and Lt.General James Longstreet portrayed by Tom Berenger, who had become Lee's right hand man after Stonewall Jackson died, would decide the fate of their army. Although Longstreet disagreed with Lee about fighting on this particular ground they set up camp and prepared for the coming unknown.

     Like Lee and Longstreet many partnerships and even friendships are forged from war. Then there are the ones torn apart by the same war. There is a saying that the Civil War pitted brother against brother, that may or may not be true but many of the man who fought did know someone on the other side. For example and most famous may be the story of General Lewis Armistead, southerner portrayed by Richard Jordan and General Winfield Scott Hancock, northerner portrayed by Brian Mallon. The last time the two saw each other they were having a good time with their wives and trying to avoid talking up the up coming war. It was at Gettysburg where they would face each other again, guns pointed at one another. They were both wounded during the battle, Armistead died from his.
My favorite line in the movie is when Armistead is found on the battlefield by a union soldier and as he lays there possibly dying he asks the soldier about Hancock and when he is told that Hancock too has been wounded Armistead responds "No! Not both of us! Not all of us! Please God!"

 One of the MANY monuments on the large battlefield

     Then there was General George Pickett portrayed by Stephen Lang (Who also portrayed Stonewall Jackson 10 yrs later in Gods and Generals and as Jackson cries when a young girl whom he meets at a fellow soldiers home dies of illness a soldier responds "I think he cries for them all."),
     Although Pickett was a popular student with his fellow cadets during his time at West Point he wasn't the best when it came to his studies and upon graduating was last in his class (not that General Grant did much better). Pickett went on to rise through the military ranks during the previous stated Mexican-American War. When the Civil War began he like any other native son, served on the side of Virginia. By now he was a major in the Confederate States Army and continued to move up through the ranks. During the first two years of the war he saw his share of battles but was wounded badly enough that he could not fight for three months. When Pickett returned he was given a new command under Longstreet and saw little combat before Gettysburg. His division got to the town on the second day of the battle and on the third/final day was part of a major offensive tactic. Most of the commanders and soldiers under him died in what is now known as Pickett's Charge!

     Another man involved in the battle and appears prominently in the book and movie is Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. First I have to say if you went up to any random person on the street and asked them-What their favorite Jeff Daniels role is 99% will say is character from Dumb and Dumber. Then there is my answer-The wonderful and talented Jeff Daniels is at his best as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Gettysburg! When he portrayed this real life man I fell in love, with the actor and the "character" and I wanted to learn more about him.
     Born in Brewer Maine in 1828 and the eldest of five children (two brothers also joined the war effort) Chamberlain went on to graduate from Bowdain College and in a few more years would go on to be a professor of Rhetoric there. With the outbreak or war he felt the need to serve and got permission to leave his day job. The Governor then appointed him as Lt Col. of the newly raised 20th Maine Regiment. As seen in an excellent scene from the film Gods and Generals(Still portrayed by Daniels), Chamberlain and his men fought at The Battle of Fredericksburg where he used bodies of the dead to shield himself from the passing bullets in the field. Then after missing The Battle of Chancellorsville due to a smallpox outbreak in his regiment Chamberlain was promoted to Colonel by Col. Ames, his superior, who was also promoted and this allowed Chamberlain to be in complete control of the regiment as Gettysburg was approaching. Col. Chamberlain became famous because of his unwavering defense of Little Round Top on the 2ed day of the Battle at Gettysburg. He knew that he and his men had to hold the line and secure General Meade's embattled left side. Disputed by some but according to stories at the time when Chamberlain learn that the men had run low or completely out or ammunition he gave the command to "Ready Bayonets!". They had the higher ground and from a great scene in the movie Gettysburg we can watch as The 20th Maine were able to run down towards their enemy and pushed back the southern forces on that day. Col. Chamberlain was slightly wounded  twice during Gettysburg and afterwards given command of  a Brigade in the 5th Corps.
      By wars end he would be wounded four more time, one was thought to be mortal but he went on to the rank of Brigadier General and invited for an important role to receive the Confederate surrender of arms at the Appomattox Campaign, It was then that he ordered his men to salute their vanquished foes. Chamberlain then returned to Maine a hero and was elected as Governor for 4 one year terms, he won overwhelming by the largest percentage of votes at the time. In 1871 he went back to Bowdoin College this time not as a professor but as its President and stayed til 1883. In 1893, 30 years after The Battle of Gettysburg he received The Medal of Honor for "conspicuous gallantry".
In 1914 at the age of 85 Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain succumbed to and died of his old wartime wounds in Portland Maine and was buried where his house still stands in Brunswick, Maine.

And here's to some of the others who fought at Gettysburg-Buford, Reynolds, Hill, Heth, Stuart, Ewell, Early, Pettigrew, Hood and the rest.

  For a personal look-
          As a kid I would spend many summer days visiting with my grandparents at their house in the village of Sackets Harbor NY (Note: As a young military man Ulysses S Grant also spent some time in this small cute village). I believe it was there on those hot, lazy days where I learned the importance of and even came to love and appreciate historic battlefields. You see my grandparents lived just down the street from a War of 1812 battlefield and every time we went to "grandmother's house" my family would walk to the old battlefield. Along the field there is a stone wall and my sister and I would climb up onto it and walked on top being careful not to fall down the cliff into the mighty Lake Ontario below (It is illegal to do this today). Each year the battlefield would hold its own re-enactment, I don't know what it is about grown men in historically accurate uniforms pretending to kill each from opposite ends of a grassy field that made me smile I just know that I liked watching and to this day if I hear that there is a historic military (The Revolutionary and Civil Wars to either World War) encantment nearby I will go check it out. I know I will have a good time and might learn something new.
     Which brings me back to that movie theater. The film happened to be released the same school year that my school takes the 8th graders on a class field trip to Gettysburg. It was almost 20 years ago but I remember (most) of it as if the trip was yesterday,
     It was the first weekend of June (1st-3erd the year I went) I know this because my 14th birthday was on the 2ed and I got to spend it with my classmates and the chaperone's, who when they found out bought me a t-shirt as a present and yes I still have it. The boys stayed in a motel and the girls in some sort of youth hostel. I was forced to bunk with a teacher and a fellow student I barely knew. From what I recall the students got to spend a couple of hours walking around the town and the  friends I had at the time got one of those old time looking photos taken. Then we got together as a large group and took a tour of the historical Battlefield, from seeing Devils Den to climbing up Big or was it Little Round Top in order to get back to the bus. There was a retelling of The Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln himself and as we road (to and from) home there were fun stops along the way.  I had more freedom and better friends during my Senior trip to Disneyworld but Gettysburg was the best school trip I went on throughout the years.
     I have gone back a few times and enjoy each visit, which may sound like a strange thing to say about a battlefield. It is horrific and sad to stand where a young man died but it is also mystical, beautiful and humbling and as you stand there taking it all in you can only hope that they did not die "in vain" and that we 100 and 50 years later have not forgotten  "What we say here..." (or) "what they did here" "And that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall (has) not perish(ed) from the earth."

The Gettysburg Address-President Lincoln-November 19 1863

Dedicated to all those who fought and died (on both sides) including Lt Agustus Proeus of the 111th NY Infentry Hometown Sodus NY


My Hometown of Rochester NY Connection

Also on top of and holding on to Little Round Top

Me and my dad reading/studying the battle from the point of view of those who were there (2008)


Gettysburg, film,1993
The Killer Angels book, copyright 1974
Internet-Wikipedia, Pickett,George/Longstreet,James at el. and



1 comment:

  1. I found this post from a comment you left on one of the Gettysburg sites I read via Facebook. Thanks for bringing me here and for the wonderful post on Gettysburg. It is truly my favorite place on earth. I didn't get to attend the events this week either and have soaked up every mention of the word and took every photo to heart. I always enjoy meeting other who feel the special magic of this place the way I do....patty from Virginia