Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Walt Whitman and the Wounded Soldiers

I thought I might post a few excerpts from Walt Whitman's wonderful work "Specimen Days" about his time spent helping wounded soldiers during the war.

"Fifty Hours Left Wounded on the Field

HERE is a case of a soldier I found among the crowded cots in the Patent-office. He likes to have some one to talk to, and we will listen to him. He got badly hit in his leg and side at Fredericksburgh that eventful Saturday, 13th of December. He lay the succeeding two days and nights helpless on the field, between the city and those grim terraces of batteries; his company and regiment had been compell’d to leave him to his fate. To make matters worse, it happen’d he lay with his head slightly down hill, and could not help himself. At the end of some fifty hours he was brought off, with other wounded, under a flag of truce. I ask him how the rebels treated him as he lay during those two days and nights within reach of them—whether they came to him—whether they abused him? He answers that several of the rebels, soldiers and others, came to him at one time and another. A couple of them, who were together, spoke roughly and sarcastically, but nothing worse. One middle-aged man, however, who seem’d to be moving around the field, among the dead and wounded, for benevolent purposes, came to him in a way he will never forget; treated our soldier kindly, bound up his wounds, cheer’d him, gave him a couple of biscuits and a drink of whiskey and water; asked him if he could eat some beef. This good secesh, however, did not change our soldier’s position, for it might have caused the blood to burst from the wounds, clotted and stagnated. Our soldier is from Pennsylvania; has had a pretty severe time; the wounds proved to be bad ones. But he retains a good heart, and is at present on the gain. (It is not uncommon for the men to remain on the field this way, one, two, or even four or five days.)

The Wounded from Chancellorsville

May, ’63.—AS I write this, the wounded have begun to arrive from Hooker’s command from bloody Chancellorsville. I was down among the first arrivals. The men in charge told me the bad cases were yet to come. If that is so I pity them, for these are bad enough. You ought to see the scene of the wounded arriving at the landing here at the foot of Sixth street, at night. Two boat loads came about half-past seven last night. A little after eight it rain’d a long and violent shower. The pale, helpless soldiers had been debark’d, and lay around on the wharf and neighborhood anywhere. The rain was, probably, grateful to them; at any rate they were exposed to it. The few torches light up the spectacle. All around—on the wharf, on the ground, out on side places—the men are lying on blankets, old quilts, &c., with bloody rags bound round heads, arms, and legs. The attendants are few, and at night few outsiders also—only a few hard-work’d transportation men and drivers. (The wounded are getting to be common, and people grow callous.) The men, whatever their condition, lie there, and patiently wait till their turn comes to be taken up. Near by, the ambulances are now arriving in clusters, and one after another is call’d to back up and take its load. Extreme cases are sent off on stretchers. The men generally make little or no ado, whatever their sufferings. A few groans that cannot be suppress’d, and occasionally a scream of pain as they lift a man into the ambulance. To-day, as I write, hundreds more are expected, and to-morrow and the next day more, and so on for many days. Quite often they arrive at the rate of 1000 a day.

Bad Wounds—The Young

THE SOLDIERS are nearly all young men, and far more American than is generally supposed—I should say nine-tenths are native-born. Among the arrivals from Chancellorsville I find a large proportion of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois men. As usual, there are all sorts of wounds. Some of the men fearfully burnt from the explosions of artillery caissons. One ward has a long row of officers, some with ugly hurts. Yesterday was perhaps worse than usual. Amputations are going on—the attendants are dressing wounds. As you pass by, you must be on your guard where you look. I saw the other day a gentleman, a visitor apparently from curiosity, in one of the wards, stop and turn a moment to look at an awful wound they were probing. He turn’d pale, and in a moment more he had fainted away and fallen on the floor.

Death of a Hero

I WONDER if I could ever convey to another—to you, for instance, reader dear—the tender and terrible realities of such cases, (many, many happen’d,) as the one I am now going to mention. Stewart C. Glover, company E, 5th Wisconsin—was wounded May 5, in one of those fierce tussles of the Wilderness—died May 21—aged about 20. He was a small and beardless young man—a splendid soldier—in fact almost an ideal American, of his age. He had serv’d nearly three years, and would have been entitled to his discharge in a few days. He was in Hancock’s corps. The fighting had about ceas’d for the day, and the general commanding the brigade rode by and call’d for volunteers to bring in the wounded. Glover responded among the first—went out gayly—but while in the act of bearing in a wounded sergeant to our lines, was shot in the knee by a rebel sharpshooter; consequence, amputation and death. He had resided with his father, John Glover, an aged and feeble man, in Batavia, Genesee country, N. but was at school in Wisconsin, after the war broke out, and there enlisted—soon took to soldier-life, liked it, was very manly, was belov’d by officers and comrades. He kept a little diary, like so many of the soldiers. On the day of his death he wrote the following in it, to-day the doctor says I must die—all is over with me—ah, so young to die. On another blank leaf he pencill’d to his brother, dear brother Thomas, I have been brave but wicked—pray for me.

Unnamed Remains the Bravest Soldier

OF scenes like these, I say, who writes—whoe’er can write the story? Of many a score—aye, thousands, north and south, of unwrit heroes, unknown heroisms, incredible, impromptu, first-class desperations—who tells? No history ever—no poem sings, no music sounds, those bravest men of all—those deeds. No formal general’s report, nor book in the library, nor column in the paper, embalms the bravest, north or south, east or west. Unnamed, unknown, remain, and still remain, the bravest soldiers. Our manliest—our boys—our hardy darlings; no picture gives them. Likely, the typic one of them (standing, no doubt, for hundreds, thousands,) crawls aside to some bush-clump, or ferny tuft, on receiving his death-shot—there sheltering a little while, soaking roots, grass and soil, with red blood—the battle advances, retreats, flits from the scene, sweeps by—and there, haply with pain and suffering (yet less, far less, than is supposed,) the last lethargy winds like a serpent round him—the eyes glaze in death—none recks—perhaps the burial-squads, in truce, a week afterwards, search not the secluded spot—and there, at last, the Bravest Soldier crumbles in mother earth, unburied and unknown."



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Source: Walt Whitman: Specimen Days

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Free Alcohol at Gettysburg Casino

The incongruity is obvious. "Gaming will be good for Pennsylvania" the gambling lobbyists say. Yet the Pennsylvania Legislature just voted to allow free alcohol from 7am to 2am in the Pennsylvania casinos. The Lebanon Daily News, located just east of Harrisburg, said the following:

"...the casinos ply every trick in the book to wedge a few more dollars out of the wallet and into the machines.

Pennsylvania Legislature has given casinos one of the most powerful tools available to do just that with their vote to allow unlimited free alcohol to gamblers at the coming slots parlors in Pennsylvania.

By current rule, horse tracks can’t serve any free drinks; taverns and other establishments have a one-free-drink rule by which they must abide.

That’s not good enough for the casinos, and now, depending on the whim of Gov. Ed Rendell, they’ll be able to ignore that rule. The rule for casinos will be to serve ’em up all day and most of the night — from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. — as fast as patrons can drain them."

If the proposed casino at Gettysburg is allowed to see the light of day, the patrons who lose everything will leave the casino with empty pockets and veins full of free alcohol. Broke, drunk, and despondent, they will be a danger to the other people on the road and the monuments in and around the park. Neither are replaceable.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will hold its final hearing for the Gettysburg casino on December 4, 2006. To express your opposition to the casino before this tragedy cannot be undone, please visit the links below.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board

Governor Ed Rendell



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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving References in the Official Records

A search for the word "Thanksgiving" in the Official Records revealed some interesting results. After reading through the various segments of the record, it appeared that people of the time primarily employed the term "thanksgiving" for at least three different purposes. Several quotes of course referenced President Lincoln's proclamation concerning a national day of thanksgiving. More frequently, soldiers and commanding officers used the term to express a general feeling of gratitude to The Almighty for victories won and as a plea for future success. For example, after the surrender of the Union garrison at Munfordville, Kentucky, General Braxton Bragg issued the following:

"General Orders,
No. 6.

Hdqrs. Army of the Mississippi
Munfordville, Ky., September 17, 1862

…Tomorrow, September 18, having been specially set aside by our President to be observed as a day of thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God for the manifold blessings recently vouchsafed to us and to our cause, the general commanding earnestly recommends to the army to devote the day of rest allotted to them to the observance of this sacred duty. Acknowledging our dependence at all times upon a merciful Providence, it is meet that we should m not only render thanks for the general success of our cause and of this campaign, but should particularly manifest our gratitude for a bloodless victory instead of a success purchased with the destruction of life and property. Braxton Bragg, General, Commanding"

General Robert E. Lee likewise issued similar orders following Confederate victory at Chickamauga.

"General Orders
No. 89.

HDQRS. Army of Northern Virginia,
September 24, 1863

The Commanding General announces to the army, with profound gratitude to Almighty God, the victory achieved at Chickamauga by the army of General Braxton Bragg.

After a fierce and sanguinary conflict of two days, the Federal forces under General Rosecrans were driven, with heavy loss, from their strong positions, and, leaving their dead and wounded on the field, retreated under cover of night on Chattanooga, pursued by our cavalry.

Rendering to the Great Giver of Victory, as is most justly due, our praise and thanksgiving for this signal manifestation of His favor, let us extend to the army that has so nobly upheld the honor of our country the tribute of our admiration for its valor, and sympathy for its suffering and loss.

Invoking the continuous assistance of Heaven upon our efforts, let us resolve to emulate the heroic example of our brethren in the south, until the enemy shall be expelled fro our borders and peace and independence be secured to our country.

R. E. Lee, General"

Even as fierce a general as Nathan Bedford Forrest followed suit.

"General Orders
No. 44.

HDQRS. Forrest’s Cavalry Department
Tupelo , May 14, 1864

The Major-General commanding, devoutly grateful to the providence Almighty God so signally vouchsafed to his command during the recent campaign in West Tennessee, and deeply penetrated with a sense of our dependence upon the mercy of God, in the present crisis of our beloved country, requests that military duties be so far suspended that divine service may be attended at 10 a.m. on to-morrow by the whole command. Divine service will be held at these headquarters, to which all soldiers who are disposed to do so, are kindly invited. Come one, come all. Chaplains in the ministration of the gospel are requested to remember our personal preservation with thanksgiving, and especially to beseech the Throne of Grace for aid in this our country’s hour of need.

By order of Major-General Forrest:
W. H. Brand, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General."

Union men employed the term thanksgiving in a like manner. Toward year's end in 1863, the Union's General-in-Chief sent the following to General Grant.

"War Department
Washington, November 26, 1863-11:15am

I congratulate you and your army on the victories of Chattanooga. This is truly a day of thanksgiving.

H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief."

A few month's earlier, President Lincoln would give a similar message to the people asking for a day of prayer and thanksgiving.

"Executive Mansion,
Washington, May 9, 1863.

To the Friends of the Union and Liberty:

Enough is known of the army operations within the last five days to claim our especial gratitude to God, while what remains undone demands our most sincere prayers to and reliance upon Him, without whom all human efforts are in vain. I recommend that all patriots at their homes, in their places of public worship, and wherever they may be, unite in common thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God.

Abraham Lincoln"

His commanding generals would do similarly.

"General Orders
No. 123.

HDQRS Department of the Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio, August 5, 1863.

In accordance with the proclamation of the President of the United States, appointing Thursday, the 6th instant, as a day of thanksgiving for the signal advances made by the Union arms toward the suppression of rebellion, ad of prayer that they be continued, to the speedy restoration of peace with a once more united country, the commanding general directs that the day be kept sacred for these purposes by the forces under his command, and, abstaining so far as is practicable from all military business or movements, they observe this day in a manner worthy of the victories that have been granted us and of the cause we have espoused.

By command of Major-General Burnside:
Lewis Richmond, Assistant Adjutant-General."

On several occasions, Thanksgiving as a holiday became intertwined with the conflicts of the day. In one instance, its recognition served as a litmus test for loyalty to the Union.

"Lexington, April 25, 1865-7 p.m.

Major-General Dodge:

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of telegram of this date inquiring by what authority I closed loyal man’s church, and what are the reasons for such orders, to which I would respectfully answer that I do not think I have closed a loyal man’s church. My reasons for closing the Methodist Episcopal Church South, of this place, are briefly these: On the 7th of April, from the well-known disloyalty of the churches of this place, I issued a post order that on the next Sabbath the pastors of the churches should return thanks for the late victories and prospect of peace. The pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church South did not do so. I passed the matter unnoticed until the evening of the 15th instant, when, not having opened or caused his church to be opened for the Thanksgiving service, in accordance with the proclamation of His Excellency Governor Fletcher, I informed that pastor that I should take the keys of the church until it could be occupied by a loyal preacher. I hope the general commanding will allow me the privilege of sustaining this action as a proper military necessity.

I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
B. K. Davis, Major, Comdg. Fourth Sub-District, Central Division of Missouri"

On another occasion, the celebration of Thanksgiving became a point of conflict between a commander and his subordinate.

"Baltimore, November 21, 1864-1:15p.m.

General Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General:

I hope the permission, given by Hon. Mr. Dana., Assistant Secretary of War, to the Secessionists of Baltimore to feast the rebel prisoners in hospital will be withdrawn. I was not consulted. Had I been I would have objected to the making of such a request. The permission will be construed as a license to make manifest once more, the disloyalty, now completely cowed, in this city. I beg the sleeping fiend may be let alone.

Lew. Wallace, Major-General, Commanding.

Adjutant-General’s Office
Washington , November 21, 1864.

Maj. Gen. L. Wallace, U.S. Volunteers,

Commanding Middle Department, Baltimore , Md. :

Your dispatch in relation to feast to rebel soldiers has been shown to the Secretary of War. The request which was granted was that Union Ladies’ Committee might be authorized to receive contributions for rebel prisoners, as well as for our own men, all to be distributed by the Union Committee. No political demonstration was contemplated, and it is within your power to stop anything which would lead to such demonstration. The Secretary sees no objection to supplies for Thanksgiving being received and distributed to rebel prisoners by our Union Committee, provided our own men receive an equal share of all the contributions with the other prisoners. Acknowledge receipt. E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Headquarters Middle Department
Baltimore , November 21, 1864.

Capt. Oliver Matthews,
Assistant Adjutant General, New York City :

A Thanksgiving dinner has been provided for the soldiers at each of the hospitals here. The ladies are also making arrangements to contribute additional supplies. Therefore, those so kindly offered by their New York friends will not be needed.

Saml. B. Lawrence, Assistant Adjutant-General."

The following quote, again as related to conflict, speaks for itself.

"Headquarters District of Southeastern Missouri,
Pilot Knob, Mo. , November 26, 1863.

Capt. V. Preuitt, Bloomfield,

McRae was reported at Doniphan, with a few hundred rebels, on Monday last, and was contemplating a raid either on Bloomfield or Patterson. He may move on you. If he does, he will only give the gallant First Missouri boys one more opportunity of demonstrating that they can’t be whipped. We shall re-enforce you from Cape Girardeau and Greenville , if you need. Keep me constantly advised, and, if you get in trouble, press every man, horse, and gun within reach, and give the rascals such a Thanksgiving welcome as the survivors will be apt to remember.

Clinton B. Fisk, Brigadier-General"

Finally, this quote notes both a plea to offer thanks and a recognition of the dreadful toll taken by this catastrophic war.

"General Orders
No. 4.

Headquarters Fourth Army Corps,
Greenville , East Tenn. , April 13, 1865.

The glorious success of the national arms under Lieut. Gen. U. S. Grant being no longer a matter of any doubt, the army under his command having killed, wounded, captured, and forced the capitulation of the entire principal army of the rebels, including their commander-in-chief, to-morrow, which is the day appointed by the War Department for the raising of the old flag over Fort Sumter, where it was first insulted and pulled down by insolent traitors, will be kept as a holiday and a day of thanksgiving in this corps. A salute of 100 guns will be fired at 12 m. under the direction of Major Goodspeed, chief of artillery. All military duty, excepting necessary police and guard duty, will be suspended. It is recommended that chaplains of regiments hold service in their respective places of worship to render thanks to Almighty God for His goodness and mercy in preserving us a nation and giving us this great victory over our enemies. Let us in our thankfulness remember in tears the many brave men who have fallen at our sides in this great and terrible war. Who among us has not lost a brother, a relative, or a dear comrade? Let us reflect, and we may profit by doing so, that great national, as great personal, sin must be atoned for by great punishments.

By command of Maj. Gen. D. S. Stanley:
WM. H. Sinclair, Assistant Adjutant-General."



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Tuesday, November 21, 2006


In just a few days, people throughout this great country will take a moment to sit together and give thanks for the blessings, large and small, bestowed upon them during the past year. Many will enjoy family, friends, and good food while they accept a welcome a respite from the perils of everyday life. This American tradition began four centuries ago in the settlements in New England. In the early 1620s, the pilgrims who came to this land to begin life anew set aside a day towards years end to thank God for the harvest that would allow for their survival through the harsh winters to come.

A century and a half would pass when, on October 3, 1789, after enduring years of warfare, privation, and loss, President George Washington offered the following proclamation to the young nation he so faithfully served.

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness." Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be."

Seventy four years later, President Abraham Lincoln served a nation torn apart by internecine war. Hundreds of thousands had died. Others would never again be whole. Those who had inherited the young nation threatened to destroy what their founding fathers had fought so hard to create. The American Civil War saw several ideologies bitterly struggling to define the type of nation within which their children would live. Despite the carnage and catastrophe, President Lincoln sought to bring the people of his wounded land together. He strove to emphasize the positive during a time so many had experienced overwhelming suffering and loss. On October 3, 1863, the same day Washington had issued his proclamation three quarters of a century earlier, Abraham Lincoln would address the American people.

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln"



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Library of Congress
US Senate: History of Thanksgiving
Classical Library

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Preserving Our Civil War Battlefields

In 1993, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission submitted to Congress a comprehensive report on the status, significance, and need to preserve our threatened Civil War Battlefield sites. Far from the usual, tedious, bureaucratic language, the committee, including members like Edwin C. Bearss and James McPherson, spoke from their collective hearts. A portion of their report follows.

"Why Save Civil War Sites?

More than 620,000 American soldiers, sailors, and marines died in the Civil War. If the same proportion of our population were killed today, five million Americans would die! The casualties at Antietam on September 17, 1862, totaled three times the American casualties on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The Civil War destroyed the Confederacy and the South sank from being one of the wealthiest to being one of the poorest regions in the United States.

This terrible trauma should not be celebrated, nor should it be blotted from the national memory. And for good reason. That second American Revolution of 1861-1865 radically changed America while settling two fundamental, festering issues left unresolved by the first Revolution of 1776: whether the precarious experiment of the democratic republic federated in a union of states would survive; and whether slavery would continue to mock the ideals of this boasted land of liberty.
The Civil War transformed a loose federation of states into a unified and confident nation that launched into the 20th century as the world's leading economic producer and foremost democratic nation.

Yet, while acknowledging all this, some have asked: Why do anything more to protect the battlefields? Are not the principal battlefields already preserved in National and state parks? Can we not understand the important political and social changes that resulted from the war without studying the battles? Does not this preoccupation with "hallowed ground" romanticize violence and glorify war? These questions deserve answers.

First, an understanding of military campaigns and battles is crucial to comprehending all other aspects of the Civil War. Lincoln said in his second inaugural address that on "the progress of our arms...all else chiefly depends." Individual battles swayed elections, shaped political decisions, determined economic mobilization, brought women into the war effort, and influenced decisions to abolish slavery as well as to recruit former slaves in large numbers as soldiers.

The Seven Days battles prevented an early Union victory and changed the conflict from a limited to a total war; Antietam forestalled European recognition of the Confederacy and prompted the Emancipation Proclamation; Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga reversed a tide of Confederate victories that had threatened the Northern will to keep fighting; Sherman's capture of Atlanta and Sheridan's victories in the Shenandoah secured Lincoln's reelection, confirmed emancipation as a Northern war aim, and ensured continuation of the war to unconditional victory. A different outcome to any of these as well as other battles might have changed the course of the war -- and perhaps of the world's history.

So the battles were important. But do we need to preserve the battlefields to appreciate that truth? Can we not learn by reading books about campaigns and battles? The Commission has concluded the answer is "No." In part, this is simply a matter of being able to visualize how geography and topography shaped a battle -- the pattern of fields and woods, hills and valleys, roads and rock outcroppings, and rivers and streams. This cannot be done if the historical landscape has been paved over, cluttered with buildings, or carved into a different shape.

Those who have read about the ill-fated Pickett-Pettigrew charge at Gettysburg, but have not seen the place where it occurred, cannot understand it until they go there. Not until they view the three-quarters of a mile of open fields and walk the ground those Confederate soldiers trod, can they truly comprehend the courage needed to press onward, and why the assault, which cost some 10,000 Confederate casualties, failed.

If they could similarly view and walk the attack route of Union troops against Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, they would be able to understand why that attack, seemingly more hopeless than at Gettysburg, succeeded spectacularly. Sadly though, Missionary Ridge now is built over.

But understanding Civil War battles is more than a matter of grasping their topographical and tactical details. Being present on a battlefield, we can experience an emotional empathy with the men who fought there. With a little imagination we can hear the first rebel yell at Manassas, imagine the horror as brush fires overtook the wounded at Wilderness, experience the terror of raw recruits at Perryville, share the anguish of the families of 800 or more unknown soldiers buried in a mass grave at Cold Harbor, or hear the hoarse yells of exhausted survivors of the Twentieth Maine as they launched a bayonet charge at Gettysburg's Little Round Top.

Every visitor to a Civil War battlefield has experienced such feelings. Proper educational and interpretive programs aid the visitor to visualize these dramatic scenes and to comprehend their meanings.

These experiences help us to understand what the Civil War was all about. This is not a matter of glorifying or romanticizing war. Quite the contrary; it is a matter of comprehending its grim reality. The battlefields are monuments to the gritty courage of the men who fought and died there. None condemned war more than those who suffered the horror and trauma of battle. In 1862, a Confederate veteran of Shiloh wrote home: "O it was too shocking too horrible. God grant that I may never be the partaker in such scenes again.... When released from this I shall ever be an advocate of peace."
Yet these men soldiered on through three more years of even bloodier battles than Shiloh. Most Civil War soldiers were volunteers. They fought not for glory, nor for money, but for a cause in which they believed deeply. They longed for peace and for a safe return to their families. But many of them reenlisted at least once, determined to fight for that cause even though they hated war.

A Confederate officer wrote in 1864 that "I am sick of war" but "were the contest again just commenced I would willingly undergo it again for the sake of our country's independence and liberty." An Ohio corporal in the trenches before Atlanta wrote, also in 1864: "There is nothing pleasant about this life, but I can endure its privations because there is a big idea at stake." And an African-American soldier wrote "If roasting on a bed of coals afire would do away with the curse of slavery, I would be willing to be the sacrifice."

These clashing convictions and the deadly determination to fight for them explain why the war lasted four long years and cost 620,000 lives. They also explain why Civil War veterans took the lead in creating the first National battlefield parks in the 1890s--not to glorify the war, but to commemorate the sacrifice of friends they had lost. "In our youth our hearts were touched with fire" wrote the thrice-wounded veteran Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing."

Americans cannot afford to forget this lesson. It is perhaps the most important legacy of the Civil War. And the battlefields are the tangible monuments of that legacy. The Civil War touched the lives of everyone at the time, and it continues to do so today. Americans by the millions visit those relatively few battle sites that are accessible. Most come to share in a renewal of values and to understand more about the war, its profound meaning for themselves, and its lessons for our diverse nation--such as our ideals of tolerance.

Today many people know, or would like to know, of specific battlefields where some three million of their own ancestors participated in the historic events. The ability for so many to identify such a personal connection with one of the most memorable events in the American consciousness sets the Civil War and its battlefield sites apart from most historical events.

Communities, too, take great pride in their proximity to battlefields. A connection exists between a community and large national themes. Relationships forged by the Civil War -- among its battlefields, its consequences, and our people and communities today -- form a seamless web of American values, traditions, and priorities.
And finally, as with many historic properties significant in our national history, the principal Civil War battlefields need to be preserved and protected as places to answer important questions not yet asked and for purposes not yet perceived.
In this manner, and for these reasons, Civil War battlefields are a crucial link in the historical traditions that bind our nation together -- today and for the future."

When discussing their recommendations the commission concluded, "The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission has found that of the approximately 10,500 armed conflict sites known from the Civil War, 384 of them, about 3.7 percent, were the principal battle actions. These are the events that influenced the outcome of the war, its major campaigns, or important local operations.

Today, many of these 384 principal battlefields are lost; others are in imminent danger of fragmentation and loss as coherent historic sites. Over the next ten years, the nation could lose fully two-thirds of the major Civil War battlefields unless preventive actions are taken."

Thirteen years later, the outlook remains fraught with both triumph and tragedy. The National Park Service and non-profit organizations have reclaimed land on the Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and other battlefields. Public and private entities have repaired and restored monuments and markers. Although much has been done to save and restore these grounds, the Civil War Preservation Trust, the nation’s preeminent civil war preservation organization, states sadly, " Thirty acres of Civil War battlefield land are destroyed every day. These battlefields are part of our national heritage; scenes of struggle and sacrifice where American soldiers lost their lives. CWPT is working to preserve these “hallowed grounds,” as Abraham Lincoln called them, so that future generations can learn from them and can learn to appreciate their hard-won freedom."

Much of the Battlefields at Fredericksburg, Chattanooga, Franklin, Chancellorsville, Nashville, Petersburg, the Seven Days, and so many others are now entirely and completely lost to current and future generations. The CWPT notes Gettysburg as being one of the top ten threatened fields in the nation due to the proposed casino. Consider the tragedy if Americans and people from around the world would never again have the chance to walk those fields and understand the events that transformed our nation like no other time in history.

We do have the chance, the obligation to save and preserve what remains of our past so that future generations can understand how we became what we are. For more information on how every individual can help, please see the links below.



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Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields

The Civil War Preservation Trust

Preservation Organizations and Information:
Civil War Preservation Organizations

By Any Other Name

In the mid 1880s, The Century magazine published a series of articles written about the various battles of the war by the men who led their armies into those conflicts. Confederate Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill wrote a section concerning the Battle of South Mountain, just prior to the Battle of Antietam. Before discussing the fighting, he took a moment to relay his thoughts on why others might instead refer to these two battles as those of Boonsboro and Sharpsburg. He also did not miss the opportunity to take a shot at those who fanned the flames of war but kept their distance from the fire.

"THE conflict of the 14th of September, 1862, is called at the North the battle of South Mountain, and at the South the battle of Boonsboro. So many battle-fields of the Civil War bear double names that we cannot believe the duplication has been accidental. It is the unusual which impresses. The troops of the North came mainly from cities, towns, and villages, and were, therefore, impressed by some natural object near the scene of the conflict and named the battle from it. The soldiers from the South were chiefly from the country and were, therefore, impressed by some artificial object near the field of action. In one section the naming has been after the handiwork of God; in the other section it has been after the handiwork of man. Thus, the first passage of arms is called the battle of Bull Run at the North,---the name of a little stream. At the South it takes the name of Manassas, from a railroad station. The second battle on the same ground is called the Second Bull Run by the North, and the Second Manassas by the South. Stone's defeat is the battle of Ball's Bluff with the Federals, and the battle of Leesburg with the Confederates. The battle called by General Grant, Pittsburg Landing, a natural object, was named Shiloh, after a church, by his antagonist. Rosecrans called his first great fight with Bragg, the battle of Stone River, while Bragg named it after Murfreesboro', a village. So McClellan's battle of the Chickahominy, a little river, was with Lee the battle of Cold Harbor, a tavern. The Federals speak of the battle of Pea Ridge, of the Ozark range of mountains, and the Confederates call it after Elk Horn, a country inn. The Union soldiers called the bloody battle three days after South Mountain from the little stream, Antietam, and the Southern troops named it after the village of Sharpsburg. Many instances might be given of this double naming by the opposing forces. According to the same law of the unusual, the war-songs of a people have generally been written. The bards who followed the banners of the feudal lords, sang of their exploits, and stimulated them and their retainers to deeds of high emprise, wore no armor and carried no swords. So, too, the impassioned orators, who roused our ancestors in 1776 with the thrilling cry, "Liberty or Death," never once put themselves in the way of a death by lead or steel, by musket-ball or bayonet stab. The noisy speakers of 1861, who fired the Northern heart and who fired the Southern heart, never did any other kind of firing."



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Source: eHistory.com: Ohio State University

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Window Into McClellan

While reading Stephen W. Sears excellent book "Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam", I reacted with surprise to one small sentence. Characterizations of General George Brinton McClellan typically paint him as exclusively a soldiers general, a great organizer, timid on the battlefield, and frequently directing his wrath at any government or army official foolish enough to challenge his authority. His men adored him like no other Union commander. This is perhaps why I reacted with surprise when I read on page 279 the general's response to the 79th New York, a group of Scottish soldiers who had refused to fight unless the army lifted the ban on wearing kilts. The sentence read,

"McClellan's response was to surround them with hardbitten regulars with orders to shoot if the volunteers did not promptly return to duty..."

This side of General McClellan seems rarely discussed.



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Our Army is Generally Badly Cut Up

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Captain J. J. Young of the 26th North Carolina wrote this grim assessment of the fighting to Governor Zebulon Vance.

The 26th North Carolina Marker
noting the point of the regiment's advance
just feet from the Union line on Cemtery Ridge.

"Near Gettysburg, PA., July 4, 1863.

My Dear Governor:

I will trespass a few minutes upon your indulgence to communicate the sad fate that has befallen the old Twenty-sixth. The heaviest conflict of the war has taken place in this vicinity. It commenced July 1, and raged furiously until late last night. Heth's division, of A. P. Hill's corps, opened the ball, and Pettigrew's brigade was the advance. We went in with over 800 men in the regiment. There came out but 216, all told, unhurt. Yesterday they were again engaged, and now have only about 80 men for duty. To give you an idea of the frightful loss in officers: Heth being wounded, Pettigrew commands the division and Major J. Jones our brigade. Eleven men were shot down the first day with our colors; yesterday they were lost. Poor Colonel Burgwyn, jr., was shot through both lungs, and died shortly afterward. His loss is great, for he had but few equals of his age. Captain McCreery, of General Pettigrew's staff, was shot through the heart and instantly killed' with them Lieutenant-Colonel Lane through the neck, jaw, and mouth, I fear mortally; Adjutant James B. Jordan in the hip, severely; Captain J. T. Adams, shoulder, seriously; Stokes McRae's thigh broken; Captain William Wilson was killed; Lieutenants John W. Richardson and J. B. Holloway have died of their wounds. It is thought Lieutenant M. McLeod and Captain N. G. Bradford will die. Nearly all the rest of the officers were slightly wounded. I. A. Jarratt I had forgotten to mention-in the face and hand. Yesterday, Captain S. P. Wagg was shot through by grape and instantly killed; Lieutenant G. Broughton in the head, and instantly killed, Alexander Saunders was wounded and J. R. Emerson left on the field for dead. Captain H. C. Albright is the only captain left in the regiment unhurt, and commands the regiment. Lieutenants J. A. Lowe, M. B. Blair, T. J. Cureton, and C. M. Sudderth are all of the subalterns. Colonel Faribault, of the Forty-seventh, is severely wounded. Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. Graves and Major A. D. Crudup supposed killed. Colonel Marshall and Major J. Q. Richardson, of the Fifty-second, supposed to be killed. Lieutenant-Colonel Parks dangerously wounded; Colonel Leventhorpe badly wounded; Major Ross killed. Our whole division numbers but only 1,500 or 1,600 effective men, as officially reported, but, of course, a good many will still come in. The division at the beginning numbered about 8,000 effective men. I hear our army is generally badly cut up. We will fall back about 5 miles, to draw the enemy, if possible, from his impregnable position. It was a second Fredericksburg affair, only the wrong way. We had to charge over a mile a stone wall in an elevated position. I learn the loss of the enemy is terrible. We have taken 10,000 or 15,000 prisoners in all. Yesterday, in falling back, we had to leave the wounded; hence the uncertainty of a good many being killed late yesterday evening. I must close.

Yours truly,

J. J. Young, Captain, and Assistant Quartermaster.

His Excellency Gov. Zebulon B. Vance."



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Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
The text appears as it does in the record minus 21 sets of brackets "[ ]" which made the reading difficult. The brackets were around the initials of the names noted above.