Posts Tagged ‘gettysburg’

Sometimes, I think about completely random things when I look at a piece of statuary. I’ll be walking around the cemetery, photographing things and considering what I might want to write about and – WHAM – out of nowhere, my train of thought will derail completely. I was reviewing my photos from Gettysburg, thinking deep weighty thoughts about bloody battles, when I suddenly realized what fabulous mustaches many of the statues had. I need help. But so do all of you, because you’re still reading. Anyway, since you’ve come this far, check it out and I think you’ll agree with me.

West Virginia (2)

84th New York Infantry (2)

74th Pennsylvania Infantry (2)

1st Pennsylvania Cavalry

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Alonzo Silsby served in the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, Battery I, also known as Dilger’s Battery after its commander. According to Nancy West’s To Dwell with Fellow Clay, Silsby died of wounds received at the Battle of Gettysburg. I have visited both Silsby’s gravesite as well as the monument at Gettysburg that marks the general area where the Battery took up position.  Silby’s greatly eroded original tombstone does seem to mention the battle specifically, but he also has a newer government-issue monument.

1st Ohio Light Artillery Battery I (4)

1st Ohio Light Artillery Battery I (5)

1st Ohio Light Artillery Battery I (3)

1st Ohio Light Artillery Battery I (2)

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11th Mississippi Infantry

11th Mississippi Infantry

For me, there is no monument that more simply conveys the utter devastation wreaked on the Army of Northern Virginia by undertaking Longstreet’s Assault (what most people think of as Pickett’s Charge) than the one to the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment on Confederate Avenue at Gettysburg.   The monument was just dedicated in 2000.

11th Mississippi Infantry

On this day in 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lt. General James Longstreet’s Division of the Army of Northern Virginia (commanded of course by General Robert E. Lee) marched across 3/4 of a mile of open farmland to attack the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. The Confederate charge began with more than 12,000 soldiers and suffered over 50% casualties. As a young teenager, I walked Pickett’s Charge on a school trip – our group was assigned a Virginia regiment that I have long since forgotten. We learned to march in formation, and we each received a 3×5 index card with the name and a few details about a soldier of that regiment. I still recall very clearly that my soldier was William Norris, who did survive. As we marched across the field, the park ranger kept calling names where men fell – the student marching in the place of that soldier would fall out of line to walk behind the unit, and the rest of us would try to close ranks. Private Norris was one of the few to make it to the Union lines. I remember how very lonely it was to be one of the few still “charging,” and I was only playing pretend, not staring down the barrels of entrenched rifles and artillery.

11th Mississippi Infantry

The 11th Mississippi monument has a plaque that shows in stark, numeric terms the battle’s effect on them.  The regiment ended up being the left flank, exposing it to enfilade fire. 86% casualties (round down) – 86% of the soldiers who began the charge under their colors were no longer available for combat at the end – killed, wounded or captured.  77% of the soldiers in the regiment were killed or wounded – 27%  of the regiment killed outright or mortally wounded.  Company A, the University Greys who largely came from the University of Mississippi, earned particular distinction by suffering 100% casualties. No soldier of Company A present on July 3, 1863 would have been able to fight if the battle continued on July 4. It’s very nearly unimaginable – the numbers are staggering.

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1st Minnesota Infantry (4)

On July 2, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was in its second day, and the Army of the Potomac was desperately holding to its ground, trying to prevent a rout like the one the previous day that had driven them through the town in panicked retreat. The Union line collapsed under bloody fighting in the Peach Orchard, and Confederates were pressing hard on the lines on Cemetery Ridge. When Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, Commander of the Second Corps, looked for reinforcements to throw against the advancing Confederate troops, only the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment was immediately available.  Knowing the cost would be dear, Hancock ordered a charge, and the Minnesotans fixed bayonets and marched double quick down the hill against a force that was estimated to be 4 times larger than their own.

1st Minnesota Infantry

Every man realized in an instant what that order meant – death or wounds to us all, the sacrifice of a regiment to gain a few minutes’ time…
-Lieut. William Lochren, 1st Minnesota Infantry

1st Minnesota Infantry (5)

Two hundred and sixty-two men charged. 215 fell as casualties, forty of those dead and never to rise again. The 82% casualty rate brought the 1st Minnesota an unfortunate recognition: a number of scholars have concluded it was the highest percentage loss of men to a Union regiment in the Battle of Gettysburg and the war. The sacrifice of the 1st Minnesota achieved its goal of buying the Union time to bring up reinforcements and strengthen the line.

1st Minnesota Infantry (3)

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4th US Artillery Battery G

4th US Artillery Battery G (2)

When my friend let me know she had arranged a tour of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo for me, she asked me if there was anything specific I wanted to see. I knew next to nothing about the cemetery and so just mentioned my general interests. Then I went to findagrave.com and skimmed their listing of famous interments and one caught my eye – Bayard Wilkeson. I have a good memory for recognition – I may not be able to recall a specific name out of the air, but if I see it again I’ll know I’ve heard it before. I knew the tale of Bayard Wilkeson from one of Mark Nesbitt’s Ghosts of Gettysburg books.

What is now called Barlow Knoll is a little hill north of Gettysburg town, near where the Adams County poorhouse sat and still the location of the Alms House Cemetery. On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1st, 1863, it was the extreme right flank of the Union army. Lt. Bayard Wilkeson of New York, only nineteen years old, commanded Battery G of the 4th United States Artillery. Astride his white horse, he was highly visible as he enthusiastically and efficiently commanded the battery. That visibility cost him dearly, as a Confederate shell blew him off the horse. As Nesbitt describes, “His leg was virtually amputated by a shell and hung only by sinew. It slowed him as he crawled to the Alms House for medical help, so he took out his picket knife and finished the job.” (Nesbitt 81)

Wilkeson died of his wounds on the Alms House grounds as Confederates broke the Union line. In a particularly cruel twist of fate, his father Samuel Wilkeson was the New York Times reporter covering the Battle. He reported his own son’s death, collected his body, and laid him to rest in the family plot at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Wilkeson Bayard

Wilkeson Bayard 1

Lieut. Bayard Wilkeson killed at the extreme front of the Battle of Gettysburg in the first day’s fight, July 1, 1863, Commanding Battery G 4th US Artillery

Wilkeson Bayard 3

Promoted after death by order of the President of the United States Mar. 13, 1867, as follows: to be Brevet Captain for gallantry and skill in the Battle of the Deserted House, Va.  To be Brevet Major for gallantry and meritorious services in the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.  to be Brevet Liet. Col for gallantry and meritorious services in the Battle of Gettysburg, Penn.

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I will be the first to confess that I didn’t catch this one. My friends who were on vacation with me called this to my attention, and thanks to the power of the internet and a cell phone, we were able to confirm the date as being that of D-Day.

Stanton Byron

Byron Stanton was a member of the 116th United States Infantry who took part in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. He died somewhere on those beaches and was later transported home to rest in the soil of his home state of Pennsylvania on a still-older battlefield.

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The muffled guns sad roll

On fame's eternal camping ground

No rumour of the foe’s advance
Now swells upon the wind;
No troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind.

No vision of the morrows strife

Their shivered swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed;
Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,
Is now their martial shroud.
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow;
And the proud forms, by battle gashed,
Are free from anguish now.

The neighing troop

Nor war’s wild note, nor glory’s peal,
Shall thrill with fierce delight;
Those breasts that never more may feel
The rapture of the fight.

Like the fierce Northern hurricane
That sweeps the great plateau,
Flushed with triumph, yet to gain,
Come down the serried foe;
Who heard the thunder of the fray
Break o’er the field beneath,
Knew the watchword of the day
Was “Victory or death!”

Long had the doubtful conflict raged
O’er all that stricken plain,
For never fiercer fight had waged
The vengeful blood of Spain;
And still the storm of battle blew,
Still swelled the glory tide;
Not long, our stout old Chieftain knew,
Such odds his strength could bide.

Twas in that hour his stern command
Called to a martyr’s grave
The flower of his beloved land,
The nation’s flag to save.
By rivers of their father’s gore
His first-born laurels grew,
And well he deemed the sons would pour
Their lives for glory too.

For many a mother’s breath has swept
O’er Angostura’s plain,
And long the pitying sky has wept
Above its moldered slain.
The raven’s scream, or eagle’s flight,
Or shepherd’s pensive lay,
Alone awakes each sullen height
That frowned o’er that dread fray.

Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.

Your own proud lands heroic soil

Thus ‘neath their parent turf they rest,
Far from the gory field,
Borne to a Spartan mother’s breast
On many a bloody shield;
The sunshine of their native sky
Smiles sadly on them here,
And kindred eyes and hearts watch by
The heroes sepulcher.

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead

Nor shall your glory be forgot
While fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished age hath flown,
The story how ye fell.
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter’s blight,
Nor time’s remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of glory’s light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

Stanzas from “Bivouac of the Dead,” a poem written by Theodore O’Hara in 1847, is on plaques around the National Cemetery at Gettysburg.

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In today’s edition of things I never knew, we have the Dental Corps. Both the Army and Navy had a Dental Corps by World War I, formally established by an Act of Congress in 1911 and 1912, respectively.  This was not done out of altruism, but as a response to the need for a system of dental care for soldiers that had plagued the military since the Revolutionary War.

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