Monday, July 1, 2013

A Gettysburg Journal (3)

June 22, 2013

Up early and rode out with Monique, my friend Dave Sullivan and his friend David Sommers to continue the search for where Col. Edward E. Cross died. We are all participants in the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, an annual conference on the war.

We went first to the 2nd Corps Hospital on Hospital Road, but the plaque said that the hospital was established on July 3, 1863, after Cross's death. The plaque confirmed that the original hospital had been on the grounds of the Granite School House but had been moved when over-shots from the Confederate artillery barrage before Pickett's Charge began landing among the wounded.

Thus we returned to Granite School House road, where we looked yesterday. We stopped at the house nearest where I thought the hospital might be. The couple who lived there were working in their garden. The man was Dan Rathert, a longtime battlefield guide who knew precisely where the hospital had been and was lobbying to have the site marked.

The school stood on the opposite side of Granite School House Road just north of the Rathert house. It is a few feet beyond and across from a small cavalry marker on the west side of the road. The site was thickly forested, and we could not find the school's cellar hole (if there was one), but the ground was slightly rolling and boulder-strewn. Thomas Livermore, who had served under Cross and arrived at his side shortly after he died, described the field that way.

I am not certain this is the spot, but it could be. What argues against it is that it is so far from the place near the Wheatfield where Cross was shot.

- - -

Troy Harman talks to our group near the fields where Pickett's men formed. 
In the evening Michael Birkner [my longtime friend and a history professor at Gettysburg College] and I joined a group led by Troy Harman, a park ranger, and the author Jeffry Wert to follow the route of Pickett's Charge.

This was the right wing of the Confederate force, led by Pickett. These men took a route much different from the one I have walked before from the Virginia monument (Lee on horseback) on Seminary Ridge to the Copse of Trees on Cemetery Ridge. This is known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy, but it was so named -- and by a New Hampshire Yankee -- long after the war.

Harman took us through the woods from the Virginia monument on the trail Pickett's division used to reach the fields where it formed for the march. Horse pucky marked the narrow trail all the way, as though Jeb Stuart's cavalry had finally showed up and ridden before us.

The Spangler farmhouse, near the staging area for Pickett's Charge.
Green fields stretched up to the east from the farmhouse and barn. It was in these fields that Pickett's men waited for the order to move out. Looking to the east, they saw a ridgeline perhaps 250 yards above the farmhouse. This ridgeline was high enough to protect them from the view of Union troops on Cemetery Ridge.

We headed up toward the ridge through the grass, as Pickett's men  had done 150 years ago on July 3. We were curious about what we'd see when we got there, but it was an idle curiosity, a curiosity without dread. The ridge lies right on the Emmitsburg Road. Almost directly across the way is the Klingle farm, where the 12th New Hampshire Volunteers had been routed the previous day.

We could see when we crested the ridge that from this moment forward in Pickett's Charge, the men would have been totally exposed to the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Standing on the ridge today and thinking about the low open field before us took my breath away.

We crossed the road from there for the walk up to the ridge. The grass was high, the ground uneven. The grass hid holes in the ground and boulders rising from it. Harman explained that heavy and effective Union artillery fire zeroed in on Pickett's right flank, driving those men toward the center and turning the formation to the left. Things only got worse as the division moved on.

One of our speakers at the Civil War Institute during the day had asserted that Lee had had several successes with frontal assaults before ordering Pickett's Charge. His implication was that the charge was not as foolhardy as it might look to the eye.

Our slog through the high grass did not bolster his case.

Next: Photos of the dead at Gettysburg.

The view from the Spangler barn up toward Emmitsburg Road Ridge, where the charge began. 

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