Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Gettysburg Journal (4)

On June 25, I was to lead a tour of Col. Edward E. Cross’s actions on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg. The tour was on the program of the annual Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.

These markers in the Wheatfield show the positions of three regiments in
 Cross's brigade on July 2. Cross went into Rose's woods (in background)
to order a charge and never returned. 
Cross’s brigade, including his old regiment, the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers, arrived on the south end of Cemetery Ridge at 7 a.m. on July 2 after days of arduous marching. The right-most regiment of Gen. Dan Sickles’s 3rd Corps was supposed to line up on the 5th’s left. Instead a large gap in the line began at that point after Sickles willfully misinterpreted his orders and moved his corps forward to the Emmitsburg Road.

Cross’s brigade witnessed Sickles's move and then waited nearly all day in the sun before being ordered to march quickly to the Wheatfield to take it back from attacking Confederate forces.

June 24, 2013

Up early and to Cemetery Ridge. There, for tomorrow’s tour, I scoped out the position of Cross and the 5th. This was at least my sixth visit to the spot, and it is always hard to be sure I’ve found it. Most of the monuments along the ridge as it slopes south toward the Weikert farm are 3rd Corps markers from July 3, the third day of the battle. No marker locates the position of either the 5th or Cross’s brigade on the second day.

One regiment of the brigade – the 148th Pennsylvania – does have a marker. It is also a third-day monument showing approximately where that regiment waited in reserve during Pickett’s Charge. The depleted 5th was up there, too. My guess is that on the second day those two regiments, which were side by side, waited to go into battle just south of the 148th’s reserve position.

From the Ridge we drove to the Peach Orchard and once again walked from there to the Wheatfield. I love the perspective this walk yields. The pieces of the battlefield seem discrete because of their post-battle names – Cemetery Ridge, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top. But in reality they fit together like pieces of a puzzle, and the puzzle is a narrative of the battle, with what happens in one place affecting and often determining what happens in another.

- - -

Tim Smith, a Gettysburg battlefield guide, holds a 3D blowup of bodies on the field after the battle atop the boulder
before which they lay when the photographers found them. The picture was taken in a field near Rose's farm. 
This afternoon we toured the places where Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan and James F. Gibson took their famous photographs of the Gettysburg dead after the battle. A large batch of these photos came from a field near Rose’s farm. This is south of the woods where the 5th New Hampshire fought on July 2 and where Col. Cross was killed.

The entrepreneurial spirit moved Gardner and the others to label some of their pictures as having been taken elsewhere on the battlefield. This ruse lasted until the mid-1970s when William Frassanito, after an amazing piece of sleuthing, published a book that disclosed where the pictures were actually taken. He did this by finding the one thing on the vast battlefield that time and nature had changed only slightly: the rocks.

Tim Smith, our tour guide, debunked the myth that Gardner & Co. had moved bodies about willy-nilly to dramatize the scenes they created. They did place weapons on bodies, and in a single documented case they did move a body, but no more. The body they moved was the Confederate sharpshooter in Devil’s Den. He had been killed in the field below.

The tour provided a moment that bent both time and reality. After passing out 3D glasses to the tour group, he stood beside a boulder in George Rose’s field. Atop the boulder he displayed a colorized 3D blowup of a Gardner-O’Sullivan-Gibson image. (Such detailed blowups were made possible, he said, by the huge size of the glass negatives the photographers used. The wagon in which they traveled included a portable darkroom because they needed to make negatives shortly after shooting.) In the image Smith held up, several dead bodies were lined up for burial in front of the very boulder on which he was propping it up.

To add to the surrealism, Smith suggested that because these were Confederate bodies and Lee’s army had moved on by the time the photographers arrived, there was a chance the bodies were buried beneath our feet.

Next: The 5th New Hampshire at Gettysburg, a tour

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