Gettysburg was not what I had imagined. Rather than the field I pictured from Picket’s Charge, I found that it extended over several miles, along ridges occupied by the Confederate forces and other ridges occupied by the Union forces. And between the ridges, the open fields across which men charged and retreated, under fire of rifles and artillery.
Today, the battlefield sits preserved, much as it was in July 1863. We drove the grounds, because of the rain. One day, I hope to return and walk the battlefield, from both sides. It is sacred ground. Baptized in blood. Honor and Tragedy. Courage and foolhardiness. I cannot conceive of such loss.
The three day maelstrom sacrificed 46-51,000 men, dead and wounded. More than 7 million bullets flew in the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, accompanied by many tons of artillery shells.
“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863, The Gettysburg Address.
“But out of that silence rose new sounds more appalling still; a strange ventriloquism, of which you could not locate the source, a smothered moan, as if a thousand discords were flowing together into a key-note weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear, yet startling with its nearness; the writhing concord broken by cries for help, some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity; and some on friendly hands to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun; some with delirious, dreamy voices murmuring loved names, as if the dearest were bending over them; and underneath, all the time, the deep bass note from closed lips too hopeless, or too heroic to articulate their agony…It seemed best to bestow myself between two dead men among the many left there by earlier assaults, and to draw another crosswise for a pillow out of the trampled, blood-soaked sod, pulling the flap of his coat over my face to fend off the chilling winds, and still more chilling, the deep, many voiced moan that overspread the field.” Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: 20th Maine, At the end of the first day’s fighting at Fredericksburg
Fifty years after the battle’s end, the former Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, later promoted to Brigadier General, would again visit this bloodstained ground. In powerful prose written shortly before his death, the Union commander captured the meaning of this place on that day.