Marking the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg

I’ve been sort of following the news about the re-enactments of the battle of Gettysburg that are being held for the 150th anniversary of the battle.

Re-enactors provide a valuable service to those interested in history, no doubt, but I can’t help feeling they just can’t imitate the feeling of urgency which the real battle must have had.  I imagine it was much more frenetic on that day 150 years ago when Pickett’s men charged across the field.

It’s easy to see now that tactics like that, tactics that led Prussian Field Marshal von Moltke to dismiss the Civil War as simply “armed mobs”, were disastrous and borderline insane.  But then, people who were tired and starving and under fire can hardly have been thinking clearly when making these decisions.

(Aside: in the CBS video above, isn’t it ironic that Professor Goodwin and that reporter talk about how Lincoln’s speech was what made the place matter, when in the address itself President Lincoln said: “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here”?)

I went to Gettysburg years ago, and I do remember that it was an eerily peaceful place.  Like it had seen enough violence for all its existence, and was exhausted.

It’s also fitting that what was effectively the deciding battle in a war that redefined the United States and ended the institution of slavery that had been such a terrible stain on  the country from its birth, ended right before Independence Day.  As so many others have noted, there’s something poetic about it.

4 Comments

  1. Never been to Gettysburg, but I have gone through Vicksburg which fell on July 4, one day after the other battle ended. The Anaconda plan of squeezing the south happened at Vicksburg. Cutting off men and supplies for Lee’s men. Sherman’s march to the sea which gutted the South’s ability to keep the fight going was made possible by Grant, not Meade.
    True this war was fought with Napoleonic tactics using embryonic modern weapons. Mass slaughter, but a prelude to WWI.

    1. That is definitely true that Grant and Sherman were ultimately the catalysts for Northern victory, and their battles probably don’t get enough recognition in history books. I’ve heard this attributed to Southern revisionist history–some say they liked to emphasize Gettysburg and minimize Grant/Sherman because it made an attractive “what could have been” scenario for Southern sympathizers. There’s also the famous passage by Faulkner about how Confederate nostalgia focuses on the moment before Pickett’s charge.

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