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.