Get­tys­burg Part Of South­ern Her­itage


A tract of land was bought from the Iro­quois tribe by William Pitt’s fam­ily in 1736. Soon, more than a hun­dred fam­i­lies of Scot­sIr­ish de­scent, who had left North­ern Ire­land to es­cape English per­se­cu­tion, set­tled there. Sa­muel Get­tys built a tav­ern in 1761, and his son James plot­ted a town on the land sur­round­ing the tav­ern. Giv­ing this town the fam­ily name, it be­came known as Get­tys­burg. By the way, a tav­ern back then was an inn or a mo­tel.

By 1860, 10 roads led into Get­tys­burg, which had grown to a town of 2,400, and sev­eral thriv­ing in­dus­tries were si­t­u­ated in the area in­clud­ing: car­riage man­u­fac­tur­ing, shoe­mak­ers, tan­ner­ies, mer­chants, banks and tav­erns. This quiet lit­tle town would be the fo­cal point for two armies in late June of 1863, and would thrust Get­tys­burg into the fore­front of Amer­i­can His­tory.

My fam­ily vis­ited Get­tys­burg in Septem­ber 1996. Driv­ing into town on high­way 116, we checked into the mo­tel (not a tav­ern) and asked the re­cep­tion­ist, “Where’s the bat­tle­field?”

“You came into town on one of the two roads that miss the ac­tion; but the mu­seum is four blocks down the road on the right.” We ate din­ner and went to the mu­seum the next day.

As we en­tered The Get­tys­burg Mu­seum, a poster caught my eye. It said, “The Civil War – Why? The Civil War was the cul­mi­na­tion of many an­tag­o­nisms be­tween the North and the South. These clashes, in­creas­ingly more in­tense over a half cen­tury, were so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic.”

One of the cu­ra­tors of the mu­seum said, “The causes or rea­sons for the war are like a puz­zle. In this case, some puz­zle-pieces are large and some are small. Slav­ery was a large piece; but still, only one piece.”

But how did the puz­zle­piece called “Get­tys­burg” be­come part of the pic­ture?

Up to 1863, most of the fight­ing had been in the south — pri­mar­ily, in Vir­ginia. So Gen­eral Robert E. Lee de­cided to take the war up north where the South thought it be­longed. Af­ter all, the South called the war, “the War of North­ern Ag­gres­sion.”

Lee’s goal was to at­tack Har­ris­burg, or Philadel­phia — a big tar­get. Get­tys­burg was merely a path to the tar­get. But Union scouts spot­ted them, and Con­fed­er­ate scouts spot­ted Union troops, and the bat­tle seemed to de­velop piece-meal. Gen­eral Lee even ad­vised his gen­er­als not to fight there, and north­ern Gen­eral Meade wasn’t aware a bat­tle was about to erupt. But it seemed to be in­evitable.

North­ern troops were pushed back the first day. The South nearly won the sec­ond day, but the North held their po­si­tions. The third day, July 3, was the day of de­ci­sion. I’m sure you’ve heard of Pick­ett’s Charge. It is said that Gen­eral Lee told Gen­eral Longstreet, “To­mor­row is July 4; our day of in­de­pen­dence. To­mor­row we win our in­de­pen­dence again.”

But as Lee un­folded his plan to march across a three­quar­ter-mile open corn-field, Longstreet told Lee, “Gen­eral, no 12,000 men ever born can cross this mile-wide field and win.” But Lee was in charge, and or­dered Pick­ett and 12,000 men to cross the 4,000-foot open field. Longstreet was cor­rect.

Ap­prox­i­mately 51,000 men — North and South — were killed, wounded, or miss­ing in that three-day bru­tal con­flict. It was prob­a­bly Gen­eral Lee’s great­est mis­cal­cu­la­tion. Lee should have known bet­ter be­cause just six months ear­lier at Fred­er­icks­burg, Va., the ta­bles were turned. The South had the high ground and de­feated the North­ern forces as Union troops tried to cross only a half-mile of open field.

We drove around and across the Bat­tle­ground; we walked that open field; we climbed Lit­tle Round Top; we saw a good num­ber of the 1,400 mon­u­ments; we read the bat­tle de­scrip­tions, we read Lin­coln’s Get­tys­burg Ad­dress. Tears came to our eyes as we read about 30,000 Amer­i­cans who died or were wounded. You see, this is Our Coun­try! This is Our Bat­tle­field! What was done here, the lives lost here, the Pres­i­den­tial Speech here — it is all part of our her­itage. It is all part of who we are.

South­ern gen­er­als Lee, Longstreet, Pick­ett, Pet­ti­grew, Ewell, Hill, and Ar­mis­tead, as well as North­ern gen­er­als Bu­ford, Reynolds, Meade, Howard, War­ren, Han­cock, and Colonel Cham­ber­lain — and the oth­ers — are our coun­try­men. Ev­ery one of them fought for free­dom.

In a few months, Carol and I will visit Get­tys­burg again. If you get a chance, you also should see what our coun­try­men en­dured in the pur­suit of free­dom.

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