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.