We've been divided before. And sometimes we need reminding: We don't want to become that divided again.
B and I made a trip to Gettysburg last weekend. B told me she'd been there as a child, but didn't remember anything about it except a pleasant memory of her father leading her around by the hand. I had never been there before at all. But now I can tell you: It's a sobering experience.
|A painting of the battle|
We went on an overcast day in October, so it wasn't too crowded. It was hot and humid for those three days in July 1863, when the battle took place, but somehow when we were there it seemed appropriate that the skies were cloudy and the air hung heavy with mist.
We were told by friends to take the personalized tour. A guide gets in your car and drives you around the battlefield. You will learn a lot more than you will going on the bus tour, they said, and it will be a lot less confusing than the self-guided tour.
The guide took us around the battlefield, which surrounds the town of Gettysburg, roughly following the chronology of the battle.
|Looking down on the town of Gettysburg from the west|
On July 1, 1963, the Confederate army, commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee, arrived from the west. They had advanced up the Shenandoah Valley, essentially hiding from the Feds behind the mountains, and then cut northeast into Pennsylvania. Some units made it as far as the Susquehannah River. The Southerners hoped that an invasion of the North would demoralize the already war-weary Union, and perhaps persuade President Lincoln to come to the negotiating table and agree to a peace treaty that would leave the Confederacy intact.
The North's Army of the Potomac, under General George Meade, rushed up from Washington, DC, to meet the challenge. The Confederates had numerical advantage that first day and pushed the Federal troops back, chasing them through the streets of town.
By July 2, more Federal troops had arrived, and they formed a line along the high ground that ran east and south of town, called Cemetery Ridge. The ridge was anchored on the south by a small hill called Round Top, and an even smaller hill called Little Round Top.
|Round Top on the right, Little Round Top on the left|
General Lee attacked, using a flanking maneuver. One group hit the Union right side. Another moved on the Union left, trying to take Little Round Top. During intense fighting, with both sides suffering terrible losses, a contingent of Confederates got caught in Devil's Den, below Little Round Top. Hundreds were mowed down by the Union forces above them.
|Looking down on Devil's Den from Little Round Top|
Confederates took refuge on Seminary Hill, opposite the Union forces on Cemetery Hill. On July 3, Lee tried a flanking attack once again. When that was beaten back, he decided to risk everything on a frontal attack, right into the middle of Union lines. The Confederates spent several hours bombarding Union forces with canons, Then some 12,000 rebels advanced across the mile-wide open fields. At the center was a division led by Maj. Gen. George Picket. In an attack later known as Pickett's charge, one brigade breached Union lines. Soldiers fought with rifles and bayonets. For some it came down to hand-to-hand combat. But finally the rebels were beaten back. The Union had won.
|First the Confederates used the canons, then they attacked across this field|
The next morning, July 4, Lee retreated south. General Meade followed, but failed to press the advantage, and so the Confederates were able to cross the Potomac River and head back to Virginia. The South was finished, but they didn't know it, as they still held out hopes for a peace treaty. The Civil War lasted almost two more years before General Ulysses S. Grant, who'd replaced Meade, took Richmond and forced Lee to surrender at Appomattox, on April 9, 1865.
|A few of the graves in the nearby National Cemetery|
Of course, we know Lincoln was assassinated just a few days later, arguably the last victim of a war that killed more than 600,000 American volunteer soldiers -- including as many as 30,000 men who died from those three days at Gettysburg.