Monday, August 6, 2012

Gettysburg - The Northernmost Battle

From Gettysburg to the Death of a President

Updated 3-9-2013 and 1-11-2013

I am certainly no scholar of the Civil War. In fact, prior to visiting the wonderful new visitor center, restored cyclorama and battlefield at the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park last week, my knowledge of the battle was limited to Abraham Lincoln's ten sentence address delivered November 19, 1863 to dedicate a new cemetery.

The Gettysburg Cyclorama
Painted by Paul Philippoteaux in 1883
Fully Restored and Housed at the New Gettysburg Visitor's Center
Architects note: A peek into the trees along Cemetery Ridge reveals the abandoned Cyclorama Theater designed by modernist Richard Neutra

Update 3-9-2013
According to an article posted this morning in the online version of Architectural Record Richard Neutra's Cyclorama building was demolished Saturday March 6. The National Park Service announced that the ridge top site of the building will be restored to its natural configuration before visitors arrive next summer. 

The site was important to Neutra as a symbolic gesture to bring people together in consideration of the cost of battle. His vision clearly did not stand the test of time.

Update 1-11-2013
If you want to see the Neutra buidling better look quick! This morning, after a 14 year battle with preservationists, the National Park Service announced they have budgeted $3.8 million dollars to commence the immediate demolition and removal of the Neutra Cyclorama building restoring the open land on Cemetery Ridge prior to the battle's 150th Anniversary. 

With some irony I note that the now historic modernist building was commissioned and built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle. History is a funny thing. Frequently it is not a question of history, but more of a question of "Whose History?"

After my visit however I find myself humbled.

I am humbled at the magnitude of the battle and its significance to American history. I allowed a couple of hours for my visit. Many hours later I realized my I had just scratched the surface of history. Gettysburg must be revealed a layer at a time. It was really a series of separate battles at Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard, the Wheat field, along Cemetery Ridge, at Culp's Hill and the Devil's Den. 

Why Gettysburg?

With much of the South's industrial, transportation and agricultural infrastructure in ruins (or in the control of Union forces), Lee took the battle North in an attempt to provide an opportunity for the South to start to replant and rebuild its shattered infrastructure. He did not plan to have a battle at Gettysburg, it was just fate that he encountered Union forces there.

Gettysburg was as far north (the "High Water Mark") as Lee got, and the battles of July 2-3, 1863 made it a turning point in the Civil War.

In preparation Union forces assumed a "J" hook formation along Cemetery Ridge. Ignoring General Longstreet's repeated warnings that the strategic high ground of the Union would lead to catastrophic casualties, Lee was convinced he was close to breaking the back of the Union. Unable to verbalize the order, he raised his hand authorizing battle.

The Memorial Where Armistead Fell
Coins Placed Atop for Luck
(The Stone Marks the Northernmost "High Water Mark" of the Confederacy)

Wave after wave of Confederate soldiers crossed open fields falling to Union canons firing canister loads. Finally, at The Angle, Pickett's Charge broke through Union lines resulting in hand-to-hand fighting. Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead led the charge doing battle with forces commanded by his longtime friend, Union General Winfield Hancock. Both were wounded. Armistead perished from his wounds. The battle at The Angle represented the "high water mark" or the farthest point north the Confederate troops battled during the civil war.

The 72nd Pennsylvania Monument at "The Angle"
(A US Supreme Court Decision Was Required to Site This Monument)

A View Into The Devils Den

Seeing the carnage, Lee realized Longstreet was right. He met his retreating soldiers admitting it was "all my fault".

Lee Receiving His Returning Troops

Yet the war continued.

Lincoln was narrowly re-elected.

Lincoln's March 4, 1865 inaugural address stressed reconciliation:
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations".

Five months later Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Five days after Lee's surrender Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater.

For me, after Gettysburg it seemed important to visit the Lincoln Memorial and Ford's Theater.

President Lincoln's Box at Fords Theater

Inside The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

So instead of Lincoln being able to fulfill his aspirations for a peaceful national re-unification, his assassination soured public opinion and paved the way for the election of Ulysses S Grant. Grant delivered one of our most flawed and wretchedly corrupt presidencies.

History derailed Lincoln an his plans.

History pivots this way and that.

We just go along for the ride.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

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