Saturday, January 5, 2013

My People Lost That One, Right?

Kyle and I took the eastern route between Rochester and Atlanta this year.  Threatening snow storms sent us through Harrisburg and and Roanoke. On the way down as we passed Gettysburg, I bemoaned the fact that I had not been there since I was child.  I remember cool monuments and begging my parents to buy me faked confederate money.  The real meaning of the place was of little importance.  

When we decided to split the trip on our return I suggested a days drive to Gettysburg, a night and morning there and to drive back to Rochester in the afternoon.  Kyle jokingly said "My People Lost That One, Right?" Since it is seen as the "high water mark of the Confederacy" I suppose that is one perspective.  All should be able to agree it was a horrible loss for the United States.  It is estimated that there were between 48,000 and 51,000 causalities (8,000 plus wounded and captured/missing) as a result of that three day battle.  By comparison the Iraq war which started in 2003 and was considered "over" in 2009 resulted in 4,488 deaths and 33,184 wounded.

Although a horrible loss, the Union was ultimately saved and slavery ended.  This battle was the turning point.  For the dedication of the National Military Cemetery Abraham Lincoln was asked to prepare a a few appropriate remarks.  This, of course, became one of the most significant speeches in American history.

We arrived in Gettysburg late Thursday night and headed out to the Visitors center about 9 AM.  Kyle stayed in the car with Koda while I visited the film and cyclorama and, yes, bought some fake Confederate money.  

Phoney CSA Tender
With the help of an iPad app, we then followed the auto tour route that is clearly marked.

Kyle and Koda on Little Round Top

Koda surveys the view from Little Round Top
We both left deeply moved and with a renewed interest is civil war history.  Ken Burns will be watch all week, we plan to watch the movie "Gettysburg" on Wednesday night and I will be listening to the source novel "Killer Angels" from Audible.

The experience was most rewarding when a discovered story lead to another. Major General Daniel Sickles story is one such.  Sickles was hit by solid shot which almost tore of his leg.  As he was removed from the battlefield he smoked a cigar to maintain his cool. Later the leg was amputated.  Sickles donated the the leg to the Bethesda Military hospital and was known to visit it regularly.  The leg bone can still be seen today.  Sickles was a congressman from NY and later awarded the Medal of Honor.

Major Gen. Daniel Sickles
Sickles's leg bone with the type of solid shot that did the
damage... at Bethesda Medical Museum
Digging deeper into Sickles's story you'll discover that he ignored his superior's decision not to engage.  His insubordinate decision to take up position in the Peach Orchard is generally thought to have lead to a bloody engagement in the Wheatfield.  He also the first to use the insanity defense to avoid prosecution for murder.   And not just any murder. From Wikipedia:
Sickles's career was replete with personal scandals. He was censured by the New York State Assembly for escorting a known prostitute,Fanny White, into its chambers. He also reportedly took her to England, leaving his pregnant wife at home, and presented White toQueen Victoria, using as her alias the surname of a New York political opponent.[3] In 1859, inLafayette Square, across the street from theWhite House, Sickles shot and killed the district attorney of the District of Columbia[5] Philip Barton Key II, son of Francis Scott Key, who Sickles had discovered was having an affair with his young wife.
Off to watch some more Ken Burns and start "Killer Angels."

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