Today in History: The Battle of Gettysburg
July 1, 2008 12:46 PM   Subscribe

The Battle of Gettysburg started on this day in 1863. Here are some essays on Gettysburg from MilitaryHistoryOnline. Here is a virtual tour with photos and maps.
posted by RussHy (22 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
extrapolate. what did we learn? That Lincoln had just about the same amount of congressional experience before becoming president that Obama has had. That the greatest general we have had, Ulysees S. Grant, with all his military experience made a terrible president.
posted by Postroad at 1:24 PM on July 1, 2008


And a game that reminds us all of the role the Yeti's played in the battle -- Yetisburg
posted by TuxHeDoh at 1:35 PM on July 1, 2008


I know its considered appropriate to speak of the valor of defeated enemies, to recognize bravery and skill regardless of cause, but I can't. So instead I'll follow an older rule of civility and I won't say anything at all about the people who died fighting for the right of the wealthy to rape, torture, and murder their fellow humans with impunity.

I will express gratitude that General Meade made good use of his advantages, and this his soldiers fought bravely and skillfully in the face of a determined enemy. That American forces later, despite the heavy casualties inflicted by the invading enemy fought the fires that the fleeing Confederate army set in Richmond is, to my mind, an impressive show of kindness and restraint.

Its nice to know that the good guys can win from time to time.

postroad I've always been puzzled at the idea that military experience is particularly necessary for a president. The military is a non-democratic organization, with good reason, and thus doesn't do much to prepare a person for the way they have to act as president. Yes, the president is also the commander in chief, but any good president will leave the actual running of the military to the joint chiefs.

With any luck at all President Obama won't have problems as severe as those facing President Lincoln.
posted by sotonohito at 1:38 PM on July 1, 2008


Everyone always does "This Day in History", why does no one do "This Day in the Future", I mean wouldn't it be more useful to me to know what is going to happen, not what has happened?
posted by blue_beetle at 2:10 PM on July 1, 2008


I know, blue_beetle, I'd totally do that if I could. I just posted these links because they're the best of what I found while researching a topic that interests me.
posted by RussHy at 2:23 PM on July 1, 2008


I've always been puzzled at the idea that military experience is particularly necessary for a president.

Lincoln showed no hesitation whatsoever in commiting tens of thousands of men to death. If anything he was disappointed that his generals did not make a more energetic pursuit of this goal. He goaded Meade to purse Lee after Lee withdrew from Pennsylvania. He could not understand Meade's reluctance to hurl his wrecked Army against Lee - allowing Lee to fight the defensive battle Longstreet yearned for.

Lincoln goaded all of his generals, micro-managed them on the field as best he could from Washington, openly questioned their decisions, gave them trite and simplistic military advice, and changed commanders after every major battle.

The example of Lincoln's "lack of military experience" does no favor for Senator Obama.
posted by three blind mice at 2:26 PM on July 1, 2008


blue_beetle On this day in 2058 converted mining ships of the Belt Republic will defeat the Ford Mitsubishi Ayn Rynd during its deceleration towards Ceres. The Belt Republic will initially deny any losses, but later admit that it lost three ships, the Ishimaru, the Rock Hound, and the Ironmonger, as well as all 27 crew members of those ships. Ford Mitsubishi decried the "destruction of corporate property, and loss of innocent life, by the so-called 'Belt Republic'" and renewed its calls for the UN Navy, the US government and the Japanese government to intervene in its dispute with the miners.

This announcement has been brought you by the Historical Preenactment Society.
posted by sotonohito at 2:31 PM on July 1, 2008


sotonohito every body knows that battle will have nothing to do with miners, it'will really be about state's rights. TEH BELT WILL BUCKLE AGAIN!!
posted by nola at 2:36 PM on July 1, 2008


I could have sworn there was at some point an FPP about the Save the Electric Map folks here, but search and keywords don't seem to turn it up. So here's a very slow (it seemed faster when I was in middle school, honest!) and, yeah, pretty darn antiquated predecessor of the Army's slick flash site: the Gettysburg Electric Map, in all twenty-seven minutes of its somewhat sleepy sixties glory.

And though the Electric Map crusaders have lost (for now, at least), there's also an ongoing movement to save Gettysburg's equally mid-century Cyclorama Building, which despite being a historic structure has been slated for destruction and paving over for the new, adjacent museum's parking lots. Of course, there are major problems with the structure: it leaks, has poor temperature and climate controls, and an improper hanging system for the three-ton painting. The Cyclorama itself was recently restored, including the addition of the previously-missing sky, which was removed because it couldn't fit into the Gettysburg Cyclorama. Meanwhile, the original and other survivor of four cycloramas, which was painted in 1883 and displayed in Chicago to favorable reviews from Union veterans, floats in limbo until a cyclorama can be built for it.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 3:20 PM on July 1, 2008


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


No Gettysburg post is complete without this.
posted by TedW at 3:25 PM on July 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


Back in '95 or so, the movie Gettysburg came out when I was working at a movie theater. The following exchange took place at the ticket counter.

Redneck: "Gettysburg? What's that about?"
Me, mouth agape: "Ummm. The Battle of Gettysburg?"
Redneck: "..."

He slunk away, very, very embarrassed.
posted by zardoz at 4:39 PM on July 1, 2008


Speaking of the Gettysburg Address, Garry Wills' Pulitzer-winning book is terrific.
posted by scody at 5:40 PM on July 1, 2008


Yes that book is great. I never forgot it. I just found it a couple months ago on the clearance table and bought it.
posted by RussHy at 6:07 PM on July 1, 2008


There's nothing quite like actually being there.

I was 13 and being an obsessive fan of all things Civil War my mom took me on a tour all over to Antietam, Bull Run, Appomattox and of course Gettysburg.

I loved every second of it. The tour guide at Gettysburg was a 30-year-old-version of my 13-year-old fascination. The tour was $20 an hour and the guide actually drove our car around to the different spots. He took us through the town and showed us the cannon balls still lodged in the 100+ year old brick homes. He took us to each and every little section, the Devil's Den, both Round Tops, the Peach Orchard...the tour lasted about 3 hours, he only charged us for one, his love of history sparked mine and we both knew it.

The very last thing we did was drop me off at the approx point where Pickett's Charge began and he and my mom waited for me at the peak over at the Union line. I got lost in the dusk and wound up about 100 yards to the south of the point and when I finally arrived the first thing my mom said was, "Well, you would've survived, we saw your hat the whole time, going the wrong way."

It was walking that field that the statistics finally clicked in my head and it wasn't just a fun story to explore and neat history fact that I was learning. About 10,000 boys died in that field, doing what they were told to do, what they probably felt was the only thing they could do. You can look at map and see point A and point B but being there and looking out over the field and seeing the wide expanse you can begin to imagine how absolutely terrifying it must have been.

I sort of lost my curiosity about war at Gettysburg.

It is hallowed ground, just like the man said.
posted by M Edward at 6:14 PM on July 1, 2008 [8 favorites]


Speaking of the Gettysburg Address, Garry Wills' Pulitzer-winning book is terrific.

Speaking of Pulitzer Prize winning authors, I just finished this book and it, too, is worth a read; I will put Will's book on my short list of books to get (which is still several dozen books long at any given time, but I will get to it eventually). The civil war is fascinating to me; in many ways it still defines our nation. In particular though, the Gettysburg Address is one of the most powerful speeches in the English language; no matter how many times I hear or read it, it still makes my eyes tear up at least a little bit.
posted by TedW at 6:55 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Grant gets "best of show" for his 1880 quote:

"There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell. You can bear this warning voice to generations yet to come. I look upon war with horror."

Gettysburg was one of many engagements that proved the point. Coming late in the war, and being one of the few major Union victories, it somehow gets more press perhaps than it deserves. The South is peppered with sites that had equally devastating results for the poor Union soldiers involved. But what a goddamned mess was Gettysburg?!

I visited there and also imagined how hellish the days must have been for all involved.

War sucks. Sadly, that particular one seemed inevitable and in retrospect, had to be fought. The issues had to be settled and force of arms was all that remained to do it, after dancing around the issues for 100 years.

The racist heart, both in the north and south, survived the war, though. One needn't travel south to experience it.
posted by FauxScot at 6:59 PM on July 1, 2008


The Killer Angels is worth a read as well, for those so inclined.
posted by Senator at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2008


For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.
-- William Faulkner

Garnett's brigade, of Pickett's division, had 941 men killed, wounded, or missing out of 1,427 that set out that day; 65.9% casualties.

"General Lee, I have no division now." -- George Pickett

July 3, 1863 was the end of the South's chance to win the Civil War, with the failure of the last desperate charge at Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksburg, the last major city on the Mississippi.

Grant gets 'best of show' for his 1880 quote
Regret to inform that was Sherman.

posted by kirkaracha at 8:00 PM on July 1, 2008


I just recently dived back into my little Civil War library, first with Stephen Sears' Landscape Turned Red, about Antietam, then picking up Grant's memoirs, which I received as a gift from my future wife around the time Ken Burns' documentary came out. This is as good a place as any to recall Grant's description of the surrender at Appomattox; there is no truer or more simpler description of that war:

"I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse."

I visited Gettysburg with my family when I was about six, on a trip from Pittsburgh to the Jersey Shore. Even now I remember scrambling with my brother over the rocks of Little Round Top and through the woods of the Devil's Den in our blue Yankee kepis. Decades later, driving back to New York from a family reunion in Pittsburgh, we happened to hear on the radio that the National Parks Service was about to destroy the Gettysburg National Tower, which came to be viewed as a blight on the landscape. We stopped by the battlefield for a few hours, stood at the stone fence where Pickett's charge died, strolled through a Union cemetary, watched with several thousand others as as the tower went down, then got back in the car and headed back to the city.

three blind mice, I think Lincoln deserves more credit for his military savvy than you give him. He was plagued for three years by generals who lacked ability and/or initiative, but when he finally brought Grant east--a general who understood the "awful arithmetic," the necessity of bringing Lee to battle and defeating him ("Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also," Grant told Meade)--he stayed out of the way and allowed Grant's grand strategy to play out, with enterprising subordinates such as Sherman and Sheridan who were finally the equal of any Confederate general. Lincoln spent thousands of lives to preserve the Union, but today we have one country now where we might have had two, or three, or six.

Despite my Union sympathies, I still think the greatest Gettysburg quote is from Faulkner, and I won't wait two more days to post it:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armstead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago....
posted by stargell at 8:45 PM on July 1, 2008


On preview, worth repeating.
posted by stargell at 8:46 PM on July 1, 2008


but when he finally brought Grant east--a general who understood the "awful arithmetic," the necessity of bringing Lee to battle and defeating him

As regards the "awful arithmetic" it was said of Grant at the time that "soldiers expect more from their commanders than gritty determination to send them to their deaths."

That Lincoln complained that his generals were not energetic enough in pursuing the enemy has always been a fascination to me. Prior to Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac fought dozens of battles on Southern soil in pursuit of the enemy. The Seven Days, Chancellorsville, Fredricksberg... all turned out in defeat for the North who suffered enormous - but replaceable- losses in each. Chancellorsville, "Lee's masterpiece" where he divided his Army in the face of an enemy of superior numbers - against all military convention - happened just a few weeks before Gettysburg. Northern Commanders had every reason to be wary of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.

The best that can be said of Lincoln is that he gave nice speeches over the dead bodies of his soldiers.
posted by three blind mice at 11:12 PM on July 1, 2008


What's fascinating to me is this notion, which I find implicit in talk of casualty figures and replaceability, is that the North somehow won the war unfairly, by exploliting its strategic advantages in resources. And yes, that includes manpower. (BTW, I'm pretty sure Lee's casualties, in terms of percentage of his force, were pretty consistently higher than his Northern counterparts, for whatever that's worth.)

Much was said about Grant "at the time," including that he was a drunk and a butcher of men. Much more has been said about him since then, not all of it negative.

McClellan's tactics and strategy in the Seven Days and Antietam were not those of a commander committed to victory.

The best that can be said of Lincoln is that he ended slavery, won the war and preserved the Union.

Now I'll go read the July 2 post.
posted by stargell at 6:53 PM on July 2, 2008


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