Gettysburg

Both parties’ deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came

~Abraham Lincoln~

Little Round Top

Little Round Top

At 4:30 AM on April 12, 1861, the first shot of the American Civil War was fired when a single 10 inch mortar exploded over Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Within three days the Confederate army had won the first battle of the war and the United and Confederate States entered the bloodiest 4 years of United States History. In 1865, after the last gun had sounded, almost a quarter of a million American soldiers had died, casualties of the war.

                The cause of the Civil War is often debated. However, for this discussion it will be simplified; the war was fought over states’ rights in relation to slavery. The Presidential election of 1860 resulted in the election of a Republican president, named Abraham Lincoln. In response to his policies and political agenda, the southern states of the union combined to form the Confederate States of America. Soon thereafter, they passed succession ordinances officially declaring themselves separate from the Union. President Lincoln refused to accept their succession; declaring the act illegal. In 1861, following the Confederate victory at Fort Sumter, President Lincoln ordered the recapture of the fort. The war had officially begun.

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter

                By the summer of 1863, the war was at its peak. The Confederate army of Northern Virginia had pushed far into the North, and the Union army (in a desperate attempt to stop them), routed themselves towards the crossroads town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. By pure chance, General Robert E. Lee had chosen the area around Gettysburg as a place to entrench his army, and did not even know the Union Army had crossed the Potomac until June 29th. On June 30th, a number of Confederate troops were sent into the town looking for supplies; especially shoes. Upon arrival, they found a number of Union Cavalry entering the other side of town. Fearing attack, the Confederates left town and reported the cavalry to their commanding officers. Thinking the force his men had encountered were only the local militia, Commanding General Henry Heth marched 2 brigades into Gettysburg, thinking his force was sufficient to repel this small group. To his astonishment, he encountered more than a small militia. Instead, he found the advanced cavalry of Army of the Potomac, a mere 90,000 men strong.

                Since I was a young boy, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania has been on the list of places I had longed to visit. At first it was my innate fascination with war, but later a solemn respect that urged me to visit the sacred battle field where so many men had lost their lives defending our country. Sunday November 2, I awoke early and prepared for the day. My fiancée, her mother and I left by mid-morning on our trek to Gettysburg. By early afternoon we had arrived and I reveled in the beauty of the place. We first visited the gift shop and spent some time looking at memorabilia. I settled on one of my favorite books The Killer Angels and left the rest of the shopping to my fiancée.  It was a beautiful but windy day when we set off on our journey to see the battlefield. My heart began to beat rapidly as I got excited to get on our way. We had bought the audio car tour and set out quickly, stopping occasionally to see a few selected sights.

Gettysburg City

Gettysburg City

               

                On July 1, against General Lee’s orders, General Heth ordered a general advance on the Union position. At 7:30 AM, the first shot of the battle at Gettysburg was fired. Brigadier General John Buford, recognizing the importance of the high ground to the Southeast of Gettysburg, ordered his cavalry to dismount and fight. This would buy time for the rest of the Union Army to take that higher position. Soon, Major General John Reynolds joined Buford with his core of infantry. Moments later, General Reynolds was shot and killed while urging his men forward. They held the ground in the morning hours until the rest of General Meade’s army arrived. The fighting broke off near afternoon and picked back up a few hours later. By the end of the day, the Union had lost the fight around town and had retreated to Cemetery ridge. This is where they would fight the rest of the battle. 

Standing on the crest of Seminary Ridge looking across the town to Cemetery Ridge, the scope and size of the battlefield began to sink in. I could see the woods where the first shots were fired and almost hear the shouts of the men as they chased the Yankees across this open chasm of land. The beauty of the land slowly became apparent to me as I stood among the relics and scenery of the battle. We drove south along the road a couple of miles to where the left flank of the Union army would have been stationed.

Seminary Ridge

Seminary Ridge

On July 2, the Confederates attacked full force on all positions from Little Round Top to the Union position on Rock Creek. Three significant battles were fought that day, but only one is remembered as one of the most important of the war. The battle of Little Round Top is perhaps the most pivotal two hours of the Civil War. While some critics may argue otherwise, I still believe this to be the case. The extreme flank of the Union army was protected by the 20th Maine; 386 men led by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and his Lieutenant Holman Melcher. Their men held against three charges by the Confederate army for over 90 minutes. They held until they had almost run out of ammunition. It was then that Lieutenant Melcher suggested a bayonet charge. Uncommon for the era, the charge was an offensive strategy meant to maintain the hold of a defensive position. Colonel Chamberlain agreed and the order was given. “FIX BAYONETS!” Moments later, running down the slope toward the confederate position, the 20th Maine overtook and captured the 15th Alabama. Their actions on Little Round Top had saved the Union Flank and likely won this important battle.

As I stepped out of the car on that windy hill, the reverence of that place hit me. In the back of my mind, I could hear Colonel Chamberlain ordering the bayonet charge and I could hear the cannon in the distance. I slowly approached the top of the hill with my fiancée and was blown away (almost literally) by the sheer beauty of the landscape. Stretching from North to South, the entirety of the battlefield stood before me. We arrived shortly before sunset. I took the moments I had left to revel in the landscape. We took a few pictures before turning to leave. We drove off to our final stop, Cemetery Ridge.

I wasn't kidding about the wind! 

I wasn't kidding about the wind! 

After a long and horribly bloody day of battle, the Union and Confederate forces settled in for the night. Lee had planned on commencing his next attack as he had the day before, concentrating his force on the enemy’s flanks. However, due to an unforeseen artillery bombardment early in the morning, Lee was forced to change his plans. Instead, he commanded Lieutenant General James Longstreet to lead a charge into the Union front. While named after Major General George Pickett as Pickett’s Charge, it was General Longstreet who led this infamous march. Around midday the most intense artillery bombardment of the entire Civil War was launched against the Union front. The 150+ guns were heard from as far away as Philadelphia. Shortly after the bombardment stopped, 12,000 men set off toward the enemy line. One of those men, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, approached the Union line with only one thought in his mind. His best friend, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, led the entirety of the force he was marching straight towards. His men dove head first into the enemy lines and made it further than any other brigade in the battle. His men made what came to be known as the “high water mark of the Confederacy,” (or rather the closest the South ever got to winning the war). As his men crossed that spot, General Armistead was shot three times, mortally wounding him. Quickly, the Union force overcame his men and they were driven back leaving him behind bloodied on the field of battle. He died two days later, never having seen his best friend; who had led the group of men that had ultimately killed him. After the charge had failed, General Lee called for a full retreat.

Cemetary Ridge

Cemetary Ridge

As I sat in the car listening to the story of the battle, I fought back the tears. I released one choked sob and in that moment felt the horrendous loss of the battle. As the sun began to set, I could feel so many different emotions. Sorrow, gratitude, pity, empathy, love, etc… I put the car in gear and drove on. We stopped only briefly at the cemetery. As we drove, I listened as the audio tour played Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I listened intently before “Taps” took over the sound of his voice. I started crying again as I silently repeated these words to myself the rest of the way:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, 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 cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot 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 it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. 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 gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

~Abraham Lincoln~

November 19, 1863

Written in commemoration of this address 151 years to the day

November 19, 2014

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

The Holocaust Part III

As I approached the model of Auschwitz, a museum guard announced that the museum would close in about 20 minutes. I had unconsciously spent four hours in the first two exhibits alone! I knew I would have to go through the last part quickly and set off at a brisk pace. I walked out of the second hall somberly aware of the bleak situation of the Jewish people. I had learned about some of the worst atrocities ever committed by mankind and was nauseous from all the horrible thoughts that had gone through my head. I silently prayed that I could forget… All of these emotions and feelings of despair had stirred in me a feeling unlike any I could describe.

As I approached the third part of the museum a few exhibits caught my attention. I approached a plaque and read silently. For the first time that morning I felt something I hadn’t the whole day; hope. In 1943, by recommendation of SS General Werner Best , Hitler had approved a plan to deport all Jewish people from Denmark. In a remarkable turn of events the Danish people defied the Nazis. Community leaders, police and citizens alike helped to transport, hide and rescue over 7000 Jews. On October 1, the Germans came to find the Jews. To their utter surprise and discontent, they found very few Jews to deport. When I finished reading my emotions overcame me and I couldn’t restrain the tears. As I read, the image of my paternal grandmother and her Danish ancestry flooded my memory. I thought of the strong people of Denmark and their brave near suicidal defense of the Jews; for a brief second my faith in humanity was restored.

Danish Citizens Ferrying Jewish Refugees

Danish Citizens Ferrying Jewish Refugees

Why that situation and story struck me the way it did, I may never know. I continued on to read of the many brave stories of those that fought the Nazis. I read of the Bielski brothers as shown in the movie Defiance. Their brave choice to make a stand against opposition, to leave the civilized world and to defend their freedom through whatever means necessary, have continued to inspire generations even today.

Bielski Otriad

Bielski Otriad

I walked through the exhibit dedicated to Anne Frank and her family’s choice to defy and run from the Nazi regime. While hiding for months, she kept what would become one of the most famous journals in history.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

The story of the only Nazi buried on Mount Zion Oskar Schindler was recounted. Schindler saved well over 1000 Jews from the gas chambers and was only recognized posthumously for his heroic actions.

Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler


The stories continued, but due to time I was unable to recognize and learn about all those that sacrificed so much to help the Jews. I continued on to see the images of the soldiers that found the camps and the expressions of horror that plagued their ranks. The little left of those that survived was barely human. Dwight D Eisenhower dictated “The things I saw beggar description…The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering…I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda.” In the end the Nazis had exterminated in estimate six million Jews. Those that survived, and those that liberated the camps stand as witnesses to the cruelties and atrocities committed. As I hustled to the end I paused upon one last scene that still haunts me. Before me lay a hallway lined with the shoes of those that had died gasping for air in the gas chambers.

Shoes in the Museum

Shoes in the Museum

Unsettled and distressed I finished my tour at the hall of remembrance where I briefly paid my respects before solemnly walking back into the daylight, the words of the museum fresh in my mind “Never Forget”.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing

Attributed to Edmund Burke

Intermission

Wow how it has been busy! I would have loved to have put up a post the last couple of weeks, but we have had quite a bit to get done. Between work and studying for the LSAT I am tired. I took the LSAT Saturday and It went quite well. I should have a little more time now that that is over (at least for now.) my fellow intern and I were recently asked by our policy director to help draft a bill for the New Mexico State legislature, so that is now consuming a lot of our time. I will say this much, I have been thinking a lot lately about the Holocaust, between a couple of movies I have watched and some recent research, it has been on my mind. I have been contemplating a trip to the holocaust museum, and am finally planning on attending this Saturday. Stay tuned because I would like to do a blog post dedicated to the victims hopefully this Sunday.