The first three days in July this year, will mark the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the pivotal battle of the American Civil War. By the Spring of 1863, the war was in it's third year. General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was fresh off of victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, but with irreplaceable losses in men and quality leaders; such as General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
In late May 1863, the Confederate high command decided to invade the North for a second time, it was thought that President Lincoln under severe pressure would be forced to attack the well entrenched Southern forces. Such a battle they believed would destroy the Union's Army of the Potomac, forcing a negotiated peace.
As the Confederates crossed into the North, many things went wrong; JEB Stuart's cavalry was absent, so Lee had no idea that the Union army was pursuing quickly. On July 1, advance elements of both armies collided just west of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Each side rushed in additional forces, until the South had a numerical superiority and cracked the Union defenses. Hesitation of the part of Confederate General Ewell allowed the retreating Union forces to anchor their defenses south of Gettysburg, an area of high ground.
During the night, both armies gathered strength. The 8th Georgia, with a company from Savannah, marched all night and arrived on the battlefield around 9:00 am on July 2. About eight hours later they would fight it out on the Union left, as the Confederates attacked The Wheat Field.
That morning Lee listened to General James Longstreet's Chief of Staff, Colonel Moxley Sorrel explain the Union defensive position. Sorrel was from Savannah, his family owned the large orange house that sits on the northwest corner of Madison Square. Lee then ordered Longstreet to roll up the Union left, will Ewell attacking the Union right in a coordinated assault. Longstreet's troops later captured The Peach Orchard, The Wheat Field and Devil's Den, but were unable to grab the strategic heights at Little Round Top. Ewell, never attacked until Longstreet's attacks had waned. This was the South's best opportunity at Gettysburg. Events of July 3rd, Pickett's Charge, were anti-climatic and only added to the carnage.
Shelby Foote, a noted Civil War historian, refers to Gettysburg as where the stars conspired against the South, his reasoning, was that everything that could go wrong for the South did go wrong for the South. For on the morning of July 2, the South was at it's zenith, but by nightfall her star had started to fall.
It was not until 1873, that Confederate dead was removed from the Gettysburg battlefield. Many of them of them were Savannahians that were buried with other Georgians in the Gettysburg plot at the Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah.
The removal of the dead to Savannah will be featured in an article I wrote for the upcoming September/October 2008 issue of the Savannah Magazine. Also, every July 2, I place Confederate battle flags and a rose at the base of the Gettysburg monument at Laurel Grove for remembrance.
Many of you know that I am working on a book about the Civil War in Charleston, which is due this month. Ben and I have another book that will also be in the publisher/s hand this summer, a book on Gettysburg. This is a different approach then our first three books, for we are going to tell the story of the Battle of Gettysburg through the monuments, photographs and personal accounts. I journey to Gettysburg in late July to start some of the photography. Ben Mammina and I will return in August to finish the project. Hopefully, both books will hit the shelves by the first of the year.