Monday, July 1, 2013

Monday Memories - The Battle at Gettsyburg

Calvin, Abe, Grace, and I went to Gettysburg four years ago.
While I certainly knew of the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln,
I didn’t realize how much land the battleground covered nor how important the battle was to the Civil War.

Today marks 150 years since the Battle at Gettysburg began. Gettysburg (July 1-3) was a turning point in the Civil War for never again did the South have the morale or man power to attack the North. General Lee and the South went from being on offense to defense after Gettysburg.

At West Point there is a place devoted to soldiers of the Civil War. Many of the commanding officers had been roommates and friends at West Point before the war. When the war broke out they were fighting against each other, using tactics they had learned side by side in class just weeks before. Sometimes at night, after the fighting for the day had ceased, these commanding officers would steal away to see each other, or send a congratulatory note, cigar, or bottle of alcohol to an opposing officer to congratulate him for the birth of a baby.  It's hard to fathom a war where friends and family fight against each other.

Ty learned in one of his military courses that many of the guns that were examined after Gettysburg had several balls still in the barrels. I didn’t understand why until Ty explained that there is a natural aversion to killing another human being and many of the soldiers couldn't do it.  Rather than shoot their fellow countrymen, the soldiers would pretend to fire and then ram another bullet down into the barrel as if they had. In essence they were going through the motions so that no one would accuse them of not fighting. One barrel that was examined had over two dozen balls in the barrel. When Ty explained this it made the difficulty of the war where friend fought against friend more real.

My sister Rachel shared an interesting story in her weekly e-mail to her children about one of the flag bearers at Gettysburg. She read the story in the book Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue by Ace Collins.   I asked her if I could share it:

"A man by the name of Mr. Cohan had his driver take him for a test drive in his brand new automobile in 1905. They were driving down a country road when Mr. Cohan saw an elderly gentleman walking alongside the dusty road. He told his driver to stop and asked the man if he wanted a ride. The man was obviously poor and Mr. Cohan soon discovered that it was the first time the gentleman had ridden in an automobile.

"Mr. Cohan studied his guest carefully and said he looked just like any other grandfatherly type except for one peculiar quirk. As he rode down the highway, the gray headed, wrinkled, and bent man held a tattered piece of multicolored cloth in his hands. The man’s hand stroked the rag as if it were a pet. After a few miles the gentleman grew comfortable of the new experience of riding in an automobile and he began to talk. Mr. Cohan was only mildly surprised to find that his guest had fought in the Civil War. He told of many tales in the war, including one that centered on the Battle of Gettysburg. He had been a flag bearer as the North charged against the South’s famed General Pickett. He saw others around him fall to the ground, injured or dead, but his job was to keep the flag flying high. The flag was shot again and again. He heard scores of bullets fly past his head, and as the battle slowly turned in the Union’s favor he was shaken to the core. How he had survived he didn’t know. Surviving wasn’t as important to him however as was the fact that he had never dropped the American flag. He had held it high through the entire battle.

"Mr. Cohan watched the gentleman continue to stroke the carefully folded, ragged piece of cloth that sat in his lap. “It was all for this,” the old vet said. “She’s a grand old rag.”

"Mr. Cohan, a song writer, realized then realized that the cloth the gentleman held was not just a piece of an old coat or shirt, it was flag that he had carried and never dropped during the battle at Gettysburg.

"The gentleman’s courage and devotion to his country inspired Mr. Cohan to write a song about the “grand old rag.” A newspaper reporter said it was slanderous calling the Stars and Stripes a rag, so Mr. Cohan changed it to flag. Today we sing it like this:

You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'Neath the Red, White and Blue
Where there's never a boast or brag.
But should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

Rachel closed her e-mail by telling us the funny little tidbit that the King of Siam offered a battalion of elephants for President Lincoln to use to fight the South. 

Remembering the Civil War serves several purposes, but one is that forgiveness and reconciliation are virtues never to be underestimated.  Few countries heal after a civil war, but ours did.  Not only did it heal, but it became even better than before.  Today the grand old flag flies just as proudly over the North and the South as it does the East and the West.  That's pretty miraculous.


1 comment:

Rachel said...

I LOVED visiting Gettysburg. Thanks for sharing these stories. It's getting me into the patriotic spirit that I should be in more often than once or twice a year.