Monday, 6 June 2016

A Civil War battlefield

Gettysburg, PA

There are monuments dotted all around the countryside

Gettysburg is only a few hours from the Capital. The campground I had booked couldn't have been in a better location, being only half a mile to the National Park visitor centre and half a mile to the town. Many of the houses in town are very old and sit very close to the road, they may not have always been that close of course, the roads may have been widened since they were built, but everything feels really squashed. The battlefield covers the area all around the town and there is a self drive auto route that you can do if you don't want to do a bus tour. When we checked into our campground they gave us tickets to a Diorama in town which is a model representing the battlefield. They turn off the lights so they could light up the area they were talking about and explain in detail how the battle went down. I really didn't need to know in that great a detail but I got the gist of the story. Lindsay went to sleep because the lights were out. We were also given tickets to a museum that has a display regarding Lincoln's funeral train. He was shot by someone who wanted to revive the Confederate cause.

In keeping with the rest of the East coast, everything is very green and there is a reason for this - it rains. A lot. Luckily though it doesn't seem to rain the whole day but sometimes it happens at the most inconvenient time. We were listening to a really interesting talk by one of the rangers about the soldiers when the heavens opened. The thunder drowned him out, he joked that the canons were loud and the wind swept the heavy rain sideways underneath the canopy we were under. He cancelled the talk after only a third of the way through. American history is so much more interesting than ours. We haven't had any civil wars, no-one shoots our Prime Ministers and we don't create all these interesting places to go to. 

So what is it all about?

The Diorama, a large model of the battlefield of Gettysburg

In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the first Republican president in the nation. He represented a party that opposed the spread of slavery in the territories of the United States. The primary industry in the Southern states was cotton which needs a lot of cheap or free labour, so they were not happy about the abolition of slavery. Less than two months after his election and before he even took office, seven southern states secede from the union, formed their own government and elect their own president. Only one month after Lincoln is inaugurated the South, the confederates attack Fort Sumter in South Carolina and the Civil War begins and would continue for another four years. Central to the conflict was the economics of slavery and the political control of that system. Between 1861 to 1865, 237 named battles were fought. The battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania remains the bloodiest in U.S. history and was the turning point for the confederacy as General Lee realised he could not successfully invade the north. Between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies had casualties in the three-day battle, the most costly in US history. Even though it was a victory for the union (the north), the war wasn’t over and would continue for another two years.

A lot of the area is just pasture, just like it was then

The final battle of the Civil war took place in Texas in May 1865, which was a confederate victory. The war officially ended in June 1865.

A conservative figure of 650,000 lost their lives in the four year war, but some believe through historic records that it was more likely 740,000.

The monument to the soldiers of Pennsylvania 
There were only 16,000 Federal troops in 1860 and this wasn’t enough to fight the Civil War, so both sides had a big recruitment drive. Many of the people who enlisted were farmers and ordinary people who had no military training. Officers and high ranking officials were allowed to resign from the military if their state had seceded, but infantry soldiers were not. I mean really, would you want someone fighting for your side who was not on your side, would you trust them? African American’s were allowed to enlist in the Union Military in 1863, while the Confederacy didn’t allow them to enlist until the month before the end of the war.

With the names of all the soldiers
Women were not allowed to enlist but it is believed that 400 women did by dressing up as men. The average age of each soldier was 24.

People enlisted for various reasons - not every Northerner was an abolitionist, nor was every Southerner a slave owner. It could have just been because they wanted a regular pay cheque, patriotism or just because they like guns.

The union had over 100,000 men, 30% of whom were born overseas. The South had 75,000 men of whom 15% were born overseas.

This place is full of canons

For every three soldiers that died, disease claimed two of them. Camps quickly became a muddy mess from men and horses trampling the ground and with little regard for sanitation, viruses and infections were rampant.

The North Carolina Monument
The North Carolina monument is the work of Gutzon Borglum and is pretty impressive. The hands and feet of his subjects are much larger than they should be. He who also carved the Presidents on Mt Rushmore.

Artillery Ridge Campground

1 comment:

  1. The first time I took Kimberly back to my hometown we actually explored many of the older cemeteries. While on our search, we came across a headstone of a soldier killed during the Civil War. The headstone was in the form of his military pup tent. The detail was amazing. It actually had a canteen hanging from the tent which of course was all carved out of granite.