As we mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg there is much being done on the battlefield with speeches being made and battle reenactments being conducted…but little I guess will be made of the horrific destruction and death that was wrought on the town and the fields to the south. Why? We have little stomach for this type of discussion today with our modern sensibilities despite the levels of violence we see in movies or the TV or in modern video games.
So today as we commemorate that battle I though I would provide some quotes from one of the best books on Gettysburg and its aftermath…”A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg: The Aftermath of Battle by the late Gregory Coco. And since today is July 1st, the first day of battle, we will focus on the first days field.
Since the battle raged over the same territory for three days it was not until the 4th of July or later that non-combatants and the photographers were able to view the field. Jacob Hoke described Cemetery Hill, scene of fighting during the last hours of day 1 after he traversed the area on July 7th.
“Upon Cemetery Hill, with the enclosure where rest many of the former residents of Gettysburg, the evidences of the terrible strife were painfully visible. Many of the tombstones and monuments had been laid down, either to prevent their being defaced or broken, or to form sheltering places from the iron and leaden hurricane which had concentrated from one hundred and twenty guns upon that place. The silent sleepers in that city of the dead, all unconscious of the terrible conflict going on all about them, utterd no protest against the temporary and necessary desecration o f their last resting place. Several of the monuments in this cemetery were defaced by shot and shell.” (p.11)
What Jacob Hoke had seen was the aftermath of the fighting for Cemetery Hill and the action of Union soldiers who had been ordered to topple many of the stones in the cemetery in order to keep themselves, as defenders, from being killed by flying stone shrapnel as Confederate shells hit the cemetery stones.
The day before Hoke saw the cemetery, a reporter from a Philadelphia paper would also describe the scene near Cemetery Hill as he saw it on July 6th…
“Here many of the rebel dead yet lie unburied, everyone of their pockets turned inside out. Many rebel wounded lie in the woods adjacent, and the air is polluted with a heavy sickening, disgusting stench. Thanks for the heavy rain we have had, carrying off much of the blood, otherwise I do not see how people could live here. As it is, it is the most disgusting atmosphere I ever breathed, or thought it possible human beings could live in.” (p.11)
Tomorrow we will look at some of the sad scenes that were discovered in the Culp’s Hill area of the battlefield as we discuss Day 2.