Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Gettysburg

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE sun of the first day of July rose serene into an azure sky where a few white clouds were floating. The light summer mist was dissipated; a morning wind, freshly sweet, rippled the corn and murmured in the green and lusty trees. The sunshine gilded Little Round Top and Big Round Top, gilded Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, gilded Oak Hill and Seminary Ridge. It flashed from the cupola of the Pennsylvania College. McPherson's Woods caught it on its topmost branches, and the trees of Peach Orchard. It trembled between, the leaves, and flecked with golden petals Menchey's Spring and Spangler's Spring. It lay in sleepy lengths on the Emmitsburg road. It struck the boulders of the Devil's Den; it made indescribably light and fine the shocked wheat in a wheat-field that drove into the green like a triangular golden wedge. Full in the centre of the rich landscape it made a shining mark, a golden bull's-eye, of the small town of Gettysburg.

It should have been all peace, that rich Pennsylvania landscape — a Dutch peace — a Quaker peace. Market wains and country folk should have moved upon the roads, and a boy, squirrel-hunting, should have been the most murderous thing in the Devil's Den. Corn-blades should have glistened, not bayonets; for the fluttering flags the farmers' wives should have been bleaching linen on the grass; for marching feet there should have risen the sound of the scythe in the wheat; for the groan of gun wheels upon the roads the robin's song and the bobwhite's call.

The sun mounted. He was well above the tree-tops when the first shot was fired — Heth's brigade of A. P. Hill's corps encountering Buford's cavalry.

The sun went down the first day red behind the hills. He visited the islands of the Pacific, Nippon, and the Kingdom of Flowers, and India and Iran. He crowned Caucasus with gold, and showered largess over Europe. He reddened the waves of the Atlantic. He touched with his spear lighthouses and coast towns and the inland green land. He came up over torn orchard and trampled wheat-field; he came up over the Round Tops and Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. But no one, this second day, stopped to watch his rising. The battle smoke hid him from the living upon the slopes and in all the fields.

The sun travelled from east to west, but no man on the shield of which Gettysburg was the centre saw him go down that second day. A thick smoke, like the wings of countless ravens, kept out the parting gleams. He went his way over the plains of the West and the Pacific and the Asian lands. He came over Europe and the Atlantic and made, on the third morning, bright pearl of the lighthouses, the surf, and the shore. The ripe July country welcomed him. But around Gettysburg his rising was not seen. The smoke had not dispersed. He rode on high, but all that third day he was seen far away and dim as through crκpe. All day he shone serene on other lands, but above this region he hung small and dim and remote like a tarnished, antique shield. Sometimes the drift of ravens' wings hid him quite. But an incense mounted to him, a dark smell and a dark vapour.

The birds were gone from the trees, the cattle from the fields, the children from the lanes and the brookside. All left on the first day. There was a hollow between Round Top and Devil's Den, and into this the anxious farmers had driven and penned a herd of cattle. On the sunny, calm afternoon when they had done this, they could not conceive that any battle would affect this hollow. Here the oxen, the cows, would be safe from chance bullet and from forager. But the farmers did not guess the might of that battle.

The stream of shells was directed against Round Top, but a number, black and heavy, rained into the hollow. A great, milk-white ox was the first wounded. He lay with his side ripped open, a ghastly sight. Then a cow with calf was mangled, then a young steer had both fore legs broken. Bellowing, the maddened herd rushed here and there, attacking the rough sides of the hollow. Death and panic were upon the slopes as well as at the bottom of the basin. A bursting shell killed and wounded a dozen at once. The air grew thick and black, and filled with the cry of the cattle.

A courier, returning to his general after delivering an order, had his horse shot beneath him. Disentangling himself, he went on, on foot, through a wood. He was intolerably thirsty — and lo, a spring! It was small and round and clear like a mirror, and as he knelt he saw his own face and thought, "She would n't know me." The minies were so continuously singing that he had ceased to heed them. He drank, then saw that he was reddening the water. He did not know when he had been wounded, but now, as he tried to rise, he grew so faint and cold that he knew that Death had met him... . There was moss and fern and a nodding white flower. It was n't a bad place in which to die. In a pocket within his grey jacket he had a daguerreotype — a young and smiling face and form. His fingers were so nerveless now that it was hard to get the little velvet case out, and when it was out it proved to be shattered, it and the picture within. The smiling face and form were all marred, unrecognizable. So small a thing, perhaps! — but it made the bitterness of this soldier's death. The splintered case in his hands, he died as goes to sleep a child who has been unjustly punished. His body sank deep among the fern, his chest heaved, he shook his head faintly, and then it dropped upon the moss, between the stems of the nodding white flower.

A long Confederate line left a hillside and crossed an open space of corn-field and orchard. Double-quick it moved, under its banners, under the shells shrieking above. The guns changed range, and an iron flail struck the line. It wavered, wavered. A Federal line leaped a stone wall, and swept forward, under its banners, hurrahing. Mid-way of the wide open there was stretched beneath the murky sky a narrow web — woof of grey, warp of blue. The strip held while the heart beat a minute or more, then it parted. The blue edge went backward over the plain; the grey edge, after a moment, rushed after. " Yaaaiihhh I Yaaaiiihhhh !" it shouted, — and its red war-flag glowed like fire. The grey commander-in-chief watched from a hillside, a steady light in his eyes. Over against him on another hill, Meade, the blue general, likewise watched. To the south, across the distant Potomac, lay the vast, beleaguered, Southern fortress. Its gate had opened; out had poured a vast sally party, a third of its bravest and best, and at the head the leader most trusted, most idolized. Out had rushed the Army of Northern Virginia. It had crossed the moat of the Potomac; it was here, on the beleaguer's ground.

Earth and heaven were shaking with the clangour of two shields. The sky was whirring and dim, but there might be imagined, suspended there, a huge balance — here the besiegers, here the fortress's best and bravest. Which would this day, or these days, tip the beam? Much hung upon that — all might be said to hang upon that. The waves on the plain rolled forward, rolled back, rolled forward. When the sun went down the first day the fortress's battle-flag was in the ascendant.

A great red barn was the headquarters of "Dear Dick Ewell." He rode with Gordon and others at a gallop down a smoky road between stone fences. " Wish Old Jackson was here!" he said. " Wish Marse Robert had Old Jackson ! This is the watershed, General Gordon yes, sir! this is the watershed of the war! If it does n't still go right to-day — It seems to me that wall there's got a suspicious look —"

The wall in question promptly justified the suspicion. There came from behind it a volley that emptied grey saddles.

Gordon heard the thud of the minie as it struck "Old Dick." "Are you hurt, sir? Are you hurt?"

"No, no, General! I'm not hurt. But if that ball had struck you, sir, we'd have had the trouble of carrying you off the field. I'm a whole lot better fixed than you for a fight! It don't hurt a mite to be shot in a wooden leg."

Three grey soldiers lay behind a shock of wheat. They were young men, old schoolmates. This wheat-shock marked the farthest point attained in a desperate charge made by their regiment against a larger force. It was one of those charges in which everybody sees that if a miracle happens it will be all right, and that if it does n't happen — It was one of those charges in which first an officer stands out, waving his sword, then a man or two follow him, then three or four more, then all waver back, only to start forth again, then others join, then the officer cries aloud, then, with a roar, the line springs forward and rushes over the field, in the cannon's mouth. Such had been the procedure in this charge. The miracle had not happened. After a period of mere din as of ocean waves the three found themselves behind this heap of tarnished gold. When, gasping, they looked round, all their fellows had gone back; they saw them a distant torn line, still holding the flag. Then a rack of smoke came between, hiding flag and all. The three seemed alone in the world. The wheat-ears made a low inner sound like reeds in quiet marshes. The smoke lifted just enough to let a muddy sunlight touch an acre of the dead.

"We've got," said one of the young men, "to get out of here. They'll be countercharging in a minute."

"O God! let them charge."

"Harry, are you afraid—"

"Yes; I'm afraid— sick and afraid. 0 God, O God!"

The oldest of the three, moving his head very cautiously, looked round the wheat-shock. "The Army of the Potomac's coming." He rose to his knees, facing the other way. "It's two hundred yards to the regiment. Well, we always won the races at the old Academy. I'll start, Tom, and then you follow, and then you, Harry, you come straight along!"

He rose to his feet, took the posture of a runner, drew a deep breath and started. Two yards from the shock a cannon ball sheared the head from the body. The body fell, jutting blood. The head bounded back within the shadow of the wheat-shock. Tom was already standing, bent like a bow. A curious sound came from his lips, he glanced aside, then ran. He ran as swiftly as an Indian, swiftly and well. The minie did not find him until he was halfway across the field. Then it did, and he threw up his arms and fell. Harry, on his hands and knees, turned from side to side an old, old face, bloodless and twisted. He heard the Army of the Potomac coming, and in front lay the corpses. He tried to get to his feet, but his joints were water, and there was a crowd of black atoms before his eyes. A sickness, a clamminess, a despair -- and all in eternities. ... Then the sound swelled, and it drove him as the cry of the hounds drives the hare. He ran, panting, but the charge now swallowed up the wheat-shock and came thundering on. In front was only the dead, piled at the foot of the wall of smoke. He still clutched his gun, and now with a shrill cry, he stopped, turned, and stood at bay. He had hurt a hunter in the leg, before the blue muskets clubbed him down.

A regiment, after advancing a skirmish line, moved over broken and boulder-strewn ground to occupy a yet defended position. In front moved the colonel, half turned toward his men, encouraging them in a rich and hearty voice. "Come on, men! Come on! Come on! You are all good harvesters, and the grain is ripe, the grain is ripe! Come on, every mother's son of you! Run, now! just as though there were home and children up there! Come on! Come on!"

The regiment reached a line of flat boulders. There was a large, flat one like an altar slab, that the colonel must spring upon and cross. Upon it, outstretched, face upward, in a pool of blood, lay a young figure, a lieutenant of skirmishers, killed a quarter of an hour ago. "Come on! Come on!" shouted the colonel, his face turned to his men. "Victory! Tonight we'll write home about the victory!"

His foot felt for the top edge of the boulder. He sprang upon it, and faced with suddenness the young dead. The oncoming line saw him stand as if frozen, then with a stiff jerk up went the sword again. "Come on! Come on!" he cried, and plunging from the boulder continued to mount the desired slope. His men, close behind him, also encountered the dead on the altar slab. "Good God! It's Lieutenant — It's his son!" But in front the colonel's changed voice continued its crying, "Come on ! Come on ! Come on!"

A stone wall, held by the grey, leaped fire, rattled and smoked. It did this at short intervals for a long while, a brigade of the enemy choosing to charge at like intervals. The grey's question was a question of ammunition. So long as the ammunition held out, so would they and the wall. They sent out foragers for cartridges. Four men, having secured a quantity from an impatiently sympathetic reserve, heaped them in a blanket, made a large bundle, and slung it midway of a musket. One man took the butt, another the muzzle, and as they had to reckon with sharpshooters going back, the remaining two marched in front. All double-quicked where the exposure was not extreme, and ran where it was. The echoing goal grew larger — as did also a clump of elms at right angles with the wall. Vanguard cocked its eye. "Buzzards in those trees, boys — blue buzzards!"

Vanguard pitched forward as he spoke. The three ran on. Ten yards, and the man who had been second and was now first, was picked off. The two ran on, the cartridges between them. "We're goners!" said the one, and the other nodded as he ran.

There was a grey battery somewhere in the smoke, and now by chance or intention it flung into the air a shell that shrieked its way straight to the clump of elms, and exploded in the round of leaf and branch. The sharpshooters were stilled. "Moses and the prophets!" said the runners. "That's a last year's bird's nest!"

Altogether the foragers brought in ammunition enough to serve the grey wall's immediate purpose. It cracked and flamed for an-other while, and then the blue brigade ceased its charges and went elsewhere. It went thinned — oh, thinned! -- in numbers. The grey waited a little for the smoke to lift, and then it mounted the wall. "And the ground before us," says a survivor, "was the most heavenly blue!"

A battalion of artillery, thundering across a corner of the field, went into position upon a little hilltop. Facing it was Cemetery Hill and a tall and wide-arched gateway. This gateway, now clearly seen, now withdrawn behind a world of grey smoke, now showing a half arch, an angle, a span of the crest, exercised a fascination. The gunners, waiting for the word, watched it. "Gate of Death, don't it look? — Gate of Death."—"Wonder what's beyond?" — "Yankees." — "But they ain't dead — they're alive and kicking! "—"Now it's hidden — Gate of Death." — "This battle's going to lay over Sharpsburg. Over Gaines's Mill — over Malvern Hill — over Fredericksburg — over Second Manassas — over —" "The Gate's hidden — there's a battery over there going to open —" "One? there's two, there's three —" " Cannoneers, to your pieces ! "

A shell dug into the earth and exploded. There was a heavy rain of dark earth. It pattered against all the pieces. It showered men and horses, and for a minute made a thick twilight of the air. "Whew! the Earth's taking a hand! Anybody hurt?"—"Howitzer, load !"

" Gate of Death's clear."

An artillery lieutenant, — Robert Stiles, — acting as volunteer aide to Gordon, was to make his way across the battle-field with information for Edward Johnson. The ground was strewn with the dead, the air was a shrieking torrent of shot and shell. The aide and his horse thought only of the thing in hand — getting across that field, getting across with the order. The aide bent to the horse's neck; the horse laid himself to the ground and raced like a wild horse before a prairie fire. The aide thought of nothing; he was going to get the order there; for the rest his mind seemed as useless as a mirror with a curtain before it. Afterwards, however, when he had time to look he found in the mirror pictures enough. Among them was a picture of a battalion —Latimer's battalion. "Never, before or after, did I see fifteen or twenty guns in such a condition of wreck and destruction as this battalion was! It had been hurled back-ward, as it were by the very weight and impact of metal, from the position it had occupied on the crest of a little ridge, into a saucer-shaped depression behind it; and such a scene as it presented!—guns dismounted and disabled, carriages splintered and crushed, ammunition chests exploded, limbers upset, wounded horses plunging and kicking, dashing out the brains of men tangled in the harness; while cannoneers with pistols were crawling round through the wreck shooting the struggling horses to save the lives of the wounded men."

Hood and his Texans and Law's Alabamians were trying to take Little Round Top. They drove out the line of sharpshooters behind the stone wall girdling the height. Back went the blue, up the steeps, up to their second line, behind a long ledge of rock. Up and after went the grey. The tall boulders split the advance like the teeth of a comb; no alignment could be kept. The rocks formed defiles where only two or three could go abreast. The way was steep and horrible, and from above rained the bullets. Up went the grey, reinforced now by troops from McLaws's division; up they went and took the second line. Back and up went the blue to the bald and rocky crest, to their third line, a stronghold, indeed, and strongly held. Up and on came the grey, but it was as though the sky were raining lead. The grey fell like leaves in November when the winds howl around Round Top. Oh, the boulders! The blood on the boulders, making them slippery! Oh, the torn limbs of trees, falling so fast! The eyes smarted in the smoke; the voice choked in the throat. All men were hoarse with shouting.

Darkness and light went in flashes,but the battle odour stayed, and the unutterable volume of sound. All the dogs of war were baying. The muscles strained, the foot mounted. Forward and up went the battle-flag, red ground and blue cross. Now the boulders were foes, and now they were shields. Men knelt behind them and fired up-ward. Officers laid aside their swords, took the muskets from the dead, knelt and fired. But the crest of Round Top darted lightnings— lightnings and bolts of leaden death. Death rained from Round Top, and the drops beat down the grey. Hood was badly hurt in the arm. Pender fell mortally wounded. Anderson was wounded. Semmes fell mortally wounded. Barksdale received here his death-wound. Amid the howl of the storm, in the leaden air, in scorching, in blood and pain and tumult and shouting, the small, unheeded disk of the sun touched the western rim of the earth.

A wounded man lay all night in Devil's Den. There were other wounded there, but the great boulders hid them from one another. This man lay in a rocky angle, upon the overhanging lip of the place. Below him, smoke clung like a cerement to the far-flung earth. For a time smoke was about him, thick in his nostrils. For a time it hid the sky. But now all firing was stayed, the night was wheeling on, and the smoke lifted. Below, vague in the night-time, were seen flickering lights — torches, he knew, ambulances, litter-bearers, lifting, serving one in a hundred. They were far away, scattered over the stricken field. They would not come up here to Devil's Den. He knew they would not come, and he watched them as the ship-wrecked watch the sail upon the horizon that has not seen their signal, and that will not see it. He, shipwrecked here, had waved no cloth, but, idle as it was, he had tried to shout. His voice had fallen like a broken-winged bird. Now he lay, in a pool of his own blood, not greatly in pain, but dying. Presently he grew light-headed, though not so much so but that he knew that he was light-headed, and could from time to time reason with his condition. He was a reading man, and something of a thinker, and now his mind in its wanderings struck into all manner of by-paths.

For a time he thought that the field below was the field of Water-loo. He remembered seeing, while it was yet light, a farmhouse, a distant cluster of buildings with a frightened air. "La Belle Alliance," he thought, "or Hougomont — which ? — These Belgians planted a lot of wheat, and now there are red poppies all through it. — Where is Ney and his cavalry? No, Stuart and his cavalry —" His mind righted for a moment. "This is a long battle, and a long night. Come, Death! Come, Death!" The shadowy line of boulders became a line of Deaths, tall, draped figures bearing scythes. Three Deaths, then a giant hour-glass, then three Deaths, then the hour-glass. He stared, fascinated. "Which scythe ? The one that starts out of line — now if I can keep them still in line — just so long will I live!" He stared for a while, till the Deaths became boulders again and his fingers fell to playing with the thickening blood on the ground beside him. A meteor pierced the night — a white fire-ball thrown from the ramparts of the sky. He seemed to be rushing with it, rushing, rushing, rushing, — a rushing river. There was a heavy sound. As his head sank back he saw again the line of Deaths, and the one that left the line.

Below, through the night, the wind that blew over the wheat-fields and the meadows, the orchards and the woods, was a moaning wind. It was a wind with a human voice.

Dawn came, but the guns smeared her translucence with black. The sun rose, but the ravens' wings hid him. Dull red and sickly copper was this day, hidden and smothered by dark wreaths. Many things happened in it, variation and change that cast a tendril toward the future.

Day drove on; sultry and loud and smoky. A squad of soldiers in a fence corner, waiting for the order forward, exchanged opinions. "Three days. We're going to fight forever — and ever — and ever." — "You may be. I ain't. I'm going to fight through to where there's peace —" "`Peace!' How do you spell it ?" — "`They cry Peace! Peace! and there is no Peace!'" — "D' ye reckon if one of us took a bucket and went over to that spring there, he'd be shot ?" — "Of course he would! Besides, where's the bucket ?" — "I've got a canteen." — "I've got a cup —" "Say, Sergeant, can we go ?" — "No. You'll be killed." — "I'd just as soon be killed as to perish of thirst! Besides, a shell'll come plumping down directly and kill us anyhow." —" Talk of something pleas-ant." — "Jim's caught a grasshopper! Poor little hoppergrass, you ought n't to be out here in this wide and wicked world! Let him go, Jim." — "How many killed and wounded do you reckon there are?" — "Thirty thousand of us, and sixty thousand of them." — "I wish that smoke would lift so's we could see something!"—"Look out! Look out ! Get out of this!"

Two men crawled away from the crater made by the shell. A heavy tussock of grass in their path stopped them. One rose to his knees, the other, who was wounded, took the posture of the dying Gaul in the Capitoline. "Who are you?" said the one. —"I am Jim Dudley. Who are you?"— "I — I did n't know you, Jim. I'm Randolph. — Well, we're all that 's left."

The dead horses lay upon this field one and two and three days in the furnace heat. They were fearful to see and there came from them a fetid odour. But the scream of the wounded horses was worse than the sight of the dead. There were many wounded horses. They lay in wood and field, in country lane and orchard. No man tended them, and they knew not what it was all about. To and fro and from side to side of the vast, cloud-wreathed Mars's Shield galloped the riderless horses.

At one of the clock all the guns, blue and grey, opened in a cannonade that shook the leaves of distant trees. A smoke as of Vesuvius or AEtna, sulphurous, pungent, clothed the region of battle. The air reverberated and the hills trembled. The roar was like the roar of the greatest cataract of a larger world, like the voice of a storm sent by the King of all the Genii. Amid its deep utterance the shout even of many men could not be heard.

Out from the ranks of the fortress's defenders rushed a grey, world-famous charge. It was a division charging — three brigades en ιchelon, —five thousand men, led by a man with long auburn locks. Down a hill, across a rolling open, up an opposite slope, — half a mile in all, perhaps, — lay their road. Mars and Bellona may be figured in the air above it. It was a spectacle, that charge, fit to draw the fierce eyes and warm the gloomy souls of all the warrior deities. Woden may have watched and the Aztec god. The blue artillery crowned that opposite slope, and other slopes. The blue artillery swung every muzzle; it spat death upon the five thou-sand. The five thousand went steadily, grey and cool and clear, the vivid flag above them. A light was on their bayonets — the three lines of bayonets — the three brigades, Garnett and Kemper and Armistead. A light was in the eyes of the men; they saw the fortress above the battle clouds; they saw their homes, and the watchers upon the ramparts. They went steadily, to the eyes of history in a curious, unearthly light, the light of a turn in human affairs, the light of catastrophe, the light of an ending and a beginning.

When they came into the open between the two heights, the massed blue infantry turned every rifle against them. There poured a leaden rain of death. Here, too, the three lines met an enfilading fire from the batteries on Round Top. Death howled and threw himself against the five thousand; in the air above might be heard the Valkyries calling. There were not now five thousand, there were not now four thousand. There was a clump of trees seen like spectres through the smoke. It rose from the slope which was the grey goal, from the slope peopled by Federal batteries, with a great Federal infantry support at hand. Toward this slope, up this slope, went Pickett's charge.

Garnett fell dead. Kemper and Trimble were desperately wounded. Save Pickett himself, all mounted officers were down. The men fell — the men fell; Death swung a fearful scythe. There were not now four thousand, there were not now three thousand. And still the vivid flag went on; and still, high, thrilling, clear and dauntless, rose from Pickett's charge the "rebel yell."

There was a stone wall to cross. Armistead, his hat upon the point of his waved sword, leaped upon the coping. A bullet pierced his breast; he fell, was captured, and the next day died. By now, by now the charge was whittled thin! Oh, thick as the leaves of Vallombrosa, the fortress's dearest and best lay upon that slope beneath the ravens' wings! On went the thin, fierce ranks, on and over the wall, on and up, into the midst of the enemy's guns. The two flags strained toward each other; the hands of the grey were upon the guns of the blue; there came a wild mκlιe. . . . There were not two thousand now, and the guns were yet roaring, and the blue infantry gathered from all sides.

"The smoke," says one Luther Hopkins, a grey soldier who was at Gettysburg, "the smoke rose higher and higher and spread wider and wider, hiding the sun, and then, gently dropping back, hid from human eyes the dreadful tragedy. But the battle went on and on, and the roar of the guns continued. After a while, when the sun was sinking to rest, there was a hush. The noise died away. The winds came creeping back from the west, and gently lifting the coverlet of smoke, revealed a strange sight. The fields were all carpeted, a beautiful carpet, a costly carpet, more costly than Axminster or velvet. The figures were horses and men all matted and woven together with skeins of scarlet thread."

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com