150 Years Later, Two States Are Still Fighting Over the Battle of Gettysburg

Now I’m not racist, and I don’t condone the history of slavery and the role BOTH the United States and Africa played in it. It was a travesty that still continues to this day in certain parts of the world. And sexual slavery, and the human trafficking to feed it, is a Global Problem. However, living in Virginia, (and hear me out of this) I don’t have a problem with the flag being borrowed. You see, this state, along with Md. and PA, played a massive role in the Civil War. It was here that the Monitor and Merrimack fought their famous battle. This set the stage for the modern battleship.

Virginia also was both the Capital of the South (Richmond specifically) and the scene (Appomatox, Va. located 20 miles east of Lynchburg Va along US Rt 460) of the final surrender of the South to the North. Thus, the history of the Civil War is forever linked to the state whether people like it or not. In fact, there are entire regiments (as I’ve shown in my pictures on this blog) that are buried in Hollywood Cemetery in downtown Richmond. Most of these men died in Harper’s Ferry, Bull Run (outside Manassas Va) and Gettysburg.

Like it or not, the history is linked to us down here and I don’t feel it’s too much to borrow it for something-provided equal time is given to both the issues of states rights (which was the driving point of the war) and slavery are covered in equality. History needs to be taught freely to people and not be limited to Political Correctness, which, in my opinion, is ruining this country. The thought police will ruin a person for just saying the wrong thing. As a writer, and a defender of Free Speech (even when I find the comments offensive), it’s most troubling that we’re trying so hard to limit it. Doesn’t anyone know their history and what happens when the combination of free speech, right to defend yourself, and habeus corpus  are taken away? Dictatorships are on its heels. 

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Virginia wants a captured Confederate flag back. Minnesota’s governor says “it would be a sacrilege to return it to them.”

By Brian Resnick

Updated: June 28, 2013 | 12:54 p.m. 
June 28, 2013 | 12:40 p.m.

 

Next week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but it appears, somehow, there is still some bad blood between a pair of Northern and Southern states.

Here’s the controversy: The Minnesota Historical Society has a Confederate flag in its possession, captured from a Virginia regiment during the last day of the battle. For the sake of the anniversary, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell asked Minnesota to loan it to them (McDonnell is the governor who had declared April 2010 “Confederate History Month” at the behest of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but then apologized for not mentioning slavery in the proclamation.) Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’sresponse to the request was simple: No way.

As he told a crowd of reporters and Civil War reenactors earlier this week:

The governor of Virginia earlier this year requested that the flag be loaned, quote, unquote, to Virginia to commemorate–it doesn’t quite strike me as something they would want to commemorate, but we declined that invitation.

 

It was taken in a battle at the cost of the blood of all these Minnesotans. And I think it would be a sacrilege to return it to them. It was something that was earned through the incredible courage and valor of men who gave their lives and risked their lives to obtain it. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a closed subject.

Why the Resistance? The Abridged Story of the Virginia Flag

Marshall Sherman, 1823-1896
(via findagrave.com)
The Minnesota 1st Volunteer Infantry Regiment captured the flag on July 3, 1863, the last day of the battle. On July 2, the Minnesota 1st had suffered massive losses after being ordered to conduct a diversionary strike on the Confederates while the Union collected reinforcements. At the end of the day, only 47 out of more than 250 Minnesotan men were still alive. One of those remaining was Pvt. Marshall Sherman (pictured right; he actually sat out the battle).

The next day, Sherman along with the remaining members of the Minnesota 1st were in the the center of the Union lines when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered an assault. “Pickett’s Charge,” as it is called, is considered the high-water mark of the Confederacy.

It was a brutal, chaotic scene. “We just rushed in like wild beasts,” one Minnesotan fighter recalled. “Men swore and cursed and struggled and fought, grappled in hand-to-hand fight, threw stones, clubbed their muskets, kicked, yelled, and hurrahed.” The charge failed, leading to the Union victory at Gettysburg. 

Amid the firefight, Sherman eyed a Virginian “shouting like mad,” according to a Roanoke Timesrecollection. He was barefoot, the legend goes, as he charged the Virginian with his bayonet. Jabbing at the enemy, Sherman said, “Throw down that flag or I’ll run you through.” He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his effort.

That’s one reason the flag is so important to the state: The blood it took to get it and the valor bestowed upon Sherman for capturing it confer a historical pride. The flag remains “one of the true treasures of the Minnesota Historical Society,” as the society says on its website.

Over the years, there have been many calls for Confederate flags to be returned to their home states. President Cleveland issued even an executive order in 1887 to return the colors of a few Confederate units in an act of good will. Many scoffed at that, including former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who, according to the Roanoke Times, said that banners belong to the captors, by “all known military precedents.” Cleveland eventually rescinded the order.

In 2000, Chris Caveness, a Roanoke resident, spearheaded a federal lawsuit to get the flag back in Virginia based on a 1905 act of Congress allowing for the return of Confederate flags in possession of the War Department. From the Roanoke Times:

Caveness … enlisted his own big gun in the form of former Virginia Attorney General Anthony Troy. Helped by a cadre of Richmond Law School students, Troy wrote his own 45-page legal opinion with exhibits, arguing “federal property cannot be abandoned or disposed without Congressional assent.” Since Congress never gave the flag away, Troy concluded, Minnesota is illegally in possession of it.

The litigation did not result in action. And the skirmish over the flag continues, 150 years later.

For those interested in reading more about the fight over the flag, visit the Minnesota Historical Society.

H/T Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory

150th Anniversary of Gettysburg Provides Bigger Story

I remember going there while in High School. It was humbling to look at such a rural area and know that thousands of men fought there and it wasn’t against a foreign foe. No, it was American against American, brother against brother, in the one war that scarred this country more than any other. I hope that another one doesn’t happen but I’m starting to feel that there’s an inevitable collision course as this country continues to fracture into what can only be called ‘two America’s,’ with each having a diametrically opposite opinion about what works and the course we should take.

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(CNN) — “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863.”

So starts a powerful passage by William Faulkner in “Intruder in the Dust.” The Mississippi novelist and poet poignantly painted the scene of dry-mouthed young men anticipating battle.

But the Confederate attack, known in the annals of history as Pickett’s Charge, ended about a mile away in failure, gray-clad troops blunted by determined Union troops at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Those young boys recalled by Faulkner were stopped at the Angle, a stone wall considered the high-water mark of the Confederacy — perhaps the last chance for victory in the U.S. Civil War. Instead, the Union prevailed at Gettysburg, a turning point in the four-year war that claimed at least 620,000 lives.

This weekend and through July 7, between 200,000 and 300,000 visitors — more than the number of combatants — will flock to the town and fields of Gettysburg National Military Park to mark the 150th anniversary of the three-day clash, which cost an incredible 51,000 casualties.

Pickett’s Charge will be the climactic event of a large re-enactment this weekend outside of park boundaries. On July 3, the actual anniversary of the attack, National Park Service rangers will guide thousands of visitors in loose formation across a gently rolling field. Others will stand where Federal regiments poured rifle and artillery fire into the arc of Confederates.

The event ends with the playing of Taps by multiple musicians, a solemn remembrance of selfless sacrifice by the warriors at Gettysburg.

Times have changed since previous anniversary observances, including the 1938 reunion, at which grizzled veterans of the battle met at Gettysburg one last time in an event known for reconciliation. They shook hands across that famous wall at the Angle. Some let out the haunting Rebel Yell.

The 150th commemoration of the battle will tell a wider story than previous observances, officials told CNN.

“For decades, people came here for military and black powder,” said Carl Whitehill, media relations manager for the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Now they want to know about the civilians and what they endured during and after the battle.”

Mike Litterst of the National Park Service said interpretations at federal Civil War battlefields have evolved in the past 25 years. Besides telling the story of the battles and the homefront, exhibits increasingly stress the importance of the conflict to civil rights and the role of African-Americans, thousands of whom served in the Union Army.

About 400 events are planned over 10 days, including a second battle re-enactment next weekend.

Gettysburg National Military Park on Sunday will hold one of its 150th anniversary signature events, an evening program entitled“Gettysburg: A New Birth of Freedom.” The keynote speaker is historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Country music singer Trace Adkins and a military band will perform the national anthem.

The ceremony concludes with a procession to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where luminaries will mark each of 3,500 graves of soldiers who died at Gettysburg.

“I think it is an opportunity for people to have a deeper understanding of what happened here and how it is still relevant in 21st century America,” said Litterst.

Small town made way into history books

Gettysburg, then a bucolic town of 2,400 souls, found itself directly drawn into the Civil War during the first days of July 1863. Southern troops took the war to the North after a resounding victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville two months before.

Gen. Robert E. Lee’s soldiers on the first day of battle pushed Union troops through the town and onto hills and ridges that eventually played a large part in the battle’s outcome.

“There was street fighting in the inside (of Gettysburg),” said Whitehill. “Throughout the town, a lot of people were shooting muskets out of windows.”

Jennie Wade, while kneading dough, was fatally shot in the back on July 3, the only civilian casualty at Gettysburg,

Gettysburg, now with a population of about 7,800, and surrounding Adams County anticipate a $100 million economic impact from 150th anniversary observances.

Whitehill has spent much of his time assisting nearly 700 journalists from across the United States and abroad. Among international media are German, UK, Australian and Swiss companies.

“One of the things that amazes international visitors and media is why we re-enact this war. It is such a pivotal and painful time for this country but every year we bring it to life and re-enact it.”

The area’s 2,600 rooms and 1,800 campsites are largely filled, although a few are left.

“A lot of people move to this area for the history,” said Whitehill. “A lot of people just love being close to it.”

First aid tents all over town will assist any visitors and event participants who run into problems from the muggy and warm temperatures.

Visitors can take free shuttles into downtown and re-enactments. The National Park Service also offers shuttles and satellite parking.

Traffic flow on Friday, the first full day of 150th events, went well.

Thousands of re-enactors go back in time

Don Ernsberger led the building of a replica Pickett’s Charge stone wall for this weekend’s re-enactment at Bushey Farm.

Seventy volunteeers shaped 88 tons of stone to re-create the focal point of the march.

“The Confederates captured that angle for about five to eight minutes and the Union reinforcements came in and pushed them out.”

Ernsberger, who authored a book about the wall and the attack, will portray a Union lieutenant on Sunday.

“I wrote this book three years ago and I hope to see it happen before my eyes,” he said.

An estimatetd 10,000 re-enactors are on hand at Bushey Farm this weekend, said Kris Shelton, media and marketing coordinator for the Blue Gray Alliance, which is sponsoring the event.

The first mock battle went well Friday, said Shelton, who said organizers have detailed logistics plans for the maneuvering of troops at the site.

There’s a chance of rain for the next several days.

“We are historically accurate, but we don’t control the weather,” Shelton said.

Organizers expect tens of thousands of spectators on Saturday and Sunday.

Besides portrayals of the fighting, the re-enactment will include about 200 individuals representing the town of Gettysburg in 1863.

“The civilians living there have done careful research of the residents of the town and they have taken on their identities, including their trade and craft,” said Shelton.

Safety of participants and guests comes first, but authenticity also is a priority.

“People are here to recognize and honor and commemorate what these people went through, the sacrifices of both soldiers and civilians,” said Shelton.

The battles draw re-enactors devoted to donning the proper uniforms and equipment. They can get caught up in the heat of the battle and emotional or significant moments.

“That intensity is something that really sparks re-enactors,” she said. “That combined with leaving electronics and the modern world behind.”

Visitors and participants alike understand that real people died in battle — that freedom had a cost.

Making the battlefield historically accurate

While battle re-enactments are not permitted on National Park Service sites — the commemorative clashes will be on privately owned land — such events and the visitor experience at Gettysburg National Military Park are “not mutually exclusive,” said Litterst.

“We want that excitement to spill over to the sites and grounds where the events actually took place,” he said.

The National Park Service does not provide crowd estimates or projections, but it’s clear the park will be busy over the next week, given ranger-led hikes and special programs.

“We will probably see crowds we probably haven’t seen before, or since the centennial,” said Litterst. “For the next couple weeks, there won’t be many places to get some alone time here.”

But for those who want to get away from at least some of the hustle and bustle, he recommends a visit to the East Cavalry Battlefield Site east of town and the park’s Big Round Top, which has a great walking trail.

The battlefield looks much different from even 20 years ago as the NPS worked to make it look much closer to its 1863 appearance. Trees have been removed in some places and orchards planted.

Thousands may make the July 3 Pickett’s Charge commemorative march, timed to the actual assault.

Those with younger legs may be in front. And, like battles of old, there will be stragglers.

“There will be not be a shortage of people with stories and pictures of great-great grandfathers who made that march,” said Litterst. “That is a neat part of the story.”