29 June 2010

Pennsylvania 147 Years Ago

This evening as I sit at my lap top listening to "Appalachian Spring" by Aaron Copland, I can't help but remember what our nation has been through. One hundred and forty-seven years ago our country men were fighting for preservation and state rights. At this specific time of year, I not only think of our up-coming Independence Day (which began over 230 years ago), but I also think of the turning point of the Civil War: Gettysburg.

Everyone learns about Gettysburg in their history classes, but the significance of the actual battle never seems to take weight as the teacher lectures to the students. I did not realize the significance until the fruition of my own research and writing of my manuscript. While I write I am transported to another time and become connected to the past. However, I am not writing this entry to talk about my manuscript, but to talk about what was occurring in 1863 at this time in June, leading into the July 1st commencement of the Battle of Gettysburg...and make it real to the readers.

York, Pennsylvania was a small town in 1863, full of farmers and German immigrants. There was something different about York from any other Northern town. This town was not full of Lincoln Republicans, despite the fact that there were several households that were part of the Underground Railroad. Many disagreed with the war and did not vote for Lincoln in the second election. However, as the Confederates moved northward, house wives frantically buried their silver and gentlemen transfered their stores farther north. They'd be damned if the Rebels got ahold of their belongings!

On June 28th, 1863 (yesterday 147 years ago), the York citizens were in their Sunday finery, departing church and going calling, when Confederate General William F. Smith's brigade marched into town. General Smith turned to his aide and told him to tell the brigade band to play "Yankee Doodle" as they marched into town. As the band played, General Smith led his brigade on horseback, bowing and saluting to every pretty girl on the street. At first the York citizens were shocked and beside themselves. They didn't know what to do. But then taken up by the pageantry of their arrival, they begin to cheer enthusiastically and follow them to the town square. The general took the town square and made a humorous speech which left the citizens and his brigade applauding. He finished his speech saying:
"What we all need on both sides is to mingle more with each other, so that we shall learn to know and appreciate each other. Now here's my brigade—I wish you knew them as I do. They are such a hospitable, wholehearted, fascinating lot of gentlemen. Why, just think of it—this part of Pennsylvania is ours today; we can do what we please with it. Yet we sincerely and heartily invite you to stay! Are we not a fine set of fellows?"
Meanwhile, down the line on the Columbia-Wrightsville Railway, Union troops are hurriedly burning and exploding bridges and rails to keep the Rebels from progressing. Two days from now, Rebels and Yanks run into each other in the "sleepy" town of Gettysburg while buying shoes. It is during the next two days that our future is forever changed. Union casualties estimate 23,000 out of 88,000 troops and Confederate casualties reach 20,000 out of 75,000. A definitive moment in the battle, the famous Pickett's Charge, becomes a definitive moment in the Civil War. From this point on all is changed.

The following posts contain a video of Pickett's Charge from the movie, "Gettysburg," and archival footage of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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