I’m sure Oliver wouldn’t be offended by a small diversion from his story for a little Gettysburg report in honor of those who gave their “last full measure” on what is quite possibly the world’s most popular battlefield. It’s about noon on Memorial Day 2012 and there is a nice crowd here at Gettysburg which I find somewhat refreshing. Most don’t wander far from the comfort of their vehicle or bus (there are some tour groups moving through). Only a few are crazy like me and strap on a backpack to head out on the trails. It’s a beautiful day but humid and in the upper 80s as I hike through legendary places like Devil’s Den, Little Round Top and Big Round Top. In addition to the physical fitness training aspect, I’m working on a reconnaissance for a future staff ride focused on the 20th Maine and COL Chamberlain. I need to walk the ground again and attempt to gain some empathy for those boys from Maine and Alabama.
As I move up the face of Little Round Top, the same question returns to me…how did the officers get the men to do it? By it I mean, following them into a hail of bullets. Attacking up the steep, rocky slope or charging the attacking enemy with only your bayonet. It doesn’t matter how, it’s just the why that distresses me. But, it’s the same answer every time; they followed their officers and stood beside their friends. They trusted Colonels Chamberlain and Oates as competent officers. Most soldiers would have preferred death to leaving their friends on the left and right then being branded as a coward. Oliver’s letters have made this clear.That’s the significance of Memorial Day that so often is missing in the popular culture. It is a day of death or dying to be more accurate. Trusting the men on your left and right not to leave you in the midst of the fight. Following the man leading you even if it means never seeing home again. Willing to march forward into the hellish storm of shot and shell and, if necessary, die for your country. That’s what Oliver Case envisioned in his words…die like a man.
I returned to my comfortable car and moved on to stop and pay tribute to my direct ancestor who fought here. In doing so, I found a surprise little tidbit of Gettysburg history that probably isn’t covered in any of the standard tours. In fact, you’ll have to go deep to find much written about it.
My g-g grandfather’s brigade, Wright’s Georgia Brigade, penetrated to within a stone’s throw of the famous copse of tree along Cemetery Ridge, not on Day 3 during Pickett’s Charge, but on Day 2! An almost hidden tablet marks the spot where the brigade took advantage of a seam in the Union line of General John Gibbon’s division of troops operating as part of General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps. Gibbon recalled Wright’s men charging through what he called a “vacancy in our line to the left of my division.” The dilemma for Wright was that no other Confederate forces had moved with his brigade and he could hold the high ground his men had fought to win. Wright soon ordered the regiments of the brigade to retire back to the Confederate line near the Bliss farm.
For more detail on Wright’s Brigade at Gettysburg:
Colonel Wright’s report
Battle of Gettysburg: Fury at Bliss Farm from Historynet
3rd Georgia (part of Wright’s Brigade) at Gettysburg with description and photos