Breaking my travel-imposed silence to post this news about Alonzo Cushing being awarded the Medal of Honor. Cushing’s one of the lowest-ranked Gettysburg veterans I can name, and almost every book on the battle will mention his brave actions in the face of his mounting wounds.
Despite two severe wounds, Cushing, 22, stayed at his post and directed artillery fire upon hordes of Confederates charging the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge — a doomed assault known as Pickett’s Charge. A bullet to the head finally felled the young officer.
More than 151 years after his heroic service, Cushing will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously, the White House announced Tuesday.
Union Major Frank Haskell served with the big name generals on the hottest part of the field during Pickett’s Charge. A few months later, he wrote this epic, vivid, picturesque description of the full battle for Gettysburg to his brother. It’s a long read but well worth your time – beautifully written and full of detail.
The outpost skirmish that I have mentioned, soon subsided. I suppose it was the natural escape of the wrath which the men had, during the night, hoarded up against each other, and which, as soon as they could see in the morning, they could no longer contain, but must let it off through their musket barrels, at their adversaries. At the commencement of the war such firing would have awaked the whole army and roused it to its feet and to arms; not so now. The men upon the crest lay snoring in their blankets, even though some of the enemy’s bullet dropped among them, as if bullets were as harmless as the drops of dew around them. As the sun arose to-day, the clouds became broken, and we had once more glimpses of sky, and fits of sunshine—a rarity, to cheer us. From the crest, save to the right of the Second Corps, no enemy, not even his outposts could be discovered, along all the position where he so thronged upon the Third Corps yesterday. All was silent there—the wounded horses were limping about the field; the ravages of the conflict were still fearfully visible—the scattered arms and the ground thickly dotted with the dead—but no hostile foe.
Here’s something I would never have expected to blog about: A heavy metal rock opera about the battle of Gettysburg. The Iced Earth lyricist does a pretty good job of summarizing each day of the fight – Buford’s defense and Reynolds’ death, Longstreet’s doubts, the struggle for Little Round Top, Hancock and Armistead’s friendship. The video is nicely produced. Best of all, for me, was the inclusion of captions – I’m far from fluent in metal.
This Washington Post writer seems to be a humorist rather than an editorial writer, but she acquits herself splendidly here, talking about the changing interpretation of Gettysburg’s battle, importance, and even the visitor’s center.
I particularly liked this passage:
This randomness is the part of military history that has always fascinated me. You miss a sunken road on your map, and Waterloo is a defeat instead of a victory. You misplace three cigars with orders wrapped around them, and Antietam suddenly grows more complicated. You shoot at what you take to be an enemy riding in the woods, and you have killed Stonewall Jackson. Hold the heights for an hour longer, for two hours longer, and the course of history shifts.
It’s the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address; the “little speech” that made a big impact.
Abraham Lincoln’s carefully crafted address, secondary to other presentations that day, came to be regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history. In just over two minutes, Lincoln reiterated the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the Civil War as a struggle for the preservation of the Union sundered by the secession crisis, with “a new birth of freedom,” that would bring true equality to all of its citizens. Lincoln also redefined the Civil War as a struggle not just for the Union, but also for the principle of human equality.
I was thinking of which version to post to celebrate the sesquicentennial, and it occurred to me that this clip from Ken Burns’ The Civil War is perfect: You get David McCullough’s gentle narration of the day’s events, Shelby Foote’s drawling explanation of Lincoln’s “failure”, and Sam Watterson reciting the speech in that flat, Midwestern accent which lends an authenticity to the whole thing. (Plus – hey, Ashokan Farewell.)
For the sesquicentennial, Ken Burns is urging Americans to learn, recite and share the Gettysburg Address. I particularly liked this little video of Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld – two men who speak for a living – discussing the speech.
Given Lincoln’s love of contemporary humorists (and dirty jokes), he would probably have appreciated them as much as they appreciate him.
As this behind-the-scenes footage demonstrates, C.K. was going for something more subtle—with help from his director, Jerry Seinfeld, who, at the top of the video, explains to C.K. that the Gettysburg Address “refocused the American ideal from the Constitution to the Declaration of Independence … That’s why the speech changed America.”
Torontoist discusses William McDougall, the Toronto politician who hobnobbed with Lincoln, Seward et al. at Gettysburg in November, 1863. Great little article, though I’m not sure I buy their estimate of “tens of thousands” of Canadians dying in the war.
It was only about 270 words long, but the Gettysburg Address has resounded for generations. Abraham Lincoln’s appearance on a podium in the small Pennsylvania farm town on November 19, 1863, has been reported upon, debated, studied by academics, memorized by school children, and mythologized in fiction and on film. Newspaper coverage of the day sometimes reflected a correspondent’s faithful observations, sometimes was tinted by an editor’s party affiliation. Conflicting and contradictory recollections of eyewitnesses, repeated—mistakes and all—in countless magazine articles and books, hardened into conventional wisdom. Certain persistent myths that the president had hastily composed the speech on a scrap of paper aboard the train, for example were long trusted as fact until debunked by another generation of scholars.
Among these layers of fact and legend is the tale of William McDougall. A Toronto lawyer, newspaperman, and politician, McDougall attended the Gettysburg Address by special invitation of President Lincoln. Like so many other versions of that day, McDougall’s account, recounted to and recorded by his descendants, contains a mix of both confirmed fact and unsubstantiated anecdote.
I stumbled across an article that mentioned an Oscar-winning Gettysburg documentary. Turns out, it’s included as an extra on the decided Oscar-unwinning Gettysburg DVD. Because the Internet is awesome, you can view the entire thing on YouTube without having to suffer through Tom Berenger and all those fake beards. It’s narrated by the late, great Leslie Nielsen (who has adopted a strange New England-ish accent for the task) and it’s almost Ken Burns-like in its editing, but with Gettysburg monuments instead of period photographs providing the illustration.
I went to the Smithsonian site through another link, but found this new article (penned by Tony Horwitz!) in the sidebar. A fascinating look at how technology can be used to evaluate historical mysteries, such as why Lee pressed an assault at Gettysburg when Longstreet was convinced it would fail.
Her principal tool is geographic information systems, or GIS, a name for computer programs that incorporate such data as satellite imagery, paper maps and statistics. Knowles makes GIS sound simple: “It’s a computer software that allows you to map and analyze any information that has a location attached.” But watching her navigate GIS and other applications, it quickly becomes obvious that this isn’t your father’s geography.
First, a modern topographical map of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, appears on her screen. “Not enough detail,” she says, going next to a contour map of the same landscape made in 1874, which she has traced and scanned. “Here’s where the carto-geek in me comes out,” she says, running her finger lovingly across the map and noting how it distinguishes between hardwood forest, pine woods and orchards—the kind of fine-grained detail that is crucial to her work…
What emerges, in the end, is a “map” that’s not just color-coded and crammed with data, but dynamic rather than static—a layered re-creation that Knowles likens to looking at the past through 3-D glasses. The image shifts, changing with a few keystrokes to answer the questions Knowles asks. In this instance, she wants to know what commanders could see of the battlefield on the second day at Gettysburg. A red dot denotes General Lee’s vantage point from the top of the Lutheran Seminary. His field of vision shows as clear ground, with blind spots shaded in deep indigo. Knowles has even factored in the extra inches of sightline afforded by Lee’s boots. “We can’t account for the haze and smoke of battle in GIS, though in theory you could with gaming software,” she says.