Wednesday, July 2, 2008

145 Years Ago In The Valley Of Death

Today marks the 145th anniversary of the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Throughout the day there was vicious fighting all along the famous Union "fishhook" line, running from Culp's Hill down to Little Round Top and the base of Big Round Top. The carnage along the line was so intense and so chaotic that reasonable estimates of casualties in places like the Wheatfield, the Slaughter Pen, and the Valley of Death are impossible to calculate and only final tallies of total casualties for the battle are possible.
The Confederate army surged against the Union lines in famous fighting at Cemetery and Culp's Hill on the northern part of the field, but the Army of the Potomac stubbornly held its position, even as the fighting carried on into the darkness. On the southern and central sectors, other famous names were born amidst the savage fighting at Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and along the Emmitsburg Road.
This battle was tremendously complex, with thousands of men crisscrossing along miles of territory. Of these countless legions, some names would join the pantheon of famous American warriors: Chamberlain, Crawford, Hancock, Vincent, Warren, Hood, Oates. These men are forever emblazoned into our history not only for their individual acts, but as representatives of the efforts of the thousands that they led in battle.
At the end of the day, the two armies stared at each other across a No Man's Land strewn with casualties. It is hard to picture virgin American farmland covered with blood and gore like something out of the D-Day scene in "Saving Private Ryan", but on this field, like thousands of others on hundreds of days during the Civil War, that was the reality.
The battle was not yet decided, and it would be left to a third day of fighting to decide this contest.

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