One of my favorite sketches from Gettysburg is of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, atop Oak Hill, near the place where fighting first started in Gettysburg on July 1.
I like this sketch for two reasons. First because I think it captures what I wanted to sketch in the first place and second, because I like what this monument represents: the coming together of North and South to create a mutual and strong statement about peace. During the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913, Civil War veterans from the north and the south agreed that there should be monument to the reconciliation of the the two sides. I would take another 25 year to see the completion of the monument.
Despite the Great Depression, funds where raised both from states of the north and south to construct the monument. The shaft is made of Maine granite and Alabama limestone (reminiscent of the fighting on Little Round Top). The 47 and a half foot shaft is crowned by a bronze urn that contains a flame that burns 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. It is said that this eternal flame was the inspiration for flame that burns continuously at President John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
The monument was dedicated on the 75th Anniversary of the battle on July 3rd, 1938. The key note speaker was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 250,000 people attended the dedication including 1,800 Civil War veterans, all of them in their 90’s or older. This was the last major reunion of Civil War veterans to ever take place.
I think all the members of congress should visit this monument to peace. The drive from Washington DC is an hour and a half but the journey would be worth their while. Here they would look at and contiplate meaning of this monument to peace, reconciliation, and working for the greater good of the country. This is why it was built, by both North and South and today’s politicians owe it to them and the future of the country to work together.
In my sketch, I added the cannon in the foreground, pointing up toward the monument. Perhaps this was an unconscious message that peace and reconciliation is always under threat. Before January 6, this might seem like an extreme statement but it now seems a possible reality.
This nation will hopefully have only one Civil War.
When the North and the South met in the southern Pennsylvanian town of Gettysburg, many in the town fled. People left their homes, farmers abandoned their fields, and the others took the last train out of town. At the time of the battle, Gettysburg had a population of 2,300.
The armies co-opted buildings, farm fields, orchards, and roads for their own uses. General Lee set up his headquarters northwest of town in a house.
In Gettysburg, east of Cemetery Ridge, General Meade’s headquarters was set up in a small, two room farmhouse. The farmhouse on Taneytown Road, belonged to the Leister family. The widow Lydia Leister and her children had left their home before the battle. The house was perfectly situated behind the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge.
Perhaps the house was a little too close to the line because it was damaged during the Confederate artillery assault that preceded Pickett’s Charge.
When you see the house today, it is amazing to note that the building is very small. It is even harder to imagine the Meade’s “council of generals” that occurred here in the cramped front room on the evening of July 2, 1863. The room was filled with twelve Union generals. This perhaps was one of the most important meetings of generals, in the entire Civil War because the Union was on the cusp of the turning point of the war but they one more battle to fight, on the last day of fighting on July 3 at Gettysburg.
When Lydia Leister returned to her farm house after the battle, she found it damaged and there were seventeen dead horses in her yard. Her orchard was destroyed and her horse and cow were gone. She was never really compensated by the government for the damage incurred. This is the sort collateral damage of war that we don’t often hear about in history. The people, the civilians, who suffered because a general chose their town as a desirable place to make a stand and fight.
Amazingly enough, there was only one civilian causualty during the Battle of Gettysburg. On July 3, Jennie Wade was baking bread in her sister’s house on Baltimore Street when a Confederate’s sniper round passed through two doors and hit Wade in the back. She had been baking bread for Union troops.
One of the most sketchable locations on the Gettysburg Battlefield is Devil’s Den.
Some of the most intense fighting on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg occurred in and around this collection of volcanic rocks. Like the odd house at the end of the cul de sac from my childhood that we deemed “haunted”, Devil’s Den, as legend has it, was believed to be the den of a serpent named “Devil”. This was the haunted grounds of urban legend for the youth of Gettysburg, even before the battle enveloped the town.
At this location, on the afternoon of July 2, Major General Daniel Sickle’s left flank was placed here under the command of Captain John Smith’s artillery battery. HIs position was attacked from the west by Confederates from Texas, Alabama, and Georgia. The Confederates overran the Union’s position and took Devil’s Den. They used this location to position sharpshooters to fired at the Union soldiers on Little Round Top.
The landscape now bears the ghastly and ghoulish names of this bloody encounter. The place names seem to be taken from the macabre works of Poe: the Slaughter Pen, Bloody Run, and the Valley of Death.
Devil’s Den was one of my favorite sketching locations at Gettysburg. I have always loved to sketch and paint the contours, layers, and textures of rocks and Devil’s Den supplied these in spades. I was very intentional with my sketching position. The rock in the foreground of the sketch (featured sketch) is a rock that is not featured or named on any interpretive signs at Devil’s Den. This rock is known as the Waud Rock.
The rock is named after battlefield sketcher, Alfred Waud. Waud followed the Army of the Potomic and sketched almost every battle that the army was engaged in. While many focus on the rise of photography during the Civil War, a sketcher amongst the carnage and danger of a live battle is very intriguing to me. When Waud was at Devil’s Den, he was photographed by Alexander Gardner as he sits on the rock that now bears his name.
While I was sketching the rocks, an elderly visitor came up and had a chat. He thought I was reading a book but I told him I was sketching the Waud Rock. He didn’t seem to be very impressed but I could tell that the reason he had approached me was because he wanted me to know that one of his distant relatives had fought at Little Round Top.
I sketched part of the spread seated on Waud Rock, in Waud’s, exact position, somehow summoning the sprit of this amazing sketcher through my backside.
On July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, General Lee put a massive force on a frontal assault, across open ground, towards the Union’s line on Cemetery Ridge. This was to be the decisive battle of the campaign. And it’s outcome would dictate the future direction of the Civil War.
The assault first started at 1:00 PM with a massive artillery bombardment towards the Union line. Some 150 Confederate cannons tenderized the heart of the Union position. With all the cannon fire came a lot of smoke, which made aiming at your intended target problematic. Many rebel shells overshot their target, hence the shells that struck General Meade’s headquarters, which was further east from the heart of the Union line, but apparently not further east enough. The artillery assault did not break or severely weaken the Union center but Lee proceeded with the second part of this plan, the infantry charge.
At about 3:00 PM, the assault, which came to be known as Pickett’s Charge, began. The 6,000 Union troops positioned on Cemetery Ridge saw a line of Confederate soldiers appear out of the woods a mile away. The line was almost a mile in length. Pickett’s Charge had begun.
General George Pickett was another interesting figure in the Civil War. His classmates at West Point referred to him as the “goat”. Today that term, when applied to elite athletes, means “Greatest Of All Time” but in Pickett’s time it referred to his academic performance; he was last in his 1846 class at West Point. Pickett cut his teeth during the Mexican War fighting with many of the men he was now fighting against. While the charge now bears his name, Pickett was one of three commanders that led the charge. The charge could have bore any name of those behind it “Longstreet” or “Lee” but for whatever reason, it has gone down in history as “Pickett’s Charge”.
The 12,500 Confederate troops moved over the open ground towards the Emmitsburg Road. They were now open targets for the Union infantry and artillery that waited for them. Union artillery started to blow holes in the rebel line but the charge still moved on as holes in their advancing line was plugged by soldiers marching behind.
One of the Confederate commanders under Pickett was General Lewis Armistead. His story exemplifies the irony of the Civil War as brother fought brother and friend fought friend. Armistead was leading his men to attack one of his dear friends from his US Army days: Major General Winifred Scott Hancock.
Both men became friends while serving in California. In 1861, Armistead resigned from the US Army to join the Confederate Army (Armistead was a native of North Carolina). Hancock’s wife held a going away party for the men who where leaving to fight for the Southern cause and this was the last time that Armistead and Hancock spent together. Before he left, Armistead gave Mrs. Hancock his prayer book. Who know what was going through Armistead’s mind as he advanced toward this good friend with murderous intent. Could he really raise his sword against his friend?
The Confederates continued to move west toward Cemetery Ridge and as they moved closer, their losses grew higher. Still they advanced, filling in the holes caused by death and injury with men at the back. Still they marched towards the Copse of Trees.
The south concentrated there attack on the stone wall the turned in at a 90 degree angle. This location became known as “The Angle” or the “Bloody Angle”. Armistead led his men, his hat on sword point towards The Angle.
The Confederates reached what is know was the High Water Mark, on Cemetery Ridge. The High Water Mark is the farthest the Southern Army ever advanced into the north and it is where they where stopped, dead in their tracks, literally. This was the climax of the Confederate offensive, after this point, the South would be on the defensive for the remainder of the war.
Armistead reached a Union cannon after jumping over the small stone wall that formed The Angle. Armistead and this men were surrounded by Union troops and they were fired upon at point-blank range. The general was mortally wounded and he died without ever seeing his friend Hancock, who was also injured in the battle but he survived his wounds.
Pickett’s Charge had run out of steam and they soon where retreating back to the west. In this failed charge, 6,000 confederate soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. Half of Pickett’s division was gone. When General Lee saw Pickett, he ordered him to reassemble his division to cover the retreat. General Pickett replied, “General, I have no division.”