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.
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.”
Three million people visit Gettysburg National Military Park every year, making it one of the most visited battlefields in American History.
People come to this battlefield to look over the landscape, read the carved marble words on monuments, and photograph the bronze statues.
There are 1,400 monuments, statues, markers, and tablets spread across the roughly 25 acres of the former battlefield of Gettysburg. The battle was fought over three days on July 1, 2, and 3 of 1863 in, but mostly around the town of Gettysburg.
So why did the Battle of Gettysburg happen at Gettysburg? General Lee moved the Army of Northern Virginia through Maryland and up into Pennsylvania in an attempt to cause a battle that would force Lincoln into peace talks. Looking at a map of Gettysburg, we see that all roads lead to this town, from all points on the compass. And there was plenty of coveted high ground to the north and south of Gettysburg.
Over the next few posts I will share some of the many sketches I did at Gettysburg (summoning my inner Alfred Waud). I spend three days exploring the rich history of this battlefield and it provided many sketching opportunities.
Before I go one any trip I like to add a title page and a map to my sketchbooks.
For my trip to Civi War battlefields in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania I chose to bring two Stillman and Birn hard cover watercolor journals. One is my new go-to favorite, the panoramic Delta Series journal. And the other is a Beta Series 5.5 ” X 8.5″ sketchbook. I love both of these papers and they are great for sketching on the road with pen and watercolor.
In the Delta journal I created the title page based on the famous image from Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War, of a silhouetted canon and a glorious sunset in the background. This footage was filmed at Manassas in Virginia. This opening page is the featured sketch.
In my Beta sketchbooks I created a map of the places I would be visiting. All of the locations I would be visiting where within 90 minutes of each other. I distressed the map, covering it in mud and blood. Perhaps I added too much “blood”, but somehow since this is the Civil War it was fitting. It is estimated that about 620,000 Americans lost their lives during the Civil War.
In my Beta, created to spread to synthesize a lot of the information about my trip in a creative way. It is a montage of all the important facts of the trip. Well some of them at any rate. This was a fun page to do and involved a few different sketching techniques.