Five Mishaps At The Battle Of Gettysburg
From July 1-3, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg waged in southern Pa. The battle was the bloodiest of the Civil War with over 26,000 casualties and many scholars feel that this was the turning point of the entire conflict. A combination of strange events occurred before and after the battle that often don’t make it into your school books. This is the type of history that I find the most interesting. Here are five things you might not have known about the Battle of Gettysburg.
Gettysburg is one of the most famous battles of the Civil War. If you ask most people to name a battle, this is the one that they most often mention. Ironically, the fight might never have started here if it wasn’t for a few grand-standing Confederate officers. The town of Gettysburg had only about 2000 people in it in 1863. One thing that it did have was a convergence of a dozen roads that spread out through Pennsylvania and Virginia. As the Confederate army moved forward, their scouts - led by General J.E.B. Stuart - went missing. In fact, he was fighting the Union cavalry, but he blinded General Lee without reports of troop movements. Confederate General Johnston Pettigrew had men looking for supplies. He was under express orders from General Robert E. Lee not to engage the enemy. Unfortunately, he came across Union General John Buford and the battle of Gettysburg began. As a note, it is often stated that Pettigrew’s men were looking for shoes and thought of raiding a shoe factory in Gettysburg. There was no such order and no shoe factories in Gettysburg.
Just days before the Battle of Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee suffered a heart attack. According to the University of Virginia Health Sciences in Charlottesville, Lee had ischemic heart disease. A couple of days prior to the battle, he suffered a heart attack. Many believe this heart attack may have been a major influence on poor judgement during the battle. Would Lee have ordered Pickett’s Charge had he been well? Would the missing JEB Stuart have happened if Lee had given more specific instructions? As the legend goes, Lee later died of a broken heart over the loss of the war, but it is more likely is was caused by advanced coronary atherosclerosis.
Things were no different on the Union side of the war. Seventy-two hours prior to the battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln decided to make an important personnel change. He removed Major General Joseph Hooker from command of the Army of the Potomac and replaced him with Major General George G. Meade. Hooker had embarrassed the Union with a devastating loss at the Battle of Chancellorsville. As you can imagine, the Union generals were not eager to have a new boss on the eve of the greatest battle of the Civil War. With only three days warning, he also did not have the military intelligence of the battlefield and was ineffective in how he used the Union troops. If it had not been for the distinguished service of the some of the men fighting for the Union army, it is quite possible that Gettysburg would have been lost, as well. Furthermore, Abraham Lincoln was not the most complimentary boss. After the battle, he chastised Meade for not chasing down Lee and the rest of the Confederate army.
With three days of battle completed, the little town of Gettysburg was devastated. What buildings were left standing were riddled with bullets and shrapnel. The armies were gone, but the bodies of men, horses, and livestock were everywhere. The civilians were left to clean up the mess. Tens of thousands of men were wounded. Thousands were dead and there were no hospitals to help the men. Over three thousand horses died during the battle and their bodies were piled up and set on fire. The fumes became so bad that people became very ill from the stench. Men were buried where they fell. It is said that their spirits still haunt the town and you can take a “Ghost Tour” of Gettysburg today.
The Gettysburg Address. One of Lincoln’s most powerful and memorable speeches occurred on November 19, 1863 - just four months after the battle. This speech is regarded as one of the best Presidential speeches of all time. Well, NOT at the time that Lincoln gave the speech, but it is today. His speech, which is only 247 words long, followed a two hour oration given by US Representative Edward Everett. Lincoln took the stage and addressed his audience. The newsmen of the day found the speech disappointing. Journalist Gabor Boritt, from the Chicago Times, called it “silly, dishwatery utterances”. Many people said that Lincoln was very brief and his voice was high-pitched and shallow. There wasn’t even time to get a picture of the President. Many thought he either didn’t care about the town of Gettysburg or was weary from the war. While we may never know of what was going through Lincoln’s mind as he delivered those words, the truth of the matter was that he was suffering from the early stages of smallpox. (see: Five World Leaders Who Had Smallpox). Lincoln may have finally succumbed to this disease had he not met his end from an assassin’s bullet.