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2018 Winter Lecture Series – “A Great Weight at My Heart”: The Army of the Potomac after Gettysburg


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, welcome to
Gettysburg National Military Park and, of course, welcome to today’s winter lecture. My name is Christopher Gwinn. I’m the Chief of Interpretation and Education
at Gettysburg National Military Park. And as many of you have probably heard me
joke before, I’m still learning exactly what that means. I often remark that about 80% of my day is
spent mired in bureaucracy and on a particularly good day I get 20% of what I would call history. So this is my 20%, at least for the weekend. So, thank you for being here. And we have a lot to talk about and a lot
to go over. So what I’d like to do is just kind of jump
right into it. And I’d like to begin actually 25 years after
the Battle of Gettysburg, 25 years after. The date is October 16, 1888. And let’s imagine that we’re with the citizens
of Gettysburg along the Taneytown Road on the Baltimore Street as they look
out their windows at front stoops and their offices that line those roads. They could see that day a parade of marching
men heading south towards the battlefield beyond. Now, by 25 years after the battle, that sight
had become a common one, prompting among the residents of Gettysburg in nearly equal measure
curiosity, celebration, perhaps even a twinge of sadness. Now this particular procession, this parade,
was composed of the surviving veterans of the 136th New York Infantry formerly of the
11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. And after a lapse of 25 years, these veterans
had returned to the battlefield, the same soldiers that once defended the slopes of
Cemetery Hill and the regions south of town and now returned, and within, instead of ambulances
and ammunition wagons and caissons, were their children and grandchildren, wives, family
members. And they looked out over a landscape that
in most respects bore a very strong resemblance to that which they had encountered 25 years
before — the odd house, an outbuilding, an occasional bar, but mostly open farm fields
and orchards. And it’s true, by that point the town had
grown, new buildings had been built, new roads laid, and like their own, monuments had sprung
up across the battlefield. But otherwise, Gettysburg still retain much
of that same sense of place. The road where the men had fought was still
there, the rock wall where they had sheltered themselves was still there, the tombstones
and evergreen cemetery, they were still there, too. All of it now, kind of like them, relics of
the battle, but still there. Their procession ended at their still shrouded
monument along the Taneytown Road. And when they arrived, they gathered around
and performed the kind of ceremonial tableau that would be repeated time and again on the
Battlefield of Gettysburg. The veterans stood, heads bowed, caps doffed
as prayers were read, flags unfurled, speeches delivered, and poems recited. “We think and speak of other fields,” one
soldier wrote, “but not as we think and speak of Gettysburg.” And Clinton Minor, who helped dedicate the
monument that day, he talked amount the monument and the fields that surrounded it as, quote,
“holy ground.” It would be here, their monument along with
Taneytown Road, where the men of the 136th New York would be remembered. And the veterans of the 136th New York, and
other Union veterans that would come to the battlefield and speak, they were speaking
to themselves and to their family members, but also to future generations. And if you can distill their message down
to its base alloy, their message is a fairly simple one. And that is, Gettysburg was the turning point
of the war. It was the high-water mark, it was the epic
of the conflict, it’s where the Confederate Army reached its zenith, where the blow that
would ultimately destroy the Confederacy was struck, and everything that happened before
was prologue, and everything that happened after was postscript. Gettysburg, Union Veterans contended, ranked
among the great battles of history, not only modern history but antiquity as well. As one Union Veteran said, “As Greece had
her Thermopylae and Marathon, and as the Battle of Waterloo decided the fate of Europe for
a hundred years, so Gettysburg decided the fate of this country for the next hundred.” Gettysburg, according to the veterans, the
Union Veterans, also signaled the beginning of the end of slavery. Veteran John Ramsey was a veteran of the Eighth
New Jersey, he would remind his fellow veterans that, quote, “The result of the battle decided
that this was to be a land of freemen, that the shackles of the slaves should be sold
for old iron, that the auction block should be burned.” Union Veterans argued, at least many of them,
that the skillful handling of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade earned George
Meade a place in the Pantheon of American heroes, but also ultimately get him a statue
on Cemetery Ridge. Union Veterans state, again and again and
again, that it was the fortitude of the common soldier, more than any other thing, that won
the battle. And so it would be this place, this battlefield,
where they would be remembered. And so Union Veterans returned to Gettysburg
in the hundreds and thousands and in so doing helped to create the Battlefield Park that
we have today. And they also helped to cement this narrative
of Gettysburg as the turning point of the war. But these old men, these veterans, who come
back to the battlefield in their 50s and 60s and 70s, they had one great advantage that
their former selves lacked. And that, of course, is the clarity that comes
with hindsight. When they viewed the American Civil War, and
here’s a throwback to my time in English class, when they viewed the American Civil War, the
four years of the conflict, played out with this kind of wonderful narrative arc — so
in 1861 and 1862, as the armies were formed, as they battled in Virginia and Maryland,
the action rose. And the story reached its climax in June and
July of 1863 with the Gettysburg Campaign. And then afterwards, in 1864 and 1865, the
action descended to its logical conclusion — Union victory, freedom to the enslaved,
democratic institutions preserved. To make a long story short, the war, when
it was viewed backwards, made sense in a way that it hadn’t while it was being fought. And so Union Veterans looked at Gettysburg
as the turning point because they knew what came next. They knew the end of the story. They had lived to see the campaigns of 1864,
the Siege of Petersburg, the reelection of Lincoln, the triumph of Grant over Lee at
Appomattox. But how did Union Veterans feel at the moment,
immediately after the Battle of Gettysburg? How did they share the news of what happened
there with their friends and family at home? How did they process and come to terms with
the death of their friends and comrades? Did they still regard the Battle of Gettysburg
as a turning point? What did they do in the days, weeks, and months
that followed after? What was it like for them not to remember
it, but to live it? For the remainder of our time together today,
I’d like to try to answer at least some of those questions. And to do that, I’ve established a relatively
arbitrary timespan for myself. What I’m going to do is look at the three
or so months immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg, so July, August, September
of 1863. And I’m going to limit myself to only those
writers, diary entries, journal accounts that were written at the time, while the men were
getting — living it, while they were engaged in marching and fighting, nothing from the
post-war period. And whether it’s a, you know, letter written
along the banks of the Potomac at Williamsport or amongst the woods at Warrenton, these letters
and these diary accounts and these articles — they paint a very interesting portrait
of the Union soldier after Gettysburg. They portray a Union soldier who recognizes
what was accomplished at Gettysburg and also what was not accomplished. They portray a soldier whose physical exhaustion
and ability to endure privation rivals, if not surpasses, their courage on the battlefield. They portray a Union soldier who cares about
politics, who understands the connection between the battlefield and the homefront. They show a union soldier those constant companion
is fatigue and hunger, and who was often confused, prey to gossip and rumor, and unsure of the
larger forces that decide fate. And they portray, at least in the summer of
1863, a Union soldier who is fighting for more than any other thing the right to go
home with his head help up. And so let’s join that soldier, and let’s
do so at the end of the battle, the evening, July 3, 1863. The battle was over, but no one then knew
it nor did it come to an abrupt halt. It came to kind of a sputtering conclusion
as skirmishers still fired, as pickets still blasted, as units moved and repositioned themselves. Charles Maddox of the 17th Maine, the Trobriands
Brigade, that evening learned that General Sickles had died. And he recorded the news in his diary. Others along the Union battle line shared
the news that George McClelland had arrived and taken command. And Webb’s Brigade, Philadelphians, so he
just repulsed Pickett’s charge, wrote about how they expected Little Mac’s presence at
any moment. An 11th Corps soldier reported seeing McClelland
on East Cemetery Hill, riding down the Baltimore Pike, dressed as a woman [laughter]. Less reliable reports [laughter], placed James
Longstreet among the wounded prisoners, and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard in another
Confederate Army approaching from the South. Now we all know this was true, but in the
twilight of battles, the men that were living it, any of it, might be true. “I can’t tell what is going on now,” one New
Yorker lamented, “so I’ll not try, for I hear so many rumors.” Most believed that they had delivered a heavy
blow to Lee’s army though even that depended very much on the soldier and his position
on the battlefield. Along Cemetery Ridge, Second Corps soldiers
counted up captured rebel battle flags. And the final tally was around 20, but they
were still finding them here and there, in front of the stone wall. And this was more than had been taken by the
Army of the Potomac in the first two years of the war combined. Ultimately Lee’s army would take over 40 during
the battle. In front of the position of the Twelfth Corps
on Culp’s Hill, men collected discarded rifles like they were cord wood. Ivory Jeffers of the 137th New York wrote
home to his family and said, quote, “We fought the Stonewall Brigade and whipped them. The prisoners said that it was the first time
they had ever been whipped.” From the lower level of the George Spangler
barn, 11th Corps Field Hospital, wounded men tried to gauge the progress of the battle
by the muffled roar of rifle and artillery fire and the kind of ebb-and-flow of new arrivals
to the hospital. And the soundscape is very difficult for them
to read. What could be agreed upon by virtually everyone
who survived it was that the night of July 3rd was singularly miserable. It rained, so the ground was soaked as were
the men that slept on it. Everything was wet and everything became muddy,
and the groans of the wounded were unceasing. By dawn of July 4th, the situation had coagulated
a bit. Men in the Army of the Potomac were now certain
they had not lost. And most had come to the conclusion that Lee
and the Rebel Army had been whipped. The oft-quoted Elijah Hunt Rhodes advanced
towards the now-vacant rebel battle lines and recorded, quote, “Was ever the nation’s
birthday celebrated in such a way before?” And he goes on to say, “This morning, the
Second Rhode Island was sent out front and found that during the night General Lee and
his Rebel Army had fallen back.” And still another wrote that, “quote, “Bobby
Lee will go home with his tailfeathers,” The euphoria of victory and of survival dissipated
almost as quickly as the Rebel Army vanished from the battlefield. From the lower saddle of Culp’s Hill, Lieutenant
Colonel George Cobham, commanding the 111th Pennsylvania described the scene. “All around me, as I write, our men are busy
burying the dead. The ground is literally covered with them,
and the blood standing in pools all around me is a sickening sight.” In front of the position of the Third Corps,
the men noted the decaying smell, the stench, in the air. “The stench has become awful,” one said. “I should hate to live here.” Other soldiers noticed that as soon as the
armies left, new parties arrived — gawkers, good samaritans, Army correspondents, journalists,
nurses, surgeons, graverobbers. One recorded photographic artists taking view
of groups of dead, graves, dead horses, et cetera. But most men that wrote home directly from
the battlefield did so with what I would call an economy of language. And very typical was Oliver Norton of the
Fifth Corps. He wrote, “Dear Father, I am safe and well. We have met the enemy and given them hell. Colonel Vincent is mortally wounded. Al Fares is safe; so is Conway. No time for more.” Still near Gettysburg on the sixth of July
was Captain Henry Livermore Abbott of the 20th Massachusetts. And he’s a young officer. He’s well-educated. He belongs to the Harvard Regiment. He’s daring. He had led men in some of the most desperate
situations of the war, from the streets of Fredericksburg to the debacle at Balls Bluff. And he assumed command of the 20th Massachusetts,
the height of Pickett’s Charge. And during that fighting he had lost one of
his good friends, a young soldier named Henry Ropes. And on July 6th he would write to his father
and say this. “When our great victory was just over, the
exaltation of victory was so great that one didn’t think of our fearful losses. But now I can’t help feeling a great weight
in my heart. Poor Henry Ropes was of the dearest friends
I had ever had or expect to have. He was one of the purest-minded, noblest,
most generous men I every knew. His loss is terrible.” And here I think we can see Abbott struggling
to put into words the seemingly irreconcilable. By terms euphoric and by terms — Union soldiers,
they struggled to process what they had just gone through, what they had survived. But I think most recognized that Gettysburg
had been a victory, but it was a victory that was followed by a comma, and not by an exclamation
point or a period. I think most Union soldiers on the battlefield,
they recognized that the war wasn’t over, and they hadn’t destroyed the Confederate
Army. And George Cobham, he spoke for nearly all
when he wrote, quote, “I think the rebels will make another stand between here and Potomac.” And over the next two days the men of the
Army of the Potomac marched away from the battlefields. They left behind those that could not march
either because of deaths or wounds, and the army was still very much coming to grips with
just how many men that might be. And the confusion of battle made casualties
very difficult to quantify. Some thought dead were only wounded. Some thought wounded were dead. And in the space between, a great many men
were simply missing. Ivory Jeffers of the 137th New York and his
best friend, Will Dodge, for example, had gone into battle together on July 2nd. In the confusion of the night fighting they
became separated. And it was only after that Ivory Jeffers learned
his best friend, Will Dodge, had been wounded in the leg. And he was sent to one of the hospitals along
Rock Creek. It was told to Jeffers that his leg wasn’t
broken, so it was likely he’d survive. And Jeffers left Pennsylvania with the knowledge
that his best friend was probably going to live. The ghost of George McClellan that had floated
over the ranks of the Army July 3rd and 4th vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared
as other rumors took shape and took form. Meade was still in command, but exactly what
the order of battle looks like between Meade and any individual soldier was a matter of
speculation. A soldier in Henry Abbott’s Harvard Regiment,
for example, 20th Massachusetts — they began the battle with the well-known Winfield Scott
Hancock in Corps Command. And after the battle they learned that the
almost totally unknown William Hayes was in charge. Most men probably couldn’t have recognized
that soldier in the battlefield for $1000. In the 114th Pennsylvania, for a soldier that
helped defend Sherfy Peach Orchard on July 2nd, virtually nothing of the chain of command
remained intact. In Company F, Captain Francis Fix had been
wounded as had First Sergeant Robert Crushman. Regimental Commander Lieutenant Colonel Frederick
Cavada had been captured along with Brigade Commander Charles Graham. The vacuum of command resulted in a new Division
Commander and a new Corps Commander to make good in the wounded Daniel Sickles. So that nothing was as it had been for a soldier
in Company F between him and the Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Captain Francis Donaldson of the 118th Pennsylvania
noted the mood as the men left Pennsylvania and crossed into the Maryland border. And most of you know from accounts of soldiers
who left Maryland into Pennsylvania on July 1st or June 30th, it was the celebratory time. “Flags were uncased, music was played, the
atmosphere,” Donaldson writes, “is very, very different as the men leave Pennsylvania.” He writes, “Now, no notice whatever was taken
of the fact of leaving the state.” And for many, the weeks after the battle was
more taxing than the battle itself. The euphoria and shock had kind of hardened
into what I would call, I guess, this steely resolve. And, really, the pursuit of the Rebel Army
for the Army of the Potomac becomes this act of endurance more than anything else. Some men, such as those in the 6th Army Corps,
they initially pursue the Confederates directly west down the Fairfield Road. But, ultimately, almost the entirety of the
Army of the Potomac head South to the East of the Catoctin and South Mountains, down,
hopefully, to Frederick, and then through the gaps in the Maddox. The idea was to cut off Lee from his escape
at the fjords of the Potomac. “We’ve been straining every nerve,” one soldier
wrote to his sister. “Thousands of men are barefoot and officers,
too. But they are bravely struggling on, footsore
and hungry, enduring everything without a murmur so we may finish the war now.” And in the rain, in the heat, in the endless
marching, men end up recording miles, kind of the way they recorded battles on the regimental
flag. “My health is good,” one man said. “If it was not, we could not stand marching
as we are doing. Day before yesterday we marched 28 miles.” Another tally that his regiment had marched
250 miles since leaving the Rappahannock, and he predicted another 250 in the month
to come. But still he felt optimistic. This soldier wrote, quote, “This style of
campaigning agrees with me excellently. I never felt better in my life.” If men were optimistic, and if they found
these kind of untapped inner reserves of strength, it was because most believed that the end
of the war was at hand. Most believed, you know — in fact, if the
machine was driven until the tank was empty and the gears locked, well, that’s what it
had to — that’s what it had to happen for the war to end. And most men then took the hardship in stride. They sloughed the rainy nights, they endured
the shortage of food, lack of sleep, and the endless miles that seemed to blur together. “I will try and not grumble or find fault
with the hard marching and privations we have to endure,” one man wrote. “I feel confident peace is close at hand and
then I shall soon be home again with my parents and friends.” The road from Gettysburg took men through
a lot of familiar towns and villages and places, many of which the men had marched through
on their way to Gettysburg — places like Littlestown, Taneytown, Emmitsburg, Frederick,
Middletown, Boonesborough, Sharpsburg. Men in the First, Second, Fifth Corps trudged
past the battlefields of September of 1862 at South Mountain. Some of them actually crossed Burnside Bridge
during their pursuit of Lee’s Army and the tide of emotion that must have swept over
these men as they saw these places. And as the days and miles passed, the sense
of an impending battle — sense of urgency continued to grow. And through a kind of osmosis this urgency
spills into the writing of the men. “I’m almost tired, worn out, haven’t had my
shoes off for a week, lying sometimes in the heaviest of rain without a shelter, not allowed
a minute of my own and you can see I have but little time to write,” one man wrote from
Sharpsburg. And as the urgency grew, so too did the stakes
because around this moment the men of the Army of the Potomac learn that Vicksburg had
fallen. Now some of the men reported as early as July
5th, but by this point July 9th known throughout the Army. And, also, that same day, July 9th, the Confederate
Garrison at Port Hudson surrenders along with 7000 men. And only a few days later that word makes
it to the Army of the Potomac. By the 12th of July it appeared to the men
in the Army of the Potomac that their moment was up, their moment was at hand. After days of intense marching they caught
up to the Army of Northern Virginia at Williamsport. And the men in the ranks from the very limited
vantage point — they tried to appraise the situation. And it was clear that the rebels had their
backs to the Potomac River, that the hammer was ready to kind of deliver the crushing
blow, and everyone just waited for that moment to happen. Irie Jeffers of the 137th New York reported
that “the rebels are said to be entirely surrounded and Potomac is up so they can’t fjord it and
our men have destroyed the pontoon bridges so they are in a pretty tight spot.” Another man wrote that it would, quote, “require
all of Lee’s Generalship to save the army.” And there’s this pregnant moment of expectation
when men are writing home that they believe at any moment they’re going to be advancing. And then the next day, Monday, July 13th,
nothing happens. Charles Maddox of the 17th Maine wrote, quote,
“Monday, July 13th, near Antietam. The same and moreso. Same place, same rain, no fight, nothing real
but rain.” On the 14th day of July, Union Forces advanced
on Williamsport to find empty entrenchments. Somehow Lee had been able to escape across
the Potomac. “We followed the Rebels as fast as possible
to Williamsport,” one man noted. “They got away from us again, and now we cannot
catch them this side of Richmond. The men have pressed on since the right, barefooted,
hungry, lousy, and faint.” The universal emotion after the Williamsport
crossing was one of disappointment and resignation, right? During those weeks of furious marching from
Gettysburg to the Potomac there was this common refrain that was voiced by virtually everyone
who left on account of it. And that they hoped the end of the war was
near — the end of war, the end of campaigning, the end of wet marches and sleepless nights. And it was that more than any other thing
that propelled the men south. And so, on July 14th, when they find that
Lee had escaped, rather than looking at it as some sort of reprieve or gallows pardons
and that fact they, you know, avoided having to assault the entrenchments outside of Williamsport,
the way that later in the war they would write about Mine Run or Cold Harbor, the men write
about it with disappointment. This wasn’t the end as much as they hoped
it would be. A few tried to find a silver lining. Elijah Hahn Rose wrote that he thought it
unlikely that Lee would have much of a stomach for an invasion again. “We got more out of the rebels this time than
McClellan did at Antietam,” he said. “And that, too, without being two or three
times at Bull Run and Chantilly and running to Washington for protection.” On July 17th, another Union soldier wrote
to his parents from Harper’s Ferry, and attempted to kind of mitigate expectations on the homefront,
he wrote, “I’m supposing the people at home will think we ought to have captured them
all, but that is a thing much easier to talk about than to do.” And it’s here that most narratives of the
Gettysburg Campaign, they come to an end. Lee’s Army escaped across the Potomac into
Virginia. Abraham Lincoln pens this agonizing letter
to George Meade talking about how “the enemy was within your easy grasp and now the war
will be prolonged indefinitely.” Lincoln never sends the letter. Meade offers his resignation anyways, and
that’s where the period occurs. That’s the end of the campaign. And yet, to those that lived it, July 15th
looked a whole lot like July 14th, and that looked a whole lot like July 13th, and there
was no clear demarcation that separated one chapter of history from another. And so, for most of the men, the war would
continue, the marching would continue, and perhaps even a speedy pursuit of Lee could
still end it. On the 18th of July, the Fifth Army Corps,
at least part of it, crossed the Potomac. And Captain Francis Donaldson of the118th
Pennsylvania noted that crossing back into Virginia was punctuated by curses and groans
uttered from the men who, quote, “detest the soil of Virginia. “My own feelings that again entering the state
can be imagined better than described. Even the name, he wrote, “Virginia, is hateful
to me. It was,” he said, “the graveyard of the Army
of the Potomac.” The Union soldier, after his return back to
Virginia encountered a landscape that was very, very different from what he had seen
in Pennsylvania. And one Union veteran of Gettysburg remarked
at how lucky the people of Pennsylvania had been to get rid of the Confederate Army as
quickly as it had. And he wrote to his mother, he wrote, “I wish,
my dear mother, that I had something to write that would interest you, some description
of beautiful scenery or a visit to some of the thriving town and find ole homesteads. Such things at present,” he said, “exist but
in fancy.” The same soldier went on to chronicle the
state that he was marching through. And he said “it was one wide scene of desolation
and woe. Every house you pass is either partially or
altogether in ruins. Not a man is to be seen unless it be some
old gray-haired man. At every house there remains two or thee women
are to be seen, and nine out of every 10 are dressed in deep mourning for some brother,
husband, or son who will return no more. I feel very thankful that the scenes I witness
around me are not carried to my own home.” The war continued, but now with both armies
to the South of the Potomac. For the men in the ranks, the theatre of operation
might have changed but beyond that very little else had. And for most, the exhausting marching continued. And from Loudon County, Virginia, men wrote
of a physical exhaustion that went beyond just sheer exhaustion to something else, something
deeper. They complained of sickness, fatigue. A soldier in the 83rd Pennsylvania wrote that,
“I am near sicker than I have been in a year,” and that if he could walk at all, he’d walk
to a hospital. Sickness ravaged the ranks not just because
of the strain and the fatigue of the campaign, but also it should because of the enormous
filth. As the men had counted miles, now, too, they
started to count the number of days they had gone without bathing or changing clothes. The men were, quote, “lousy.” “You hardly know what that means,” one man
wrote home, “but if you were in the ranks, you would. Not head lice but body lice that crawl all
over your shirt and pants.” And one soldier wrote home with very admirable
candor and simplicity, he wrote, quote, “I am at present really filthy dirty,”[laughter]. He admitted to his mother he hadn’t changed
his clothes in two weeks. Men noticed, too, the roads were lined with
dead horses, animals that had literally, literally, been worked to death. A Fifth Corps soldier wrote that, “marching
had been the order of the day since the Army returned to Virginia,” but he couldn’t see
how the army could possibly keep it up. “I think we will now have to stop as our horses
are giving out. They die by the hundreds daily. The past few weeks have been a fearful, fearful
experience. Artillerymen, especially, noticed the severe
toll the march was taking place — the march was taking on their animals. One artilleryman noted, quote,” ” the horses
are worn out. Every day’s march killing from five to 20
in each battery. In addition to the horses, men continued to
die. On July 23rd, 1863, outside the town on Lyndon,
Virginia, Sergeant Major Fred Bosworth of Company A17th Maine was hit by a six-pound
solid shot fired from one of the Confederate artillery pieces. And the would had been in the thigh and it
was clearly fatal. But the 20-year-old, he proved resilient. He lived until August, into August. And few in his regiment that wrote about his
death could really assign any particular important to it or for any of those who would continue
to die of sickness, disease, and from combat in these nameless skirmishes in consequential
battles. And the camp of the 20th Massachusetts a month
and a half later, a man was murdered. It happened at night. The assailant fled into the darkness and at
first it was assumed to have been committed by some recently-arrived draftee. Others came to the conclusion that the murder
must have had something to do with a woman. Officers in the regimen took the loss particularly
hard as the victim, a Captain Thomas McKay, was one of the most popular men in the regimen. On July 27th, while the Army was near Warrington,
Virginia, Ira Jeffers of the 137th New York learned that his friend Will Dodge, whom he’d
last seen before the fighting on Culp’s Hill, had died. He had been wounded in the leg and initially
it was thought the bone wasn’t broken, but it turned out it was, and on July 13th his
leg was amputated. And Will Dodge died that same day. And Jeffers in his letters writes about the
agony that he’s facing because he knows that he’ll probably have to be the one to tell
Dodge’s parents. And he describes the feeling of losing that
friend. He wrote, “He was to me almost a brother,
and now that he is gone it seem almost as though I was left alone among strangers. And to compound the pain, letters to Will
Dodge continued to arrive in the mail, and these Jeffers dutifully collected. Not only did men continue to die, but the
losses that had been sustained at Gettysburg really whittled away most regiments to a shadow
of what they had once were. Take, for example, the Excelsior Brigade. Excelsior Brigade fights the Battle of Whopping
Heights on July 23rd and when they did so, they did so after having lost 42% of their
men at the Battle of Gettysburg on top of the losses they sustained at Chancellorsville. Nine-month regiments, like the 153rd Pennsylvania,
the 13th Vermont, which had seen action at Gettysburg were now leaving the Army entirely. And George Meade is watching the Army that
he inherited atrophy in front of him. The Lincoln Administration’s response to this
was the Enrollment and Conscription Acts of 1863, better know as The Draft. And the hope was to motivate fresh volunteers
into the ranks with, with not a draft, but with the threat of a draft. And if that didn’t work, the draft itself
would take place. And each Congressional district was given
a quota. They had to fill the quota. First draft was in July of 1863. In the unlikely event that your name happened
to be called in the draft, a number of things could conceivably happen, the least likely
of which, as James McPherson writes, was military service. You could fail to report, and one out of five
men did this. Just go to Canada, the West, just don’t show
up. Three-fifths of those drafted were sent home
for medical disabilities, and that could be any number of things. In a neighborhood of Boston, men were exempted
for crooked toes, a single disabled toe, tender feet, skin growths. One man was sent home for varicose veins. Another was sent home for excessive stammering. Forty percent of the men drafted in Boston
got a medical exemption. You’re exempted if you could prove you were
the sole support for a widow or an orphan sibling or a mother’s child. You could hire a substitute, normally an 18
or 19-year-old or an immigrant. Or if you didn’t do all that, well, you could
pay $300. That would get you out of this draft, but
not necessarily a future draft. And there were a lot of ways to cheat the
system — surgeons could be bribed, documents proving a dependency could be forged, some
men went as far as self-mutilation. The $300 fee was roughly what a, you know,
an Irishman in New York would make in a year. And there was a lot of anger over the draft,
particularly among the immigrant and the poorer classes. Among the streets of Boston, the popular song,
“We Are Coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 More” was changed to “We Are Coming, Father Abraham,
$300 More” [laughter]. Now as Union soldiers marched away from Gettysburg,
as the massive casualties were just being made known, the draft commenced. And as we all know, it erupted in violence. In New York on July 13th a draft riot began. The rioters, primarily immigrants, mostly
Irish, destroyed public property, they attacked Republican and Abolitionist establishments,
set the police stations on fire. They set the colored orphan asylum ablaze,
they murdered and lynched black people. The rioting lasted for four days before men
from the Army of the Potomac and others subdued the mob. The casualties from the New York Draft Riots
were almost as difficult to quantify as the casualties at Gettysburg. There were at least 2000 of them. Damages amount to over $2 million. And news of the incident, news of the riot
struck the members of the Army of the Potomac like a lightning bolt. And they processed it in the same way that
we do today by viewing it through whatever political leanings they had and crafting around
the narrative. Henry Abbott of 20th Massachusetts was many
things, but he was not a Republican and he was not an Abolitionist. Henry Abbott had not love for Abraham Lincoln,
and he saw in the Draft Riot violence and the mob. He saw in it all proof of the failings of
the Lincoln Administration. He writes, “The vilest rowdies in New York
have shown the fruit of Lincoln’s teaching. The next election alone can save the country. I wish to God it could come now.” Most viewed the Draft Riots and the resistance
to the Draft as virtually the same thing as fighting for the Confederacy. If you had to simplify men’s messages, that
was it. The rioting — same as fighting for the Confederacy. And most men said what they wished was that
the mob would come south and get their bellies full of Confederate lead or, more preferably,
send the Army of the Potomac up to New York City. One man wrote, quote, “Every copperhead, peace
man, anti-draft man, every cursed mother’s son of them that does not support the war
by word and deed ought to be hung or sent to the south where they belong.” Elijah Hunt Rose wrote, “The day that Lee
crossed the Potomac, the riots in that city are a disgrace to the nation and ought to
be suppressed at any cost of money or life.” And, ultimately, as we all know, the Draft
went on much to the displeasure of the men that found themselves drafted. And about a month later in the camps of the
Army of the Potomac the first draftees, the first conscripts, arrived. They were delivered under guard to virtually
all the regiments in the Army of the Potomac, and now these veteran regiments had to incorporate
these new arrivals, these draftees, and expectations, as a general rule, were not particularly high
for these men. To the rugged campaigners of the Army of the
Potomac, these replacements looked like men who didn’t want to be in Virginia. So, of course, they didn’t, they weren’t. They were mostly poor and they were mostly
foreign, both of which were marks against them in the often very class conscious and
nativist Army of the Potomac. And, yeah, first impressions had not been
positive. Getting them south had been like herding cats. The drafted men exhibited a tendency to desert
which is perhaps understandable given the circumstances under which they joined the
Army. Typical though was the situation in the 118th
Pennsylvania. Company Commander Frank Donaldson reported
that on the 6th of August, as his brigade was in camp at Rappahannock Station, 109 draftees
and substitutes arrived, but not before 50 of them deserted [laughter]. The new men were divided up among the companies,
and now Donaldson found himself with 12 new recruits under his command. Five were immigrants, at least three were
German, and three claimed to have at one time been officers in some of the 90-day regiments
that had been formed at the beginning of the war. One, a man by the name of Von Schlimbeck [assumed
spelling], said that he had once been a Brigadier General and commanded a brigade. And all of them still addressed one another
by their former Army ranks, Colonel, Captain, and so forth, until Donaldson put a stop to
it. They were, according to Donaldson, “a fearful
lot of loafers and bummers. That wasn’t Donaldson’s biggest problem though. His biggest problem was that he had been given,
quote, “five Quakers.” How do get them to take a musket is a mystery
yet to be solved [laughter]. In describing the draftees and the conscripts,
men used phrases like rogues and hard nuts, drunkards, rowdies. One 12th Corps soldier noted that most of
the conscripts looked like men who’d much rather be in a garage shop which is, for some
of them, probably true. In one Second Corps Regiment, it was reported
that of the 180 draftees they received, 30 had deserted and another 40 had been sent
to the hospital, ill, it was said, of diseases they had when they arrived. To the veterans of Gettysburg, Chancellorsville,
these new men were really just a jumbled lot of nearly unpronounceable Dutch, French, Italian,
German, in some cases Chinese names, men who were just as apt to shoot them as they were
the enemy. “Now,” one man wrote, “the orders are never
to put a conscript on outposts without an old man in his company.” Very bad to have half your army guarding the
other half. For the men of the Army of the Potomac, the
Gettysburg veterans, the draft was a failure. Rather than lifting their morale, it deteriorated
it, it degraded it. And, true, many of the conscripts were poor
soldiers. Many of the charges levelled against them
were not without merit. But even the most earnest of brave, of draftees,
was put in this unwinnable situation. And probably, because if the draft had not
been designed to ensure animosity between the reinforcement and the reinforced, it had
an implementation to achieve something very like it. It virtually ensured that those from the bottom
of society ended up in the ranks. And as such wronged the draftee doubly. First, they’re preying on the poor and the
marginalized. And, second, we’re subjecting them unfairly
to the prejudices of the men already in the ranks. How could a draftee or a conscript or a substitute,
no matter how brave, no matter how patriotic, possibly replace men like Henry Roots or William
Dodge, Fred Bosworth, Thomas McKay, or any of the men who now occupy the thousands of
graves that litter the paths of the armies? How could a draftee or a $300 man walk into
the camps of the Second Wisconsin or the Fifth New Hampshire and in the eyes of his new comrades
possibly replace the men that had been lost? For the Gettysburg veteran, though, most stinging
of all, these men who had been motivated by the patriotic ideals of 1861 and 1862, these
men who had buried comrades at Antietam and Manassas and Fredericksburg, well, these men
now knew exactly how much they were worth. They might not know the number of miles they
marched, they might have difficulty quantifying the number of casualties they suffered, but
they knew how much their government valued them. That, of course, was $300. Desertion among the conscripts was so frequent
and so prevalent, that the Army was forced to come down hard which it did at the end
of August and the first weeks of September. On August 29th, General Charles Griffin of
the Fifth Corps ordered the entirely of the First Division to form up in an empty field
as five bounty jumpers from the 188th Pennsylvania were to be executed. The division formed up along three sides of
a hollow square in front of freshly-dug graves. A precession came in, a band playing three
mournful dirge, men carrying coffins, and finally the condemned men who were going to
be shot. Many men witnessed this scene and virtually
all of them wrote about it. Said the theatrics apparently made an impression. Of the five condemned men, two were Protestant,
two were Catholic, and one was Jewish. So a priest, a minister, and a rabbi were
on hand. Fifty riflemen, 10 each for the five convicted
men, waited for the order to fire, and at 3:45 p.m. it came. “It is a very solemn thing to see human beings
led forth to be shot like dogs, and those who witnessed such scenes receive an impression
that can never be shaken off,” one 20th Maine veteran wrote. Another wrote that, quote, “I have seen men
shot in the battlefield, man with heads shot off, men with arms and legs gone. I passed them all without a thought.” Another wrote, “But,” — another wrote basically
the same thing, but he said, “Somehow there was something different in this execution.” If the scene made an impression on the men
that witnessed it, it also made an impression on the war correspondents and newspapermen
that witnessed it as well. And accounts of this appeared in a lot of
the northern newspapers. Oliver Wilcox Norton wrote to his family,
and wrote, “If you see anything in any of the accounts about the bugler, well, that
was me.” Similar scenes played out in virtually all
of the Corps of the Army of the Potomac to much the same effect. Some men like Henry Abbott, again blamed Lincoln. But most hoped that it would curb desertion
as tough as a sight as it was to see. After the execution at Raccoon Fjord in September,
Ira Jeffers penned a very shaky description of the scene. And he ended with writing, quote, “I hope
that I shall never be tempted to desert.” And I think we can see in the construction
and wording of that sentence a soldier who is unsure of the future and maybe also unsure
of himself, a soldier who, even after witnessing the horrors of a military execution, recognized
the possibility that he, too, may be pushed past the point of endurance, and that he,
too, may be the one that ends up sitting on the edge of his own coffin. The summer of 1863 ended the rumors. Very few men at this point reported that they
believed the end of the war was at hand. That hope seems to have been buried somewhere
between the Potomac and the Rappahanick River, the graveyard of the Potomac Army. And they come from the 12th Corps. It was reported that Charleston, South Carolina
had surrendered, and that the Stars and Stripes flew over the battered walls of Fort Sumpter. Others had heard that George Meade was to
be replaced and so others heard that they were to be sent to Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee. Some of this was true. Some of it wasn’t. But to the men in the ranks, any of it might
be true. No one could see the future terribly clearly,
and so they guessed and they speculated. What in 10 or 20 or 30 years would be very
obvious was, in the moment, a mystery. And that includes the importance of the battle
they fought at Gettysburg. No one then in the Army of the Potomac would
refute the fact that the Battle of Gettysburg had been anything other than a titanic clash,
and no one would say that the site of retreating rebels and stacked-up flags and rifles had
been anything other than a clear indication of victory. The immediate importance of the battle for
the men that won it was the fact that they had won it. They had beaten Lee. And while they might write home of the drubbing
they gave the rebels and the feeling of euphoria that came with their victory, very few at
this point would venture beyond saying much more than that. What was perhaps more obvious was the fact
that by the end of the summer of 1863 the Army of the Potomac was not the same army
that it once had been. Something in it had changed. Something had metastasized. Gone were the days of the strictly volunteer
armies, renowned units, the Armed Brigade, the Irish Brigade, the Excelsior’s. They might exist in name but they were no
longer the same units that marched out to the field at Antietam and Chancellorsville
and Gettysburg. Within that year, the First and Third Corps,
destroyed after the Battle of Gettysburg, were disbanded and their regiments consolidated
into other organizations. By the Spring Campaigns of 1864, the 11th
Corps and the 12th Corps were gone. They had been sent to Georgia. The Army of the Potomac was a different organization,
not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, just different. In their 50s and 60s and 70s, Union Veterans
returned to the battlefield at Gettysburg. They erected their monuments like the men
of the 136 New York. We started talking about them. Mostly they recorded the names of the battles
they fought, the losses they had the battle an importance magnified by the passage of
time. But in the immediate aftermath of the fighting,
amidst the wreckage and destruction of war, nothing was ever that clear. On the lower slopes of Culp’s Hill, surrounded
by pools of blood, Lieutenant Colonel George Cobham watched as his men buried rebels in
mass graves and stacked up thousands of captured rifles. And during the lull in the rain he took an
opportunity to write home. And at first he wrote about mundane things. His wife Annie had informed him that their
roof at their house had sprung a leak and he gave suggestions on how to repair it. He said that when he got home he would replace
it with tin even though tin was expensive. They were about mundane, everyday things. Like he expected to live. He then attempted to describe the battle and
wrote about the men that he saw killed. He writes, “As one sees his former companions
and friends fall one after the other, he feels a sort of bulldog determination to give as
good as he gets.” Gettysburg was a turning point for the Union
volunteer, not because it signaled the beginning of the end, nor because its strategic and
tactical significance meant some important momentous event for the Union effort, but
rather because it demonstrated that the men in the Army of the Potomac, they could win. It cemented in them that belief and that bulldog
determination that Cobham writes about that would carry them past the unknowable miles
to be marched, privations to be endured, graves to be dug, and battles to be fought. And so that, I believe, is why Gettysburg
is a turning point for the men who wrote about it. And with that, I’ll bring this to a conclusion. Thank you all for being here. I hope you took something out of it. [ Applause ]

Tony wyaad

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Crosseyed Brat Posted on June 8, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    First to comment here.

    Reply
  2. springfield03sniper Posted on June 8, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Please upload more!

    Reply
  3. RumMonkeyable Posted on June 10, 2018 at 1:18 am

    A great presentation that would have been better had the slide show been shown, as well. Thank you for uploading.

    Reply
  4. Jim Arnn Posted on June 10, 2018 at 2:33 am

    A little visited aspect of military history…. very informative, and very revealing of the soldier's experience.

    Reply
  5. james crowe Posted on June 10, 2018 at 11:40 am

    This guy implies that the South losing at gettysburgh was the reason slavery ended….Nonsense…The Southern people and leaders knew that slavery was going to end as the Industrial Revolution was beginning and there was no need to keep importing high maintenance farm animals when machines were able to do the work of ten animals with much lower overhead.
    If lincoln hadn't illegally sent troops to invade South Carolina after they had legally and democratically voted to (try to) withdraw peacefully from the union, there wouldn't even have been a war.

    Reply
  6. Carl Mannino Posted on June 10, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    Well done as always!!

    Reply
  7. Kyle Travels Posted on June 17, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Just wonderful.

    Reply
  8. Joseph Smith Posted on September 3, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    I hate knowing that the lecture has visual aid but it’s not included.

    Reply
  9. Ryan Kiesel Posted on February 22, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    And that, ladies and gentleman, is why Chris is the Chief of Interpretation and Education at GNMP. Excellent presentation.

    Reply
  10. Mary Moriarity Posted on April 25, 2019 at 8:23 pm

    Why weren’t the slides a part of lecture d as in past years.

    Reply
  11. Mary Moriarity Posted on June 7, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Why are Tge slurs not shown also? You cont have to focus on the person speaking. We can heat him. The photography is very poor

    Reply
  12. Raquel Morel Posted on July 6, 2019 at 6:10 am

    Happy
    Birthday America!    Once upon a time in the land of the free and
    home of the brave, the very first President of the United States of America,
    George Washington, “in a letter to the governors of the first thirteen states,
    (isolated colonies) upon the close of the Revolutionary War offered the
    following benediction (prayer).” (Mac, Tait). President George Washington
    prayed in this manner: “ I now make it my earnest prayer
    that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy
    protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate
    spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly
    affection and love for one another…… and finally that he would most graciously
    be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean
    ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were
    the characteristics of the Divine Author of our Blessed Religion, and without a
    humble imitation of whose example in these things, We can never hope to be a happier nation.” Amen!!.                                                                                          
    George Washington,                                                      
    (George
    Washington, 1st U.S.A President Inaugurated on April 30th,
    1789, at Federal Hall in New York City, USA). (1775-1783 American Revolution.)
    Sunday, July 10, 2016.  Mac,
    Toby, Tait Michael. (2004). Under God/DC Talk’s Toby Mac and Michael Tait with
    Wall- builders; compiled by Leanna Willis. First Edition. Bloomington, MN:
    Bethany House Pub. 2004. Print.

    Reply
  13. Mary Moriarity Posted on July 17, 2019 at 12:05 am

    Had they killed Lee at Gettysburg the war would’ve been over then. Longstreet also. All of them should’ve been killed then. Vicksburg had fallen. The confederate army should’ve been killed T appamarix rather than let go. Sherman finally ended it all.

    Reply
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