Showing posts with label Gettysburg. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gettysburg. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Civil War Skull...the (Near) Triumph of Capitalism

The Civil War is not quite over for this possible soldier....

Image credit local TV station WGAL-TV

From earlier this week, a huge local controversy about the possible auction of a skull purportedly from the battle of Gettysburg (via ABC 27):

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) - The planned auction of a skull reportedly that of a Civil War soldier found at Gettysburg has been cancelled following protests, and officials say the remains have now been donated for burial with honors.
Estate Auction Co. of Hershey had listed the skull for sale at auction Tuesday in Hagerstown, Maryland. That drew protests from the U.S. Park Service in Gettysburg and many other people.
Gettysburg National Military Park and the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation announced Tuesday that the remains had been donated by the auction company late Monday. After authentication, they are to be buried at the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg with full military honors.
The auctioneer said earlier that the remains were found in 1949 as a garden was being tilled on the Benner Farm in Gettysburg.

When I first heard about this, it was before the auction was called off.  The auctioneer was interviewed on TV and stated how he personally thought and recommended that the skull should be donated to the Gettysburg National Military Park for burial, but the owner wanted to auction it off.

I thought, you craven jerk--we are are talking about human remains, and you'd be OK with being the guy selling them?  I would have hoped he'd have recused himself for moral reasons...but I guess the profits to be made from the auctioneer's cut of the auction proceeds were too attractive to pass up.

Then I thought--as I once blogged about here (in a post called "Staying Buried...and Ultrarunning"), in thinking about the distinction between grave robbery and archaeology--how is that a skull can even be in the possession of a private individual?  Surely that should be illegal?

At any rate, the skull will now be tested by the Gettysburg folks to see if it is indeed Civil War era, and then reburied.

Rest in peace, I guess.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fences, Gettysburg...and Ultrarunning

From Issue 48 of The Gettysburg Magazine* (link here), an article entitled Gettysburg's Small Occurrences: The Story Behind Gettysburg's Ubiquitous Farm Fences.  I will never again just think of the fences at Gettysburg as a routine feature of the landscape.

From a participant 150 years ago:

The time it took to climb to the top of the fence seemed to me an age of suspense.  It was not a leaping over; it was rather an insensible tumbling to the ground in the nervous hope of escaping the thickening missiles that buried themselves in falling victims, in the ground, and in the fence, against which they rattled with the distinctness of large rain drops pattering on a roof.

Way back in 1980, I ran my first marathon, at Gettysburg.  I finished in 4:00 and a few seconds, but I was not bummed out at barely missing the 4 hour barrier.  I had run well, I had stopped to help a runner in distress, and when I crossed the finish line I breathlessly told the bride "There is no wall!"

I could say that because my  sole goal that day was to finish my first marathon comfortably and with something left--no death marches for me.  In truth and in hindsight I was overtrained and held back during the race, but that was a better strategy than the alternative that bites so many first time marathoners.

Back then the philosophy of Gettysburg National Military Park had a bit more of a recreational focus; I doubt that road races are held today on park roads.

*I do some American Civil War research and writing and have had 2 articles published here.  Am working on another right now.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why I Write History...and Ultrarunning

On the side I am an amateur historian and researcher on the American Civil war.  I've had a couple of articles published in The Gettysburg Magazine, a scholarly publication that features in-depth research strictly on that particular battle.

I am currently (slowly) working on another article now and was having some self-doubts abouts the value of doing so.  Then a couple weeks ago (10 Jan) I read this piece in The Writer's Almanac about the historian Stephen Ambrose that rekindled my desire to get cranking.  The money quote is in BLUE:

It's the birthday of best-selling historian Stephen Ambrose (books by this author), born in Lovington, Illinois (1936). Ambrose's father was a Navy doctor during World War II, and the family followed him from post to post around the country until he was shipped overseas. The war ended, Ambrose's father came home and took up a private practice in Wisconsin, and Ambrose decided he'd take over when he grew up.
A pre-med student, he was annoyed when his state university requirements compelled him to take an American history class the second semester of his sophomore year. It was called, "Representative Americans," and was based on biographies of individuals throughout the country's history; the first class focused on George Washington. The professor said that the students would be completing their own biography of an unknown Wisconsinite, which they would have to use primary research from the state historical society to write. The result, the professor promised, would add to the sum of the world's knowledge.
"And that just hit me like a sledgehammer," Ambrose later said. "It had never before occurred to me that I could add to the sum of the world's knowledge." He changed his major to history, and at the end of the term wrote a 10-page biography of a Civil War-era one-term Wisconsin Congressman named Charles Billinghurst. Ambrose marveled that he was now the world's leading expert on Charles Billinghurst. "Now what I soon learned was, the reason for that was that nobody else cared about Charles A. Billinghurst," Ambrose laughed. But his next epiphany was what transformed him from a historian to a world-class storyteller: "But I can make 'em care if I tell the story right."

The connection is Ultrarunning is about connections.  See, doing history establishes connections to the past--it's not distant history but a connected thread that leads to the present day.

Same thing is true of Ultrarunning: there's a connectedness that comes from participating in an activity that is as old as mankind.  Our ancestors ran to survive; we run to stay healthy and to somehow stay connected with that ancestral pattern. 

When I run I am acutely aware of primeval forces, of doing something now in play that formerly was deadly serious, of recreating actions that are part of our psyches and genetics.  I feel connected.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

They Were As Real as You and Me

I don't recall whether I've mnetioned this fact in Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 5-year-old human being), but I am a fascinated student of the American Civil War.  Meaning avid reader, researcher, writer.  In fatc, I've had a couple of articles publsihed in The Gettsyburg Magazine, and am working on another.

Anyway, from editor Andy Turner of The Gettysburg Magazine, we read this vignette, and without any more explanation needed, this si why I am so facsicnted with the American Civil War:

As they say, it’s a small world. You never know who you are going to run into and when. Such was the case of two Civil War veterans who once faced each other on the field of battle and later bumped into each other as old men.

The following article, from the February 1911 edition of Confederate Veteran, tells of the unlikely meeting of two former foes.

Singular Meeting of Two Old Veterans
The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune prints a remarkable yet very reasonable story from Zephyr Hills, a new colony town in Florida, concerning two veterans who battered each other with their muskets at Malvern Hill in the battle there. The veterans were William H. Hopkins, who was in a New York regiment, and Samuel Stafford, who was in the 5th Florida.

The story goes on to say that at Malvern Hill, Va., the Union forces charged an intrenched line of Confederates, and a fierce and bloody hand-to-hand fight took place. The two men, now grizzled and old, were boys. They met face to face, hand to hand, gun to gun, and saw each other well. Both had emptied their rifles into the ranks of their respective foes, and with clubbed guns they attacked each other, each demanding surrender. Neither would yield, and they fought with the fierceness of youth and the determination of brave men, each of whom had faith in the righteousness of the cause for which he struggled. Hopkins dealt Stafford a heavy blow with the butt of his gun on the head, and at the same instant Stafford had brought the butt of his gun crashing upon the head of Hopkins, the hammer striking his eye, and both fell. Stafford arose in a very short time, dazed and terribly hurt; but the attack had failed, and the Union troops, defeated, had fled, or those who were able to flee and were not captured. Hopkins lay upon the earth unconscious, apparently dead, and became a prisoner. A bullet had struck his head, inflicting a most dangerous wound, while the blow of Stafford had fractured his skull. The Confederate boy looked down upon the still form of his enemy, who was covered with blood and gave no sign of life, and his humane heart stood still in horror. He began to weep over his enemy, and undertook to wash the blood from his face. An officer asked him what he was crying about, and he said: “I have killed a man. I did not know him. Why should I kill him?”

It was nearly three months before Hopkins himself knew that he was alive, before he recovered consciousness. The sight of his right eye was gone. The blow he struck Stafford resulted in the destruction of his right eye. Neither saw the other after that fight until now. These two old men, each having but one eye, met by chance. Stafford lives within the bounds of the colony; Hopkins is a colonist. When chance led them to the same group near colony headquarters, they greeted each other casually as strangers; then each took a second look and a third. Each being struck by the similarity of their mutually unfortunate state, they looked upon each other with growing interest. Stafford said: “I seem to remember you. I wonder if we ever met before?”

Hopkins answered: “As soon as I saw you I thought I ought to know; but I do not, I guess. My name is Hopkins.”

“My name is Stafford. I live just over yonder. I lost my eye in a fight at Malvern Hill. How did you lose yours? Was it in the war? Were you wounded?”

“Yes,” Hopkins responded in surprise. “I was struck on the head by a Reb at Malvern Hill when we charged their intrenchment. Well, that was the man you remind me of.”

“You are the Yankee who refused to surrender and knocked me on the head with the butt of your gun, I believe,” said Stafford; and when each told the details of the fight, it became evident that these gray-haired men were the boys who fought so terribly in battle hand to hand that day at Malvern Hill. And each battered the other to the destruction of his right eye.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Execution of John Wood on the March to Gettysburg

I have had a lifelong interest in the American Civil War, and in recent years have done some research and written a couple articles for the Gettysburg Magazine.  The most recent issue (Issue 45, July 2011) contained a poignant article that affected me.

Private John Wood, a member of the 19th Indiana regiment, had enlisted days after the initial battle of Bull Run in July 1861.  He had deserted twice before, and was excused by reason of being sick.  His third and final desertion took place In May 1863.  This time the stakes were much higher: as his regiment was advancing as part of the Gettysburg Campaign, as Union General Joseph  Hooker began to follow General  Lee's Confederate army northward.  Every man was needed in the ranks, and if making an example of a deserter would help deter other men from deserting, this would be a small price to pay.

The execution took place on June 12, 1863, across the road from Hartwood Church, near Warrenton, VA.  In military world, it was a necessary action.  But I cannot help but feel for the man who died.  Today he might likely have sought status as a conscientious objector.  But that avenue was unavailable for a soldier in 1863, especially one who had willingly enlisted.  The realities of battle proved too much for Private Wood:

I did not want to go into a fight.I cannot stand it to fight.  I am ashamed to make the statement, but I may as well do it now as at any other time.  I never could stand a fight.  I have done my duty in every way but fight.  I have tried to do it but cannot.  I am perfectly willing to work all my lifetime for the United States in any other way but fight.  I have tried to do it but cannot.

So...148 years ago a Union deserter was shot by a firing squad in northern Virginia and his body was buried in a field near a church.  Presumably it still remains interred there.  The death of one man was but a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands produced by that war, but something about this story touches me. 

I guess it's the fact that he enlisted, as did thousands of other young men on both sides, in the heady enthusiasm of the war, but as reality set in, the realization that you were to load and shoot your rifle at other human beings, Private Wood realized that he could not do that.  No matter how noble the cause, he could not pull that trigger, and deserted multiple times to avoid that dilemma.

Many of us face dilemmas in our lives, but seldom do they rise to the level of life and death as it did for Private John Wood.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gettysburg Address

(photo credit Wikipedia, here: the only confirmed photo of Abraham Lincoln (circled) at Gettysburg)

Today is the 147th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  The battle had taken place some 4 months prior.  The Union dead were in the process of being dug up from hastily done burials on the field and removed to a permanent resting place in the new National Cemetery.

Lincoln was in town to speak at the dedication of the National Cemetery.

I forget where I ran into this short video, but you should watch it.  If not for yourself, watch it in remembrance of the dead of that battle, who were as real as you and me.  I will try to embed, but if that fails, click here.

Gettysburg Address from Adam Gault on Vimeo.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Battle of Falling Waters Road

The Battle of Falling Waters Road, Maryland, 1863

(Photo credits here)

Yesterday (scroll down) I posted about the Battle of Falling Waters, which occured in July 1861, in what was then Virginia, now West Virginia.  I speculated about what it meant when Henry Kyd Douglas, a staff officer for Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, wrote:

It was only a little "affair at Falling Waters," as General Johnston called it, and few were hurt. To me it was of memorable importance; for there for the first time I heard the whiz of a musket ball and the shriek of a cannon shot....Nothing came of it, but the war had made a beginning.

If you were one of the "few" you certainly would have had a quite different perspective....

Today's post is about another Civil War action, this one occurring some 2 years after the one mentioned above, and occurring on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.  It bears a quite similar name, which makes things confusing to keep straight: The Battle of Falling Waters Road (the addition of the word Road is the discriminator). 
This site was critical during the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, and looks much as it did in 1863.  General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was trapped against the flooding Potomac for several days, and at this site two corps of his army (Longstreet's and Hill's) managed to cross safely on pontoon boats just as Union General Meade attacked the rear guard.
The American Civil War would continue for nearly another 2 years.

In addition to the historical marker pictured above, there's another a few feet away:

The marker reads:

Finally on July 10, the Confederates completed a pontoon bridge, but it took two days for the ambulances and hundreds of ordnance and artillery wagons to cross. By the early evening of July 13, during another downpour, Gen. James Longstreet’s infantry corps began tramping across, guided by bonfires on both shores and signal torches on the bridge. Gen. A.P. Hill’s corps followed, and by mid-morning the next day, 30,000 Confederates were across.”

Lee’s army had escaped.

Quartermaster John Harman, who previously had served as Stonewall Jackson’s chief quartermaster, built 16 pontoon boats in two days from dismantled sheds and warehouses and wood from a Williamsport lumberyard. When the lumberyard manager complained, the Confederates retorted: “Just charge it to Jeff Davis. Our army is worth more than all your lumber in gold.

Whenever I run here I try to be alert and cognizant of what went on here.  Sometimes, I would swear, I hear indistinct noises, faint footfalls, murmured voices.