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2013 Civil War Travelogues — Gettysburg Civil War Institute

Welcome to my 2013 travelogue pages, commemorating the third year of the Civil War Sesquicentennial! This report covers my June trip to the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. It is my fifth year of attendance at the Institute (although not consecutive) and my 14th visit to Gettysburg in the last 10 years. To see the entire list of my 2013 trips, go here.

Here is a reminder about the reason I write these pages the way I do. They record my experiences and impressions of Civil War trips primarily for my future use. Thus, they sometimes make assumptions about things I already know and focus on insights that I receive. They are not general-purpose descriptions for people unfamiliar with the Civil War, although I do link to various Wikipedia articles throughout. Apologies about the quality of interior photographs—I don't take fancy cameras with big flashes to these events.

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Friday, June 21

I flew out from San Francisco late afternoon Thursday and arrived at a Dulles airport hotel at 2 AM. Since the weather was beautiful Friday morning, I decided to visit Arlington National Cemetery. I had visited here a number of years ago and did the standard bus tour, stopping by the unknown soldier tomb, JFK grave, etc. This time I hoped to focus on Civil War, particularly the Arlington House, which has reopened after a multiyear closure. This was Robert E. Lee's mansion until it was seized by quartermaster general Montgomery C. Meigs to be used as a cemetery. It has an interesting design, constructed of bricks, but covered with stucco colored and textured to look like blocks of sandstone. There is a brief tour available of the interior and it is fully stocked with period furniture and portraits, including one of my favorites of a very young Lt. Lee. Nearby is the grave of unknown Civil War soldiers from the Manassas battles. However, I was a bit disappointed in my ability to find a collection of famous generals. There was one section that looked promising, but unlike most of the more modern gravesites, it was chained off with no pedestrian access, so I couldn't get close enough to examine the monuments.

Arlington House View of the Pentagon from Arlington National Cemetery
Interior of the Lee Mansion ditto
ditto ditto
ditto One of my favorite Lee portraits
Another interior Memorial to the Civil War unknowns
A panorama showing one of many, many fields of gravesites
McClellan Gate

The drive to Gettysburg was easy in midafternoon and I checked into a new hotel, the Federal Point Inn, which was converted last year from an old school building, the Meade School, built in 1898. It is on the Chambersburg Pike directly next to the venerable Dunlap's restaurant, and therefore a convenient walk to Gettysburg College or to downtown. The rooms are very nicely furnished and I recommend the hotel, although it does not have some common amenities such as a restaurant/breakfast room or swimming pool. (Dunlap's next-door has a really cheap, full service breakfast—breathtakingly lower than California prices.)

Federal Pointe Inn

After registration, we listened to a brief welcoming address by Peter Carmichael, the CWI director. The Institute is getting pretty successful because he said there were 450 attendees this year. I don't recall a year greater than 300. I guess that the sesquicentennial of the battle in a couple of weeks might have something to do with it.

Peter Carmichael Keith Bohannon

Our first lecture was supposed to be "Gettysburg and the Idea of Equality," but the presenter, Glenn LaFantasie, was ill and could not attend, so they moved up a presentation from later on the agenda, Keith Bohannon (University of West Georgia) on "The War in The West." It was a pretty standard overview of the Western theater in 1863, concentrating primarily on Grant's Vicksburg campaign, the battle of Chickamauga, and the battles for Chattanooga. Keith liberally used some of my maps from Wikipedia and graciously gave me credit. Although I thought they were difficult to read, projected so far from the audience, I received a number of compliments in the next couple of days.

Peter introduced the director emeritus of the Civil War Institute, Gabor Boritt, who read his traditional poem about fireflies and friends returning to the Gettysburg battlefield, and gave a pitch for his son Jake, who has produced a new film about Gettysburg, which we will be previewing on Tuesday evening.

Pete and Gabor Boritt

After dinner, Pete returned for a lecture entitled "Born to Run: Cowardice at Gettysburg." He presented a few interesting anecdotes, but I was not able to really understand his overall theme. He talked about how the definition of cowardice is highly subjective, and when court-martials are involved, how it is sometimes difficult to make such a charge stick. For example, a charge is sometimes expressed as "misbehavior before the enemy," and the prosecution has to prove that the enemy was visible or within earshot when a desertion occurred. He spent a good part of the lecture talking about malingering, and I was surprised to hear about Army doctors performing procedures on patients that would probably be considered torture today, trying to determine whether they were actually sick or just faking to avoid combat.

We finished the evening with an Ice Cream Social on the patio, featuring delicious ice cream from a local company called Mr. G's.

Saturday, June 22

Our first session of the morning was "Strategic Imperatives and Tactical Realities: Lee & Confederate Generalship in the Gettysburg Campaign," by Richard Sommers (Army Heritage & Education Center in Carlisle—what used to be called the Military History Institute). This was quite a provocative lecture and received a lot of comments and questions. His purpose was not tactical analysis, but understanding Lee's strategic imperative. His thesis is that Lee had to keep moving all of the time and had to keep on the offense. He could not stop and wait for a Union attack because his enemy was concentrating quickly against him. He pointed out that 20 brigades of volunteers had been recruited and were starting to arrive, in addition to the veterans of the Army of the Potomac. Complementing the standard reasons for the campaign, he also cited the desire to cut two key Union railroads (the B&O and Pennsylvania railroads) and to invade and destroy the coal country east of the Susquehanna River, where 78% of US coal production was centered, as well as almost all of the anthracite coal that was used for locomotives and steamships. He pointed out that setting a coal mine on fire was sufficient to disable it virtually forever, and that occupying the area was not required. He discussed the famous dispute between Lee and Longstreet, calling Longstreet's offensive–defensive plan suicidal, and that he did not believe Longstreet actually advocated that plan during the war—he merely claimed this in his postwar writings. Sommers said that if Lee ever stopped moving and striking the enemy, he became not a threat, but a target. There was no mythical "Mount Longstreet" available for the Confederate army to occupy somewhere off the Union left flank and withstand any attack. He also dismissed any political pressure that might have compelled Meade to attack under unfavorable conditions.

Dr. Richard Sommers Carol Reardon (my seating location made it difficult to get her entire face in the photograph)

Carol Reardon (Pennsylvania State University) presented "A Much Fuller Plate: General George G. Meade’s Transition to Army Command." This was an interesting look at how Meade assumed command from June 28 to 30. Her thesis was that the Army of the Potomac was pretty well organized already and she reviewed all of the key staff members, judging them professional and of good character: Dan Butterfield (although he would cause Meade a lot of trouble after the battle), Gouverneur K. Warren, Henry J. Hunt, Seth Williams (AG), Marsena Patrick (PM), George Sharpe (BMI), and Rufus Ingalls (QM). She added an interesting observation that while everyone knows Robert E. Lee was dealing with two new corps commanders, Meade had a similar problem. Alfred Pleasanton and George Sykes were both new and Winfield S. Hancock had only been in corps command for three weeks. Meade had to deal with the problem of many of his regiments leaving during the campaign, having enlisted for only two years. (This problem was illustrated in The Killer Angels, with the relationship between the 2nd and 20th Maine.) Meade also had the advantage of good relationships with Darius Couch in the Department of the Susquehanna, who freely passed along intelligence.

Jeff Wert gave the third lecture of the morning. He was not on the original schedule, but filled in for Keith, who had filled in for Glenn. So I do not know the title of his talk, but it was about James Longstreet at Gettysburg, and he was pretty critical of Dr. Sommers's thesis on Longstreet. But while he rejected "suicidal," he did not actually endorse Longstreet's supposed plan. It was not really feasible for the Confederates to move around the flank of the Union Army because additional corps were arriving that would have been in the way and Lee had no cavalry at that time to screen the movement. Furthermore, Lee rightly knew that he had the tactical initiative and he did not want to give that up. He discussed the controversial actions on the morning of July 2, dismissing the Lost Cause notions that Lee had ordered Longstreet to attack first thing. In regards to his much criticized march to approach his attack positions, he pointed out that in the 1920s, the U.S. Army did a training exercise that tried to reproduce the march, but it did not do any better than Longstreet did handing so many troops. Eventually, the US Marine Corps beat Longstreet's time, but only by 30 minutes. He said the most serious failure of Longstreet's was not ordering Pickett to the field early on July 3 (although he did not discuss why this was such a big problem). Jeff had two amusing anecdotes in a very well delivered presentation. First, he said that the best performance in the Gettysburg movie was Pat Falci, who appeared as AP Hill for about 10 seconds and then disappeared. Second, he referred to a letter that described the Army of the Potomac as an "army of lions commanded by jackasses." He said that at Gettysburg, there were fewer jackasses.

Jeff Wert

After lunch there was a book signing and then four concurrent sessions, from which we had to choose one:

  1. Surviving War: Soldiers, Families, and the Crisis on Civil War America’s Main Streets, Brian Luskey (West Virginia University)
  2. Battlefields Are About Honor: Interpreting Slavery & Freedom at Gettysburg, 1863-2012, Jennifer Murray (University of Virginia at Wise)—I think this was canceled because Jennifer could not attend
  3. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: His Ideas About the Meaning of the Civil War & the Experiences of Gettysburg, James Trulock
  4. In Search of Northern Collaborators: John Hunt Morgan's 1863 Raid, David Keehn

Since I had recently done the maps for a book about Morgan's raid (Morgan's Great Raid by David Mowery), I thought I would give #4 a try, but I ended up being pretty disappointed. About 80% of the talk concerned the secret society called Knights of the Golden Circle, a group that wanted to establish a slave empire not only in the South, but in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. David, a Pennsylvania lawyer, has written a book about just that subject. The central theme of the talk was the question of whether the Knights influenced the Copperheads to encourage Morgan to make his raid through Indiana and Ohio. The bottom line was we don't know, so I found the whole affair pretty uninteresting.

David Keehn

Next was a panel discussion, "Why Can’t We Agree About Pickett’s Charge?", moderated by Scott Hartwig (Gettysburg National Military Park), with panelists Troy Harman (GNMP), Carol Reardon (Penn State University), Richard Sommers, and Jeffry Wert. There was quite a lot of discussion, which I cannot attempt to reproduce here, but I will give some highlights. They never really said what was the basic disagreement, but had a lot of interesting points. Carol said that Robert E. Lee had seen his army succeed into comparable attacks earlier in the battle—Dorsey Pender on Seminary Ridge (July 1) and Ambrose Wright on Cemetery Ridge (July 2)—so it was not inconceivable that he thought they could do it again. Troy outlined the thesis of his book, Lee's Real Plan, which says that on both July 2 and 3, Lee's objective was explicitly Cemetery Hill. He also advanced an interesting idea that Pickett's Charge was not only offensive, it was meant to be defensive as well. Lee wanted the Union Army to use up all of its ammunition before he might try to withdraw, escaping with all of the supplies they had raided in the North. Troy also expressed the opinion that on July 1 and 2, Lee had to attack because he had no cavalry available to screen both of his flanks. In response to a question, the panel dismissed the idea that Stuart's action on July 3 was meant to be a direct coordinated attack in support of Pickett's Charge. (There is no documentation to support this and, besides, cavalry was not used in that way during the Civil War.)

Richard, Jeff, Troy, Carol, Scott

After dinner we jumped on a fleet of school buses for a "Pickett’s Charge Evening Walk." The leaders of this giant group were Scott, Carol, Jeff, and John Heiser (also of GNMP). My subgroup was led by Scott and an intern for the Gettysburg Foundation, whose name escapes me, but he did a very impressive job in describing some important aspects of the artillery bombardment and the assault. We started at the Virginia monument and followed the NPS-mowed path, which goes roughly between the two largely separated wings of the attack, Pickett in the south, Pettigrew and Trimble to the north. I have done this walk before, so I didn't learn anything particularly new, but the evening weather was beautiful and all of us had a really nice time. (Apparently, the Gettysburg ticks did as well, but they did not bother me.) We then jumped on the buses again and went to the George Spangler Farm, which was used as a hospital for the XI Corps, caring for 1900 Union soldiers and 100 Confederate, and was the site at which Lewis Armistead died of his wounds. Sue Boardman (Gettysburg Foundation) gave a little speech and I was amused to see that she used one of my Gettysburg overview maps. I asked her about it and she said "I love Wikipedia!" We returned to the college at 9 PM, so it was a pretty long day.

Scott Hartwig getting ready for Pickett's Charge Finished up at the Angle
The George Spangler farm (the red exterior is actually a temporary plywood veneer) Sue Boardman cherishing my map

Sunday, June 23

The first talk this morning was supposed to be “'I Think if We Lose This Fight, We Lose the War': The Allure of Gettysburg as a Turning Point," by Gary W. Gallagher (University of Virginia), but Gary called in sick, so Peter Carmichael substituted for him with a talk about desertion at Gettysburg. Although I always enjoy hearing Peter's enthusiastic presentations, I took this opportunity to go for an early-morning run instead. (I am training for the New York Marathon with Team in Training, part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and I was due for a weekend run.) I ran from the hotel down Confederate Avenue, past the Round Tops, and back up into town, about 8 miles. It was really humid, but the temperature was quite tolerable before 8 AM.

So my first lecture was at 10 AM, "Ambrose Bierce, Chickamauga, and Ways to Write History," by Stephen Cushman (University of Virginia). I have seen Stephen a few times before and he always gives great lectures. He had a handout that covered some of the key names and books that he described and I was amused that he included the CWSAC battle summary for Chickamauga, describing it as "monkey notes." I guess that must be an English professor sort of thing. The talk was centered around a letter that Bierce sent to Archibald Gracie, criticizing his book about Chickamauga, seemingly about whether the name Horseshoe Ridge was used at the time of the battle. This highlighted the fact that simply being in the battle did not give you the qualifications to know everything about the experience and to criticize others who have done research about it. He talked about how Bierce's writings on Chickamauga were affected by the postbellum work of DH Hill, whom he admired for his confidence and military professionalism, going so far as to use common phrases and descriptive techniques from Hill. As Bierce got older, his attraction to military practices and discipline became more pronounced and Stephen told an interesting story about him visiting the Army War College and giving them a lecture about how to deliver commands in "slow rolling tones." In one interesting aside, Stephen mentioned that Robert E. Lee was the "master of the passive voice."

The very tail end of Pete's desertion talk Stephen Cushman

Before lunch there was a book signing session and my friend Katie Aldridge showed up with her husband, Matt. A couple of years ago, I did some maps for her book, No Freedom Shrieker (a collection of very interesting letters from a soldier in the 147th New York, which Peter Carmichael has been raving about), and gave her some editorial advice on Civil War and battle topics. But I had never actually met her in person until today, so the three of us went out to lunch and talked about publishing and marathon running. (In addition to being a wife, mother, and Civil War author in Ithaca, New York, Katie is also an elite marathoner and has won the Gettysburg Marathon, among other races.)

Also on hand for the book signing was my friend Scott Mingus, whose new book about Extra Billy Smith is selling really well. Along with Katie, Scott was one of my earliest mapping clients. Scott amazed us by saying that he had just finished his 10th book! (And by that, I mean writing his 10th book.)

After lunch there were three more concurrent sessions from which I had to choose:

  1. Is The Killer Angels Necessary to Understand Gettysburg? Matt Atkinson (Gettysburg National Military Park), Kent Gramm (Gettysburg College), James Trulock
  2. The Boston Draft Riots, Christopher Gwinn (Gettysburg National Military Park)
  3. Reverberations of McPherson’s Woods: How a Few Hours of Fighting Forever Changed the Men of the 24th Michigan & 26th North Carolina, Judkin Browning (Appalachian State University)

I picked #1, and once again I was rather disappointed with my choice. It was a mostly unstructured discussion, peppered with jokes and personal evaluations, but little scholarship that I could discern. James Trulock, who wrote a biography of Chamberlain (In the Hands of Providence), compared Chamberlain to Superman, and said he was the model of a civilian soldier. Kent Gramm spent time talking about zombie movies. The basic answer to the question in the title of the panel seems to be that there are many interpretations of Gettysburg, and if you want to understand the one that is espoused in The Killer Angels, it is necessary for you to read it. Matt said that so many visitors to Gettysburg have read the book or seen the movie and have misconceptions (which he did not really enumerate, besides the fact that Buster Kilrain was not a real person), that he needed to read it to compensate for those misconceptions.

James, Kent, Matt

There was yet another set of concurrent sessions:

  1. Deserter Country in the North, Robert Sandow (Lock Haven University)
  2. The Richmond Bread Riots, Ashley Whitehead Luskey (Richmond National Battlefield Park)
  3. An Ample Supply of Food for Our Families: Slave Labor and Lee’s 1863 Raid Into Pennsylvania, Jaime Martinez (University of North Carolina – Pembroke)
  4. War Front, Home Front: The Fraying Union in One Northern State, Mike Pride

but I am sorry to say that none of these topics interested me, so I took the rest of the afternoon and evening off. I went to the Visitor Center and saw the new exhibition, Treasures of the Civil War, which had a number of interesting artifacts, highlighted (for me) by a very elaborate gold and silver sword presented to Ulysses S. Grant by the men of the Army of the Tennessee after Vicksburg. There were uniform items from Meade, Custer, and John F. Reynolds, including the kepi the latter was wearing when he was killed on July 1. And a snippet from Traveller's mane. Then I hiked around the southern end of the battlefield for an hour or so, visiting Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, the Rose Farm, and Plum Run Valley. I also stopped at the Pennsylvania Memorial, which was under renovation the last time I visited, and for the first time that I can recall, I climbed up to the top to see the view. I used the remainder of my time to work on this report, which is pretty time-consuming, and which the normal packed schedule of the CWI makes rather difficult. I regret to say I also missed the after dinner presentation, "Civil War Soldiers’ Experiences in 1863," byAaron Sheehan-Dean (West Virginia University). (I really prefer battle and operations/strategy presentations and narrative history to more generalized ones such as this.)

Grant's sword in the Treasures exhibit
Devil's Den
Approach to Little Round Top The recently refurbished Pennsylvania Memorial
Little Round Top from the Valley of Death
The Wheatfield
View looking south from atop Pennsylvania Memorial—Round Top in the distance
Looking north—the Angle, Copse, Ziegler's Grove, etc.


Monday, June 24

Our first lecture of the morning was "Decisive Moments of July 1st," by Scott Hartwig (Gettysburg National Military Park). Scott seemed to interpret the subject as meaning the moments in which decisions were made. He started with a discussion of Heth's approach to the battlefield on July 1, which he compared to a sledgehammer, using two brigades as a reconnaissance in force, intending to seize the town. This is in contrast to the more casual expedition by Pettigrew looking for shoes on June 30, but there is no mention of shoes in any of the official reports of July 1. He discussed the options available to John F. Reynolds: withdraw (the least risky option), deploy onto the high ground south of town, or engage the oncoming enemy west of town, screening the roads, and trading men for time (the boldest option, and the one that Reynolds actually selected). Oliver O. Howard's options included the possibility of withdrawing the army. Buford criticized him for his late reinforcement of the defensive line. On the Confederate side, Scott described Richard S. Ewell as decisively launching a successful attack (after the initial setback of Rodes's first attack). Scott was sympathetic to Ewell's response to Lee's order to take the heights "if practicable, but don't bring on a general engagement." He reported that George Meade was assailed by many for his thorough planning of alternatives, which included retreating, but Scott thought this was a natural for his profession as an engineer. To those who complain that Meade was reluctant to fight at Gettysburg at all, Scott pointed out that immediately after receiving the first report from Reynolds, he ordered all of his units to converge on the battlefield.

Scott Hartwig Allen Guelzo

Next was "How the Town of Gettysburg Shaped Military Decisions During the Battle," by Allen C. Guelzo (Gettysburg College). I was a little surprised at the selection of the topic, expecting him to follow up on his recent book with something like "George Meade Was a Loser." But perhaps the conference wanted to avoid controversy. :-) So he explored how the topography of the town, with its numerous streets, alleys, and buildings, affected the fighting. He said that any army moving in any direction between South Mountain and the Susquehanna River was compelled to go through Gettysburg's road network. Neither side had any formal doctrine for urban combat and the rifled musket was poorly suited for street to street fighting. When Reynolds sent back his report to Meade, he said that he would barricade the streets if necessary, but despite his promise, no barricades were erected and no staff officers were posted as guides for troops moving through the streets. (In fairness to Reynolds, he was killed before he could arrange any of these details.) Dr. Guelzo told a few stories of looting, and in the question session at the end he opined that it was really somewhat expected by armies in that era. (He related a funny anecdote in which a Confederate staff officer complained about a large number of sheepskins that he found within a regimental area, suspecting they were stolen, and he received the reply that "this demonstrated that no sheep can bite members of this regiment with impunity.") By occupying the town, the Confederates had the advantage of some decent observation posts, but they were plagued by obstacles to maneuver. Rather than conquering Gettysburg, the town conquered the Army of Northern Virginia. In an aside, he mentioned that there were more civilians killed after the battle than during it, primarily children who played with unexploded ordnance. He also mentioned that physical damage to the town was remarkably light and commerce recovered quickly.

Finally, "Decisive Moments of July 2nd," by A. Wilson Greene (Pamplin Historical Park). I have seen Will speak before and have been impressed by his presentations. I found his implicit definition of a decisive moment to be a little off the mark. Rather than a moment that decides the outcome of the battle, he interpreted it somewhat like "a decision or event that did not happen, but if it had, it might have had a decisive role." (In my definitional space, there were in fact no decisive events on July 2 because in fact the battle was not decided until the following day.) Anyway, the first decisive moment he cited was the reconnaissance out to Little Round Top conducted by Samuel Johnston, which gave Lee bad information about the location of the Union Army. Next was the John Bell Hood attack on Little Round Top. Meade had a great deal of responsibility for denying the Confederates success in this case. He ordered George Sykes to occupy the hill, and he sent Gouverneur K. Warren to check on the status. Will also had understandably good things to say about the roles of Strong Vincent, Charles Hazlett, Patrick O'Rourke, and Stephen Weed. Oh, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. (He joked about the Park Service putting in a moving walkway to reach the 20th Maine monument.) He did not think that the Dan Sickles movement from his original position was decisive, because it did not put the Union in an untenable position. But a decisive moment was when Richard H. Anderson was handed a chance to drive a wedge into the Union line, filling the gap opened up between the III corps and the II corps. This attack went poorly because of lack of coordination. Ambrose Wright had some success, but he was not reinforced by Posey, and Mahone stayed simply inert. Also, Hancock blunted the advance of Wilcox and Lang by throwing in the suicidal charge by the 1st Minnesota. Another moment was the repulse of Jubal Early in his assault on East Cemetery Hill—Rodes did not support the attack as expected and Gordon was withheld. In Allegany Johnson's attack on Culp's Hill, Maryland Steuart did not follow up on a reconnaissance that showed the nearby Baltimore Pike was vulnerable. It was interesting to note that Will claims George S. Greene, one of my favorite generals at Gettysburg, as an ancestor. (It occurred to me later in the week that I am now actually almost 2 years older than "Pap" Greene was at Gettysburg.)

A. Wilson Greene

After lunch, there were eight battlefield tours:

  1. Little Round Top, Glenn LaFantasie (Western Kentucky University)
  2. Lee at Gettysburg, A. Wilson Greene (Pamplin Historical Park) and Peter Carmichael
  3. Meade at Gettysburg I, Ed Bearss (National Park Service – Emeritus) and Mark Snell (Shepherd University)
  4. Meade at Gettysburg II, Chris Stowe (U.S. Army Command & General Staff College)
  5. Capturing Gettysburg: Early Battlefield Photography, Tim Smith (Licensed Battlefield Guide)
  6. The Mission & the Mindset of J.E.B. Stuart at Gettysburg, Chuck Teague (Gettysburg National Military Park)
  7. Chancellorsville Staff Ride, Christian Keller (U.S. Army War College)—full day
  8. Translating the Gettysburg Campaign into Strategic Education [Staff Ride], Paul Jussel (U.S. Army War College)—full day

I was assigned to #2, which was not my first choice. The alternative I requested was #8, a full-day staff ride of Gettysburg, and I thought I sent my form in by email within just a few minutes of the announcement, but no luck. (So I got to attend the three preceding lectures as compensation.) We jumped on the bus and our first stop was Cashtown, where we stood outside the historic inn and talked about Lee's options for the campaign after Chancellorsville, which included staying on the defensive in Virginia, sending troops to the Western theater, attacking in Virginia, or moving north. Will asked for a vote on whether we thought Lee made the correct choice and most people said yes, but I said no. At this point, Peter Carmichael practically had an aneurysm, trying to process my apostasy. (My opinion, which obviously has some hindsight involved, is that the campaign was too risky from an operational and logistical standpoint, and that Lee allowed hubris to lead him on. My alternative recommendation would have been to give Lee command of the Western theater and send him with troops to take over from Braxton Bragg and defeat William S. Rosecrans, which would have liberated middle Tennessee and might have caused the Lincoln administration to get Grant to back off from Vicksburg. Well, opinions are cheap.)

At the Cashtown Inn

Our second stop was at Oak Hill, where we had a panoramic view that showed the entire Union defensive line on July 1. We primarily discussed the Richard S. Ewell "if practicable" order (which Will pronounces prac-TICK-able for some reason) and most of the people voted to say that Ewell actually acted reasonably in doing what he did, or didn't do. I fault Lee for his poorly worded order and for not insisting that AP Hill provide support for the attack—in fact, for not planning and ordering such a supporting attack without even being asked.

A View from Oak Hill

The third stop was on the lawn to the east of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, where we discussed the planning for July 2. Although there was quite a bit of anti-Longstreet sentiment expressed, I was relatively alone in my insistence that Lee is guilty of very poor coordination among his corps commanders. Most of those decisive moments that Will talked about in the morning were actually instances of piecemeal attacks, unsupported attacks, and other lost opportunities that the overall commander has to take responsibility for.

Finally, we drove to the Spangler farm (another Spangler, not the one with the XI Corps hospital, but the one where Pickett's division started marching on July 3) to discuss Pickett's Charge. Once again, I raised criticisms about Lee's coordination and his selection of units to send forward under Longstreet. The group consensus was that it was not a good decision to make the assault. I suggested that it would have been more prudent to take a rest on July 3 and wait for Meade's attack on July 4, which the council of war had tentatively agreed upon if Lee did not attack. Peter Carmichael expressed the opinion that Longstreet deliberately did not send all of the units forward that he could, hoping to minimize the damage in an attack he knew would fail.

Peter and Will at the Spangler farm

After dinner there was a panel: "Reflecting on William Frassanito’s Gettysburg: A Journey in Time," moderated by Peter Carmichael, with panelists Tim Smith (Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide), Garry Adelman (Civil War Trust), John Heiser (Gettysburg National Military Park), and Chuck Teague (Gettysburg National Military Park). Since I am familiar with the book and have heard Garry and Tim talk about these photographs on a number of occasions, I decided to catch up on my rest and travelogue instead. If Frassanito himself had been enticed to leave the Reliance Mine Saloon and attend, I might have changed my mind. (The following day I heard Peter complaining mightily about statements that Tim made about interpreting photographs, so it is too bad that I did not stick around for the fireworks.)

Tuesday, June 25

Tuesday morning started with an optional visit to an exhibit at the college's Musselman Library, "Slaves, Soldiers, Citizens: African-American Artifacts of the Civil War Era." We were told that the exhibit was curated by a senior in the history program at Gettysburg College, and he or she did a very good job. Although small, the collection was very interesting with a lot of documents regarding slave trade as well as some barbaric shackles and iron collars. Then we had three 45-minute breakout sessions, selected for us at random from the following list:

  1. Soldiers, Families, and War, Aaron Sheehan-Dean (West Virginia University)
  2. Riots & Rebels: Political Upheaval on the Southern Home Front, Ashley Whitehead Luskey (Richmond National Battlefield Park)
  3. Slave Impressment and the Fear of Starvation in Virginia and North Carolina, Jaime Martinez (University of North Carolina – Pembroke)
  4. Vampires, Politics, and Resistance: Hollywood Portrays the End of Slavery, Brian Luskey (West Virginia University)
  5. The Philadelphia Gentleman: George Gordon Meade, Manhood, and Ambition in the Army of the Potomac, Chris Stowe (U.S. Army Command & General Staff College)
  6. German-American Soldiers in the Army of the Potomac 1862-1863, Christian Keller (U.S. Army War College)
  7. Gettysburg Photography 4-D, Garry Adelman (Civil War Trust)
  8. The Debate Over Loyalty in the Union, Robert Sandow (Lock Haven University)
  9. Separating Myth from Reality in the Battle for McPherson’s Woods, Judkin Browning (Appalachian State University)
  10. The Gettysburg Address & the Back of an Envelope, Kent Gramm (Gettysburg College)

My first was the Philadelphia Gentleman (#5). Dr. Stowe gave us the context of George Gordon Meade as a 19th century elite, a gentleman who values honor and manners. (He never really explained how this attitude can be reconciled with Meade's nasty temper and foul mouth.) We read and discussed Meade's letter to his wife dated June 25, 1863, exactly 150 years ago to the day. This was three days before he was given command of the Army of the Potomac, but you could see that he was thinking about the opportunity, his discreet ambition showing through. We also discussed his "military gentility," in which he balanced between a restrained, gentlemanly attitude and an aggressive attitude, which Stowe described as a "contested manhood."

Chris Stowe Judkin Browning

Second was Separating Myth from Reality (#9). Dr. Browning discussed two data points about the battle between the 26th North Carolina versus the 24th Michigan on July 1 in Herbst's Woods. The first was the famous story about how Lt. Col. John Lane was shot after he picked up the fallen colors, an incident made more interesting because of a misunderstanding. Will Burgwyn, the younger brother of Col. Henry Burgwyn, who was killed during the battle, believed that a Union veteran of the 24th Michigan, Charles McConnell, was the man who shot and seriously wounded Lane, because the former recounted that he shot the last color bearer in the charge. In the 1903 reunion, these two men had an emotional reconciliation and historians ever since have been retelling the story. However, Browning demonstrated that the color bearer who was shot actually came from Pender's division and the incident occurred at least 500 yards and 30 minutes from Lane's wounding. The second data point was on the number of troops from the regiment who entered the battle, and he presented about a dozen secondary sources that claim anywhere from 800 to 986. Regardless of the number, the percentage of casualties from the 26th North Carolina was the highest of any Confederate regiment during the battle.

The final breakout was 4-D Photography (#7). Garry Adelman always gives an animated, outstanding presentation. The concept of 4-D takes a 3-D photograph and compares it against a modern photograph (the fourth dimension being time). We saw quite a number of 3-D photographs, using the traditional nerdy red and blue colored glasses, but the vast majority of these did not have a modern photograph to compare. Garry said that there are only 97 photographs of dead soldiers for the entire Civil War and that Gettysburg counts for 37 of them. Almost all of them have been identified as either on the Rose Farm or around Devil's Den, but there are nine that he thinks may never be identified.

Garry Adelman

After lunch there was a series of all-afternoon battlefield tours around the theme "Gettysburg Through the Eyes of a Soldier." The list of those available included:

  1. Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Gaillard of the 2nd South Carolina, Jennifer Murray (University of Virginia – Wise)
  2. Murphy C. Briant of the 11th Georgia, Keith Bohannon (University of West Georgia)
  3. Lieutenant Gulian V. Weir of the 5th U.S. Artillery, Brian Jordan (Yale University)
  4. William Wagner of the 57th North Carolina, Peter Carmichael (Gettysburg College)
  5. George Hillyer of the 9th Georgia, Angela Atkinson (Gettysburg National Military Park)
  6. Colonel Edward E. Cross of the 5th New Hampshire and a Brigade Commander Under Caldwell & Hancock, Mike Pride
  7. Private Theodore Fogle of the 2nd Georgia, Garry Adelman (Civil War Trust)
  8. Captain Stephen Brown of the 13th Vermont, Charlie Fennell (Licensed Battlefield Guide)

My first choice was the 57th North Carolina and I actually got my first choice this time. The tour concentrated heavily on reading and interpreting three letters from William Wagner, rather than the battle tactics on the field. Wagner was a farmer whose spelling and punctuation skills would fit right in with teenagers on the modern Internet. His letters to his wife did not tell very much about the battle, but he did relay a lot of information about people in his community who were killed or wounded. He also expressed mounting concerns of a political nature about the war and was pretty frank in saying that he expected the Confederacy would lose and wished they would hurry up and make peace. He was part of Avery's brigade in the July 2 assault on East Cemetery Hill, so we drove over there and followed the progress of his regiment by hiking about halfway up the hill. (I have done this walk with Ed Bearss in the past and I can assure you that he did not stop!) Then we drove over to Culp's Hill and visited an area that tourist rarely see, in the area from which the Confederates attacked roughly at saddle between the two peaks of the hill. There are the faint remnants of a Confederate burial trench there, and apparently one of the soldiers Peter described in his lecture about deserters was buried there (the remains were later reinterred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond). Finally, we hiked down the hill to visit a large rock that was the site sheltering Confederate sharpshooters, immortalized by a famous painting by Edwin Forbes.

Our progress ascending East Cemetery Hill Sharpshooter Rock on Culp's Hill
Edwin Forbes's painting of the rock and Culp's Hill
Panorama of Stevens Knoll and East Cemetery Hill

During the conference, I avoided eating in the college cafeteria, taking advantage of many of the relatively inexpensive tourist restaurants in Gettysburg (or Kennie's Market nearby the hotel), but for Tuesday night there was a special barbecue buffet, so I paid a special fee of $15 to participate in that. The staff took pity on us having spent all afternoon in the heat and humidity, so they decided to feed us inside instead of on the lawn outside Pennsylvania Hall, as originally planned.

After dinner there was a special presentation by Jake Boritt (Boritt Films, LLC, and the son of Gabor Boritt), previewing his new film Gettysburg Story. This is a description of the battle using some animated maps (not all that accurate, in my cartographic reckoning) and a lot of flashy aerial and time lapse photography, narrated by Stephen Lang. I was one of the sponsors of the Kickstarter project that funded it, so I should be receiving my DVD any day now. This fall it will appear on PBS television. It is a visually impressive work that I think a lot of people will enjoy.

Jake Boritt The 1863 Panel: Scott, Robert, Kevin, Judkin, Jaime, Chris

The conference concluded with a panel discussion, "The War in 1863," moderated by Peter Carmichael. Panelists were Jaime Martinez (University of North Carolina – Pembroke), Robert Sandow (Lock Haven University), Scott Hartwig (Gettysburg National Military Park), Chris Stowe (U.S. Army Command & General Staff College), Kevin Levin, Judkin Browning (Appalachian State University). Rather than the stereotypical kind of discussion that usually crops up, such as "Best and Worst Generals of the Year," Peter asked a series of questions that were a bit more academically oriented, shall we say. They discussed the value of turning points (a commonly misused term they never actually defined), which they agreed were too reductionist and usually too focused on military topics alone. They talked about the importance of the centrality of military affairs in historiography. They compared the Civil War with some of the more modern wars in terms of mobilization and public support. Scott Hartwig said that the relevance of the Civil War in such comparisons is the understanding that once any war starts, the direction it takes will be unknown. (He also related an amusing anecdote about how Gettysburg used to borrow copies of the Gettysburg Address from the Library of Congress, but the big librarian was concerned about the safety of the document when he found out that they were transporting it back and forth in a station wagon.) They also talked about how Reconstruction can be considered a form of nationbuilding. I thought it was unfortunate that there was no mention here at all of the Western theater, which I believe was more important to the progress of the war in 1863 than the Eastern.

Peter gave us a preview of the 2014 conference. Since the important Eastern theater battles of 1864 are uncomfortably distant from Gettysburg, the plan is that on Sunday afternoon everyone will board buses for Fredericksburg, overnight there in a hotel, and then return Monday evening to Gettysburg. The registration form for 2014 is here. He said that the 2015 conference is also being planned and it likely will be hosted in Richmond.

Wednesday, June 26

I got up bright and early (well, dark and early) and flew back to San Francisco from Dulles on a 7 AM flight. I had a great time at the 2013 conference, met a lot of interesting people, and found some new topics to think about for the sesquicentennial. And I always love spending time in Gettysburg.

My next trip will be in late July, to the Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce seminar, Gettysburg and Beyond. I should have that travelogue completed on July 31.