The first few days of July 1863 were momentous in the history of our country and in the chronology of the American Civil War. On July 1st the Union and Confederate forces began the battle of Gettysburg. in southern Pennsylvania. It was a rare occurrence of Confederates invading Union territory and it would be the last. The armies fought for three days with the Confederate forces ultimately defeated and chased all the way back to Virginia. There have been many accounts told of the battle, and movies as well – I would recommend the series by Ken Burns on the battle.
But one account is personal to me. There is a book Nine Months to Gettysburg, about the history of the Vermont militia and their journey. The Vermont militias, especially the 14th Regiment, went through a lot, marching, camping in primitive circumstances, and sparse rations, to get to the battle. And then they were placed in the center of the Union line on Cemetary Ridge. They withstood Pickett’s charge, participated in the counterattack, and turned the tide of the battle and of the war. What makes it personal for me is that my great-grandfather, Anson Elisha Wright, was there as part of the Vermont 14th Regiment. Now when I read or see or hear accounts of the battle I can’t help but think of him being there, with all the “sound and fury”. It is details like this that make history come alive for me. These were not just uniforms and statistics, but real-life flesh and blood people. It should temper our enthusiasm and quick jump to war to fix situations in the world. At times, like this, it is necessary. But it should not be automatic.
Later in 1938 on the 75th anniversary of the battle the Eternal Light Peace Memorial was dedicated and lit by President FDR on the battlefield, commemorating the 50th anniversary Gettysburg reunion in 1913 where Confederate veterans reenacting Pickett’s charge were met with outstretched arms of friendship by Union veterans as a sign of peace and reconciliation.