High Water Mark

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg National Battlefield, Gettysburg, PA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Four score and seven years (minus one day) after these United Colonies declared their independence from the greatest empire of the age, two conceptions of that heritage met upon the greatest of American battlefields. This is part of that story, the story of men (and women) who cared enough for their freedom to kill, and to die for it, in wholesale lots. This battle was the most costly ever fought by American arms until the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two. At Gettysburg 55, 000 American Soldiers died in 3 days combat, and created a legend for us to try to live up to. 

This afternoon, a scant 150 years ago, the most costly battle ever fought in North America raged. For today is the day that the Confederacy reached its high water mark. It did so in the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Since the armies found each other there on the 1st of July, the Federals had been driven out of town, on the first, had held on the left and right flanks on the second, and now, today, would come the climax, of many things.

As I write this the cannons are speaking, mostly without effect, because of the smoke, and defective fuses in the Confederate shells. But 150-170 Confederate guns are speaking, the most ever, and soon about 80 federal guns will reply.

And so, at about 3 pm local time, General Longstreet, commanding Pickett’s Division of Virginians, plus six brigades from Hill’s Corps this day, will mount the charge that will forever be known as Pickett’s Charge.

Link here  embedding disabled but do watch.

And so for the very last time in history, a charge was mounted in the style known by Winfield Scott, and Washington, and Gage, and Wellington, Marlborough, and Cromwell, Caesar and the Spartans, and Alexander, himself.

The high water mark of the Confederacy was right there when you saw General Armistead ask about his friend General Hancock. Around 12,000 men were in that charge, roughly half of them survived. When General Lee told General Longstreet to put his division in order for defense after the charge, he is reputed to have replied.

“General Lee, I have no division.”

But the Rebels weren’t the only brave men there. On the other side was the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, another one of the fairly rare western regiments in the Potomac army. From the Mankato Free Press and quoted by the Power Line Blog

“There was a mystique to the Minnesota men — the character they had compared to what I call the ‘city boys’ out east. The ones who came out here in the 1860s, they were farming, logging, surviving, shooting guns. All these pioneering traits made them stronger and better soldiers.”

Jorgenson said the 1st quickly attracted attention from the generals, who often dealt with high rates of desertion and panic during battle. The unit’s actions at Bull Run, which deteriorated into a haphazard retreat, particularly caught attention.

“It was how they carried themselves. At Bull Run they were one of the last ones pulled out of battle and they retreated orderly, not running off pell-mell. That impressed the generals. They never once lost their flag and they never broke and ran.”

That reputation for toughness was put to bloody use at Gettysburg. The 1st Minnesota was being held in reserve to fill gaps if trouble arose. When Confederate soldiers threatened to take Cemetery Ridge and break the Union line — perhaps turning the tide of the battle — some 260 1st Minnesota soldiers were sent into a force of 1,500 to 1,800 Confederates. The unit was decimated, but the time they bought allowed the Union to hold its lines.

Continue reading Last Full Measure

Actually the paper is using the sloppy modern definition of decimated, which actually means to lose 1 in 10 or to take 10% casualties. At Gettysburg, the 1st Minnesota took 82% casualties, far worse than being decimated, nor were they alone, it was not all that uncommon on either side of the lines, and is part of the reason Americans hold both armies very close indeed to their hearts.

Something else happened a 150 years ago today as well, a few hundred miles from Gettysburg. Down in Mississippi, General Pemberton was deciding that he must surrender the city to General Grant. Today he sent a note through the lines to General Grant who was at first inclined to demand unconditional surrender, but who realized that he didn’t really want to feed 30, 000 PWs and agreed to accept their parole, because the Confederate government did not handle this honorably, it was the last general prisoner exchange for the duration.

The official surrender was on the 4th, and practically, and as has been typical for a long time in American war making, there was no victory celebration and nearly the first thing into town were the commissary trains, to feed the starving inhabitants.

Civil War Train (at Petersburg)

Civil War Train
(at Petersburg)

Never again would the Confederacy look viable, we are now entering on the part of the war that was fought, and fought very hard for honors sake.

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5 Responses to High Water Mark

  1. « Happy 4th of July ».. NEO !


  2. Happy Independence Day, NEO! Hope it’s a great one.


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