Chapter 9: Gettysburg: the high-water mark of the war
Two bullets, one Federal, the other Confederate
This is a picture of which Captain Gordon McCabe of Richmond, Virginia, writes:
I send photographs of two bullets, one Federal, the other Confederate, that met in mid-air and flattened out against each other. The bullets were picked up in 1865 between the ‘lines’ immediately after the evacuation of Petersburg.
GettysburgMilitary critics have generally settled upon the battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, as the decisive battle of the war, and the greatest battle in American history. It ended Lee's second invasion of the North, and, together with the fall of Vicksburg, threw the Confederacy upon the defensive and shut out hope of foreign intervention. The poem was written for the dedication of the high water mark monument, July 2, 1892.
There was no union in the land,
Though wise men labored long
With links of clay and ropes of sand
To bind the right and wrong.
There was no temper in the blade
That once could cleave a chain;
Its edge was dull with touch of trade
And clogged with rust of gain.
The sand and clay must shrink away
Before the lava tide:
By blows and blood and fire assay
The metal must be tried.
Here sledge and anvil met, and when
The furnace fiercest roared,
God's undiscerning workingmen
Reforged His people's sword.
Enough for them to ask and know
The moment's duty clear—
The bayonets flashed it there below,
The guns proclaimed it here:
To do and dare, and die at need,
But while life lasts, to fight—
For right or wrong a simple creed,
But simplest for the right.
 They faltered not who stood that day
‘But while life lasts, to fight’ Such was the fate of many of the 5,000 and more Confederates of whom no returns were made after the fighting at Gettysburg. This young soldier was one of the sharpshooters posted in the ‘Devil's Den,’ the only position captured and held by the Confederates in the fighting at the Round Tops. In their lonely fastness these boys in gray sent many a swift messenger of death into the Federal lines that were fighting on the near-by crest. Then at last a Federal shell, bursting over this lad, wounded him in the head, but was not merciful enough to kill him outright. He was evidently able to spread his blanket and must have lain there alone for hours in his death agony. The photographer who took this picture, just after the battle in July, attended the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, in November, and again penetrated to this rocky spot. The musket, rusted by many storms, still leaned against the rock; the remains of the boy soldier lay undisturbed within the mouldering uniform. No burial party had found him. The only news that his loved ones got was the single word, ‘Missing.’ A tale like this is true for 5,000 more.
And held this post of dread;
Nor cowards they who wore the gray
Until the gray was red.
For every wreath the victor wears
The vanquished half may claim;
Every monument declares
A common pride and fame.
We raise no altar stones to Hate,
Who never bowed to Fear:
No province crouches at our gate,
To shame our triumph here.
Here standing by a dead wrong's grave
The blindest now may see,
The blow that liberates the slave
But sets the master free!
When ills beset the nation's life
Too dangerous to bear,
The sword must be the surgeon's knife,
Too merciful to spare.
O Soldier of our common land,
'Tis thine to bear that blade
Loose in the sheath, or firm in hand,
But ever unafraid.
When foreign foes assail our right,
One nation trusts to thee—
To wield it well in worthy fight—
The sword of Meade and Lee!
John Burns of Gettysburg
|‘To do and dare, and die at need’ These sharpshooters, prone beside the mossy boulders and scrub trees of ‘Devil's Den’ are among the most daring of those who fought at Gettysburg. They have paid the penalty so often attending such duty. At the beginning of the war it was argued that individual and unattached riflemen should be regarded as murderers and shot if captured; but this was never done, since sharpshooters came to play an important part on both sides. In the Confederate ranks they were men from Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas—men whose outdoor life made them experts with the rifle. Seeing the value of such a force, the Federals early organized a regiment of sharpshooters, enlisting men from each of the Federal States. These brought their own rifles, and most of them could snuff out a candle at a hundred yards. Often far in advance of the line, the sharpshooters chose their own positions, sometimes climbing into trees and lashing themselves to the branches to avoid a fall in case they should be wounded. Thousands paid the price of their daring.|
Have you heard the story that gossips tell
Of Burns of Gettysburg? No? Ah, well:
Brief is the glory that hero earns,
Briefer the story of poor John Burns:
He was the fellow who won renown,—
The only man who didn't back down
When the rebels rode through his native town;
But held his own in the fight next day,
When all his townsfolk ran away.
That was in July, sixty-three,—
The very day that General Lee,
Flower of Southern chivalry,
Baffled and beaten, backward reeled
From a stubborn Meade and a barren field.
I might tell how, but the day before,
John Burns stood at his cottage-door,
Looking down the village street,
Where, in the shade of his peaceful vine,
He heard the low of his gathered kine,
And felt their breath with incense sweet;
Or I might say, when the sunset burned
The old farm gable, he thought it turned
The milk that fell like a babbling flood
Into the milk-pail, red as blood!
Or how he fancied the hum of bees
Were bullets buzzing among the trees.
But all such fanciful thoughts as these
Were strange to a practical man like Burns,
Who minded only his own concerns,
Troubled no more by fancies fine
Than one of his calm-eyed, long-tailed kine,
Quite old-fashioned and matter-of-fact,
Slow to argue, but quick to act.
That was the reason, as some folks say,
He fought so well on that terrible day. 
‘With his long brown rifle’—John Burns of Gettysburg The old hero of Gettysburg sits here by his cottage. On one side is the old-fashioned gun Harte speaks of, on the other, the crutches he needed after the battle. Sergeant George Eustice, of Company F, Seventh Wisconsin Volunteers, in Battles and leaders describes John Burns' action in the ranks of that regiment: ‘It must have been about noon when I saw a little old man coming up in the rear of Company F. In regard to the peculiarities of his dress, I remember he wore a swallow-tailed coat with smooth brass buttons. He had a rifle on his shoulder. We boys began to poke fun at him as soon as he came amongst us, as we thought no civilian in his senses would show himself in such a place. . . . Bullets were flying thicker and faster, and we hugged the ground about us as close as we could. Burns got behind a tree and surprised us all by not taking a double-quick to the rear. He was as calm and collected as any veteran.’
And it was terrible. On the right
Raged for hours the heady fight,
Thundered the battery's double bass,—
Difficult music for men to face;
While on the left—where now the graves
Undulate like the living waves
That all the day unceasing swept
Up to the pits the rebels kept—
Round-shot ploughed the upland glades,
Sown with bullets, reaped with blades;
Shattered fences here and there,
Tossed their splinters in the air;
The very trees were stripped and bare;
The barns that once held yellow grain
Were heaped with harvests of the slain;
The cattle bellowed on the plain,
The turkeys screamed with might and main,
And the brooding barn-fowl left their rest
With strange shells bursting in each nest.
Just where the tide of battle turns,
Erect and lonely, stood old John Burns.
How do you think the man was dressed?
He wore an ancient, long buff vest,
Yellow as saffron,—but his best;
And, buttoned over his manly breast,
Was a bright blue coat with a rolling collar,
And large gilt buttons,—size of a dollar,—
With tails that the country-folk called ‘swaller.’
He wore a broad-brimmed, bell-crowned hat,
White as the locks on which it sat.
Never had such a sight been seen
For forty years on the village green,
Since old John Burns was a country beau,
And went to the ‘quiltings’ long ago.
Close at his elbows all that day
Veterans of the Peninsula,
Sunburnt and bearded, charged away;
And striplings, downy of lip and chin,—
Clerks that the Home-Guard mustered in,—
Glanced, as they passed, at the hat he wore,
Then at the rifle his right hand bore; 
And hailed him, from out their youthful lore,
With scraps of a slangy repertoire:
‘How are you, White Hat?’ ‘Put her through!’
‘Your head's level!’ and ‘Bully for you!’
Called him ‘Daddy,’—begged he'd disclose
The name of the tailor who made his clothes,
And what was the value he set on those;
While Burns, unmindful of jeer and scoff,
Stood there picking the rebels off,—
With his long brown rifle, and bell-crowned hat,
And the swallow-tails they were laughing at.
'Twas but a moment, for that respect
Which clothes all courage their voices checked;
And something the wildest could understand
Spake in the old man's strong right hand,
And his corded throat, and the lurking frown
Of his eyebrows under his old bell-crown;
Until, as they gazed, there crept an awe
Through the ranks in whispers, and some men saw,
In the antique vestments and long white hair,
The Past of the Nation in battle there;.
And some of the soldiers since declare
That the gleam of his old white hat afar,
Like the crested plume of the brave Navarre,
That day was their oriflamme of war.
So raged the battle. You know the rest:
How the rebels, beaten and backward pressed,
Broke at the final charge and ran.
At which John Burns — a practical man-
Shouldered his rifle, unbent his brows,
And then went back to his bees and cows.
That is the story of old John Burns;
This is the moral the reader learns:
In fighting the battle, the question's whether
You'll show a hat that's white, or a feather.
|‘The very trees were stripped and bare’ This picture of cannonaded trees on Culp's Hill, and the views herewith of Round Top and Cemetery Ridge, carry the reader across the whole battlefield. Culp's Hill was the scene of a contest on the second day. Lee's plan on that day was to attack the right and left flanks of the Union army at the same time. Longstreet's attack on the left, at Little Round Top, approached a victory. Ewell's attack on the right at Culp's Hill, although made later than intended, came near complete success. His cannonading, the effects of which appear in the picture, was soon silenced, but the infantry forces that assaulted the positions on the extreme right found them nearly defenseless because the troops had been sent to reenforce the left. About sunset General Edward Johnson led this attack, which was repulsed by the thin but well fortified line under command of General George S. Greene. About nine o'clock Johnson walked into the undefended works of the extreme right. The next morning he was soon driven out, but the Union peril had been great.|
The high tide at GettysburgPickett's charge, the subject of these lines, was made on the afternoon of the third day's battle, July 3, 1863, and ended the stubborn conflict. The author became a Confederate soldier at fifteen, in the Fourth Georgia, and fought until disabled in 1865.
A cloud possessed the hollow field,
The gathering battle's smoky shield:
Athwart the gloom the lightning flashed,
And through the cloud some horsemen dashed,
And from the heights the thunder pealed.
Then, at the brief command of Lee,
Moved out that matchless infantry,
With Pickett leading grandly down,
To rush against the roaring crown
Of those dread heights of destiny.
Far heard above the angry guns
A cry across the tumult runs,—
The voice that rang through Shiloh's woods
And Chickamauga's solitudes,
The fierce South cheering on her sons!
Ah, how the withering tempest blew
Against the front of Pettigrew!
A Khamsin wind that scorched and singed
Like that infernal flame that fringed
The British squares at Waterloo!
A thousand fell where Kemper led;
A thousand died where Garnett bled:
In blinding flame and strangling smoke
The remnant through the batteries broke
And crossed the works with Armistead.
‘Once more in Glory's van with me!’
Virginia cried to Tennessee;
‘We two together, come what may,
Shall stand upon these works to-day!’
(The reddest day in history.) 
‘With Pickett leading grandly down’ Thompson's description of Pickett's charge, with this martial portrait, calls for little explanation. A few words from an English army officer who was present, Arthur J. Fremantle, will describe Lee's share in the record of nobility. General Lee's conduct after the charge, writes the English colonel, ‘was perfectly sublime. He was engaged in rallying and in encouraging the broken troops, and was riding about a little in front of the wood, quite alone, the whole of his staff being engaged in a similar manner further to the rear. His face, which is always placid and cheerful, did not show signs of the slightest disappointment, care, or annoyance; and he was addressing to every soldier he met a few words of encouragement, such as, “All this will come right in the end—we'll talk it over afterward; but, in the mean time, all good men must rally—we want all good and true men just now,” etc. He spoke to all the wounded men that passed him, and the slightly wounded he exhorted “to bind up their hurts and take up a musket” in this emergency. Very few failed to answer his appeal, and I saw many badly wounded men take off their hats and cheer him. He said to me, “This has been a very sad day for us, Colonel, a sad day; but we can't expect always to gain victories.” . . . I saw General Wilcox come up to him, and explain, almost crying, the state of his brigade. General Lee immediately shook hands with him and said, cheerfully, “Never mind, General, all this has been my fault; it is I that have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it in the best way you can.” ’
Brave Tennessee! In reckless way
Virginia heard her comrade say:
‘Close round this rent and riddled rag!’
What time she set her battle-flag
Amid the guns of Doubleday.
But who shall break the guards that wait
Before the awful face of Fate?
The tattered standards of the South
Were shrivelled at the cannon's mouth,
And all her hopes were desolate.
In vain the Tennesseean set
His breast against the bayonet;
In vain Virginia charged and raged,
A tigress in her wrath uncaged,
Till all the hill was red and wet!
Above the bayonets, mixed and crossed,
Men saw a gray, gigantic ghost
Receding through the battle-cloud,
And heard across the tempest loud
The death-cry of a nation lost!
The brave went down! Without disgrace
They leaped to Ruin's red embrace;
They only heard Fame's thunders wake,
And saw the dazzling sun-burst break
In smiles on Glory's bloody face!
They fell, who lifted up a hand
And bade the sun in heaven to stand;
They smote and fell, who set the bars
Against the progress of the stars,
And stayed the march of Motherland!
They stood, who saw the future come
On through the fight's delirium;
They smote and stood, who held the hope
Of nations on that slippery slope
Amid the cheers of Christendom. 
A gun and gunners that repulsed Pickett's charge: from a photograph treasured nearly half a century by the captain of this battery This photograph of a gun and cannoneers that helped to check Pickett's charge at Gettysburg was preserved for nearly fifty years by Andrew Cowan, captain of the battery containing this gun. From that Bloody Angle on Cemetery Ridge his life was spared, although the commanders of the batteries to right and left of him, Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing and Captain James Rorty, both were killed. At the very height of the action, General Henry J. Hunt, chief of artillery of the army, rode into the battery and fired his revolver at the oncoming gray line, exclaiming: ‘See 'em! See 'em! See 'em!’ A moment later, Cowan ordered his guns to cease firing, for fear of injuring the men of the Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania at the wall in their front. The Sixty-ninth suddenly swung to the right, leaving the guns uncovered. The Confederates came rushing on from behind a slight elevation, covered with bushes and rocks, where they had crouched. A Confederate officer shouted, ‘Take the guns!’ They were double-loaded, with canister. Some of the brave assailants were within 10 yards of the muzzles when Captain Cowan shouted, ‘Fire!’ Two hundred and twenty chunks of lead burst from the muzzles of each of the five guns. Before the deadly storm, the line in gray withered and was no more. ‘We buried that officer with honor,’ wrote Captain Cowan, to whom readers are indebted for both the photograph and this account. ‘I returned his sword to survivors of Pickett's division on the same ground, twenty-five years afterward.’ At Cedar Creek, six months after this photograph, Sergeant William E. Uhlster (A) was crippled and Corporal Henry J. Tucker (B) was killed.
God lives! He forged the iron will
That clutched and held that trembling hill!
God lives and reigns! He built and lent
The heights for freedom's battlement
Where floats her flag in triumph still!
Fold up the banners! Smelt the guns!
Love rules. Her gentler purpose runs.
A mighty mother turns in tears
The pages of her battle years,
Lamenting all her fallen sons!
Gettysburg: a battle ode1Written for the Society of the Army of the Potomac, and read at its reunion with Confederate survivors on the field of Gettysburg, July 3, 1888, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle.
Victors, living, with laureled brow,
And you that sleep beneath the sward!
Your song was poured from cannon throats:
It rang in deep-tongued bugle-notes:
Your triumph came; you won your crown,
The grandeur of a world's renown.
But, in our later days,
Full freighted with your praise,
Fair memory harbors those whose lives, laid down
In gallant faith and generous heat,
Gained only sharp defeat.
All are at peace, who once so fiercely warred:
Brother and brother, now, we chant a common chord.
For, if we say God wills,
Shall we then idly deny Him
Care of each host in the fight?
His thunder was here in the hills
‘Fold up the banners, smelt the guns’
The tangled heap is all that remains of hundreds of captured Confederate artillery carriages, gathered at the Watervliet Arsenal in Troy, New York, and burned for the iron.
A more impressive illustration of the line quoted from the stirring battle-ballad could hardly exist.
But Thompson's words were used in a higher sense.
Never more shall Americans level artillery or musketry upon their fellow-countrymen.
Gettysburg virtually decided that.
Not only so, but the people shall be bound together by active pride in their common blood and common traditions which finds expression in common hopes and aspirations for the future.
America has become a single country, with a central Government wielding sovereign power and holding among the nations of the earth a position of world-wide honor and influence.
One of the foremost New England historians, Professor Albert Bushnell Hart of Harvard, declares: |
The keynote to which intelligent spirits respond most quickly in the United States is Americanism; no nation is more conscious of its own existence and its importance in the universe, more interested in the greatness, the strength, the pride, the influence, and the future of the common country.
When the guns were loud in July;
And the flash of the musketry's light
Was sped by a ray from God's eye.
In its good and its evil the scheme
Was framed with omnipotent hand,
Though the battle of men was a dream
That they could but half understand.
Can the purpose of God pass by him?
Nay; it was sure, and was wrought
Under inscrutable powers:
Bravely the two armies fought
And left the land, that was greater than they, still theirs and ours!
Lucid, pure, and calm and blameless
Dawned on Gettysburg the day
That should make the spot, once fameless,
Known to nations far away.
Birds were caroling, and farmers
Gladdened o'er their garnered hay,
When the clank of gathering armors
Broke the morning's peaceful sway;
And the living lines of foemen
Drawn o'er pasture, brook, and hill,
Formed in figures weird of omen
That should work with mystic will
Measures of a direful magic-
Shattering, maiming—and should fill
Glades and gorges with a tragic
Madness of desire to kill.
Skirmishers flung lightly forward
Moved like scythemen skilled to sweep
Westward o'er the field and nor'ward,
Death's first harvest there to reap.
You would say the soft, white smoke-puffs
Were but languid clouds asleep,
Here on meadows, there on oak-bluffs,
Fallen foam of Heaven's blue deep.
Yet that blossom-white outbreaking
Smoke wove soon a martyr's shroud.
Reynolds fell, with soul unquaking,
Ardent-eyed and open-browed:
Noble men in humbler raiment
Fell where shot their graves had plowed,
Dying not for paltry payment:
Proud of home, of honor proud. 
Dear are the dead we weep for;
Dear are the strong hearts broken!
Proudly their memory we keep for
Our help and hope; a token
Of sacred thought too deep for
Words that leave it unspoken.
All that we know of fairest,
All that we have of meetest,
Here we lay down for the rarest
Doers whose souls rose fleetest
And in their homes of air rest,
Ranked with the truest and sweetest.
Days, with fiery-hearted, bold advances;
Nights in dim and shadowy, swift retreat;
Rains that rush with bright, embattled lances;
Thunder, booming round your stirless feet;—
Winds that set the orchard with sweet fancies
All abloom, or ripple the ripening wheat;
Moonlight, starlight, on your mute graves falling;
Dew, distilled as tears unbidden flow;—
Dust of drought in drifts and layers crawling;
Lulling dreams of softly whispering snow;
Happy birds, from leafy coverts calling;—
These go on, yet none of these you know:
Hearing not our human voices
Speaking to you all in vain,
Nor the psalm of a land that rejoices,
Ringing from churches and cities and foundries a mighty refrain!
But we, and the sun and the birds, and the breezes that blow
When tempests are striving and lightnings of heaven are spent, 
With one consent
Make unto them
Who died for us eternal requiem.
Lovely to look on, O South,
No longer stately-scornful
But beautiful still in pride,
Our hearts go out to you as toward a bride!
Garmented soft in white,
Haughty, and yet how love-imbuing and tender
You stand before us with your gently mournful
Memory-haunted eyes and flower-like mouth,
Where clinging thoughts—as bees a-cluster
Murmur through the leafy gloom,
Musical in monotone—
Whisper sadly. Yet a lustre
As of glowing gold-gray light
Shines upon the orient bloom,
Sweet with orange-blossoms, thrown
Round the jasmine-starred, deep night
Crowning with dark hair your brow.
Ruthless, once, we came to slay,
And you met us then with hate.
Rough was the wooing of war: we won you,
Won you at last, though late!
Dear South, to-day,
As our country's altar made us
One forever, so we vow
Unto yours our love to render:
Strength with strength we here endow,
And we make your honor ours.
Happiness and hope shall sun you:
All the wiles that half betrayed us
Vanish from us like spent showers.
Two hostile bullets in mid-air
And swift were locked
Forever in a firm embrace.
Then let us men have so much grace
|‘Noble men in humbler raiment fell’: a Confederate sharpshooter killed at the battle of Gettysburg The words from Lathrop's poem on Gettysburg apply to the 7,058 soldiers who fell in this deadliest of American battles. The point photographed is ‘Devil's Den,’ a rocky height rising sharply on the east and sloping gradually to the plain on the west. Its northern point was composed of huge rocks and boulders with numberless crevices and holes such as the one that yawns at the left of the picture. The whole region is covered with similar boulders, which afforded retreats for sharpshooters on both sides. Five hundred yards east, and a hundred feet higher than ‘Devil's Den,’ was Little Round Top, the key to the entire Federal position along Cemetery Ridge. Lee's tactics on the second day were to drive back a Federal force on the plain near ‘Devil's Den’ and secure Little Round Top and the whole Union position. His troops formed in the woods, far outflanking the opposing troops on the plain. They were almost at Little Round Top before General G. K. Warren discovered that a single signal-man was there to defend the height. Only by marvelous exertions were defenders secured in time to meet the attack. Longstreet's men, however, gained possession of ‘Devil's Den.’ A multitude of sharpshooters clambered into the lurking-places among the boulders, whence they could not be dislodged by artillery fire or by sharp-shooting. These men were especially successful in picking off the cannoneers on Little Round Top. At one time three were shot down in quick succession, and only the fourth succeeded in firing the piece. When night closed on the scene the Confederates still held the ‘Den’ and the ground at the foot of Little Round Top, but many of the defenders were dead or dying. And yet another day of carnage was to come.|
To take the bullet's place,
And learn that we are held
By laws that weld
Our hearts together!
As once we battled hand to hand,
So hand in hand to-day we stand,
Sworn to each other,
Brother and brother,
In storm and mist, or calm, translucent weather:
And Gettysburg's guns, with their death-giving roar,
Echoed from ocean to ocean, shall pour
Quickening life to the nation's core;
Filling our minds again
With the spirit of those who wrought in the
Field of the Flower of Men!