Today is the first day at Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest days of the war


McPherson’s Ridge

A popular myth surrounding this day is that it began with a shoe factory. It’s a story that evolved over years but it probably isn’t true. There was no shoe factory in the town, there was no supply of shoes, and the Confederates didn’t come to Gettysburg to go shoe shopping.

The battle was fought at Gettysburg because that’s where the roads led. All roads led to Gettysburg.

The first battle at McPherson’s Ridge was not a small, insignificant skirmish as depicted in books and films.

The arrival of the Union infantry forces on both sides led to one of the bloodiest stand up fights of the war and of any fought on US soil.

Willoughby Run is a stream that runs from north to south through the farms and hills. There are ridges on either side that were occupied by opposing forces.

McPherson’s Woods is on the East. It was considered crucial to the Union’s defense of the town. A soldier of the 2nd Wisconsin said, “The grove was our citadel, and it in itself furnished the means of a strong defense. Every tree was a breastwork, every log a barricade, every bush a cover and concealment, and we made good use of every defensive object.” It forced the Southerners to cross the open ground west of Willoughby’s Run while under fire.

The Confederates did it, but at a horrific cost.

The first shot was said to be fired by a Union cavalry officer at 7:30 am on July 1, 1863, along the Chambersburg Turnpike, three miles west of the town.

Confederates were confronting only the Union cavalry in the early morning and didn’t know about the approach of the Northern infantry.

The Union infantry appeared suddenly and quickly flanked Confederate General Archer, who tried to flee. He couldn’t make it through the dense underbrush and the General and his 300 men were surrounded and forced to surrender.

It is hard to estimate the casualties on that day but it is believed the Union Army had some 18,000 men in the fighting and suffered about 9,000 casualties. Confederates had more than 30,000 and lost almost 7,000.

The fighting continued through July 3rd and was one of the largest battles of the American Civil War. The 24th Michigan and the 26th North Carolina (who were in Pickett’s Charge) suffered the worst losses.

The bodies still come up out of the ground at Gettysburg.

General Lee was a brilliant general and tough to defeat. If he had won at Gettysburg and won that war, there would have been two Americas. Slavery would have ended eventually, but we would have been a very different country.

The Confederate statues in Congress, all Democrats obviously, are to be removed, erasing their predecessor’s role in slavery. They will be preserved, perhaps for a museum. They were originally put there as part of the reconciliation Lincoln hoped for.

Thousands of young white men died to end slavery and preserve the union. Black men also served and died, some fought with the south. Many who fought were boys.

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