Report #17 from Abe, Robert E., & Ulysses: Aug. 8, 2001



Our Return to Gettysburg:
Robert E.: Hello again! We have just returned to one of our favorite historic places -- Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Ulysses: It was much hotter this time than it was in July -- 96 degrees! In fact, the weather this time was very much like Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, when General Pickett's unfortunate charge took place.

Abe: Fortunately for Mary, we were able to spend most of the day indoors where the modern miracle of air conditioning kept us cool.

Robert E.: Just think if we had air conditioning 138 years ago!

Ulysses: It would have been called witchcraft, not modern improvement.

Book Signing -- Gettyburg National Park Vistors' Center:
Robert E.: Once again, Mary was greeted by the retail manager at the NPS Visitors' Center, Bernadette Atkins. She had our table all set up in the lobby. In fact, this time around there were even people waiting for us to show up! Very hospitable!

Ulysses: You didn't say that when the Federal Army showed up at Gettysburg in 1863.

Robert E.: Tut, tut, Ulysses, that was a horse of a very different color.

Abe: Mary talked with a lot of people who came to the Visitors' Center. Most of them had never been to Gettysburg before. Photo: In front of the Gettysburg Visitors' Center (from left to right): John Gender with Ulysses, Cookie Gender with me, Mary, Jefferson Kohler, and Agnes Kohler with Robert E. Agnes was Mary's roommate in college. We are all smiling because we are going to dinner -- in air conditioning!

Robert E.: There were a large number of school teachers. And a couple from Ireland.

Ulysses: And lots of children, many of whom were wearing dark blue Union kepis, I noticed.

Abe: A heavy humid haze hung over the battlefield, giving it a ghostly appearance. Six of the men who are profiled in Mary's book, PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY, fought at Gettysburg in 1863. One almost expected to see these Confederates to appear out of the morning mist.

PAPA Story -- Austin Jones:
Robert E.: One of those boys in the book was Austin Jones, a 6'4" Texan who was a corporal in the 4th Texas Infantry. In July, 1863, he was twenty-four-years-old and had been fighting in the Army of Northern Virginia for the past two years. On July 2, he was one of the Confederate sharpshooters who fired his rifle from behind the huge boulders in Devil's Den, trying to capture "a little rocky hill" known as Little Roundtop. At the end of that day, Austin had used up all his ammunition, and Little Roundtop still remained in Federal hands.

PAPA Story -- Bill Durham:
Eighteen-year-old Bill Durham, a private in the 59th Georgia Infantry, had never been in a real battle before. On July 2, while Austin was fighting in Devil's Den, Bill and his regiment advanced to the left of the Den where they encountered the Union line inside the Wheatfield. The fighting was fast and furious, but Bill survived the engagement without injury.

PAPA Story -- George Brooks:
Ulysses: Some of the boys in Mary's book were not so fortunate on the following day, July 3, when the Confederates formed their regiments behind Seminary Ridge in preparation for their now-famous charge. One of the youngest men on the field that day was Private George Brooks, a sixteen-year-old member of the 55th Virginia Infantry. They were positioned wide on the far left of Lee's line. When the order came to charge, the 55th was stalled because their commanding officer had suddenly disappeared.

Robert E.: Yes, in fact, he never showed up until long after the fight was over. He was taken to task for that, I assure you.

Ulysses: Meanwhile, George and his regiment had a late start so they marched on the double-quick to try to catch up with the rest of the line. But halfway across the field, they were attacked on their flank by a brigade of Union troops. The 55th dropped down into a depression in the ground and huddled there for the next half hour, ducking as mini balls and bullets whizzed over their heads. The firing was very close and murderous. Fortunately, young George made it back safely to the Ridge.

PAPA Story -- Tim Pridgen:
Robert E.: Twenty-year-old Tim Pridgen's regiment, the 18th North Carolina Infantry, was also on the left wing of the charge. They were one of the first units across that killing field. They struggled to capture the Union cannon behind the low stone wall and were forced to withdraw under heavy fire. Tim's regiment was one of the last units to return to Seminary Ridge. Like George Brooks, Tim escaped injury.

PAPA Story -- John Carlisle:
Ulysses: Private John Carlisle, age eighteen, was not so lucky at Gettysburg. His regiment, the 47th North Carolina Infantry, was closer to the center of the attacking line. During the charge, John was wounded, though he was able to limp back to the Southern lines and thus avoided capture. It took him several months to recover from his injury.

PAPA Story -- William Cannon:
Robert E.: Meanwhile, Lt. William Cannon of the 9th Alabama Infantry got completely lost. His regiment was positioned on the far right wing of the charge. When the order came to advance, the heavy, humid air was filled with shot and shell from the Union defenders. The gun smoke did not blow away, but hung in the air at ground level and thickened as the battle intensified. By the time the twenty-three-year-old lieutenant led his company up and over the ridge, the battlefield was completely hidden by the gray gun smoke. Cannon and his company advanced forward, but instead of heading in the right direction, they nearly walked into an ambush of Union cavalry on their far right flank. The Alabamans fought their way out of their mistake and retired back behind the ridge. They didn't learn the horrible fate of Pickett's Charge until nightfall.

Abe: These young men were among the 15,000 Confederate soldiers who stepped out of the woods behind Seminary Ridge and marched into history. Mary recounted some of their stories to the folks at the Visitors' Center.

Ulysses: Then we ate a quick lunch at the sign of the Golden Arches before we arrived at our second event -- a book signing at Servant's Centennial General Store.

Book Signing -- Servant's Centennial General Store:
The Centennial General Store is located a block away from the Visitors' Center. Unlike the souvenir shops in Gettysburg, this store caters to the needs of Civil War re-enactors.

Photo: Mary with Robert E., Abe, and me in the art corner of Servant's Centennial General Store. Behind us are pictures of General Stonewall Jackson, C.S.A, flanked on both sides by Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine.

Robert E.: Re-enacting is a growing hobby not only across the United States, but also in Europe. At battle re-enactments, it is not unusual to hear someone speaking Dutch or German while wearing the gray uniform of the South or the blue of the North. Every weekend from early Spring into late Autumn, there is a battle or living history presentation going on somewhere in America. Men and women attire themselves in reproductions of the clothes and uniforms of the 1860's -- many made of wool -- and camp out in 1860's-style tents. They use only items known in the 1860's, like candles and lanterns instead of flashlights.

Ulysses: They cook over open fires and eat foods familiar to the soldiers of the North and South. I can tell you from personal experience it takes a very long time to boil water for coffee over an open fire. Summer is the peak time for thousands of re-enactors to come together to "battle" each other.

This past weekend, August 4-5, over 8,000 re-enactors, including women and children, observed the 140th Anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas at Leesburg, Virginia. Despite the heat, there were staged battles on both Saturday and Sunday involving not only people portraying the infantry of both sides, but also cavalry and artillery. Yes, some re-enactors arrived at the encampments not only with their tents, uniforms, and old-fashioned coffee boilers, but also with several live horses or a full-sized cannon.

Robert E.: Servant's Centennial General Store sells just about everything the re-enactors need including uniforms for both sides, black powder and rifles, tents, drums, etc. About the only things you can't get at Servant's are the horses and cannons.

Ulysses: But they will be glad to tell you where you can order these larger items.

Good Times with Friends:
Abe: Mary's signing table was set up in the store's art corner where Civil War art works are sold. Again, many people stopped by, including some of Mary's friends from her college days at the University of San Diego. After the book signing was over, Mary, Marty, and Mary's classmates went to dinner. Robert E., Ulysses, and I were also invited to join in the celebration. In fact, we three went home with Cookie and John Gender, Agnes Kohler, and her son, Jefferson.

Next Stop: Vacation in Upstate New York!
With an orange sun setting in the west over Seminary Ridge, we left Gettysburg and returned south to Burke, Virginia -- and home.


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More Papa Was A Boy in Gray Reports:
Papa Book Tour Main Page | Report #1 | Report #2 | Report #3 | Report #4 | Report #5 | Report #6 | Report #7 | Report #8 | Report #9 | Report #10 | Report #11 | Report #12 | Report #13 | Report #14 | Report #15 | Report #16 | Report #17 | Report #18 | Report #19 | Report #20 | Report #21 | Report #22


   

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