A Horrible Glory: Gettysburg 150th Anniversary

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The sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg is only a few days away.  It’s a very notable anniversary, for the reasons explained below.  Unfortunately, though, this date will largely go unrecognized by much of the firecracker crowd, as well as those who think history is just boring. 

Not at longitudes.  Here, we feel historical understanding is crucial to an enlightened populace.

But rather than offering a rehash of this epic battle, which can be found any number of places, I thought it would be fun to do a quiz, sort of an “Are you smarter than a 10th grader?” challenge.  Just 10 questions, and the top scorer will be served free hardtack and stale coffee in the mizzentop.  But first, for you non-Civil War buffs, a few basics about the battle are in order:

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought over three days, July 1-3, 1863, near the town of Gettysburg in south-central Pennsylvania.  It was the most important battle of the American Civil War.  It was also the bloodiest conflict ever on the continent of North America, with over 46,000 killed, wounded, captured, or missing.  

Why was this battle so pivotal to the war?  Until Gettysburg, the southern Confederates – beyond all expectations – had been keeping pace with the northern army, which was far superior in manpower, supplies, ammunition, etc.  Behind General Robert E. Lee’s inspirational leadership, and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s military genius, the rebels had won strategic victories in the South at Second Bull Run (Manassas), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

Union Gen. George G. Meade

Union Gen. George G. Meade

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee

Confederate President Jefferson Davis hoped to threaten federal soil and compel President Lincoln to a truce, with recognition of a confederation of states as a separate and distinct country (and perpetuate the institution of slavery).  So Lee invaded the North, the culmination of which was the killing fields of Gettysburg.  Lee’s defeat there turned the tide for the Union and was a blow from which the South never fully recovered.

But hey, enough of my yakkin’… let’s boogie!

1.       Until the battle, the town of Gettysburg was known for what?

a.       Site of a Lutheran college

b.       Home of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton

c.       A Yuengling brewery

d.       A cartridge factory

2.       Which of these illustrious individuals fought at Gettysburg?

a.       James Naismith, credited with inventing basketball

b.       Abner Doubleday, credited with inventing baseball

c.       Lew Wallace, author of “Ben-Hur”

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid

d.       William H. Bonney (aka “Billy the Kid”)

 3.       Which cavalry officer did Lee reprimand for arriving late at Gettysburg?

a.       John Buford, Jr.

b.       Alfred Pleasonton

c.       J.E.B. Stuart

d.       Nathan Bedford Forrest

4.       The bulk of the Union forces occupied what ground during the battle?

a.       Culp’s Hill

b.       Seminary Ridge

c.       Big Round Top

d.       Cemetery Ridge

5.       Which highly respected general was killed on the first day after yelling “Forward, men, for God’s sake, forward!”

a.       Winfield Scott Hancock

b.       Benjamin F. Butler

c.       A.P. Hill

d.       John F. Reynolds

6.       The hero of the second-day’s clash at Little Round Top, Joshua Laurence Chamberlain, was what before the war?

a.       A grocery store clerk from Indiana

b.       A rhetoric professor from Maine

c.       A West Point alumnus who graduated last in his class

d.       A New York policeman

7.       What was the name given to the most famous charge during the battle?

a.       Pickett’s Charge

b.       Longstreet’s Charge

c.       The Charge of the Light Brigade

d.       Custer’s Last Stand

8.       President Lincoln delivered his famous “Gettysburg Address” when?

a.       Four days after the battle

b.       Four weeks after the battle

c.       Four months after the battle

d.       Four years after the battle

9.       Which later U.S. president established a home near the battlefield?

a.       Theodore Roosevelt

b.       Franklin D. Roosevelt

c.       Dwight D. Eisenhower

d.       Lyndon B. Johnson

10.   What did Robert E. Lee do after his defeat at Gettysburg?

a.       He took personal responsibility for the loss

b.       He blamed Jeff Davis

c.       He cried

d.       He coined the passive-tense, pass-the-buck political cliché “Mistakes were made”

e.       He sang “I wish I was in Dixie, hooray, hooray”

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Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain

If you’ve got the guts of Joshua L. Chamberlain and want to fix bayonets on this quiz, just respond with your answers in the blog Comments section, on my Facebook page, or email me at pkurtz58@gmail.com.

The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most important events in the history of the United States.  Although it’s terrible that a war had to be fought to finally end slavery, President Lincoln and the North prevailed and kept the country from becoming a “divided house.”  Even if you “don’t know much about history” (as Sam Cooke once sang), I hope you gain at least a little insight into America’s only civil war, during this 150th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg.

In closing, I’ll invoke a banality that I usually shy away from, but which I think is actually appropriate on this occasion: God Bless America.

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The First Thanksgiving

This Thursday, November 22, Americans will get together with family and friends to celebrate the national holiday Thanksgiving.  It’s a day associated with a feast of roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.  Oh yes, and televised football games.  American schoolchildren will learn about the Pilgrims, religious dissenters from England who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, and who shared a table with friendly, benevolent Native Americans.

Thanksgiving is many Americans’ favorite holiday, because it’s all about family, food, and football (not necessarily in that order).  But there are not surprisingly a lot of myths about the Plymouth colonists and the original day of thanks in 1621.  This is my feeble attempt to “set the record straight.”  My sources are the book “The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony” by James and Patricia Deetz; and a 1621 letter written by Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow to a friend in England.  His letter is the only contemporary eyewitness description of what took place that first Thanksgiving:

  • Although the colonists originally came from England, most had been living in religiously tolerant Leiden, Holland for 12 years before arriving in Plymouth on the Mayflower.
  • The Mayflower made first landing on the northern tip of Cape Cod in November 1620.  The passengers didn’t transfer to the mainland (eventual Plymouth Colony) until a month later.
  • The original feast took place over three days, and probably occurred during harvest time, which would have been September, or early October at the latest.
  • Over 90 Wampanoag Indians and about 50 Pilgrims attended the feast, including Chief Massasoit, and Governor William Bradford.
  • Turkey was undoubtedly not the main course.  It was more likely ducks or geese killed by the Pilgrims, and later on venison shared by the Indians.
  • There is no evidence in Winslow’s account that the Pilgrims offered a formal “thanks.”  He merely mentions that “by the goodness of God” they were “far from want.”  The feast was more likely continuation of an English custom of celebrating harvest time.
  • The descriptor “pilgrim” for the colonists was first used in a sermon delivered in Plymouth in the 1790s.  And until the early 20th century, the term was used in a generic sense and spelled with a lowercase “p.”  The Plymouth settlers called themselves “Separatists” or “Saints” (religious dissenters), “Strangers” (those unmotivated by religion but seeking a new life), “Old Comers,” “Old Planters,” and “Planters.”
  • Thanksgiving as a holiday wasn’t established until 1863, when President Lincoln designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.  In 1941 Congress changed this to the last Thursday of the month.
  • The Plymouth colonists were not the first English to settle in the New World.  That would be the Jamestown settlers of 1607, who were driven by mercantilism rather than religion.
  • The Plymouth colonists were not immune to those vices quite familiar to modern-day Americans: rape, incest, buggery, bigamy, domestic abuse, adultery, and murder are described in detail in original colonial records.

Oh, and one other thing: the colonists did not watch American football on television on the first Thanksgiving.  If they had, however, they would have certainly cheered for Detroit to win and Dallas to lose.

Have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!