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The Battle at Gettysburg
July 1, 1863
It's dark, and I can hear the misquote's buzzing around. I've been wanting to get back to my tent to sleep, but I am very busy taking care of my company. Once I got here I felt guilty about this forlorn looking, empty book, so I decided to write in it. I'm not sure what I am supposed to write in a journal, but I guess I'll start with the basics. Here I am, fighting for the Confederate army. I don't really know why and how I came to be here, but I guess it was because of my family. I don't have much of a family. One really young sister (she's 12), a father, and Marry, my wife. It was my father, really, who made me join. I wanted him to be proud of me, so I joined the army. I didn't know what I was getting myself into.
I grew up in North Florida. My mother was around then, and I was an only child. We were farmers on a small cotton farm, and back then it seem we had money and enough happiness to last our whole lives. My Pa loved my mother more than anything in the world. She was pregnant with Alice too late in her life, though, and she died in child birth. After that, our family changed; my father was still kind to us, and he raised Alice well, but he never had the same enthusiasm for life that he once had. He aged rapidly after that day. He loves me, but I have never felt the overwhelming pride that a father should have for a son. Anyway, we all still live on the same farm, although, there has been an addition to the family.
The other part of my family is an angel named Mary. I meet her in town when I was 18, and I would like to say that we fell in love at first sight, but we didn't. It came over time, and we were married in 1859. When she moved in with us, she brought a cheer that had not been around the house since the death of my mother. She has come to love Alice just as much as I do, and Alice simply adores her. They are true sisters. I love her more than anything in the world, but she sees right through me. Even when I enrolled in the army in 1861 she told me I shouldn't do this unless I was absolutely sure that I had too; she could tell I was only doing it for my family.
“Tom”, she told me, “you know you don't need to prove anything to me... to any of us, right? You don't have to do this!” When I replied that I really did have to do this, she cried, kissed, and hugged me while saying: “Don't loose yourself out there Tom!”
How right she was. I was not made to fight. I have trained and trained until I could repeat all the formations, orders and signals by heart, but I am still afraid of battle. I've fought in 7 battles since the beginning of the war, including Fredricksburg, which was so horrible I can't even begin to describe it, but I still feel faint through all of them. It's my greatest fear that someone will discover how afraid I am of war. I can't let that happen because I feel like I am holding my families pride on my shoulders. It seems like we are on our way into another fight, and my heart rate is already up.
We are camped out side of Gettysburg, which is a small town in Pennsylvania. It took a hell of a long time to get here today. We marched all the way up to Cashtown from Fayetteville. The walk was excruciating. You can't even imagine walking through the sweltering heat with pounds of gear and a gun on you back. The dust rises up around you in clouds; you choke and cough on it the whole way. By the time you are ordered to stop, it has stuck to your sweaty skin and clothes 'till you look like ***. On top of that, I had to take care of a whole company of 45 men, who are all miserable too! That's because I have just been promoted captain. I'm not happy about this. Being in charge of more people just means more people are looking at you all the time and waiting for you to mess up. Already, I think my men have taken a dislike to me. They though I was weak today as I was walking to Cashtown. They say 'don't let them see you sweat'. Well, believe you me, I was sweating on that road and those men did not like it one bit.
Anyway, once we got to Cashtown, General Hill, ordered us to march down to Gettysburg. (General Hill is the General for our 3rd army corps. It gets very complication after that. There are 3 divisions in this corps and I am in the one commanded by Anderson. There are 6 Brigades in the division, and I am in Perry's Brigade, which is normally commanded by Perry, but he is sick so Colonel David Land is in charge. In Perry's Brigade there are 3 regiments: the 2nd florida, the 5th, and the 8th. I am in the 8th florida regiment, which is commanded by Lang because he really is only a Colonel. There are 10 captains of which I am one.) Anyway, Hill ordered us to march to Gettysburg. We had heard artillery fire as we approached Cashtown, and it turns out that the whole army of Northern Virginia was encamped there and about to fight a battle with the entire Army of Potomac. The ground wasn't that good, so they called on us as enforcements. Once I got the order I picked up my sorry band of Floridians and headed towards Gettysburg through the dust. I call them sorry because they are very sorry. A company is supposed to have 5o to 100 men, but during the battle at Fredricksburg the casualty rates were sky hight for us Floridians, so now a company is lucky to have 50 men.
When we arrived at Gettysburg we were positioned on the very southern end of Seminary Ridge. Which curves around the outside and across from Cemetery Ridge where the Union troops have retreated. I could not see the ground terrain when we arrived because it was to dark, but we set up camp for the night. Some of the men joined the campfires of the men in Pender's division because they were camped near to us. The men were celebrating another victory because they had driven the Union troops out of Gettysburg that day. Our men were tired, so most of us went to bed early. I'm tired too. The night air already smells of death here. Already. I can't imagine what it will smell like tomorrow night. If Im' still here. Never mind, I'm going to sleep now. You don't want to be tired during a battle.
July 2, 1863
I woke up today at 4 in the morning. I was tired, but I was also so nervous that I couldn't stay in bed any longer. I went out side to scope out the land, and I was very surprised. The ground wasn't “not that good”, it was horrible! We were positioned on a small ridge, which overlooked Emmitsburg road. Beyond that was a valley leading into Cemetery ridge where the Union troops were positioned. I could see that it would be very near impossible to attack the Union troops on their ground. The hill had no coverage and was very steep. Please dear God, I prayed, don't make me lead the men up there.
Soon after breakfast we received orders that Longstreet's 1st corps were attacking the Union further down the line. As soon as they had passed us, we were to march down across the road and attack Cemetery ridge. Exactly what I had prayed not to happen. I drank a hell of lot of coffee after I heard that order and maybe a bit of whiskey too. Longstreet hadn't even passed us yet, so I assumed we had a long wait. I was right. We waited on that ridge for hours. The men shared war stories or played cards. I sat near a group built up of some other men from the 8th florida and listened to them talk. They started talking about the war and the reasons they were fighting. Most of them had clear ideas of independence, and I found myself nodding along as they talked of justice and fair treatment for all the states. I realized that this was what gave so many men the courage to fight; these noble reasons were their cause.
We finally prepared to march down to the road at 5 o'clock. I got my men in order, and tried my best to disguise my fear. With the rest of Perry's brigade, we marched down the hill toward the other side of the valley. The Union did not worry about wasting ammunition on us; we were under a hail of shot and shell and bullets. The terrain was flat and had not cover by a few shrubs and trees, and I could not help admiring my men as they plunged into the battle with such spirit. They inspired courage into me. Shouting and yelling we met the first line of the Union at the road. They were positioned in a line of Batteries and strongly supported by infantry. Most of the men who had to load up their heavy muskets were killed, and some of them back fired and exploded in their faces. I was glad to have a pistol instead. We attacked that first line of troops with such power that they were swept back almost immediately. We fought on and on and slowly we crept up to the edge of Cemetery ridge, but many men were lost. I saw them fall to the ground with the quick ripping puncture of a mini ball, or fly through the air, blasted and torn with the power of canister or grape fire. Finally we reached the creek. We could see the top of the ridge and I almost believed it possible for us to take it. Nothing was in my mind right then but rallying the troops and taking that ridge. Lang came around to make sure we were all in position for this last attack, and then he gave the order to charge. The way had looked clear to me before, but there were a few Union soldiers in front of us. We drove them away effortlessly with a cheer. We were fast approaching the ridge and we had just crossed over the creek, but I now realized that the few soldiers we had just driven away, had gone for enforcements. We were walking right into them! There must have been 400 men waiting for us beyond the creek. They waited 'till they must have been able to see our faces clearly, and then they fired with no mercy. I watched men being torn to shreds by the metal balls whirring past my face. A young color bearing was still leading the troops onward with a determined look on his face. I looked up into the enemy faces to see an officer point to a cannon then point to the young boy. He didn't have time to change the expression on his face. Suddenly an anger like I have never before felt came over me. I will tell you this: throughout all the battles I have been in these last years, I have shoot and killed many men, but I have never wished them pain. I don't know why I have killed them before, but this time I knew I wanted that man to die. I gave him every bullet I had and, I stood there to watch him die. I can't get over that moment in my head. I felt so victorious but also so horrible. When you fight a war, you always assume you are the hero, but looking back on that moment, I think that maybe I'm on the hero.
We retreated because we were obviously being overpowered by these new enforcements. I lead my men back to our positions and camp, but I wasn't paying attention really. I kept waiting for the guilt to come like a prisoner waits for the execution, but it didn't come. I'm going to bed. Oh, right. I was right last night. I do recognize the smell tonight; the smell of the second night at a battle field.
July- sometime in
the middle of the
I've been thinking about that man I shot. I saw him go down, and clutch his chest in surprise and pain. There's no doubt that they couldn't have saved him. He died.
They say war is supposed to harden you. Most of the men out there are hardened; they cheer when they hit someone, and when they see them die in a bloody mess. In the beginning I just couldn't get used to it. I felt guilty about everyman I shot, but today something changed. I haven't felt guilty about not just shooting that him but torturing him. Right now my lack of guilt is worse than the guilt was. Am I finally “loosing myself” out here?
July 3, 1863
I slept too late today, but when I did get up I was ready for battle. This is how I reasoned it out last night. This new attitude towards battle is generally a good think. I realize now that I have adopted the other men's ways and I mow am fighting for myself and independence, not just my Pa. The new tolerance for killing is O.K. now that I am fighting for my own reasons and I really have a cause. It was not O.K. before because I was killing for no good reason of my own. Thats why I have been feeling so guilty. I had never thought of this war except as a chance to prove my self, but I now realize it is a lot more than that. These are human emotions and human rights we're fighting for.
I had a late breakfast, and I found myself talking easily with the other men. I met another captain from the 8h florida regiment who had a lot in common with me. He was from a town near the one I grew up in, in North Florida. We talked until we were both called by General Lang for our orders.
Lang had called together the captains and Colonels of our brigade, and he explained the situation to us. Longstreet and his 1st corps had been ordered by Lee to attack the center of the union army. We were to be the supporting column for this attack along with Wilcox's Brigade. We were to follow Pickett's division and be his support when needed.
After I heard this I felt very sad. I knew, well, I could tell from the ground that this would be a very hard battle, if it was even a battle and not a massacre. I shuddered at the thought, but I was not afraid. I was sorry, thought, that most of my men would be gone by the end of the day; we were already down to 35 since yesterday. This battle was turning out to be fatal for my sorry little pack of Floridians.
We sat wallowing in our anticipation until 3:30, when Pickett was about to charge. Following Wilcox's lead, our Brigade began to make our way to where Pickett would attack. When we arrived we stood behind the attacking men someways and waited in positions ready to march. Then Pickett received the order to go, and they were on their way. I watched their bloody trail with the horrible knowledge that I would be following it soon enough. Our Brigade's cheers soon turned to solemn silence and they watched good men being slaughtered. Pickett's men marched bravely towards Cemetery ridge with the intention of taking it, but this aspiration was too much to hope for. Men were killed in troves; blasted off the ground by the long range artillery at first and then canister and musketry. It was the most horrible attempt at a battle that I have ever seen. The most bloody, cruel, useless waste of good men; I felt tears streaming down my cheeks as I watched.
20 minutes after they charged we were ordered to go in also. For a while we retraced their exact footsteps, stepping over bodies and limbs as we too were practically scattered. I could see my men dying by the minute, but I called the remaining together, and we marched onward through the smoke. The smoke, it turned out, was a big problem, for we soon lost our way. Instead of following Pickett as we had planned, our Brigade was separated from Wilcox, and we started to drift southward towards the place we had fought at yesterday. Stopping to rearrange our selves and get in order, I noticed that Brigade had shrunk majorly in the last 10 minutes. My own company was now down to 26 men, and we hadn't even had the chance to fire a gun.
The smoke was still horrible; it choked us and stung our eyes, and it was so thick we couldn't see 20 feet in front of us. All of a sudden, Union troops stumbled into view in front of us, not 30 feet away. Gathering ourselves up with a dazed feeling, we attempted to fight our way through this new attack, but it was simply too much for our wounded Brigade. Many of us fell to the ground, or weer immediately killed. I felt a bullet rip into the skin above my cheek, and a spasm of pain shot through my face. Reaching up, I felt the torn skin and put a handkerchief to it to stop the blood. Calling my remaining troops together, I signaled for a withdrawal. Slowly, we retreated in confusion, and the Union troops, who needed a rest also, did not follow.
In slow defeat, we retreated to our camp. I'm pretty sure that every single one of those men were seeing Pickett's horrible, gruesome charge play over and over again in their heads. I could not stop seeing corpses. My eyes were watering with the sorrow of it, and at that moment I could not think of a single happy thing in the world. How could they all die like that? Just wiped of their life at such a prime. Later I calmed down. I bandaged my face up with an old shirt and didn't bother to see a doctor. The wound isn't really that bad, besides, I don't feel like having to talk to another human.
It was getting dark when I emerged form my tent, and I stood looking over the battle field. Through the dusk and remaining smoke I could make out the fleshy whiteness of bodies lying pitifully on the slope and in the field. It still didn't seem real. All those bodies lying there used to mean something to someone, but now they were just lumped together. Lumped together by the people who wanted the result. Wanted the result of the war no matter how it happened. All of them martyred for the cause but none of them sainted.
War changes you in ways you will never expect. If I had known what I was getting myself into would I have enrolled? If I knew it would change me this much? Well, it's too late now!
I wrote this poem before I went to bed that night:
A cascade of falling tears
thats what we could gather up here
a river of struck death, stiff names
on this blood soaked earth
the grass will always grow red
and the trees will ever grow
under the shadow of death
never to shimmer in the moonlight again