It was mid-summer 1863 and both the North and South felt that as far as the Civil War was concerned, things were coming to a climax. The Yankee army was moving north to meet the invasion of the Confederates under General Robert E. Lee. In Vicksburg, Mississippi, people had been living in caves for six weeks, since the Yankees had the town under siege. In the North there were draft riots. Something had to happen.
It did, on July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, in a little unknown town in Pennsylvania, called Gettysburg, where the two armies met to engage in the most vicious and memorable battle of the war.
It is said that more facts have been documented about this battle than any other fight between the states.
The key word here is “battle”. But what about the people, most of whom stayed in their homes while the fighting raged on? Oh yes, they knew the battle was coming. They could go up on their rooftops, or look out their upstairs windows and see the long bodies of infantry in the distance, winding through the far hills. Or gathering a few blocks away in the square. They could step out their front door and watch, as the troops rode by, see the colors proudly borne, observe the worn uniforms, hear the clink of the horses’ reins and the mens’ swords. And if the commanders stopped to ask directions, the young girls would offer glasses of water or buttermilk (if the army was ours) or throw a kiss and wish them well.
Then later, when the cannon and guns exploded in the distance, these people would hide in their cellars and tremble and pray and hope their side won. And sometimes a soldier from the other side come to a house, demanding food and hot coffee and it must be given.
Betimes there was fighting on the street right outside. And blood on the cobblestone.
To my writer’s eye the Battle of Gettysburg was the endurance of the people. But more than that it was people mostly ignored, the four hundred or so free black citizens of the town, who lived as neighbors, friends, who worked as farmers, merchants, and domestics, and had to flee when the Confederates came, or risk being sold into slavery. Some were captured and sent south into slavery. Some not. But they are part of the story, too.
About the author: Ann Rinaldi was a general-interest columnist on a daily newspaper in Trenton, N.J. for 21 years, where she honed her writing skills under the guidance of a Pulitzer-Prize winning editor. But it was her son, Ronald, whose interest in historical re-enactments during the Bicentennial years, drew her into history. “Having gone to both George Washington and Duke Universities, he had a tremendous library and all the right books with which to do research,” she says.
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