More on 15th Alabama’s Line of Advance

Here is an extract from the 1878 edition of the Southern Historical Society Papers  from Colonel William C. Oates, Commander of the 15th Alabama Regiment during the Battle of Gettysburg’s second day.  He writes about the advance up ‘Round Top Mountain.’

“…When crossing the little run we received the first fire from the Federal infantry, posted behind a stone fence near the foot of Round Top mountain. Our line did not halt, but pressing forward drove our enemy from the fence and up the side of the mountain. Just at this point General Law marched the Forty-fourth and Forty-eighth regiments by the left flank across my rear to the support of Robertson’s Texas brigade, which was said to have been hard pressed at that time and unable to advance further without reinforcements. This left my regiment on the extreme right flank of Lee’s army, and as I advanced up the mountain side my right was soon exposed to a flank fire from Federal skirmishers, which I promptly met by deploying my right company at short distance. I continued to advance straight up the southern face of Round Top. My men had to climb up, catching to the bushes and crawling over the immense boulders, in the face of an incessant fire of their enemy, who kept falling back, taking shelter and firing down on us from behind the rocks and crags that covered the mountain side thicker than grave stones in a city cemetery. My men could not see their foe, and did not fire, except as one was seen here and there, running back from one boulder to another. In this matter I pressed forward until I reached the top and the highest point on top of Round Top. Just before reaching this point, the Federals in my front as suddenly disappeared from my sight as though commanded by a magician. From the top of the mountain a Federal soldier could not be seen, except a few wounded and dead ones on the ground over which we had advanced. Here I halted and permitted my men to lie down to rest.”

We have stated repeatedly that Oates only thought he was climbing Big Round Top on the way to his confrontation with the 20th Maine on the south side of Little Round Top. There is a ridge on the west side of Big Roundtop that we call, for good reason, “Sharpshooters’ Ridge,” that rises from the Slyder Farm’s field on the slope of the ridge, all the way to the current intersection of Warren, Wright, Sedgwick, and South Confederate  Avenues.  When he writes of the men crawling over large boulders, he was writing about these:

[You can click on the image and see it enlarged for greater detail.]

These are on the left side of South Confederate Avenue as it climbs up Sharpshooter’s Ridge on the west side of Big Round Top, just before you reach the parking area for the climb top the actual summit of Big Round Top.

W. G. Davis

Please feel free to comment.


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Morning Mist at Gettysburg

It has been a while.

Morning Mist at Gettysburg


Low in the morning mist where once the soldiers lay

In Company streets, to rest, or sing, or cook or talk,

The foxes romp and race, and bark and play,

And stop to look, alert to those who go where legends strode.


Out in the morning mist where once the horses moved

In lines as endless as the wind, the deer move by,

Bouncing and leaping, stopping to graze, or look

At those who try to see the riders in the haze.


Above the morning mist where once the smoke and dust

Of battle hotly played the hawks now soar,

Rising in the morning air to find their prey

And elude the ones who would try to smell the powder.


Appearing gently in the thinning mist

The cannon silently guard the ground in which

The blood of generations still abides

In such abundance we must weep again.


Standing softly in the mist the statues gaze

Upon the land so nobly blessed by Giants of the Past.

Such Hallowed Ground, the honored land so bravely served

And guarded now by legions of the dead.


In the shadowless mist of morn the silent shapes appear

Like regiments of marching men, some oak, some ash

All straight and tall, and solid like the men

Whom History has marked as being here.




And now the morning mist is gone,

And likewise are the fox and deer,

And now the moving shapes are still,

Resting on the gentle slopes of glory.


After the morning mist the sun

Shines brightly from the east,

Equally on the North and South

Warming the soil of this honored ground.


Remember the mist and what it shows

And listen to its fifes and drums,

And feel the beat within your breast–

You do not need a band to sound.


Feel the mist upon your face and know

You feel the tears that once were traced

On faces loved by those who fought

And fell upon this noble ground.


William G. “Jeff” Davis   1997



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The Pesky Files of History: Lee vs. Longstreet, July 2, 1863

There was conflict between Longstreet and Lee on the 2nd. Most historians put this down to Longstreet’s attitude that this was not the place to conduct an attack as he is certain the Army of the Potomac will defeat them, while Lee suddenly got his blood up and decided to attack!

Maybe. Here is another idea about that.

The morning scout that was ordered by Lee for the early morning of July 2, 1863 was carried out by Captain Samuel R. Johnston, Lee’s Topographical Engineer, accompanied by Longstreet’s Topographical Engineer Major John J. Graham Clarke.  They were escorted by two cavalry, or more likely mounted infantry.

They traveled down the valley west of Seminary Ridge and its lower extremity Warfield Ridge, to a location where they could safely cross the Emmitsburg Road heading east toward their objective: Round Top Mountain. [It was thusly noted so in the Confederate letters written years after the war: Round Top Mountain].

They entered a farm, lane most likely to the Slyder Farm.  The Bushman Farm would have afforded them easier access to the water in Plum Run, and easier access to the trails at the south end of Big Round Top which led out to the Taneytown Road, but the Slyder farm field on the west flank of Big Round top offered them a view, which was what they were after.  Additionally the Slyder Farm lane presented a trail up the mountain to the field farmed by the Slyder Family and was a simpler, more direct way to get up onto the mountain. Because of the harvesting of timber in the area this field on the west flank of Big Round Top would have been visible from Emmitsburg Road, or the ridge-slope on the road’s west side.

When he returned to Seminary Ridge to report to General Robert E. Lee, he found Lee sitting on a log at the Seminary.

Here is where it gets interesting. Captain Johnston wrote at least four accounts of his morning scout in various letters after the war. Two were written around 1878 during the era of conflict between Jubal Early and James Longstreet, by seeking to find reason to excoriate Longstreet. [This open public conflict was the so called “Lost Cause Mythology” created by Jubal Early, Armistead L. Long, and others that blamed non-Virginian Longstreet for losing the war by losing the Battle of Gettysburg because — as they put it — he “had a case of the slows.”] Another was written in 1892. The remaining one has no date. We can say it was written in 1878 or later because it is written to Bishop Peterkin, who was consecrated a Bishop that year.

Johnston was consistent in his letters to various folks, most notably General Lafayette McLaws, who developed an animosity toward Longstreet during the war despite being a fellow Georgian, and William Peterkin who served in the 21st Virginia Infantry during the war, later serving as an Aide to General Pendleton.  Shortly after the war, Peterkin went to seminary and in 1877 was consecrated as a bishop effective in 1878. The connections are simple: Pendleton was an artillerist and Johnston conducted an evening scout with him on July 1st seeking advantageous artillery locations along Seminary Ridge and perhaps as far south as Warfield Ridge; Peterkin would have gone along as Pendleton’s aide; the next day Johnston [after making his early morning scout in the area of the Round Tops] led McLaws’ and Hood’s Divisions on the infamous march and countermarch by Longstreet’s two Divisions on the way to Warfield Ridge from which they launched their attack.

Johnston apparently took a lot of criticism for leading Longstreet’s men first up a road where they could easily be seen by the Union Signal Station on Little Round Top. Longstreet ordered a counter march to bring the men closer to Seminary Ridge before turning south after crossing Willoughby Run again. The result of the countermarch was leading McLaws’ Division up Millerstown Road from Willoughby Run only to have McLaws disgustedly exclaim “Aww <expletive deleted>” when he saw he was facing the bulk of Daniel Sickles Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac.

Johnston’s letters mostly dealt with explaining that he had been ordered by Lee to guide the head of Longstreet’s two divisions [McLaws and Hood], but had never gone over the ground, hence the first movement up a road where they could be discovered. After explaining this in great detail, he added a paragraph or two describing the morning scout on the 2nd, and how he returned to Lee at the Seminary where he found Lee sitting on the log with Ambrose Powell Hill on one side of Lee and Longstreet on the other – the three were sharing a map. He reported to Lee, Longstreet and A. P. Hill about his scout, and when asked where he had gone he pointed to the map that Lee is holding in his lap and puts his finger on Little Round Top. Lee asks him what he saw there, and Johnston reports he saw no sign of the enemy.  [We find out later that there was a Division of the Union Army camped on and around Little Round Top. Obviously, Johnston was not there. Hence the alternative of his being in the Slyder family field up on a ridge along the west side of Big Round Top becomes more likely. It is the only other place on either elevation that would allow him a view of the surrounding area.]

In three of his letters, he writes what the above narrative describes. In the fourth [the undated letter to Bishop Peterkin] there appears an anomaly: when he gives his report to Lee on his return from the scout, he follows that by writing, “Major Clarke I suppose reported to General Longstreet.”

Why the anomaly? It may be a minor point but it puts us on the horns of a dilemma:

If Captain Johnston reported to Lee by pointing to a map indicating he was on Little Round Top, and at the same time Major Clarke was reporting to General Longstreet some distance away, then another possibility arises. Remember there were two escorts on that scout. If they were indeed in that Slyder Family field on Big Round Top, then those escorts could have gone out to Taneytown Road to see what was out there as there were trails leading around the south base of Big Round Top. Perhaps they saw a Union artillery park, or men in blue marching or having breakfast along the road.

Could it be that while Johnston actually pointed to Little Round Top on the map, Clarke was telling Longstreet what his escort saw out along Taneytown Road?  If so, then with Lee and Longstreet believing they both got the same report when in fact they got different reports it could be an additional reason for them to have been at loggerheads all day on the 2nd beside Longstreet not wanting to fight at Gettysburg.

Finally, Hood wrote a letter to Longstreet in the 1870s saying he sent scouts out to confirm the path around the south side of Big Round Top was clear BEFORE reaching Warfield Ridge; until then, Hood had no opportunity to see and gauge the ground or have any idea what it was like. His knowledge that allowed him to know about Taneytown Road and an artillery unit along it could only have come from the morning scout by Captain Johnston and Major Clarke and the two escorts.


Information extracted from the letters of Samuel R. Johnston collection at the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia.

W. G. Davis

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Flags Placed in Gettysburg National Cemetery

A force of 200-300 young Scouts and their families placed flags at every grave in the Gettysburg National Cemetery today, honoring the warriors of past wars for this Memorial Day.  Here is a photo of the event.

Click to enlarge photo.

The enthusiasm displayed by all the volunteers is heartwarming, and stirring.  They should be proud of themselves, and we think they are.  Congratulations to the Scouts and their families for a job well done.

W. G. Davis

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Controlled Burn : 14 April 2018

After a day’s delay due to high winds, the National Park Service launched its second controlled burn in two years at Gettysburg National Military Park.   Fire specialists from nearby states and a special National Park Service Fire Crew from Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area conducted the burn, which lit off at about 10 AM.  South  and East Confederate Avenues were closed all day to all traffic, including foot, and bicycle, out of prudent safety concerns.  Little Round top and for a while, Devil’s Den were also closed.

Note:  Click on photographs to enlarge them.

Note: Photographs were taken from South Confederate Avenue at the entrance to the Bushman Farm Lane.

The fire crews began in the Triangular Field on the west side of Houck’s Ridge [behind Devil’s Den].

The science behind the controlled burn is complex, demanding detailed geographic and geological decisions, and prevailing winds, even as they change.  The fire crews set a line of fire where they wanted the fire to stop, a narrow stretch, and they made use of existing fire breaks such as driveways, and roads.  Once the stop line was made, the crews would light the start line and let the wind do the work of pushing the fires toward the stop lines.  You can see this demonstrated in the images below.

First one of the the stop lines is created – follow the smoke.  Then, as you can see, the left margin of the burn area is burned to maintain the fire in the field.  Here the crew is spreading the fire down the Slyder Farm Lane to start the burn.  While they are doing that, another crew is creating the stop line just viewable as the smoke at the edge of the woods:

Below is the burned field after the fire burns itself out inside the stop lines.

As you can see, the worm fence became a casualty.  The smoldering fence segments were thrown onto the burned field where they cannot spread the fire that consumes them.

That is how it is done.There is, of course, much more to it, but the field north of the Slyder Farm Lane is a great example of how it is done.

However, once you start the fire to clear the underbrush in the wooded areas, you must be careful not to allow the trees themselves to burn.  At the end of this burn there were two trees afire just below Devil’s Den.  As of 8 PM they were still burning, closely attended by the fire crews.

The fire crews are very skilled at this, and the practice of clearing underbrush is spreading to other National Parks.  All in all, a fascinating exercise and learning experience.

W. G. Davis

Please feel free to leave comments, or questions.  Use the link at the end of each post.

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An Analysis of Lee’s Report on Gettysburg

[Note: this is a full section of Lee’s report from the Official Records as noted below.  That report is available in full in the pages section listed in the right hand column of this site.  This excerpt begins with the actual battle and ends at the close of the Battle.  Our commentary is in red.]

Lee’s Gettysburg Battle Report

[excerpted from Official Report in OR]

The leading division of Hill met the enemy in advance of Gettysburg on the morning of July 1. Driving back these troops to within a short distance of the town, he there encountered a larger force, with which two of his divisions became engaged. Ewell, coming up with two of his divisions by the Heidlersburg road, joined in the engagement. The enemy was driven through Gettysburg with heavy loss, including about 5,000 prisoners and several pieces of artillery. He retired to a high range of hills south and east of the town. The attack was not pressed that afternoon, the enemy’s force being unknown, and it being considered advisable to await the arrival of the rest of our troops.

Hill, and his subordinate Harry Heth, managed to disobey Lee’s strict admonition not to bring on a general engagement.

Orders were sent back to hasten their march, and, <ar44_308> in the meantime, every effort was made to ascertain the numbers and position of the enemy, and find the most favorable point of attack. It had not been intended to fight a general battle at such a distance from our base, unless attacked by the enemy, but, finding ourselves unexpectedly confronted by the Federal Army, it became a matter of difficulty to withdraw through the mountains with our large trains.

Really?  They didn’t seem to be a problem on the way up to Pennsylvania.  Is Lee trying to cover his decision to stay? 

At the same time, the country was unfavorable for collecting supplies while in the presence of the enemy’s main body, as he was enabled to restrain our foraging parties by occupying the passes of the mountains with regular and local troops.

This is pure malarkey.  Lee’s men freely helped themselves of all the fruits of the local farmers, their kitchens, their smokehouses, their cold cellars and their orchards.  In fact so many men swept the cherry trees of their almost ripened fruit that many were periodically disabled by severe diarrhea.  Indeed, cherries might have affected Lee as well. 

 This, then, leaves open the question “Did the Army of Northern Virginia not bring enough food and provender?” 

Finally, Lee’s army controlled the mountain passes.  In other words, he is trying to justify his decision to stay and fight when he should have pulled back and invited attack by the Army of the Potomac…which is what he told Longstreet he wanted to accomplish. 

A battle thus became, in a measure, unavoidable.

Nonsense!  He was free to pull back at any time.  The only thing holding him in place was the fact that while he surrounded the enemy on three sides, he was also keeping open a route back to the main body for the wayward J.E.B. Stuart and his 5,000 men and horses and the food, provender and other supplies Stuart had captured.

Encouraged by the successful issue of the engagement of the first day, and in view of the valuable results that would ensue from the defeat of the army of General Meade, it was thought advisable to renew the attack.

For a man who made his chops as a scout and topographical engineer for Winfield Scott in Mexico, he had certainly lost his edge if he thought for one second that attacking Meade on the high ground was a risk worth taking when Meade enjoyed the advantage not just of elevation, but also of interior lines of communication. Longstreet knew instinctively that to attempt such an assault was a forlorn hope, the advantages held by Meade being too great even for the vaunted Army of Northern Virginia to overcome.  [Most historians say this was the cause of the tension between Lee and Longstreet on the second day.  Indeed, it was, at least in part…but that is for another discussion.]  Suffice it to say that Longstreet was depressed and angry at the thought of deliberately throwing away so very many good men on that forlorn hope. 

The remainder of Ewell’s and Hill’s corps having arrived, and two divisions of Longstreet’s, our preparations were made accordingly. During the afternoon, intelligence was received of the arrival of General Stuart at Carlisle, and he was ordered to march to Gettysburg and take position on our left.

And thus the last legitimate impediment to Lee’s withdrawal is gone…and yet he stays. 

A full account of these engagements cannot be given until the reports of the several commanding officers shall have been received, and I shall only offer a general description.

The preparations for attack were not completed until the afternoon of the 2d.

True. Longstreet was delaying, not because he was angry, but because he had an alternative to Lee’s wasteful frontal assaults on an enemy entrenched on high ground.  His scouts had found a way around the South side of Big Round top.  With his two divisions suddenly breaking out onto Taneytown Road, he could send McLaws north up Taneytown Road and Hood’s Division across the ground to Baltimore Street, sweeping in their path the artillery posted on Powers’ Hill from behind, and setting up a blocking force at the bridge over Rock Creek [with some help from the Powers Hill Artillery]. 

 [Note: The Union 6th Corps arrived about 6:00 in the evening of July 2nd.  That was just as the fight over Little Round Top was ending.  After their very rigorous march, the men stopped on Baltimore Street at the Rock Creek Bridge, removed their boots and bathed their aching feet in the creek.  They were of no use to anyone on July 2nd.  The  day-time fighting at Culps Hill was over, and whatever fighting any of Hill’s Corps did that day was long over.]

The enemy held a high and commanding ridge, along which he had massed a large amount of artillery. General Ewell occupied the left of our line, General Hill the center, and General Longstreet the right. In front of General Longstreet the enemy held a position from which, if he could be driven, it was thought our artillery could be used to advantage in assailing the more elevated ground beyond, and thus enable us to reach the crest of the ridge.

He is referring to the presence of Sickles Corps from the Peach Orchard on up the Emmitsburg Road. 

That officer was directed to endeavor to carry this position, while General Ewell attacked directly the high ground on the enemy’s right, which had already been partially fortified. General Hill was instructed to threaten the center of the Federal line, in order to prevent reinforcements being sent to either wing, and to avail himself of any opportunity that might present itself to attack. After a severe struggle, Longstreet succeeded in getting possession of and holding the desired ground.

One at a time here: 

  1. Ewell was unable to crack Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill.
  2. A. P. Hill’s effort to “threaten the center” is a post battle rewrite of events. Hill’s men failed miserably when Wilcox and Perry were defeated by the 1st Wisconsin, and some Artillery, and only Wright’s Georgia Brigade actually met with success – the only real success for the Army of Northern Virginia on July 2 – when he crested Cemetery Ridge, capturing several Artillery Batteries along the way, only to lose them when Alexander Webb’s Philadelphia Brigade sent Wright back to Seminary Ridge.
  3. The only thing Longstreet had any success with was McLaws’s Division’s assault on the Peach Orchard, the Rose Farm, and the Sherfy Farm, sending Sickles men running back to Cemetery Ridge.  So McLaws’ Division did gain some ground out along the Emmitsburg Road.

Ewell also carried some of the strong positions which he assailed, and the result was such as to lead to the belief that he would ultimately be able to dislodge the enemy. The battle ceased at dark.

No, it did not.  The only success Ewell had was when Meade pulled troops from the defenses on Culp’s Hill and sent them to the center of his line.  When Ewell’s men made a night assault, they found those Union positions on Culp’s Hill unoccupied, so they moved into them.  When the Union troops returned around 2 AM, there was a brisk fight –most of it hand-to-hand – to eject the Confederates from those Union positions, resulting in another failure for Ewell. 

These partial successes determined me to continue the assault next day.

Those partial successes were very slim pickings.  But Lee was now desperate for a victory to salvage the entire expedition into Pennsylvania.  He had no choice but to grasp at straws – or give in to Longstreet.  All he had left to fight with were Pickett’s Division, and most of A.P. Hill’s Corps. After their limited action on July 1st, Hill’s Corps had not really attempted much and accomplished far less than they should have.  [Was Hill’s Corps on Sick Leave like their Commander was?]  Of the 13 Brigades in his Corps, only three engaged the enemy on July 2nd.  The excuses of some were outrageous – tangled in an orchard?  How does a Brigade get tangled in an orchard?  Others simple turned around and went back to Seminary Ridge, but Fighting Billy Mahone was honest, at least.  He outright refused to comply with General Dick Anderson’s order to advance several times.

Pickett, with three of his brigades, joined Longstreet the following morning, and our batteries were moved forward to the positions gained by him the day before. The general plan of attack was unchanged, excepting that one division and two brigades of Hill’s corps were ordered to support Longstreet.

The enemy, in the meantime, had strengthened his lines with earthworks.

At this point, seeing all the Confederate artillery being lined up and aimed at the center of Meade’s line, it was quite obvious where the attack was aimed.  That gave Meade plenty of time to scrabble together extra help.

The morning was occupied in necessary preparations, and the battle recommenced in the afternoon of the 3d, and raged with great violence until sunset.

The battle at Cemetery Ridge was over by about 5 PM.  The Battle at East Cavalry Field was over by 6.  Sunset on July 3rd was well after 8 PM.  A minor detail, but significant alongside the other misstated claims.

Our troops succeeded in entering the advanced works of the enemy, and getting possession of some of his batteries,

“Some” meaning very few.  Perhaps two or three, and only for a short time, and the guns were not turned on the defenders, nor were they spiked.

but our artillery having nearly expended its ammunition, the attacking columns became exposed to the heavy fire of the numerous batteries near the summit of the ridge, and, after a most determined and gallant struggle, were compelled to relinquish their advantage, and fall back to their original positions with severe loss. <ar44_309>

Indeed it was a gallant struggle on both sides, and it was thousands of infantry that delivered the telling blow.  Shame on Lee for not crediting the enemy for anything.  But doing so would be an admission that his decision to stay was tactically incorrect.

The conduct of the troops was all that I could desire or expect, and they deserve success so far as it can be deserved by heroic valor and fortitude.

Except for Hill and his corps, who basically went against Lee’s strict admonishment not to bring on a general engagement [battle] on the first, and failed miserably at supporting Ewell and Hood by attacking the center of Meade’s line on the second.  On the 3rd, Hill’s men basically had no choice.

More may have been required of them than they were able to perform, but my admiration of their noble qualities and confidence in their ability to cope successfully with the enemy has suffered no abatement from the issue of this protracted and sanguinary conflict.

Indeed, far more was expected from them than they were able to perform. To Lee’s discredit, he failed to listen to his senior subordinate, General James Longstreet, who knew at the end of the first day that to stay and fight meant certain defeat; who knew that the only chance they had at victory was a slim one and depended on moving an attack force around the south end of Big Round Top to Taneytown road and Baltimore street to cut off any attempt at Union retreat; who knew how much of an advantage the ground gave the enemy, and how much of a disadvantage the ground gave the entire Army of Northern Virginia as Lee placed them.

Owing to the strength of the enemy’s position, and the reduction of our ammunition, a renewal of the engagement could not be hazarded, and the difficulty of procuring supplies rendered it impossible to continue longer where we were. Such of the wounded as were in condition to be removed, and part of the arms collected on the field, were ordered to Williamsport.


JUNE 3-AUGUST 1, 1863.–The Gettysburg Campaign.

No. 426.–Reports of General Robert E. Lee, C. S. Army, commanding Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee’s performance at Gettysburg was nothing like his performance at the Seven Days battles.  His treatment of Longstreet was reprehensible.  True, he had lost Jackson two months earlier and he could not rely on Ewell or Hill.  But Longstreet was a rock, steady, capable, and probably a better tactical judge of the ground than was Lee. [Lee’s success in Mexico as a topographical engineer for Winfield Scott was mostly comprised of finding a safe pathway to Mexico City from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.]   This was a tactical appraisal by Longstreet, his senior commander.  Unfortunately, his trust of Longstreet vanished, while trust in Ewell was embodied by his lack of actually looking at the ground Ewell faced, doing so only once, and trust of Hill was voided by Hill’s illness.  Hill and Ewell were Virginians.

Longstreet was not a Virginian.  After Gettysburg, Lee sent Generals Iverson, and O’Neil, and their Brigades of non-Virginians, south to fight with Braxton Bragg, unworthy of a place in the Army of Northern Virginia.  Less than two months later, he sent Longstreet and his Corps to Bragg, minus Pickett’s Division of Virginians.

W. G. Davis

Please feel free to leave comments, or questions.  Use the link at the end of each post.

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Monuments and the Danger of Presentism

The United States has long been the shining light of the world, a place where all are welcome to come, and live, and embrace America and the United States, to contribute to its growth, and to set an example for the world to look up to, and to become Americans and proudly so.

Colonial America existed as a safe haven for the people of the Reformation to come and worship as they wished, without fear of remonstrations, or even imprisonment and execution.  And it was built up by an enormous workforce composed almost entirely of African Slaves.

Slavery had been going on in Africa since ancient times but what we call modern slavery was conducted by the Arabian Muslims who moved coast to coast through Central Africa taking slaves and marching them back to the Arab lands. This had been going on from the 8th Century.

By the middle of the 15th Century, Prince Henry of Portugal had established a school for sea captains, training them in sailing, seamanship and navigation.  He began sending these captains in their Caravels south from southern Portugal to the west coast of Africa.  At the end of each thrust farther south along the African Coast, the captains would establish a base camp/port, where they could stockpile supplies, and conduct trade with the local natives, taking home seeds, lumber, and elephant ivory.

But then they ran into Arab Muslim slave raiding expeditions and learned what had been happening for 700 years.  The slave raiders sold them a few slaves and they were taken back to Portugal.

Prince Henry and his brother, King Duarte [Edward], were devout Catholics, and supported the Church with riches brought back from Africa.  But when the slaves appeared in Portugal, the slave trade there was underway.  It was so lucrative that the Pope, Nicholas the V, during his 8 years as Pope, issued two relevant Papal Bulls:  the first, issued in 1452, basically said to the Captains of Prince Henry go ahead and subdue and capture any non-Christians they encountered for enslavement, and the second, issued in 1455, gave exclusive economic rights as they reached and eventually rounded the Cape of Good Hope and went on to India.  It also authorized them to buy or capture non-Christians as slaves to bring back to Portugal.

Portugal, and its chief sea-going rivals, Spain and England, began exporting African slaves to the New World shortly after Christopher Columbus [trained by Prince Henry’s school] discovered it.  The Portuguese moved African slaves to what is now Brazil, while the Spanish moved them into Mexico, Florida, throughout the West Indies and the Caribbean, through Mexico north to California, and south through Central America and down the west coast of South America.  The English began importing slaves into Virginia in the early 17th Century though most early Black slaves were brought from the West Indies.

The African slaves were the people who cleared the swamps along the North American coast, and cleared and built the roads, and ports, and towns.  Then they learned to pick cotton.  Their owners got very rich from cotton.  Southern culture changed, the plantation owners gained great wealth, buying more land, and more slaves, to the extent that wealth in the Colonial South was measured in how many slaves they owned.  And they determined that the slaves were “less than human,” thus justifying the institution of slavery.

And then, an ancient Greek political philosophy suddenly re-emerged in the American colonies, and a new nation was formed in the fashion of that ancient Greek philosophy: Democracy.  It came to be called “The Great Experiment”, among other expressions.  And it based its foundations on the core of the Enlightenment: the natural rights of man.

By the time the Virginian philosopher, politician and revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote his treatise on “The Rights of Man”, talk had already started about slavery among the political leaders of the Colonial states.  The Northern states wanted to extinguish slavery, the South said “no.”  But the British government in England enacted some laws applying to Colonial Americans that became known as the Intolerable Acts, and independence was suddenly more important than slavery.  During the Revolutionary War, England offered freedom to any slaves that joined their army [as teamsters and servants, not as soldiers].  George Washington and Alexander Hamilton established a policy that any slave could join the Continental Army earning a rifle and his freedom.

The Constitutional Convention that followed the Independence of the United States and the insufficient first attempt at government under the Articles of Confederation took nearly a year to draft, and heated arguments on the floor during its construction were daily low-lights.  One of the most important was the issue of slavery.   Deals were made between states in order to obtain concessions from the Southern slave states.   One of the more well-known concessions is located in Section 9 of Article I:

“Section 9. The Migration of Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.”

This law ended the United States involvement in the International Slave Trade by 1808, but it spawned a new business in the South: slave breeding.  The slave markets were thus supplied past 1808.

The Constitution also contains another law that outlines slave-owners’ rights when a slave runs away.  The Runaway Slave Law is contained in Article IV, Section 2:

“No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.”

The U.S. Navy began patrolling the West Indies to prevent slaves being smuggled into the U.S. in 1819, and at the same time, began patrolling the eastern Atlantic along the coast of Africa to stop the slaves from being smuggled to the U.S. from Africa.

The make-up of early Government of the United States tells a tale in its numbers.  William Lee Miller wrote in his book Arguing About Slavery [Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress. Vintage Books Division of Random House, New York, 1996. ISBN 0-679-76844-0.]

“Five of the first seven presidents were slaveholders, for thirty-two of the nation’s first thirty-six years, forty of its first forty-eight, fifty of its first sixty-four, the nation’s president was a slaveholder.  The powerful office of Speaker of the House was held by a slaveholder for twenty-eight of the nation’s first thirty-five years.  The president pro tem of the Senate was virtually always a slaveholder.  The majority of cabinet members and–very important–of justices of the Supreme Court were slaveholders.  The slave-holding Chief justice Roger Taney, appointed by the slave-holding president Andrew Jackson to succeed the slave-holding John Marshall, would serve all the way through the decades before the war into the years of the Civil War itself; it would be a radical change of the kind the slaveholders feared when, in 1863, President Lincoln would appoint the anti-slavery politician Salmon P. Chase of Ohio to succeed Taney.  But by then, even having a president Lincoln had been the occasion for the slaveholders to rebel, to secede, and to resort to arms.

 “One cites these facts about the formidable presence of the slave interests–to which, of course, dozens more could be added–not as later unhistorical moralizers sometimes do, as an indictment of the nation, but for almost the opposite purpose, to dramatize the immense power of the interest that the nation would nevertheless overcome.”

As one can begin to see, the fight to remove slavery from the United States was a knock-down-drag-out battle in the United States Congress, and in the newspapers throughout the nation.  Northern politicians also fought against the Slave interest in Congress by attempting to admit new states as “Free” states, allowing no slavery.  At least five generations of slave-owning Southerners were born before the Constitution was adopted.  To be sure there was indeed slavery in the North.  But by the 1840s most of those Northern States had ended slavery by outlawing it and granting freedom to the slaves.

Regardless, the fight in Congress went on, and grew to focus on the admission of Slave and Free states to the Union as the nation grew westward.

The Republican Party grew up in the upper Midwest in the 1850s as an anti-slavery liberal party.  It lost the 1856 election when Northern Democrat James Buchanan from Pennsylvania defeated explorer and scout from the wild western state of California, John C. Fremont.  It was a contest, but not really close.  But it was encouraging enough to the Anti-slavery states, and the Party grew.

By 1860 the U.S. was preparing for war, particularly in the South.  Slavery had a major role in Southern Culture.  Well over a century of successful slave-owning had solidified that role as a natural part and a natural right of the slave-holding South.  Slavery was a larger part of the Southern economy than real estate.

Along came Abraham Lincoln.  His seven fiery 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas during the race for the Senate seat from Illinois captured the attention of the nation.  Newspapers followed them around the state and reported in great detail what both men said.  It was Anti-Slavery Republican Lincoln vs. Slavery Defender Northern Democrat Douglas.   Douglas won the Senate seat, but it was tight.

And so it was again in 1860, when the two faced off in a fight for the White House.  Both had enhanced their reputations during the debates in Illinois, and it was clear what each man stood for.  The issue of slavery had finally come to the fore.  But the Democratic Party split along North-South lines, Southern Democrats backing John C. Breckinridge, and Northern Democrats backing Douglas, against the Republican, Abraham Lincoln.

The split doomed the Democrats,  Lincoln won in a landslide.

The South was in shock, and immediately began serious talk of secession and Civil War.  Lincoln made it clear he would not seek to end slavery.  What he didn’t say is that he would seek to block any new states from joining as Slave States.  It wasn’t enough.  By the time Lincoln reached Washington in the Spring of 1861 to be sworn in, many of the deep Southern states had already left the Union forming the Confederate States of America.

The rest of the South seceded.  Lincoln moved to keep Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri from leaving the Union.

America went to war with itself.  The Civil War was fought over four long years, killing approximately 620,000 men.  That is almost half the total of U.S. war dead in all wars.

In December of 1865 the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.  It states in full:

“Section 1. Neither Slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

“Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Slavery in the United States was ended.  A great moral and ethical wrong was righted, decided on the Battlefields of the Civil War.  The deaths of 620,000 men locked that down tight.  Those 620,000 men included both Union and Confederate, men from North and South.  For the most part the war was fought with honor, and with a full belief in the cause of each side.  Those beliefs were not abandoned on either side, but they accepted the outcome.  Both sides honored their returning soldiers, sailors and marines.  Both sides held reunions.  Many Veterans from both sides returned repeatedly over the rest of their lives to the fields on which they fought.  They were drawn there.  Fate drew them there as it was fate that allowed them to survive.

At home, statues and monuments were erected honoring the leaders and heroes of both armies.  They were doing the bidding of their political leaders, and for those leaders’ political and economic reasons.  They did so with ferocity and honor – how else can you explain 620,000 dead men?

We now have generations that have grown distant from that event.  They look at these events only on the surface, and through the colored glass of the present.  This is called Presentism: judging the past by modern values and mores.  It is a terrible mistake to judge someone by today’s standards that lived 155 years ago.

 The result of presentism is the mistake that George Santayana warned about: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” 

It was a different time.  The universal mores were different — vastly different.  For example, science had not advanced to the point where there was accepted dogma on race: specifically Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” was not published until 1859, and was not readily accepted by scientists.  And Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo River had not been studied or even explored to any great degree.  Dr. David Livingston left on his expedition into Africa’s interior in 1866, and he was not found by reporter Henry Morton Stanley until 1871.  Little was really known about Black, non-Muslim Africans of Central Africa.

That is looking at an historical era with objectivity.  Indeed, if we remove the monuments and markers from the locations where they were erected, then we risk erasing a part of history.  The next step, already underway in some schools and colleges, is to remove that unpleasant past from the curriculum because it offends.

If that is allowed to persist, and is not corrected, we will not only lose our history, we will lose the significance of the great events of our past.  And thus, we will lose our national identity of being not just a beacon of hope for the world, but how we became one by recognizing and righting the wrongs that we made as a people, as a nation, along the way.

Do not look at a Confederate monument and be offended.  Instead, be proud that the nation recognized the inhumanity of slavery and eradicated it, at the expense of 620,000 American lives.  We need to remember that man is not infallible: Benjamin Franklin sold slaves, George Washington owned slaves, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, James Madison owned slaves, yet these men are honored for founding and framing our country.  It was these men and others in their conventions, who framed the nation’s charter of laws to include paths and mechanisms for change.  The larger good far outweighs their slave-owning or dealing, because of the times, not because of now.  Good people can do bad things, as well as good things, but look at their lives in the light of the mores of the times, not the mores of today.  620,000 men died, in part, so you would not judge them by today’s mores, but by the mores of their time.

W. G. Davis

Please feel free to leave comments, or questions.  Use the link at the end of each post.

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Logic as applied to the records

On more than a few occasions we have encountered the telling of an event in a history book that simply defies logic.  Sometimes the events do indeed defy logic.

For example, on the first day of the Battle, while forming his brigade at the Forney Farm, how did Alfred Iverson fail to see the repulse of O’Neil’s Brigade by Baxter’s men on the edge of Oak Ridge…especially given the fact that one of O’Neil’s Alabama regiments wandered too far to the right and wound up joining Iverson’s North Carolina men.  Among his sins that day, Iverson apparently also ignored the presence of Baxter and ordered his brigade to march on an angle that would put the left of his brigade marching in front of Baxter’s Brigade by less than 200 yards and the resulting losses were horrendous.  How could he ignore the presence of Baxter?   That defies logic.

So it is with the recounting of the advancing assault on Little Round Top.  Here is what Colonel Oates, writing a bare month after the Battle, says happened:

“My regiment occupied the center of the brigade when the line of battle was formed.  During the advance, the two regiments on my right were moved by the left flank across my rear, which threw me on the extreme right of the whole line.  I encountered the enemy’s sharpshooters posted behind a stone fence, and sustained some loss thereby.  It was here that Lieut.  Col. Isaac B. Feagin, a most excellent and gallant officer, received a severe wound in the right knee, which caused him to lose his leg.  Privates [A.] Kennedy, of Company B, and [William] Trimner, of Company G, were killed at this point, and Private [G. E.] Spencer, Company D, severely wounded.

“After crossing the fence, I received an order from Brigadier-General Law to left-wheel my regiment and move in the direction of the heights upon my left, which order I failed to obey, for the reason that when I received it I was rapidly advancing up the mountain, and in my front I discovered a heavy force of the enemy.  Besides this, there was great difficulty in accomplishing the maneuver at that moment, as the regiment on my left (Forty-seventh Alabama) was crowding me on the left, and running into my regiment, which had already created considerable confusion.  In the event that I had obeyed the order, I should have come in contact with the regiment on my left, and also have-exposed my right flank to an enfilading fire from the enemy.  I therefore continued to press forward, my right passing over the top of the mountain, on the right of the line.

“On reaching the foot of the mountain below, I found the enemy in heavy force, posted in rear of large rocks upon a slight elevation beyond a depression of some 300 yards in width between the base of the mountain and the open plain beyond.  I engaged them, my right meeting the left of their line exactly.  Here I lost several gallant officers and men.”

Let’s take these one at a time:

“I encountered the enemy’s sharpshooters posted behind a stone fence, and sustained some loss thereby.”

From where the 15th Alabama stepped off on Warfield Ridge, their course would have been generally northward.  Their plan was to advance up along Plum Run.  From the start, things got confused.  The two regiments on his right were moved to his left [insert logic here: if you move two regiments from the right and insert them on the left then the regiments to the right of where you insert will have to move the equivalent distance of two regiments to their right – or thereabouts given the Confederate penchent for attacking en echelon].

Since that put Oates and his 15th Alabama on the extreme right of the Confederate assault, he would have slid the right of his line into the trees and across Plum Run somewhere Just below the Slyder Farm.  But he is still maintaining his orders to advance up Plum Run.  At the time the only stone fence in that area, or for that matter anywhere on Big Round Top, was the one that borders the field above the Slyder Farm on the ‘Hump’  of Big Round Top, what we will hereafter call “Sharpshooter’s Ridge”– the field that contains the Vermont Cavalry Monument.  It has long stone walls on three sides.  [Note:  We think this field, which has largely been ignored by historians, has a significantly greater importance to the events of July 2nd than have heretofore been told.]

Taking losses on his right flank from the enemy fire that came from behind the stone fence, Oates is forced to move his regiment [and apparently the undersized 47th Alabama on his left] to the right to drive off the Sharpshooters.  A short engagement ensues.  The Sharpshooters withdraw, and Oates gives his men a rest.  Suddenly, “After crossing the fence, I received an order from Brigadier-General Law.

Law’s messenger is Lt. Col. Terrell.  He informs Oates that Hood has been seriously wounded and Law has taken command of the Division.  He also tells Oates that Law wants him to take field command of the 47th on his left in addition to the 15th, keep moving, and turn to the left.   Later accounts by Oates after more than a few reunions: Oates adds that he had a discussion with Terrell and informs him that there is an artillery park along the Taneytown Road,  and later, in the History of the 15th Alabama written near the end of his life: Terrell rode his horse to the top of Big Round Top where Oates and his troops were occupying a clearing on the summit.  Both of these recountings fail the logic test.

First, in the heat of early July, full foliage is now out.  From where Oates is located in the field, he cannot discern where the actual top of Big Round Top is located.  As far as Oates can tell the top of Round Top that he and the 15th and the 47th Alabama went over was the high ground directly north of the walled field in which he encountered the Sharpshooters.  He complains in his report that his men had difficulty navigating the enormous boulders before hitting the down-slope of Sharpshooters’ Ridge.  The boulders on the up slope from the open walled field — on the left as you take the park road toward Little Round Top — are huge, with some the size of a small house.  That is all in line with his after action report.

The other recountings, in his letter about a decade and a half after the battle, and in his end of life History of the 15th Alabama, are rife with the many reunions, and memories of other veterans from his regiment.

W.G. Davis

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Preparing for Memorial Day

Several Hundred Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, troop leaders, and members of their families descended on Gettysburg National Cemetery early this morning to place flags at every headstone and grave marker.  It was a job well done.

Here are some at work.  Click on photo to enlarge it:

Gettysburg Area Scouts place flags at the headstones and grave markers in Gettysburg National Cemetery, Saturday, May 27, 2017.

It was a heartwarming display.

Remember to lower your flag to half-staff on Monday!


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The Devil’s Den Duck!?!?!?

Everyone has seen the Elephant just below the Devil’s Den area:

But who has failed to recognize this:

The Duck of Devils Den

W. G. Davis

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