The great stage named Gettysburg
Lincoln dedicated the national cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863
Perhaps Shakespeare said it best when he wrote: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” They have their exits and entrances.
The Stage. The sleepy market town 36 miles from Harrisburg was chosen by fate to be known forever as the site of the battle that turned back the forces of the Confederacy.
It was not only the scene of the battle, but the place where President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address for the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg.
So, Gettysburg was forever changed by the first three days of July and the 19th day of November 1863.
The Players. The coincidences that intertwined among key players upon that stage were strange indeed.
• President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is asked to be the secondary speaker to dedicate the cemetery and delivers the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19. Its words overshadow those of the primary speaker who spoke for two hours. One of the five copies of the address hangs in the Lincoln Room of the White House. The president is shot. He dies on the morning of April 19, 1865. Secretary of War Stanton remarks “Now he belongs to the ages.”
• Gen. Robert E. Lee (Confederate States of America). In 1859 Lee leads a detachment of Marines, to quell the abolitionist John Brown’s uprising at the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, W.V. Brown wanted to seize arms to assemble a slave rebellion. He is later hanged and “his body lies moldering in his grave.” Lee turns down Lincoln’s offer to head the Union Army. It was his strategy that failed at Gettysburg. Mrs. Lee’s rose garden becomes Arlington National Cemetery.
• Gen. James Longstreet (CSA). Lee’s primary commander, he argues strategy with Lee and is proved correct. Befriends Grant after the war and is reviled. Becomes Grant’s ambassador to Turkey.
• Gen. George Pickett (CSA). His name forever associated with the failed assault called Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the battle. Actually, Pickett’s was only one of three divisions that made the assault that day. When Lee tells him to look after his division after the assault, he utters those stone cold words: “Sir, I have no division.” After the war he sells insurance.
• Gen. John Buford (Union). Arrives at Gettysburg on June 30 with his cavalry. On July 1 his dismounted cavalry creates a defense against the advancing Confederates, and holds up their advance until supporting troops arrive, thus allowing Union forces to maintain their foothold at strategic places. His grandfather, Simeon Buford, served in the cavalry during the American Revolution under General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Robert E. Lee’s father. Fate allows son and grandson to face off those first days of July 1863.
In December 1863 he falls ill and is promoted to major general on his deathbed by President Lincoln in recognition of his deeds at Gettysburg. Dies in the aarms of Capt. Myles Keogh. Among his pall bearers are Generals Sickles and Hancock.
• General Daniel Sickles (Union). Loses a leg at Gettysburg. It is retrieved and displayed in a museum. Before the war kills his wife’s lover, a man named Key. His father, Francis Scott Key, was composer of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Defended using an insanity defense by a lawyer named Edwin Stanton, later Lincoln’s secretary of war. As a congressman he champions the preservation of the Gettysburg battlefield.
• Gen. John Gibbon (Union). He plays a major role in turning back Pickett’s charge on Cemetery Ridge. He attends the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery and hears Lincoln’s address. In 1876 it is his column that comes across the remains of Custer’s command at the Little Big Horn. He dies in 1896 and is buried at Arlington.
• Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Union). He is awarded Medal of Honor for action at Gettysburg in the defense of Little Round Top. Later, he is gravely wounded at Petersburg. Receives a battlefield promotion to general by Grant, the only such time Grant did this. He is chosen by Grant to preside over the surrender ceremony at Appomattox. Chastens the Union soldiers not to cheer or taunt the beaten enemy but to show respect. Later becomes governor of Maine.
• Gen. Winfield Hancock (Union). Shows great bravery riding exposed up and down the Union line and is severely wounded. In 1865 he presides over the hanging of Mary Surratt and other conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination. Hancock runs for president on the Democratic ticket in 1880. He is narrowly defeated by James Garfield, another Civil War veteran, who is later assassinated.
• Col. Edwin Cross (Union). Cross was known for wearing a red bandana tightly wrapped around his head in battle. This was done so his men would know where he was in the heat of battle. On July 2 Cross wraps his head in a black bandana. Gen. Hancock said “Colonel Cross this day will bring you a star.” (promotion to general) Col. Cross shook his head and said “No, general this will be my last battle.” He was killed later that day.
• Gen. George Custer (Union). His cavalry holds off Confederate cavalry under Gen. Stuart. At Appomattox he is given the surrender table (now on display in the Smithsonian). In 1876, at the Little Big Horn, Montana Territory, Custer and five companies of his 7th Cavalry are wiped out by the Lakota Sioux and their allies. Capt. Myles Keogh, former aide to Buford, is killed with Custer but his body is not mutilated. It is thought that his papal medal spared him.
To read the complete Gettysburg Address, click HERE.
Frank Peiffer of Bedminster is a member of the Pennridge School Board.
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