The Nathaniel Greene monument at Guilford Courthouse is just one that stands to memorialize the man who General Washington hand-picked as his successor in command of the army should he fall. And it was a good choice.
One of the first to answer the call to arms from Rhode Island, Greene served in a number of capacities during the war. He received his brigadier appointment from the Continental Congress on June 22, 1775. Greene was given command of Boston by Washington after the British withdrew.
In August 1776 he became one of four new major generals. At that point, he was given command of all troops on Long Island. He selected the location of fortifications and supervised their construction. During the British invasion, he was given command of Forts Washington and Lee only to lose them to the British onslaught. He would make up for it at the Battle of Trenton where he led one of two American columns into the fight.
After given command of the reserve at the Battle of Brandywine Washington pleaded for him to take over as Quartermaster General during the long winter at Valley Forge. He did so reluctantly but proved more than competent. He would lead the right wing of the army at Monmouth. Rhode Island was next along with Lafayette and the French.
Once he was in command of the army in the south Greene became an immortal. Somehow he did it without winning a single battle. He didn’t need to. Much like Washington he simply managed to keep fighting. Never allowing the British to rest. The eventual victory at Yorktown belongs to Greene as much as any man. None, however, can say it better than the enemy that he dueled within the Carolinas.
On July 3rd, 1863 the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania were already washed in blood. This was the third day of the battle between the forces of the United States and the Confederate States of America. The battle was not even supposed to happen. Days earlier almost by accident the two forces met. The battle began and took on a life of its own. Now on the third day, the Union forces were in defensive positions on a ridge outside of town. So far they had withstood the best that the Confederates had to offer.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee prepared his Army of Northern Virginia for one last push against the Union center. The push that he believed would end the battle and perhaps the war. His plan involved General Pickett’s division leading the charge against that line across a field almost a mile wide. To guide them they were told to march toward a copse of trees that stood at the dead center of the Union line.
The charge was a disaster for many reasons. Ineffective artillery, a foe that was stronger than was expected, fences that slowed the approach among them. Few Confederates made it to the Union fortifications, fewer still got through them. This failure allowed the Union to finish the day with a victory under their belt.
In all over 6,000 Confederate troops became casualties that day, compared to 1,500 on the Union side. The biggest casualty, however, was the Confederacy, for the loss at Gettysburg became the death toll for their hopes of independence. Oddly enough even though the Confederacy fell, the copse of trees still stand as defiant as ever.
The morning of July 3rd, 1863 at Gettysburg Pennsylvania the Union and Confederate forces were in day three of an epic battle. This was a battle for all the marbles. If the South could win they would have almost free rein in the Pennsylvania countryside. From there they could make a run at anywhere they wanted in the north, including Washington DC. A war-weary North may even consider bringing the war to an end.
General Lee decided this morning that he was going to play for the win. He ordered the men to make a strong focused attack on the Union center. That should have been the weak point. Break that line and win the war. He gave command of the attack to General Longstreet even though he opposed it. As such he delayed the attack longer than he should have. Eventually, after an artillery duel seemed to prepare the field Longstreet sent General George Pickett and his Virginians to attack.
One of the men leading the assault was General Lewis Armistead. A good man and a true soldier. He had been part of the US Army before the war and now served the South. That day he led the men from the front as the artillery and rifle fire rained down. He kept them moving forward. After what seemed like a week in Hell his men closed in on the stone wall the marked the Federal line. Waving his hat perched on his sword he lead the men over the wall. For a brief shining moment they drove the Yankees back and almost, maybe could see victory.
It was not to be the Union forces rallied and Armistead fell and with him the hopes of the Confederate victory. The spot that he fell, marked in the photo above became known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. After that hope for victory would change to hope for survival as the long, slow death spiral of the CSA began.
This pic was taken at Gettysburg in 2013 from Little Round Top. Looking to the center of the picture you will see a rock formation (you can make out the cars parked around it). That formation is known as Devils Den.
During the second day of the battle (June 1-3, 1863) this position changed hands several times and was used both for artillery and infantry. Once the Confederates had secured the position it was used heavily by snipers as it gave a great view of the Union positions on Little Round Top and some of the surrounding areas. We could literally talk for days about the actions that happened in and around Devils Den, but we come to this now for another reason.
You see when I was first studying the Civil War whenever I came across Gettysburg there was always Devils Den. It is not uncommon for certain places on the battlefield to take on names that denote certain “character”. Bloody Lane, The Peach Orchard, The Sunken Road. To students of the war those names immediately bring up images of the actions fought at those places. Devils Den though was different. That outcropping of rock was called Devils Den before the war.
Before the War
As early as 1856 the rocks were known for a large snake named the Devil. His home became known as the Devils Den. After the war the area was known by a few different variations of it until the original name stuck.
Now I know that sometimes tour guides like to embellish and tell stories, it’s part of the job. A little digging in the archives of the Gettysburg Times seems to collaborate at least a part of the story. In the Jan 23rd 1932 issue a brief paragraph relates a sighting of the famous snake in 1881, right where it had been known to be for at least a quarter of a century. Here is a link to the article. It is easy to forget these battles took place near homes and communities that had a history before the war.
Gettysburg is more than a battlefield. It is also the home to a very good museum with a number of fantastic exhibits and artifacts at the visitor center. One artifact worth mention is the plaster mask of President Abraham Lincoln pictured above.
The practice of creating “life” and “death” masks dates far back into antiquity when men of note would allow a mask to be made of their features using plaster. Sometimes done during their life, sometimes not until after they died. These masks are the closest we may ever get to seeing what these men of legend actually looked like.
Lincoln himself had two life masks done . The first in 1860 before becoming president. The second in 1865, just months before his untimely death. The one pictured above comes from a cast of the 1860 original. It shows a Lincoln, sans beard, before the tolls of politics and war took their toll.
For more information on the masks themselves and the story of their castings visit Abraham Lincoln Online via this link.
Lincoln: Myth or Man?
No matter how you view Lincoln seeing his face, even in plaster, is sobering. Generally considered the best President of the United States he has become more myth than man. In recent years there has been a movement to try to demystify him, to make him more human and flawed. From efforts to paint him as a racist, who only used the issue of slavery as a political tool, to efforts underway to prove he was homosexual, Lincoln is still a touchstone for controversy.
But seeing that face, as close to reality as you will ever get, shows that he was a man upon which the history of the nation turned on. Standing in front of the exhibit at Gettysburg just adds to the over all feeling of awe at the place.
The image of Confederate General Robert E. Lee astride his white charger could bring his men to tears. Filled with pride and the knowledge that he was there helped the men to fight harder and longer than should have been possible. The men loved Lee as a father and they would follow him to the end of the world.
His monument at Gettysburg, officially the monument of Virginia, shows Lee in all his glory staring stoically out across the open field, surveying the Union lines on the third day of battle. The third day, the day that would not only seal the loss of the battle for Lee, but would be the death kneel of the Confederacy.
This was the day that lee sent General Pickett and his troops across the field, over a mile in the open to try to smash their way through the center of the Union line. A line that had been beaten and bashed for two days. Against the advice of his right hand General Longstreet, Lee knew in his heart he had made the right decision.
The attack got off slow. The bombardment that was to soften the defenses fell short, lack of ammunition kept the fire rate lower than expected. When the time came though Picket and his men advanced. The story of Pickett’s charge is one for another time. Regardless of whose side you sympathize with the bravery and sheer will power that the Confederate soldiers showed as they reached the Union line is beyond measure.
Yet they failed. Crushed by Union artillery. Raked by a withering flanking fire that decimated them as they closed in. Fences, fences that the men had to stop and climb over as rifle and cannon fire tore gaping holes in their lines. They failed and those that could crawled, ran, walked, shuffled back to the stating point of their attack. And there when they arrived was Lee. Tears in his eyes as he realized he had made a mistake and hundreds of men paid the price.
His monument sits at the very spot where he solemnly greeted those that survived the attack. A stone face stares out at the fields of what had to have been worst day of the war for him. The high point of the rebellion had come and gone, and Lee will forever bear witness to that failed attack.
Above we have the North Carolina monument at Gettysburg National Military Park. A monument to the bravery and tenacity of the men from North Carolina that fought in the field for the state and for the Confederacy.
The history of Confederate monuments is fascinating as for many years they were discouraged completely and it was not until much later that they started to appear. Hard feelings and lack of money kept many Southern states from being able to build the monuments. As such there are far more monuments to the Union troops than the Confederates, which makes sense because the battle was a Union victory and occurred in the North.
The North Carolina monument was dedicated on July 3, 1929. (Interestingly enough the Texas monument was not dedicated until 1982.) To the side of the monument is erected a stone tablet with the following inscription:
1863 North Carolina
To the eternal glory of the North Carolina
soldiers. Who on this battlefield displayed
heroism unsurpassed sacrificing all in sup-
port of their cause. Their valorous deeds
will be enshrined in the hearts of men long
after these transient memorials have crum-
bled into dust.
Thirty two North Carolina regiments were in
action at Gettysburg July 1,2,3, 1863. One Con-
federate soldier in every four who fell here
was a North Carolinian.
This tablet erected by the North Carolina Division United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Over 14,000 men of North Carolina were a part of the Army of Northern Virginia, only Virginia provided more men. During the battle NC lost almost 6,000 men or almost 40% of those that took part in the battle. As stated on the tablet over one-quarter of all Confederate casualties these three days came from North Carolina.
We will look at some more of the monuments in the days to come.
People, Places and Things from US Military History