Been There, Done That

commentary on many different thoughts

Month: May, 2015

Day Three – High Water Mark

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By the third day of the battle, both sides were shot up.  Meade’s army was massed on Cemetery Ridge in a line which stretched from Gettysburg proper to the Roundtops, a distance of five miles.  Lee’s force was tightly packed, a mile away, behind Seminary Ridge.  The photos above rattled my mind when I realized the geography implied.

Beginning with the upper left:  you are standing with your back to Meade’s statue – which stands where his headquarters stood during the final day of battle.  The statue in the center is  to commemorate the soldiers who fought hand-to-hand at this point.  If you didn’t have time to load your musket (remember that breech-loading weapons were about a year off yet for the majority of troops) you used it like a baseball bat.

Upper right photo:  you are standing in the Union lines, watching General George Pickett’s 15,000 Confederates approaching you across one mile of uphill and broken ground with absolutely no cover anywhere, and cannon firing on you from directly in front, and from high ground to your left and to your right.

Lower left:  below the stone wall, looking toward the snake-fencing on the Emmitsburg Road.  At the time of the battle, the road was dirt and sunken about four feet below the current asphalt surface.  There were snake fences on both sides of the road.  If you were with the Confederate army during Pickett’s Charge, you had to climb the first fence, drop down into the sunken road, climb up to and over the second fence, and proceed – all under cannon fire.  By this time, you were in range of canister fire (shells loaded with scrap metal and other shrapnel).  Not fun.

Lower right:  you are in Confederate territory looking UP at the Union infantry and cannons.  The marker to the left of center marks the high-water mark of the Confederacy – the furthest North reached by the Confederate army before being forced to retreat.  According to our guide, the Confederate army sent approximately 15,000 up the slope.  Tallies believe at 5,000 at most made it back to where they started.  The entire engagement lasted 45 minutes.

Day Two

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Above is the aptly-named Devil’s Den.  Union forces met Confederates in this immense pile of rocks.


You are now looking at Big Round Top.  In the foreground is land both armies named The Slaughter Pen.  Fire from above and behind you (Devil’s Den) from one side, and the other side is firing from higher ground to your left.  Very few who went in came out.



This is the view from Little Roundtop, where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine regiment held the left flank of the Union army against ferocious fire (the movie – and the book – pull this part of the battle straight from the Official Records of both armies, Chamberlain’s citation for the Congressional Medal of Honor, and from Chamberlain’s own memoirs, so there isn’t much doubt it’s pretty straight-forward.) The Union was entrenched up at the top of this hill – and it is quite a strenuous climb, believe me – and the Confederates attacked by a route that the road (center and left of the photo) now follows.  Why?  It’s the only part of the terrain that provides even a modicum of cover.  Coming straight up the center would be a half mile up a 1-in-5 grade with no cover at all.

The woods start about where you’re standing, stretch back to your left and join up with Big Roundtop (where the tree line starts upper left).  Where you are standing is the brigade command post.  Chamberlain’s 20th Maine anchored here and to the left of this position.  To your right, the line heads north all the way to Gettysburg town (about 2 miles).

Gettysburg Day One

I bribed a friend, an eminent military historian, to come with me to tour the Gettysburg battlefield.  I’d seen the Turner film (dated 1994 or 1995) which was based on Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels.  The book is well worth reading – Pulitzer Prize – and the movie is well worth watching, although Tom Berenger’s beard (he plays James Longstreet) is one for the make-up booby-prize record books. I have, since moving to Atlanta, discovered an abiding interest in how geography affects military history.  (Previously in this blog, I’ve discussed how I-75 follows the footsteps of the Union Army marching through  Georgia – and why.) That being the case, I wanted to see the actual site and get a first-hand impression of why the battle unfolded as it did.


General Meade (above) took command of the Union army three days before the encounter.  He was in Washington.  The Army was in Maryland, working its way north.  That’s a fair distance (just on 75 miles) to travel on horseback in haste.


Meanwhile, General John Buford’s cavalry chose and held high ground against the approaching Confederate forces until Union infantry came up.  The brigade was pretty thoroughly shot up.  In the photo above, you are looking from the Union position at the end of the fighting on the first day.  This is Cemetery Ridge.

History Happens Every Day

I’m a little late for both of these notable occurrences, but in this week in history:

7 May 1915:  One torpedo from a German submarine sank the American ocean liner Lusitania.  Historians say that although American reaction was originally muted, the media assisted in firing enough public enthusiasm to eventually propel the US into World War I.  A belligerent’s firing on the vessel of a neutral country (at the time, America maintained neutrality, considering the World War a European skirmish) was provoking enough to outweigh President Wilson’s determination to maintain that neutrality.  He ran for election in 1916 on the slogan “he kept us out of war”.  Didn’t last long.  America entered the war in 1917.  (In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, the US did not single-handedly win World War I for the Allies.)

7 May 1945: VE-Day.  Surrender of the Axis powers to the Allies.  According to survivors who massed in Trafalgar Square when the victory was announced, the square was flooded with lights all night – the first time, remember, that Londoners had seen anything but blackout at night in five long years.  By the way, if you’ve got a bit of time and are interested in the blackout and the London Blitz, may I recommend Connie Willis’s two-parter, Blackout and All Clear.  If you don’t read them in order, you will be hopelessly lost.  They are splendidly researched, historically accurate and brilliantly written.  I will confess that it wasn’t til I’d read them through twice that I got all the characters straight, but it was well worth it.  She’s a fabulous writer and these are two of her best ever.

More Gumpaste


Working on some spring flowers.  Learning how to make daffodils!

Centerpiece creation

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The base is Styrofoam with fondant covering, and the peacocks are gumpaste!  Sometimes I impress even myself.

And Still Some More


We had a good time!

And more adventures


Alvin the Awesome taking very good care of me!


This is what I’ve been busy with the last few


All of this is gumpaste!


I can always tell when the “bloods” have been in the gym!


This is what I use!