Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My World extra - Gettysburg National Cemetery

Last Friday my grandsons and I again visited Gettysburg. We started at the new Visitor's Center and Museum and then went to the Soldiers National Cemetery and joined a Park Ranger's walking tour. He described how this spot came to be our nations first military cemetery. Evergreen Cemetery, established in 1854, was on a hill just south of the town of Gettysburg. Cemetery Hill and the ridge that ran south to Little Round Top had a commanding view of the land to the west. As Lee marched his Army into Pennsylvania in June of 1863, Union forces first engaged Lee's Army to the northwest of Gettysburg and were pushed back. The Union forces established a defensive position on Cemetery Hill and were soon reinforced by General Meade's Army of the Potomac. Lee's Army took up positions along Seminary Ridge across the fields and the ensuing July 3 - 5 battle resulted in 10,000 dead, 30,000 wounded and 10,000 captured.

The land now holding the dead was the site of many cannons during the battle. Recognize the maker of this one? The cannons used at Gettysburg inflicted much of the carnage by both armies. When the armies left the battlefield on July 5, many wounded and the dead remained. Bodies were buried in shallow graves and the wounded were cared for in homes and other buildings in the town. Some of the bodies were recovered by family and carried home for burial. The people in Gettysburg felt that the dead soldiers deserved a proper burial. A committee of representatives of Union states was formed to plan for the new cemetery. David Wills, a lawyer in Gettysburg chaired the committee. William Saunders, a well-known landscape architect, was hired to design the cemetery.

The design included a monument to the Union soldiers with semi-circle rows of graves organized by state. In October, the reburial began and took five months to complete. The confederate dead were left buried on the battlefield and were re-interred in southern cemeteries in the early 1870's. On November 19, 1863, the cemetery was dedicated with President Lincoln making his best-known speech near the end of a four hour ceremony. Thus Soldier's National Cemetery as it was first called, became the nations first national cemetery, over a year before Arlington National cemetery was dedicated.

The graves were grouped by state if the name and state of the remains could be identified. (Weather had obliterated many of the hastily prepared original markers.) The unknown graves were marked with numbered headstones. Post war burials continued within the semi-circle of graves. Most were veterans from the town of Gettysburg and Adams County, Pennsylvania. In the 1880's additional areas were opened for burial with veterans of Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II interred at Gettysburg.

Note: The Ranger Chuck Teague and the National Park Service web site, especially the Virtual Tour the Aftermath were the source for most of this post.

1 comment:

LadyFi said...

Great post. It's so moving to see all those gravestones in rows and rows. A good reminder of the futility of war.