Reflections on Gettysburg
There is one museum, one natural wonder and one historical site that after visiting have all left me breathless and without words.
The museum is the Mooney Worther Museum outside New Philadelphia. Mooney Worther carved wooden steam locomotives, among other things. The natural wonder is the Grand Canyon, and the historical site is Gettysburg.
Ken Burns’ depiction of Gettysburg — the heroics, the logistics, the landscape and certainly the death toll told in images are breath-taking, yet still not enough! I wanted to know more about Captain Chamberlain — Little Round Top especially.
What I saw from Little Round Top were the peach orchards and the wheat fields, which reminded me of any small farm, even ours. And still I cannot find the words to capture the entire drama. A battleground on such pastoral scenes seems jarring and unfitting. However, my ancestor Francis S. Wolfe, did find the words; he was there!
“We had many stirring times in our three years of soldiering but the fight at Gettysburg was the worst. We had been on the march from Washington for several days and when we got within about five miles of there, we got orders to double quick. If anybody called this a joyride they were a poor judge of navigation as it was like riding a log-cart and imagine the horses going on the lope. When we got there we were put in position at Little Round Top on the front line. We had not been there very long when we saw a flag and troops coming up a small valley. The Captain took out his glasses and took a hurried look and yelled ‘Rebs, boys, rebs, give ‘em hell’ and we surely did. We gave them shells awhile and then grape and canister but they came rushing and yelling like demons. The last charge we gave them was a double charge of canister. When the gun was discharged it almost upset and we could see it mowed a gap nearly a rod wide through their ranks of mangled humanity but they closed up and came on. The Captain saw we could not hold our position and gave orders to retreat. They brought up the horses and got away with four of the guns but as they were just ready to hitch to our gun and the one next to it some of the horses were hit by shot and became unmanageable and the Captain yelled to save ourselves and let the guns go. It is the duty of No. 8 (2nd corporal) to spike the guns before leaving them. This is done by ramming a rat-tail file in the vent and breaking it off as this prevents anyone from using the gun until it is drilled out, but No. 8 had got it bad in the leg and retired for repairs.
“I took a piece of heavy wire called the priming wire (I was No. 3) and intended clinching it but had not the time as No. 1 had the sponge staff running off and I couldn’t clinch it so I jammed the wire into the vent and was the last to leave the guns. The rebs were not over 30 feet away. As I started to run they shouted, ‘Stop you damned Yankee son-of-B…’ I yelled back that wasn’t my name and sure did some sprinting. The bullets were whizzing all around me and I do not know how anyone could escape being hit but we did.” (The Wolfe Family History by Nora Wolfe Adkins, daughter of Francis S. Wolfe, Lawhead Press 1964)
Sylvia Zimmerman is the owner of Fulton Creek Jersey Cheese in Richwood. She holds two graduate degrees and, when not working on her farm or pursuing her interest in sustainable agriculture, writes her own blog.