150 years later
Walk the paths, and you can almost see them.
Climb the hills, and they seem to climb with you.
It may be quiet now, here, in this little town in south-central Pennsylvania.
The guns no longer thunder.
The battle flags no longer wave.
The shouts, the shots, even the screams have long since died into silence.
But call the roll, and you can almost hear them answer.
Major Alonzo Cushing, 4th United States Artillery. Here.
Private James T. Womble, 5th North Carolina. Here.
Private George Washington Sandoe, 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry. Here.
Private Samuel Rhodes, 33rd Virginia Infantry. Here.
Corporal Cyrus W. James, 9th New York Cavalry. Here.
Sergeant W.G. Ray, 6th North Carolina. Here.
Captain Nathan S. Messick, 1st Minnesota Infantry. Here.
Corporal J.H. Walker, 57th North Carolina Infantry. Here.
Private George Nixon, 73rd Ohio Infantry. Here.
More than 50,000 in all. North and South. Union and Confederate. Blue and Grey.
Gone. All gone. They answered that final call 150 years ago, during or of wounds received in the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg. The first through the third of July, 1863.
According to the U.S. Army:
The Battle of Gettysburg was costly on a scale that is hard to imagine today. Almost as many soldiers died in combat at the Battle of Gettyburg than during the entire Vietnam Conflict. Almost as many Soldiers were killed, wounded or declared missing from the Battle of Gettysburg than during the entire Vietnam Conflict. A soldier in the civil war had about a 1 in 4 chance surviving.1
The numbers are stunning. The final tally of dead at Gettysburg: 51,112. In all of the Korean War, there were 36,574 American deaths. In all of the Vietnam War, there were 58,209. In all of World War I, 116,516.2
This is just one small image of the dead of Gettysburg3:
And what the Bloody Angle — scene of the horrific carnage that became known as Pickett’s Charge — looks like today4:
And the poet’s words say it all:
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
– Carl Sandburg, The Grass