History Enthusiasts Commemorate ‘High Water Mark’ at Gettysburg

Photo by Michael Kleen

Dozens assembled on Cemetery Ridge on Wednesday to commemorate the 156th Anniversary of “Pickett’s Charge” and the Civil War veteran events that followed.

The 4th of July, Independence Day, has special significance for all Americans, but it has duel significance for Civil War buffs. July 4, 1863 was the day after the Battle of Gettysburg and the day Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered after a 47-day siege. Many consider this the turning point of the Civil War in the Union’s favor. The angle in a stone wall where Confederates briefly penetrated Union lines in an attack on Cemetery Ridge south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3rd is considered the “high water mark” of the Confederacy.

The National Park Service held a series of events for the Battle of Gettysburg’s 156th anniversary this year, July 1-3. I was able to attend on July 3rd, which focused on the Confederate’s culminating attack known as “Pickett’s Charge”. Park guides gave presentations on various stages of the attack, from planning, to the cannonade, to its repulse, and a sizable crowd of approximately 50 to 60 people turned out. Not bad for a Wednesday afternoon.

At around 3:30pm, a small number of Union and Confederate reenactors staged their own ceremony at the angle in the stone wall, mimicking the 1913 Gettysburg reunion in which Union and Confederate veterans met on either side of the wall and shook hands and embraced. In 1913, 53,407 Civil War veterans met at the Gettysburg battlefield for the battle’s 50th anniversary. President Woodrow Wilson remarked, “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer…”

The act was reminiscent of an actual event during the Confederate attack on July 3, 1863. Two Southerners, one bearing the 52nd North Carolina flag, advanced alone within feet of the stone wall, where Union soldiers held their fire. As the pair approached, a Union soldier from the 12th New Jersey cried out, “Come over on this side of the Lord!” And they pulled them over the wall and into safety/captivity.

The Confederate side seemed heavily represented for the 156th anniversary, with multiple people bearing the old “stars and bars”. I’m not sure why more Northerners, and Pennsylvanians in particular, wouldn’t want to commemorate the Union’s largest victory on Northern soil. The unofficial event might be better organized if a historical society or state or national historical organization were to sponsor it.

It’s important to commemorate both the battle and the country’s reunification as symbolized by the Civil War veterans at Gettysburg. This moment of reconciliation and brotherhood between former adversaries is something that should be remembered.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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