Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner, July 18, 1863

150 years ago today, Union soldiers launched a desperate assault against Fort Wagner on Morris Island outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Leading the way was the 54th Massachusetts, a regiment of free African Americans charging under the American flag, storming a fortress commanded by white southerners, a scenario which was unimaginable just two years earlier at the war’s outset.

July 1863 was in many ways the pivotal month of the American Civil War. September 1862 could lay claim to this as well, with the Union victory at Antietam and the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. However, a trifecta of events in July 1863 forever changed the future of the Civil War and the future of American history.
On July 3, 1863, the Union Army of the Potomac defeated the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on the fields surrounding the farming town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The three day battle there on July 1, 2, and 3 culminated in a Union victory. It also exacted a heavy toll of 50,000 plus casualties, forever staining the fields of Gettysburg with the memory of those lives lost and those that were forever changed, along with the history of the nation. Such heavy bloodshed was the necessary price for "a new birth of freedom" to begin.

On July 4, 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant accepted the surrender of Confederate forces in Vicksburg, Mississippi. A 6 month long campaign to seize the crucial river town ended in Union victory. Thousands of lives had been spent to achieve the result. As Lincoln noted, “The Father of waters again goes unvexed to the sea….” The Mississippi was entirely in Federal hands, cutting the Confederacy in two, severely restricting the Confederate ability to wage war. This was, perhaps, the most important strategic victory of the war.

On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry led the Union assault on Fort Wagner, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, writing the most famous chapter not only in the history of that regiment, but for all African American soldiers in the American Civil War. The bravery of the 54th Massachusetts was but the first of many stories of African Americans fighting for their country and their freedom in the Civil War. The story of the 54th Massachusetts helped to inspire nearly 200,000 other African Americans to join the Union ranks during the war.

The story of the 54th itself, however, began several months before Fort Wagner, when in January 1863, the War Department and Massachusetts Governor John Andrew requested Captain Robert Gould Shaw to leave his position in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry to accept the colonelcy for the new 54th Massachusetts, a regiment composed of free blacks. The officers in the regiment would be white, but the soldiers would be African Americans fighting for their freedom. Writing to Shaw’s father Francis, Andrew passed the following message to the young officer:


I am about to organize in Massachusetts a Colored Regiment as part of the volunteer quota of this State—the commissioned officers to be white men. I have today written your father expressing to him my sense of the importance of this undertaking, and requesting him to forward to you this letter, in which I offer to you the Commission of Colonel over it. The Lieutenant Colonelcy I have offered to Captain Hallowell of the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment. It is important to the organization of this regiment that I should receive your reply to this offer at the earliest day consistent with your ability to arrive at a deliberate conclusion on the subject.

Respectfully and very truly yours,

John A. Andrew
Despite initially declining, Shaw did accept the post, and in February 1863, went to work of creating the regiment. In February and March of 1863, the regiment was recruited from across the North. Despite being a Massachusetts regiment, there were companies in the 54th from New York, Philadelphia, Providence, Elmira, and Nantucket. By April 30, when the regiment was training, it numbered 950 men armed with Enfield rifles. On May 18, the regiment was presented with its colors. One flag featured a blue field beset with a white cross and the words, “In Hoc Signo Vinces,” latin for “By this sign you shall conquer”, alluding back to the victorious of Constantine during the Roman Empire. That day, Governor Andrew spoke to the men, framing the importance of their work in the context of history:

“These men, sir, have now, in the Providence of God, given to them an opportunity which, while it is personal to themselves, is still an opportunity for a whole race of men. With arms possessed of might to strike a blow, they have found breathed into their hearts an inspiration of devoted patriotism and regard for their bretheren of their own color, which has inspired them with a purpose to nerve that arm, that it may strike a blow which, while it shall help to raise aloft their country’s flag—their country’s flag, now, as well as ours—by striking down the foes which oppose it, strikes also the last shackle which binds the limbs of the bondmen in the Rebel States.
“I know not… when, in all human history, to any given thousand men in arms there has been committed a work at once so proud, so precious, so full of hope and glory as the work committed to you….
“Whatever fortune may betide you, we know from the past that all will be done for the honor of the cause, for the protection of the flag, for the defence of the right, for the glory of your country…”
Two weeks later, the 54th departed for the South and for war.

For several weeks, the 54th was used for manual labor projects. After that, they participated in a few foraging expeditions, including one which infamously led to the burning of Darien, Georgia, under the orders of Colonel James Montgomery. After Colonel Shaw wrote to Brigadier General George Strong on July 6 to ask permission to fight, the regiment was brought to Morris Island. On July 16, during an expedition on nearby James Island, the 54th had its first taste of combat. On July 18, the 54th, along with the rest of Brigadier General George Strong’s brigade, was to be used as an assault force against Fort Wagner.

For several hours that day, the U.S. navy bombarded the fort with a heavy cannonade. Contrary to the depiction in the popular 1989 movie Glory, the 54th was selected to lead the column that day. According to General Truman Seymour, commanding the assault, “It was believed that the Fifty-fourth was in every respect as efficient as anybody of men… It was one of the strongest and best officered, there seemed to be no good reason why it should not be selected for this advance. This point was decided by General Strong and myself.”

Once the bombardment ended at 7 pm that evening, Shaw stepped forward and told the men, “I shall go in advance with the National flag. You will keep the State flag with you; it will give the men something to rally around. We shall take the fort or die there! Good Bye!” A few hours earlier, when the regiment was in transport from James Island to Morris Island to take part in the assault, Shaw remarked to one of his lieutenants that he had a premonition concerning his death: “If I could only live a few weeks longer with my wife, and be at home a little while, I might die happy, but it cannot be. I do not believe I will live through our next fight.”

When the men stepped off that day, the 54th Massachusetts was leading the way across a narrow stretch of beach leading up to the fort. After 200 yards, the batteries from Wagner began pelting the 54th with shot and shell; at this point Shaw ordered the regiment into a “double quick” advance. As Sergeant Lewis Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass, later recalled: “…not a man flinched although it was a trying time. Men fell all around me. A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again.” Lt. Richard Jewett remembered the Confederate fire pouring into the Federal ranks as well, noting, “such a murderous fire I hope never to see again. It mowed down the ranks like grass before a scythe.”

Once the regiment approached the fort, they plunged through pools of water and embankments around the fort and began clambering up the walls. Once through the moat around the fort, Shaw surged forward, leading his men onward. The 25 year old colonel, who was married just 2 months earlier on May 2, with the eyes of the nation upon him, leading free African Americans into the heart of slavery and secession, proclaimed, “Come on, men! Follow me!” Shaw was shot directly in the chest, and fell dead in front of his regiment.

Corporal Gooding of the 54th Massachusetts later remembered the moment: “When the men saw their gallant leader fall, they made a desperate effort to get him out, but they were either shot down, or reeled in the ditch below.”

The soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts struggled to seize the fort and follow upon the example of their gallant leader, but the task proved to be too much. The white regiments which followed them along failed in the task as well, taking heavy losses in the assault. When the 54th fell from the fort, men regathered near the regimental flag, which had been saved by Sergeant William Carney. Despite being wounded in the hip, Carney grabbed the American flag to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands. Carney exhorted his superiors for permission to make the charge again, but was ordered to stay put along with the other survivors from the regiment. One of the surviving regimental officers told Carney, “Sergeant, you have done enough; you are badly wounded, you had better keep quiet.” Carney responded as any true American soldier would: “I have only done my duty, the old flag never touched the ground.” Sergeant Carney became the first African American soldier to win the Medal of Honor for his actions.

The assault of the 54th Massachusetts had failed. When the tide began coming in the following morning, many of those lying wounded on the beach were drowned in the Ocean water. Of 600 men present, the 54th Massachusetts had lost 272, nearly 50% casualties. Overall Union losses numbered 1,515 total casualties for the assault of the 18th. The Confederates defending Wagner lost only 174 men.

Soon, newspapers throughout the North carried the story of the 54th Massachusetts. All across the northern states, people read of the bravery of free black men fighting for their freedom where the war that would eventually deliver freedom for over 4 million slaves had begun just two years before. As the Atlantic Monthly wrote, “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.”

In October 1865, the New York Times published another fitting tribute to the men of the 54th Massachusetts who made the daring assault on Fort Wagner 150 years ago:

“It is not too much to say that if this Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth had faltered when its trial came, two hundred thousand colored troops for whom it was a pioneer would never have been put into the field, or would not have been put in for another year, which would have been equivalent to protracting the war to 1866. But it did not falter. It made Fort Wagner such a name to the colored race as Bunker Hill has been for ninety years to white Yankees.”

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gettysburg 150 Reflections: July 4 National Cemetery Photos

Here are a few more photos from the Gettysburg 150th. These are from July 4 when I was stationed in the National Cemetery to talk about the dead of Gettysburg and their meaning for the nation. This was the best July 4th of my life. The crowds of visitors were phenomenal. There is nothing like wrapping up a ranger program in the Gettysburg Cemetery on July 4 by stopping at the grave of Sumner Paine, grandson of the signer of the Declaration of Independence who was killed on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg. His death is a fitting example of the message Lincoln tried to convey when he came to Gettysburg in November 1863. The dead of Gettysburg, and indeed, the dead from all American wars, have given their lives so that the nation founded on the idea of equality and conceived in liberty will not perish. God Bless the United States.
Note: These pictures were all taken with my smartphone.
Ohio flags and buckeyes placed at every Ohio grave, something which I will never forget for the rest of my life.
A native Ohioan kneels at Ohio graves on a very special July 4. Remembering all those who died 150 years ago...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gettysburg 150 Reflections: Pickett's Charge Photos

Here is part 2 of my photos from the Gettysburg 150th. Again, some are from my cell phone and personal camera, some are from friends, and some are from the park facebook page. Hope you enjoy.
 On the evening of July 2, there was an amazing double rainbow over the battlefield. I didn't capture the whole thing, but I did capture it hitting Cemetery Ridge at the point where Ambrose Wright's brigade of Georgians was hitting the Union line 150 years earlier to the moment. This is from my backyard at Codori. Simply breathtaking.
 Sunset at Codori on the 2nd
 Myself at the 106th Pennsylvania monument on July 2

July 3 started out very rainy and cloudy. It did not bode well for the Pickett's Charge commemorative walk that day.

Visitors were gathering at the Virginia Memorial in the rain 3 hours before we even began organizing the separate brigades and 5 hours before the walk began.


Starting at 1 o'clock, rangers began organizing visitors into brigade groups. As you can see, the sun had started to come out. This was still two hours before the walk began, and Garnett's brigade, to which I was assigned along with my friend and colleague Ranger Chris Gwinn, was already getting crowded.

Ranger Dan manning Richard Garnett's brigade. Each brigade for the walk had a separate flag with the brigade commander's name on it. Brigades in Pickett's Division had light blue flags, Pettigrew's division had red flags, and Trimble's division had green flags. Because visitors were allowed to choose their brigades, Pickett's was the most crowded. We either had the same number or more visitors gather with us on July 3 than Pickett had soldier's in his division 150 years earlier. Again, simply amazing.


 This is a panorama photo I took with my cell phone just before we stepped off. It shows Garnett's brigade in line of battle, with Ranger Gwinn walking in front. The photo is really amazing because it shows how far the brigade stretched, which was likely the length of Garnett's actual brigade. Chris and I likely had over 2,000 visitors with us, meaning we had more people walking with us on July 3 than Garnett had to make the original Pickett's Charge 150 years earlier. If you click on the image you can enlarge it. At certain points the visitors are standing six or seven ranks deep.

The view of Garnett's brigade from a distance just as we began to advance.
 This picture does not do the sight justice. When we crested the final ridges and saw Cemetery Ridge for the first time, I heard gasps and exclamations from the visitors behind me. Chris and I tried to do informal interpretation as we advanced. I turned to the visitors, told them that those were all Union soldiers and asked them to put themselves in the shoes of those soldiers whose footsteps they were following 150 years to the moment. This moment was a far more powerful teaching tool than any ranger talk I could have designed on my own. It showed rangers and visitors alike what the march was like and what the sights were like. Knowing how many Union soldiers lay ahead and continuing on anyways brought a new perspective on these Confederate soldiers who made this assault for everyone involved, rangers included. Words really can't describe the thoughts going through our minds at this point.

 Garnett pushes forward to the wall. After reforming on the Union side of the Emmittsburg Pike, Chris and I told our group that this was the last stretch, the point where most of the Confederate soldiers fell. This was the stretch where Garnett himself was killed. The soldiers advancing from this point on leaned forward as if walking into a heavy rain storm. The atmosphere in the group was electric, and then we yelled, "Garnett's Brigade, Forward to the Wall!!!"
 Once at the wall, the rangers stopped the advancing brigades.
 Gettysburg Foundation President Joanne Hanley caught up with me at the stonewall and snapped this pic. Thanks, Joanne!

Chris and I gather for a brief ranger conference after stopping our group.

 Thanks to Antietam colleague, friend, and social media team member Ranger Mannie Gentile for this shot at the wall. Yes, the Confederate battle flags do make this appear to be an SCV advertisement, but I assure you it is not.

The Pickett's Charge commemorative walk was a tremendous success thanks to the hard work of everyone involved. I work with some very dedicated and talented park rangers. Pictured right to left:
Rangers Phillip Brown, myself, Chris Gwinn, Jared Frederick, and GNMP Supervisory Historian Scott Hartwig. An interesting crew indeed.
 Thanks again to Mannie for this shot. Chris and I after the walk, with the Garnett and American flags behind us. Chris is a good friend and I was very fortunate to work with him on this event. We can say that we led more people across the fields of Gettysburg than Garnett himself did!

Stay tuned for a few more pictures from Gettysburg 150 to come.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Gettysburg 150 Reflections: Photos Part 1

I realized halfway through writing my post with my observations and reflections from the Gettysburg 150th that I would not have room for all of the pictures which I wanted to post. I decided to put up some photos over a few posts. The past week was one of the greatest of my life, and these pictures are just a short overview of why. Some are my own, some from colleagues, some from the NPS Gettysburg facebook page, and a few from the Civil War Trust. Enjoy.
 Trace Adkins signing the National Anthem at the June 30 ceremony. Awesome.

Jared Frederick, myself, and Nate Hess on Cemetery Ridge on July 2 
Jared got a few good shots of me in action. I really like the one directly above. 

A shot of me preparing for my first program of the day.


I love this picture. The kids sitting on dad's shoulders listening to my program. Hopefully they will be future park rangers some day...

 We had very large crowds for all of our talks at Cemetery Ridge on July 2


 Thanks to the Civil War Trust for this shot of me reading the Samuel Fitzinger letter on July 2. Behind me is the Codori Farm where Fitzinger was killed and buried. Here is a link to the letter.

Thanks to Jared for this shot of me doing my super ranger point.

To wrap up the July 2, myself and a few of my colleagues went to the evening program at Meade's Headquarters for the Council of War. Rangers John Nicholas and Angie Atkinson led the program and did a phenomenal job. I got to sneak into the Leister House just before the program started to avoid the huge crowds. Here, in the room where I am pictured standing, 150 years earlier to the moment, George Meade and the Union high command was deciding the fate of their army on July 3, and helping to decide the fate of the nation in the process...
 Stay tuned for more photos in the future...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gettysburg 150 Reflections

Today is my first day off in about two weeks. While I am laying low today, visiting the fiancée in State College, I thought I would take a moment to post a few thoughts about the last few weeks at Gettysburg National Military Park.

To briefly recap my week for the 150th:

June 30: I worked the evening ceremony which began the 150th commemorations, handing out programs to thousands of visitors. I was blown away by how many folks remembered me from Antietam. Visitors remembering your programs from past visits, especially details of those programs, is the highest compliment a ranger can receive. Thank you all so much.

July 1: I worked the Visitor Center, leading Battle Overview and Civil War Soldier programs. Despite the hectic nature of things in the building, the programs went great and I had a blast.

July 2: I worked at the Cemetery Ridge Key Moment station, delivering a few programs and answering questions and providing informal interpretation non-stop from 9:30 am to 6 pm. I was joined by rangers Jared Frederick and Nate Hess. Jared and Nate are terrific park rangers, and together our interpretive trio did a great job telling the story of fighting on Cemetery Ridge on July 2. I was fortunate enough to have a Civil War Trust crew tag along on my one of my programs and take pictures (pictures to follow).

July 3: I did a live interview with Mark Zimmerman on WCRF at 7 am (thanks Mark!), and then went to the Visitor Center to prepare for the Pickett's Charge walk. Nate and I were at the Virginia Memorial answering questions for a  few hours, then at 1, we started gathering visitors into groups for the walk. I was leading Garnett's brigade with friend and colleague Chris Gwinn, who is a great ranger. Chris and I had a blast leading our group. By our estimate, we had anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 people just with us. Garnett's actual strength was about 1,800 at the battle. Thus, Chris and I led a bigger group of visitors in Garnett's footsteps than Garnett actually had soldiers 150 years earlier. Simply amazing.

July 4: I was in the National Cemetery all day doing talks about the dead of Gettysburg and the meaning of the battle. It was the best July 4th of my life. All the graves had American flags on them. I led three programs, each with 75-100 + people. I ended each one at the grave of Sumner Paine, a lieutenant from the 20th Massachusetts who was killed on July 3, 1863, and whose grandfather Robert Treat Paine signed the Declaration of Independence. Words can't describe how powerful those moments were. Some of the best of my NPS career thus far.

Now, for some general overview thoughts...

1. I work with some amazing people. The professionalism and dedication of my colleagues on staff at Gettysburg is absolutely remarkable. For five days, from June 30 through July 4, the park was literally overrun by visitors. This led to enormous crowds on some of the programs. Several hikes numbered over 1,000 people. Over the days of the anniversary period, the interpretive staff did hundreds of programs for well over 100,000 visitors (just those going on programs alone, not all those in the park). While our voices began to fade, everyone continued working hard to get the job done. It was a remarkable event.

2. GNMP Supervisory Historian Scott Hartwig and the staff who planned the Gettysburg 150 event did a phenomenal job. The challenges they faced were overcome with incredible team work. The Gettysburg 150th should serve as a model to the entire National Park Service for what can be accomplished if individuals work together for the common good of the park and the visitor. The park's maintenance crew did a fantastic job of preparing the park for the flood of visitors, and everyone who worked on this event in any way shape or form deserves a resounding standing ovation for their tremendous efforts. This was one of the best and biggest events in the history of the National Park Service and a perfect example of why the NPS is one of the most important branches of the Federal government.

3. Gettysburg was very fortunate to have the great weather that we had. Each day rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast, but aside from some rain on the morning of July 3rd, the weather each day was great.

4. The American public still cares about Gettysburg and about history. The numbers of people who came out to pay their respects to those who fought for their freedoms 150 years ago was astonishing. And, perhaps even more remarkable was the tone of the general public. Despite massive crowds, parking troubles, shuttles all across the battlefield and town, the vast, vast, vast majority of the visitors we encountered were delightful. They even went out of their way to thank us. It was something which doesn't happen often in this line of work. Working in the NPS means that you will normally have lots of people yell at you for no reason at all. That did not happen once this week in all my visitor interactions. For that, we at Gettysburg thank the amazing folks who came to visit us this week.

5. My view of Gettysburg has been forever altered by what occurred this week, specifically in regards to Pickett's Charge. Leading what was likely over 2,000 visitors in the footsteps of Richard Garnett's brigade on July 3rd 150 years to the moment from when they made their march was remarkable. When we first saw the thousands gathered on Cemetery Ridge to watch our approach, I heard gasps and exclamations from the visitors behind me. It was one of the most remarkable moments of my life. I turned and told the visitors to picture all those to their front as Union soldiers, and then to ask themselves why they were still going forward. It was, as we like to say, an interpretive moment unlike any other.

The answer to that question lies with every individual soldier who made the charge that day, and it is as simple as the answer given by a kid on my Join the Army program yesterday. Every soldier at Gettysburg fought and made the attacks that they did because they thought it was the right thing to do. They could have deserted. They could have run away. They could have feigned illness. But those who went forward into battle did not shirk their responsibility. They embraced it and did their duty as they understood it. This is a question at the heart of understanding Civil War soldiers. I have tried to include it in every program I lead at Gettysburg, especially those that discuss Pickett's Charge and Day 3. Those soldiers, North and South, were remarkable individuals, and remembering their combat motivations is one of the most important aspects to studying the American Civil War.

The Gettysburg 150th was an amazing event, and I can't recap it all in one blog post. I will do another post (or two or three!) with some pictures and more reflections. There is however, one final thought I would like to post.

Over the winter, things were very difficult for me. I did not know whether or not I would have a job with the NPS again this year. I had essentially told myself that I was likely done working as a ranger, and that I had gotten great opportunities and needed to move forward with whatever opportunities God would give me next. Then, just before Easter, I learned from Keith Snyder at Antietam that I could return there in the spring and fall, and from Scott Hartwig that I could work at Gettysburg for the summer season. I can never say thank you enough to my two bosses, Keith and Scott, for giving me the opportunity to remain in the NPS and work at the two premier Civil War battlefield parks in the country.

As thankful as I am for everything Keith and Scott have done for me to give me the chance to continue my NPS career, I am even more thankful that God has given me these blessings as well. God has a way of reminding us what his plans are for us when we are feeling discouraged and down. Over the winter I truly believed I was done in the NPS. Yet, this past week I was working the Gettysburg 150th as a Gettysburg ranger. There were countless times over the past week when visitors came up to me to tell me that they remembered me from Antietam and that my tour or program had had a big impact on their life or their view of history and America. Many told me that they remembered the story of my ancestor who died at Antietam for their freedom. Those are the moments where I would start tearing up and feel as though God was nudging me, saying "don't give up". Those comments are the highest compliments rangers can receive, and they mean the world to us.

My most important take home thought from the Gettysburg 150th is that God has blessed me with some tremendous opportunities, and I am very proud and humbled to have taken part in these events. All the credit for whatever successes I have had in the NPS goes to God for helping to lead me along on this path. Going from no NPS work to working the Gettysburg 150th as a park ranger reminds me that no matter what happens, God has a plan, and if we just trust in Him and work hard, He will provide and keep turning a few pieces of fish and a few loaves of bread into a bountiful feast (or, in my case, a dead end in the NPS to one of the most amazing opportunities of my life in the NPS).





This is my favorite picture from the Gettysburg 150th. It was taken on my cell phone by Ranger Troy Harmon on the morning of July 4th in the Soldier's National Cemetery. The American flags behind me are a stirring reminder of the price paid for our freedoms on the fields of Gettysburg 150 years ago...












Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pickett's Charge Commemorative Walk: Reflections on July 3, 2013 at Gettysburg National Military Park

Today was an amazing day.

There will be pictures to follow and stories to tell, but for now, I just wanted to note what occurred today at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Park Rangers led thousands of visitors across the fields between Seminary and Cemetery Ridge this afternoon in a Pickett's Charge commemorative walk. I had the honor of being with Richard Garnett's brigade of Pickett's Division, along with friend and colleague Chris Gwinn. We had roughly the same number of folks with us today that Garnett did 150 years to that very moment. When we stepped off, Chris had the idea to have the brigade shout "Virginians!" several times, which they did. It gave me chills. I was in tears when we stepped off because of the emotions of the moment and the number of people who were present. I have never experienced anything quite like it before.

When we reached the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge, visitors were caught up in emotion, and so were the rangers. There were pictures, hand shakes, cheers, and then silence, as the solemn notes of taps floated over the massive crowds (early unofficial estimates are that over 10,000 people were there on Union lines and in the Confederate groups).

Standing at that wall saluting the American flag, surrounding by the throngs of people in silence, I could only think of one thing:

The men who fought here 150 years ago would be immensely proud to know that 150 years later to the moment, they had not been forgotten.

The takeaway message of today, and of the Gettysburg 150th, is this: Americans still care, and Americans still remember the sacrifices that were made for us many, many years ago.

Today was one of the best days I can remember, and the Pickett's Charge Commemorative Walk was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I did not hear a single visitor complaint from the crowd of thousands.

More to come on this and the Gettysburg 150th. For now, sleep, rest, and vitamins, because tomorrow, on July 4th, I will be in the Soldier's National Cemetery at Gettysburg to talk to visitors about the Gettysburg Address and the meaning of the battle.

God Bless America. Happy Fourth of July.

July 3, 1863

July 3, 1863, was the final and climactic day of the battle of Gettysburg. It was the day on which Robert E. Lee lost the battle, and George Gordon Meade won it. It was a day which forever changed the future of this nation. Today, and all days, we remember the sacrifices made 150 years ago so that this nation may live. In the words of Abraham Lincoln:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.