Photo(s) of the Week: At the High Water Mark

Posted by Adrienne on July 3, 2013 under Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

Today is the 150th anniversary of the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. 150 years ago today, the ill-fated Confederate attack known as Pickett’s Charge occurred. The entire battlefield is a national park, and it is quite an interesting place to visit. We stopped there in 2007 to see the battlefield, and I’ve thought about our visit several times over the past few days as I have read accounts of the three-day battle.

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From Gettysburg and Antietam

This statue of the Federal commander at Gettysburg, General George G. Meade, stands between Meade’s headquarters and where the Federal defensive line was located. Meade is most famous for commanding the Federal army at Gettysburg, although he also served in the American army during the Mexican-American War and after the Civil War, during Reconstruction.

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From Gettysburg and Antietam

The “High Water Mark” is the name given to the place where the Confederate troops came closest to the Federal line on July 3, 1863. Because the rebels couldn’t break through the line, and because of the high number of casualties they sustained, the battle of Gettysburg, and in particular, “Pickett’s Charge” are considered by many to be the turning point of the American Civil War.

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From Gettysburg and Antietam

The Confederate charge on the afternoon of July 3 was supposed to break the Federal defensive line and take out the Federal artillery. Cannons at the time were large and unwieldy, as shown in the photo above. Confederate artillery had fired at the Federal position for about two hours before the charge began, so the Federal batteries weren’t in good shape.

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From Gettysburg and Antietam

The Confederate infantry began their attack from about where the treeline is in the distance in the above photograph. Major Henry L. Abbott, a Union officer from Massachusetts wrote later: “Had our batteries been intact, the rebels would never have got up to our musketry, for they were obliged to come out of the woods & advance from a half to 3/4 of a mile over an open field & in plain sight. A magnificent sight it was too…”

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From Gettysburg and Antietam

The Federals had the advantage of numbers and of position, and while the Confederates came very close to breaking the defensive line, they were ultimately repulsed. It’s easy to read summaries of the action like this one but not really be able to picture what the battle was like. Being able to see the terrain and to see how far the distance is that the rebel soldiers marched while being fired on makes all the difference. Really, it’s crazy that the Confederates got as close to the line as they did – shooting at their advancing lines was not quite as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but it was close.

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From Gettysburg and Antietam

The copse of trees in the middle of the above photo shows the “High Water Mark.” It’s a striking visual and really helps to make clear the events of the final day of the battle. The large number of artillery pieces and of memorial statuary also makes for lots of interesting spots to explore.

If you ever get a chance to visit Gettysburg, you should definitely do so. To get the full effect, visit in the summer like we did, when it is tremendously hot.

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