My Last Gettysburg Trip
I wanted to get a feel of the land and the path the 24th Michigan of the Iron Brigade went through that 1st of July, 1863. They had marched already over two miles on the quick and told not to stop to load their muskets. Time was of the essence at about 9 o’clock. They were ordered to leave the road and went into Herbst’s Woods to encounter the Rebels hearing General Reynolds’ last command of, “Iron Brigade Forward.”
It was a hot day for me too, in the mid nineties and about noon. I had my daughter drop me off on the bridge over Willoughby Run. I walked a short way up the hill which was the regiment’s farthest advance. I decided to walk back. As I crossed the stream I reminded myself of the 13 casualties of the 26th North Carolina Color Guard. They said that no man can cross that stream and live. I walked down the road where there were monuments to the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin, and the 19th Indiana. I walked passed the John Burns statue, the only Gettysburg civilian to join the Union defense of this town. It was getting hot. I saw the 24th Michigan Monument and a mere twenty yards or so away was that of the 26th North Carolina.
The 26th North Carolina had the dubious record of losing the most casualties and greatest percentage of Confederate Casualties, 588 out of 800. The 24th Michigan suffered the most casualties of any Union regiment, 397 out of 496 or 80%.
It was very hot in the sunlight and so much cooler in the shade, a good ten degree. I walked a path through the woods, passing near the tree where General Reynolds was killed. The 24th made 4 or 5 stands here or near the woods. I walked to the Lutheran Seminary in the bright sunlight, heat, and humidity. It felt worse than the mid-nineties and I was very uncomfortable in my Tee-shirt and shorts. I wondered how the men so many years ago could stand it in their wool pants and wool frock coats.
I had my daughter drive me to the square in Gettysburg and then to where the Gettysburg Tour building. I walked the rest of the way up the hill to the cemetery. I thought about how scared the soldiers were and the dread of a Rebel attack. I was tired and could imagine how exhausted both sides were on that day. Exhausted, sweaty, and tired I climbed into the air-conditioned car and headed to the motel.
After a shower and a change of clothes we went to the Dobbin House Restaurant, built in 1776. Air-conditioning, good food, good drinks, what more can a man ask for? Yet I wondered as we saw an image of Abraham Lincoln cast by the floodlights and stone, how I would have survived back in the three day July battle in 1863, and thankful that I lived now rather than then.