Saturday, July 16, 2005


I had a great vacation visiting family and visiting historical sites.

If you get to western Virginia I would recommend traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway. It has some majestic views. Be sure you have a full tank. The road goes sideways more often than forward (at one point the GPS said 223 degrees on a road that goes northeast. I came to the gas station at the north end with less than a gallon.

I visited Antietam and Gettysburg battle fields. Looking at the ground sure makes the descriptions clearer. Antietam is a better stop in you can only go one place since it is not mobbed like Gettysburg.

At Antietam more soldiers were killed in single day than in any other battle in North America. Both there, and at Shiloh a few months earlier, more men were killed than in all the previous wars in US history. At this point both sides realized there would be no cheap and easy end to the war. This was General McClellan’s last battle. Like always he had a good plan, but at the end he refused to throw in his last force and allowed the Army of Northern Virginia to survive for three more years. The troops committed by both sides had fought to exhaustion but there were 30,000 uncommitted federal soldiers and the Confederates had no reserves left. A decisive attack would have destroyed or trapped the Confederates. Even if it did not end the war just then Virginia would have been lost to the confederacy along with it’s largest army.

Not having enough time to see every thing at Gettysburg I followed of the second day. Most of the action that day was the result of Sickles poor initial deployments, establishing a line that was to long for his Corp to defend but leaving Little Round Top, the most important terrain feature, undefended. The story of the 20th Maine is often told, how it changed direction under fire to face the Confederates. What does not really come across is how steep and rough that ground is. It looks like a 30% slope. Here also the Regular Army division was destroyed in the effort to save Sickles Corp. The guidebook says they retired in “perfect order.” A nice way to say that when the units next to them were forced off position, they withdrew maintaining formation and firing the whole way back. For the rest of the war they were reduced to a small brigade.

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