Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Birds amid the battle, the railroad cut

When people visit Gettysburg, especially if the trip is likely to be a one-time or rare event for them, they concentrate on just a few sites of the more famous spots around the town and the battlefield. Everyone wants to see Devil’s Den, the High Water Mark, where Pickett’s Charge began or the spot where Lincoln gave his address. And those are the most historically important sites. For me, who is fortunate enough to be able to visit Gettysburg often, the lesser-known sites are every bit as interesting.

On this trip I visited the alms house area, where fighting took place on the first day of the battle. The old alms house itself, a place for the “feeble-minded and insane,” was a terrible place for those kept there but was also the site of a battlefield hospital after the fighting more to the south of town. Many monuments dot the side of the road that winds through this area, and one of the battlefields more unusual monuments commemorates the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry.

The monument depicts an oak tree shattered by artillery fire. The story goes that artillery fire struck and brought down branches of the tree and with it a robin’s nest. Inside the nest were several babies, shaken by their fall but unharmed. One of the soldiers, under heavy fire and at no little risk to himself, picked up the nest, climbed the stump and replaced the nest.

When the monument to the 90th Pennsylvania was designed, the idea was to celebrate a new life amid the battle and to hope that the end of the Civil War would bring a new era of peace and goodwill.

Further on, I visited the old railroad cut, the site of more heavy fighting on the first day of the battle. At the time of the battle, the cut was excavated but railroad tracks not yet laid. Several hundred died here in heavy fighting. Most were Union troops, many from the 147th New York who did not receive the first order to retreat from the cut. After the Confederate troops took control of the cut and the surrounding high ground, Union troops regrouped and attacked again, this time, retaking the area and forcing the surrender of about 300 Confederate troops.

I had never before walked the railroad cut, though that has always been something I wanted to do. The last time I visited, I was deterred by rain. This time, the rain had just ended, though the sky remained overcast. Along the way I found several small, much weathered red, white and blue ribbons, made into bows and placed on rocks in the cut. Not many people get out of their vehicles and walk the railroad tracks, though obviously, someone had.

1 comment:

Scott said...

I've been to the railroad cut, but have never walked along it. I really like the story of the 90th PA Infantry monument. Thanks for sharing the stories and your images.