Today is the first day. Patches of early morning fog still cling to the wheat in the field, as they will over all the hills across Pennsylvania today. Nonetheless, Seminary Ridge still provides a view of the for-now-empty stretch of landscape north and west of town. Today, Brigadier General John Buford delivers his cavalry in service to the Union. The strong legs of their horses are able to reach the high ground before the weary infantry, and as the opposing infantry marches in from the northwest, it could not be more crucial to keep them from advancing too far. Today is only the first day, but it is still an important day
Later today, two brigades of enemy infantry will march down Chambersburg Pike. Buford and his men will do their best, but they will be easily outmatched and overridden. By late morning, reinforcements will arrive, but only after the first losses of the battle: both life, and ground.
A lull will descend around midday, as the advancing infantry realize that they have entered a skirmish larger than they had anticipated. Embarrassed by their misstep, they, too, will be forced to wait for their own reinforcements. No one had wanted this first day to come as early as it had.
This afternoon, the fighting will begin afresh, once the generals of either side decide to commit to this place, this tiny town with its wheat fields and its foggy hills, as the place of the battle. In the evening, the two sides will adjourn and make plans for the next day, not realizing how little they will matter.
Tomorrow, dozens of men will try to rush hills thick with trees and enemy fire, will try to cross fields muddy with the blood of their enemies and their brothers, will make offenses they didn’t realize would be so challenging, and defenses they didn’t think would work at all. Seminary Ridge will be a distant memory when the Yankees in blue find themselves getting gradually closer and closer, drawn together by the onset of their enemies’ surrounding attack. By the end of the day, the soldiers will return, exhausted, to their beds, praying for more success on the morrow.
And by the third day, Cemetery Ridge and Culp’s Hill will be all that stand between General Lee and his victory, though the Yankees’ morale will be higher than it has been all week. Union forces will launch a surprise artillery bombardment, and emerge, after seven hours of fighting, stronger than before. Lee’s men would respond on the other side of the battlefields with the largest scale artillery fire, perhaps of the entire war, to be immediately followed by a daring charge up the ridge.
The Confederacy will come as close as they ever will to becoming their own sovereign country. And then they will fail. And they will retreat. And the fogs will descend again over Pennsylvania’s hills and Wheatfields, as well as its sons and daughter who fell there.
But the fogs today cover only grass and stone. Because today is the first day, with so many things still to come.
For more posts about the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, check back at The Postcalvin on July 19, when Mary will have, by then, made her fourth visit to the historic site.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.