June 19 Gettysburg Campaign: A Test of Patriotism

We have a tendency to picture the battlefield as the only testing-place of the Civil War soldier’s patriotism. This Friday it was cloudy and rained. Franklin Horner watched the burial of a member of another company in his regiment who had died this day. Was this poor soldier who expired so far away from his home and family any less patriotic than one who was killed assaulting the enemy’s line?

Thomas Ware mentions the cloudy, rainy weather too. While the temperature may not have been as stifling as the past few days, marching in inclement weather could not have been pleasant. This also was a test of a soldier’s love of country.

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the odd, prosaic, former college professor turned military genius, thought soldiers who passed out from heatstroke on the march were merely lacking in patriotism. I can’t remember who—no doubt some soldier from the ranks—commented that, while the rest of him is patriotic, it’s just his legs that are disloyal.

Ware’s unit is sent northward for 10 miles on a road that ran (and still runs) alongside the Shenandoah River. They reach “Snicker’s Ford” and re-cross the river. (During the 19th Century, “Fords” or shallow, rock-bottomed stretches of rivers were used almost more often than bridges. Sometimes minor battles were fought to gain or protect a ford.) They marched 3 miles uphill to Snicker’s Gap and fortified the position with artillery. Ware mentions the fabulous view from the gap. They encamped on the side of the mountain about 300 yards from the bottom. The men had to place rocks below their feet to keep from sliding down. About 9:00 p.m. it began raining, for an hour “as fast as I ever saw it,” then continued more slowly the rest of the night. They had no wood and hence no fires. Ware spent the night “as wet as water could make me & a wet blanket & such an uneasy position. We will long remember that dreadful night.” When morning came, he found himself five feet farther down the mountainside.

Today, the road along the Shenandoah River begins as macadam but soon turns into dirt and rocks, then, as it veers away from the river flats, it undulates. The shoes Civil War soldiers wore were called “bootees” or brogans, ankle high with smooth leather soles. No doubt they made climbing a muddy road going up a hill difficult. Some of the Confederate soldiers may have thought they were fortunate having taken shoes from dead Yankees after their victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, a little over a month before. But by this stage in the war, profiteers were supplying the Union army with inferior footwear, some with soles made out of cardboard, and so the Confederates may have regretted their “liberated” shoes, especially after they got wet.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote


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