Note: The annual anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg was this weekend. To commemorate that, we are posting, with permission, excerpts from Battlelines: Gettysburg, that describe aspects of the battle. Battlelines: Gettysburg contains the battlefield drawings of Alfred Waud and Edwin Forbes, the only two artists who witnessed the battle.
A hard, driving rain drenched Gettysburg on July 4, 1863.
The rain was both merciful and burdensome. It was merciful in that it provided relief from the stifling heat of the previous days. More importantly, it discouraged both armies from attacking each other.
It was burdensome because many of the dead and wounded were still lying exposed to the elements or without adequate shelter, and for those still living the rain could not have been helpful. The rain was yet another obstacle in cleaning up the battlefield, finding the dead and wounded, and in getting the army ready to move when the commanders decided it was time.
Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia stood ready to receive an attack from the Army of the Potomac. In some Confederate quarters, there was even hope that this would happen. Southerners still wanted to inflict some pain on their Union counterparts.
The attack never came. George Gordon Meade was not about to move his army forward. They had suffered enormous casualties (23,000 dead, wounded and missing), and ammunition was low. They weren’t going forward, but they weren’t retreating either. They were going to wait to see what Lee would do.
News – good news for the Federals – drifted into the camps and quarters that day. Far to the west, Vicksburg had surrendered to the army of Gen. Ulysses Grant. The Union now controlled America’s most important water passage, the Mississippi River.
Late in the evening on July 4, Lee began moving his army west and ultimately south toward the Potomac River. The Federals gave chase, but the pursuit was less than spirited. Back in Washington, D.C., it seemed that the Army of the Potomac had Lee in the palm of its hand. On the ground at Gettysburg, it didn’t seem that way at all. Meade wasn’t willing to risk what was left of his army in an all-out pursuit of Lee. He didn’t believe he had the resources, despite the consistent urging of Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
The Army of Northern Virginia had endured three days of offensive action and 28,000 casualties. The army was in no fit state for battle, but it was still a dangerous force. By July 13, it was back in the relative safety of Virginia, and it would live to carry on the war for nearly two more years.
Battlelines: Gettysburg displays many never-before-published drawings of the professional artists who saw the war as eye-witnesses — the sketch artists known as Specials by publications of the time, such as Harper’s Weekly. Almost nowhere among the vast array of photographs related to the Civil War is a picture of a battle. That’s because, of course, photography at the time was limited to that which was stationary. Civil War sketch artists had no such limitation. They could move quickly, go to the scene of the action, draw and interpret of what they, and communicate that to their viewers. They provided an important and vital record of what happened on and off the battlefields of the conflict. Yet the work of these men — about 30 in all — has been largely ignored for the past century and a half. We are familiar with few of their names, and we rarely see their original work. This series, Battlelines, hopes to correct that. More importantly, we have produced this series with the hope of bringing the interested reader fresh insights into America’s defining conflict.
Previously from Battlelines: