160 years ago today, the Battle of Gettysburg began just northwest of the town. History has tended to concentrate on the third day of battle and Pickett's Charge. But Day 1 is a drama in its own right.
The two armies stumbled into a "meeting engagement" (chance battle), and by reinforcing their troops ensured that the battle would continue for another two terrible days. On July 1, 49,000 soldiers openly clashed with each other on a day that witnessed such memorable events as the morning skirmish at Herbst's Woods, the encounter at the Railroad Cut, the clash on Oak Ridge, fighting at the McPherson Farm, the afternoon route of the Eleventh Corps and its retreat through Gettysburg, and the stalemate that ensued at nightfall. I've walked these places so many times I can easily envision them without actually being on the battlefield. The horrors must have been unimaginable. In Pettigrew's brigade alone, one division lost 549 out of the 843 men it had lined up in that day's fighting. Its regimental flag went through 13 sets of hands. Pennsylvania's barns and wheat fields, the tiny checkerboard of farm boundaries, the civilian population of Adams County, would never be the same.
The "bloody watermark of the rebellion" was upon them, and who would prevail? My German Baptist (Dunker) ancestors in Sharpsburg, Maryland, pacificts all, would have asked this question no less than the soldiers on both sides.