This week is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. That battle has always been of interest to my family because an ancestor was a participant. My grandmother’s uncle, Orland Smith, raised a regiment in Ohio and served as its colonel. His outfit reached Gettysburg on the evening of the first day of fighting and was placed on the north end of the hill where the Union army eventually entrenched.
Union troops pulling out of the village said they were encouraged to see Smith’s soldiers on the hill above them, in company with some pieces of artillery. That’s where they remained throughout the fighting. They kept the Confederates from penetrating their front, while other units dealt with the skirmishing on Little Round Top and with the final attack by Pickett’s forces on the west.
After the fighting Orland’s regiment was one of those sent by train to take part in the campaigns around Chattanooga in Tennessee. He led his men in the capture of Lookout Mountain and won a citation for enterprise during that engagement. During the fight a Confederate bullet struck the scabbard of Orland’s saber as he was riding in front of his men. It probably saved him a serious wound in the thigh. The family still has the saber and you can still see the dent in the scabbard where the bullet hit.
On the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg my grandmother was 13 years old, and Orland took her back to a reunion on that field. She saw many of the officers who had taken part but said for years she imagined their appearance in the fighting as they looked as graybeards two decades later.
James Longstreet was one of the Confederate generals who took part in the battle, and in after years was criticized by some as having been dilatory in moving troops into position. Some of the criticism was from other Confederate leaders, and seems to have been partly due to Longstreet’s tendency to say what he thought of other generals’ capabilities. After the Battle of Chickamauga, where the Confederates were commanded by Braxton Bragg and Longstreet was in charge of one wing, there was a meeting of leaders to see what could have been done better, and Longstreet said bluntly: “Get rid of Braxton Bragg.” Since Bragg was present, that led to continued ill feeling.
Also Longstreet annoyed some of the veteran rebel generals by being friendly with the man who had contributed to their downfall — U.S. Grant. In fact, when Grant became president, he appointed Longstreet as envoy to Turkey. That, to the die-hard Confederates, smacked of dealing with the enemy, though in fact the two had been friendly in the Army before the war.
Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.