Anyone who thinks that battles on American soil during 1861-65 involved a “Civil War” rather than a “War between the States” should study unbiased history and visit the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. First, it’s a misnomer to call any war “civil.” Wars are very uncivil affairs. Tragically, this one was unnecessary— and it needlessly tore this country apart forever. Some historians refer to it as “Lincoln’s war.” But these are topics for later.
I’ve visited the Gettysburg Park and battlefield many times in the past 25 years or so. I’m a Pennsylvanian by birth and upbringing, but the personal experience of one of my great-grand uncles compels me to return again and again. It’s almost a spiritual feeling to walk among the ghosts of that great battle between the states, and the monuments and graves of those who died there. It’s been called sanctified ground.
Reuben Ruch was my maternal grandmother’s mother’s brother. His family lived on a farm north of Allentown. In 1862 he and two neighbor youths enlisted for nine-months in the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment formed in Easton—partly for adventure and enticed by state and county bounties. They also proudly displayed “In lieu of the draft” on their knapsacks.
After the rout of the XI Corp by Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson at Chancellorsville, Virginia in the spring of ’63, Reuben’s regiment marched north toward Pennsylvania. Reuben had turned 19 years in May. There at Gettysburg on July 1, they were again out front of the main force and were driven back into the village by Georgia and North Carolina units of the Confederate States of America (CSA).
Reuben was shot in the knees, struggled back to town and was captured by the Confederate forces. He and other wounded northern state troops were held in a church used for a field hospital. When Gen. Lee withdrew back to Virginia after the three-day battle, Reuben couldn’t march. He was paroled and freed to go back to the northern lines. The battle involved 70,000 men commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee of Virginia and 93,000 under Gen. George Gordon Meade of Pennsylvania.
At Gettysburg, Gen. Oliver O. Howard, a career officer from Maine and a West Point graduate, commanded the XI Corps. Brigadier Gen. Francis Barlow a lawyer from New York State commanded Howard’s 1st Division. Reuben’s Regiment was assigned to the 1st Brigade with two other regiments from New York State, the 54th and the 68th—less than 1000 men total.
Just before the 153rd went into battle on the afternoon of July 1, regimental commander Major Frueauff informed the men that their enlistment time was up (actually it ended on June 22) and it would be no disgrace for anyone to leave the field. He reminded them, however, that their State needed them at this perilous time. Reuben remembered: “We gave three cheers and not a man stepped out of the ranks.” These Pennsylvanians were not fighting for any ideological cause. They risked death to defend their native state against an invading enemy—just as men in Southern states did. But Gen. Lee was in Pennsylvania not to wage war on its citizens, but to end the immoral conflict as soon as possible.
In this case, the men of the 153rd also wanted to avenge the death of a beloved Pennsylvanian, Gen. John F. Reynolds from nearby Lancaster. Earlier on the march to Gettysburg they had word that Gen. Reynolds had been killed that morning defending against troops from Lee’s army invading from the west.
I’ve driven over most of the 24 miles driving tour of the Park and walked to many of the 1,320 monuments, markers and memorials located on the battlefield. Most of them commemorate states and state military units. Park Ranger and historian John Heiser in a 2007 interview with Scot Pitzer of The Gettysburg Companion magazine (www.gettysburgcompanion.com) described these memorials. Northern state groups began to erect them by 1878.
In 1889 a monument to the 153rd Pa. Regiment was erected at Barlow’s Knoll where Reuben and his companions fought boys from Georgia and North Carolina.
Southern state monuments weren’t erected until 1886 because the South was poor after the federal army destroyed its economy. Also, according to Ranger Heiser, the Southern states devoted “their money toward the homes of soldier’s windows” rather than build expensive monuments. Still, as Heiser says, Gettysburg has a monument for every unit from every state that fought there. Confederate veterans dedicated a monument to Virginia in 1917.
Appropriately, the largest structure on the battlefield is the Pennsylvania Monument. Reuben’s name appears there on a brass plaque with those of his regimental companions from Company F. Some of them didn’t get home alive. Six in his company were killed. A total of 47 men from the Regiment died at Gettysburg. Hundreds of thousands of men and boys from Northern and Southern States died because of this war—by whatever name—caused and pressed to destructive completion by a few arrogantly powerful politicians in Washington, D. C.
A bronze plaque in front of the Pennsylvania section of the Gettysburg National Cemetery reads:
Your own proud land’s heroic soil
Must be your fitten grave.
She claims from war his richest spoil,
The ashes of the brave.
For little known, but fascinating history of North Carolina’s part in the War between the States check out the website http://www.ncwbts150.com