Friday, July 3, 2020

On This Day...

Looking east from the Virginia Monument - Gettysburg
(Sara Nylund Photo)

I have combined two old posts for this year's remembrance of the 3rd of July at the Battle of Gettysburg. One from 2013 provided most of the artwork, the majority of the text comes from last year's post. That being said, I grew up learning that there were heroes and brave men on both sides of that war. As I get older, I realize that that holds true for most wars.

The attack by the Army of Northern Virginia upon the center of the Army of the Potomac that hot, humid day in 1863 was a forlorn hope. Robert E. Lee could not believe that his men could be defeated, the commander of his First Corps, James Longstreet, did not agree...
General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position. -- James Longstreet
He was right.

But, oh my Lord, those men were brave.

Rafe Jackson and Tom Benson were a couple of good old boys from Fairfax County, Virginia. They'd mustered into Captain James Thrift's company back in July of '61. Now known as "G" Company, 8th Virginia Infantry, commanded by Colonel Eppa Hutton. They'd seen a lot of hard action since the beginning of the war. They'd taken so many casualties that the Colonel always called the outfit "The Bloody Eighth."

Tom and Rafe were the only boys in "G" left from the old days, there were a lot of replacements these days but the regiment still had high morale and considered themselves to be in the "best damn brigade" in the Army of Northern Virginia, Garnett's Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett.

Court-martialed after Kernstown by old "Mad Tom" Jackson, Garnett, and his brigade had something to prove. Even if Jackson was dead, the Brigade still smarted from the insult to their commander's honor.

As they waited in the shelter of a copse of trees next to a wide field sloping upwards to a ridge a long way's off, the men waited for, as Rafe called it, the "day's festivities" to begin.

Tom just shook his head as Rafe, his childhood best friend, broke off a chaw and offered it to one of the greenhorns, kid looked like he was about to wet himself. Rafe chuckled and offered it to Tom instead. Tom took it and told Rafe to leave the young fellows be. Tom remembered First Manassas, he had wet himself at that one, as had a lot of other fellows.

The day was already terribly hot and Tom and Rafe were glad of the shade. Around 1 of the clock, Tom reckoned by the height of the sun, the Confederate guns started to thump. Looked like the bluebellies up on the ridge were going to catch Hell today!


"Rafe!" Tom nudged his buddy with the toe of his shoe, "Get up, look's like we's fixin' to advance."

Rafe Jackson got up onto one knee, doffed his kepi and mopped his brow, then he spit out the rest of his chaw, "Can't believe I fell asleep, Tom. What with all the ruckus from those cannon. We'ums ready to drive the bluebellies back to Washington?"

"Yup, I reckon so. There's our general on his horse, what's he thinking?"

Sergeant Parsons, a real hard case from the Alexandria docks, was walking by and heard Tom's remark, he smacked Benson on the back of the head and leaned into him, telling him:

"General's got a damned fever and he can barely walk, damned horse done kicked him. But he's not gonna sit this one out. Not with the ghost of old Mad Tom looking down on 'im. No sir, now you just keep your eyes to the front and do your damned job, Tom Benson. Or sure as Bobby Lee commands this army, I'll have your guts for garters!"

"More likely looking up!" Rafe chuckled as he nudged Tom in the ribs.

"I got my eye on you too, Jackson." He growled as he went further down the line, getting the laggards to their feet.

Now the commands were ringing out to form up. Rifles were shouldered, the lines were dressed, and the men made ready to advance. As they did so, old George Pickett himself thundered down the line on horseback waving his kepi in the air:

"Go get 'em boys! For the honor of Old Virginny! Let's drive those Yankees so hard they'll wish they'd never been born!"




The drums began to rumble and thump as the three brigades of Virginia infantry under Dick Garnett stepped out on the long march to the other side of the field. Glory awaited.

Pickett's charge from a position on the Confederate line looking toward the Union lines,
Ziegler's grove on the left, clump of trees on right.

Painting by Edwin Forbes

One of the first cannon rounds aimed their way took Sergeant Parson's head off at the shoulders. Bone, blood, and brain matter spattered the men in the nearby file. Parsons never felt a thing.

"Jesus, and here I've been telling folks that old Sarge didn't have any brains at all. Seems like he did after all!"

A young lieutenant behind the two Fairfax County boys began to vomit as more men fell around him.

"Rafe, ain't ya got no sentiment at'all?"

"Sure I do Tom, just not for sergeants." Turning to the young officer behind him who looked to be sick again, Rafe laughed and said, "Ya know lieutenant, you could get in a lotta trouble for puking up them army rations. Some fellers didn't get that much!"

The lieutenant stumbled again, looking to vomit once more, but this time it was blood pouring from his mouth as a piece of shell from a nearby burst had torn into his chest. He fell to the ground and died without a sound. He was only twenty years old.

"Close it up boys, close it up! We're damned near there!" The captain had his hat on the tip of his sword and was waving them forward. Sure enough, there was a wall up ahead with what had to be all the damned Yankees in the world behind it.

Tom saw old Dick Garnett fall to one knee, his hat was gone. Tom wondered what had happened to the general's horse. As he lowered his rifle, the world exploded.

Just before the light and the heat washed over him, he saw Rafe's grinning face one last time. Just before a Union artillery piece emptied its load of canister right in their faces. Rafe's body had shielded Tom from the worst effects of the canister, but the blast tore most of his uniform away and knocked him unconscious.

He didn't see the rest of the brigade fall, what few men left who weren't captured streamed back across the way they had come. Dead Confederates marking the way. For all intents and purposes, Pickett's Division had ceased to exist.

Of the 8th Virginia Infantry, only eleven men and one officer survived to fight another day. On April 6, 1865, the majority of the regiment was killed or surrendered at the Battle of Sayler's Creek. The surgeon and eleven privates who escaped that battle were paroled 3 days later following Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. (Source)

Private Rafael Jackson's body was never found, there was not enough left to be found. His kepi, found on the field by a ten-year old boy, survived in a cupboard on a nearby farm until 1978 when a new family moved in and threw the old moldering relic out. They had no idea what it was.

As for Private Thomas Benson, he survived Northern captivity and returned home to Fairfax County, Virginia, where he worked in a tavern until he died at the age of 46. He still carried a piece of steel from the blast which had killed his friend Rafe. One day, while moving a barrel of ale, the steel shifted, nicking his femoral artery. He was alone and bled out before he was even aware of his injury. Some local folks said he was the last casualty of Pickett's Charge.*
"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago...."
William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (Source)

Dedicated to the men who crossed that bloody field on the afternoon of the 3rd of July, 1863:

Heth's Division
(Isaac Trimble commanding)

Pettigrew's Brigade
11th North Carolina
26th North Carolina
47th North Carolina
52nd North Carolina

Archer's Brigade
13th Alabama
5th Alabama Battalion
1st Tennessee
7th Tennessee
14th Tennessee

Davis's Brigade
2nd Mississippi
11th Mississippi
42nd Mississippi
55th North Carolina

Brockenbrough's Brigade
47th Virginia
40th Virginia
55th Virginia
22nd Virginia Battalion

Lane's Brigade
7th North Carolina
18th North Carolina
33rd North Carolina
28th North Carolina
37th North Carolina

Scale's Brigade
13th North Carolina
16th North Carolina
22nd North Carolina
34th North Carolina
38th North Carolina

Pickett's Division

Armistead's Brigade
9th Virginia
14th Virginia
38th Virginia
53rd Virginia
57th Virginia

Garnett's Brigade
8th Virginia
18th Virginia
19th Virginia
28th Virginia
56th Virginia

Kemper's Brigade
1st Virginia
3rd Virginia
7th Virginia
11th Virginia
24th Virginia

Anderson's Division

Wilcox's Brigade
8th Alabama
9th Alabama
10th Alabama
11th Alabama
14th Alabama

Perry's Brigade
2nd Florida
5th Florida
8th Florida

Long may their memory be bright.

50 Years After the Battle, On the Same Field

Remember them, honor them.

* Rafael Jackson, Thomas Benson, and Sergeant Parsons are all fictional characters.

The 2013 post
The 2019 post


  1. While visiting Gettysburg I stood at the stone wall that marks the end of Pickett's Charge and looked across the field.
    It's almost unbelievable that anyone made it to where I was standing.
    This morning I thought, "We must have learned something about the futility of an infantry attach against heavily defended positions."
    And then I thought about the First World's War trench warfare, the Second World's War Banzai charges, Omaha Beach, and realized that maybe we didn't learn much.

    For those of us of a certain age, we briefly shared the planet with a handful of Civil War vets.

  2. Powerful story. Still have to visit that hallowed ground.

    1. Same here, one of these days I have to get there.

  3. Going to dig out that DVD of Gettysburg and watch it since it's too hot & humid to work for long outside. Massed 58 caliber musket fire is daunting to comprehend....

  4. I was struck by old combatants shaking hands... decades after they were killing each other..... They were honorable men....

    I wonder if we can get over current issues at some point and be civil with each other?? Is honor even a vocabulary word these days?

    1. I have those same worries.

    2. Not as long as power and profit can be attained through division.

    3. Star, I thought the same. I hate the current narrative that anyone on the Confederate side was a racist guilty of treason. Different times that can't, nor should live up to today's values.

    4. Things in this country were very different 157 years ago. Those throwing those "treason" and "racist" labels around are traitors to the American ideal, they are also trying to use race (a false concept to begin with, we're all one race, the human race) to divide us. Why didn't Obama fix this crap, some have asked.


    5. Obama and his cronies broke it. From Day 1 of his administration he and his pack of ghouls hammered at everything sacred in this nation.

      It was during his administration that the first round of Attack the Statues successfully occurred.

      It was during his election that packs of agitators chased off white people from voting.

      It was during his administration that the Department of Justice dropped over 50 cases of Voter Fraud stemming from the 2008 election, and then refused to look into any voter fraud that was for the dems during the 2012 election.

      And then the whole set up Trump thingy that we're still dealing with.

      It was like everything was normal, then he stepped onto the field and suddenly everything was broken. He, his shadow handlers and his supporters made up division where there was none.

      And we are still dealing with that mess of bull scat.

  5. Remember and honor indeed. Alas Virginia is swiftly moving to stop doing both. Sad and wrong.

    1. The current government of Virginia is something to be ashamed of.

  6. "...a gigantic gasp of unbelief..."

    Cannon fire. Move the slide full left, first shot clips the top of the dead tree.

  7. If we learned of the futility, it was quickly forgotten. Yet it remains true that men, with rifles and willpower, are the only thing that can take, and hold, ground. Now we must consider whether or not the ground is worth the sacrifice. Probably best to consider beforehand than in afterthought.

  8. That men who hated each other so much could then clasp each other's hands in friendship, from the start of the surrender, is amazing. Grant and other Union commanders who gave the Southerners full honors as they surrendered and left for home, just tears me up. So much potential for peace fecklessly thrown away by an assassin's bullet.

    Yet the men, so many men, broken physically or mentally, still considered their enemy to be their brothers years later, makes me cry in joy for what was and in shame for what now is.

    The really sad thing? All the lessons from the Civil War regarding war, like all the lessons from the Crimean War, were thrown away or forgotten by almost everyone world-wide by the time WWI came around. And too many commanders on both sides refused to learn, to innovate. Grant, in all his cold calculating self, would have been appalled at the waste of men by the British and French, and even the Germans.

    But onto other things...

    We remember. We may be the last generation, or second-to-last generation to do so, but as long as we who remember still live, so does the ideal and dream of this great nation. Let us hope that people begin to remember her greatness again.

    1. There are many who do remember. They need to stand up.

    2. (Don McCollor)...There often seemed to be little hatred in the front line, only an eerie strangeness. At night, soldiers of both sides would slip past their pickets into no man's land to trade coffee for tobacco. The next day, they would do their level best to kill each other...

    3. The men understood America better than the politicians.

      Still holds true.

  9. And a weird shift slightly off-topic.

    I know I can fly The Flag in rain and in darkness, as long as it's illuminated.

    The question is, should I? Was taught long ago not to fly the flag in rain, but that was in the old days back when they were still made of wool and cotton and early synthetics and rain would make the ink run.

    How say you?

    1. Darkness if it's illuminated, rain if it's an all-weather flag. The full U.S. Code dealing with the flag is here.

  10. The flag may be flown in the rain as long as it is a "all weather flag" - this according to the American Legion flag etiquette
    But I am not sure how to tell if a flag is "all weather"
    Reminds me, I have to clean a flag we inherited, a memorial to a fallen patriot. It's been tucked away for several years, but I think we have stopped hurting long enough that we should clean it and display it, which I think will be a more fitting memorial to our friend's sacrifice. Wow, it got dusty in here all of a sudden - didn't expect that...

    1. There's actually a U.S. Code which covers the flag, here.

  11. The bravery on both sides of the War Between the States was incredible. The disrespect shown by today's generation and associated 'activists' (read communist agitators and revolutionaries) is despicable and should be resisted at every turn. At some point, they will likely cross the line everyone has, and they will not like the consequences... I hope they smarten up before then... we are reliving the late 60's and 70's ...

    1. The stupidity of the '60s and '70s has returned.

      I too hope they smarten up.

  12. And please don't forget Vicksburg, it too should be remembered.

    1. Which fell on the 4th of July. We remember, a tough time for the folks of that fair city.

    2. I've been there twice. The amount of unknowns was striking to me. 12000 in one cemetery. It is still carrying the scars from that siege. Amazing the amount of earth work done. Some many lost...

      My GGgrandpa would've been there if not for his capture at Corinth, MS under Sterling Price. Weird to think I wouldn't be here if he had been in Vicksburg.

    3. I've crossed the Mississippi there, at night. So didn't really see anything.

      Yes, the "what ifs" of history.

  13. When she is really fed up with me, I'll drive there and park and spend a day just walking. It might take a few days. Based on nothing at all tonight, I can probably do the whole tour next week.

    1. May not be very crowded these days, which is a good thing in my book.

  14. My friend Bill's re-enactment unit was in the film Gods and Generals.
    The 2nd unit directer was giving instructions to the men. To Bill he said "I want you to fall here."
    "No, sir! My great-grandfather made it to the wall and so will I."
    "Very well. Carry on."
    Later the assistant director asked "Why did you let that guy tell you your job?" The director replied "They know their history a lot better than I do. Besides, they have bayonets."


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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