what was it like then
to have lived through that time
we here are there now
“On the morning of the 3d, we moved forward to the first position occupied on the 2d, and were formed the same, where we remained till about 3 p.m. Thence we were moved off by the right flank at double-quick to where the enemy was trying to pierce our center. The regiment was here detached, and sent to the support of the Second Division, Second Corps, where we assisted in repulsing the enemy, who had succeeded in breaking through a portion of their line.“*
So reads the report of Lt. Col. Edwin S. Pierce, commanding the 3rd Michigan Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg.
What he described came down in history known as ‘Pickett’s Charge’.
This is a first person eyewitness account of the one of the most famous and awful moments in United States history.
“The regiment was here detached, and sent to the support of the Second Division, Second Corps, where we assisted in repulsing the enemy, who had succeeded in breaking through a portion of their line“
Bruce Catton described the same scene, “
“For the next few minutes this irregular rectangle of ground, a hundred yards deep by two or three hundred yards wide, was the bloody cockpit of the whole war, the place where men on foot with guns in their hands would arrive at a verdict. In this rectangle there was little work by the artillery. The Confederate guns to the west could not fire into this place without hitting their own men, and the Union guns here were out of action. A regular army battery of six guns commanded by Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing had been posted just north of the trees; by the time the Confederates came up to close range, five of the six guns had been put out of action, and when Cushing got off a final shot from the one gun that remained, he was killed and most of the gun crew went down with him. The climax of Pickett’s charge was an infantry fight pure and simple.
It was fought out with unremitting fury. Some of Pickett’s men broke in across the stone wall and knelt amid Cushing’s idle guns to fire point-blank at the defending infantry. Some of the defenders found the fire too hot to bear and withdrew; on a narrow front, and for the moment, Pickett’s men had actually broken the Union line. If they could widen the break and hold on to the ground gained until help came, they would have the battle won.…“**
For us, looking back, it is Pickett’s Charge, the high water mark of the Confederacy.
To the men of the 3rd Michigan, it was another day at the office.
The Colonel of the 3rd Michigan, Byron R. Piece, a former Dentist from Grand Rapids, Michigan, had been wounded the day before.
His brother took over command of the regiment on July 2nd and led the regiment in a counter attack against the confederate assault on July 3rd.
After 3 days of fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg, Lt. Col. Pierce closed his report with the line, “In closing this report, I cannot particularize any of the officers or men”
In other word, we didn’t do anything special.
We just did what was expected.
We did what we had to do.
Lt. Col. Pierce went on, “I am proud to state that they did their duty without an exception.”
I am living through the Get Flu Pandemic of 2020.
I am living through history here and now.
How will I be judged by history?
I just want to find toilet paper to get through this.
I am not a health care provider.
I am not an emergency responder.
I think of what John Milton wrote back 1673.
“They also serve who only stand and wait.“
I can stand with the best of them.
I can wait with the worst.
I would be happy to be described as some one who “their duty without an exception.”
When I Consider How My Light is Spent
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
John Milton, (1608–1674)
*Report of Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Pierce, 3rd Michigan Infantry, on the Battle of Gettysburg. HDQRS. THIRD REGIMENT MICHIGAN VOLUNTEERS, August 4, 1863. from OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 27, Part 1
** Catton, Bruce. Gettysburg: The Final Fury. Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1974