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Just This One Day......

remember the victors at Gettysburg (July 2, 1987)

Reynolds was dead. Buford had retreated to regather his most remarkable brigade. Howard and Hancock were fighting over which of them was in charge. Meade wanted to retreat, despite the ground, despite his advantage in men. And on the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863, Colonel Chamberlain of Maine won the Battle of Little Round Top. That night Robert Edward Lee plotted Pickett's Charge on the morrow.Sad it is that many of us do not recognize the Union participants of the Battle of Gettysburg, a slaughter rarely equaled even in our Civil War, of which it was, indeed, the crucial and only necessary battle. Is it not amazing, if not amusing, that the most important event in our history is so utterly ignored beyond the sighs of Southern Miniver Cheeveys? To the war that killed more Americans than any other war, only specialists in American History devote any time whatever. It is as if it had not been fought.

Even President Eisenhower, who retreated to his Gettysburg farm after leaving the White House, played host to Field Marshall Montgomery (can your child identify him?), the two old soldiers puttered across the national park, refighting the battle. Both agreed it was a barely controlled disaster, a strategic blunder. But that is not what is important about that battle, one hundred twenty four years ago today: the trivia of military buffs is exhausting and only of importance to aspirant Pattons.What is important is that two faith systems conflicted and one was utterly beaten. So decisive was the victory, so utterly decadent the losing side, that only the most skillful writer can breathe life into a retelling of the reasons for and battles of the American Civil War.

It is as distant from modern sensibilities as Roland and Caesar. On July 3rd, 15,000 men would charge, on foot, uphill against cannon and many more men, all to no evident military purpose. It was the brainchild of Robert E. Lee, who was steeped in the tactics of Napoleon. Pickett's Charge was a slaughter. No officer involved was not a casualty; one third of the men were killed, sixty percent of the total were at least wounded. That is only the Confederate side. This is only one part of one day's fighting of a three day battle of a four year war. One million men on both sides would die due to the war. The Vietnam War cost us, over decades, the deaths of sixty thousand from a far more populous nation. More died on our highways during the same period. Perspective.

Are we ashamed of the war? Are we annoyed that, after freeing the slaves, they had to be freed again one hundred years later? Are we ashamed of the corruption and grotesque hypocrisy that followed Lincoln? I think we are. I think we tried to mythologize the war, to make heroes and saints out of men clearly not in the cold light of honest evaluation. And rather than sort out the truth, of which there is much to be proud, we let it fizzle out altogether.

And that is why General John Buford, who seized the high ground on the first day, thereby overcoming the incompetence his alleged peers, probably winning the battle and thereby the war, is utterly forgotten. Ft. Buford is named for him, up in Montana, before the war he served in Wyoming and Colorado and loved it. Loved the West, the endless plains, the life out here, and wanted so to return. He died of his wounds in December, 1863.

Today - just this one day - let us remember him and his brethren.