January 28, 2012
Gettysburg. The very name sends all manner of emotion through my heart and out the other side.
I began studying this famous American Civil War Battle (July 1,2,3, 1863) some twenty years ago and then in 2001 I simply bought a plane ticket and up and went there to see the place for myself. My sister and brother-in-law met me in Syracuse, New York, and drove me down to Southern Pennsylvania to spend five days absorbing the importance of those hallowed forests and fields.
I’m no fan of war, believe me. But having been born an American yet having now lived more than half my life as a Canadian, I study the differences between the two countries. Both British Colonies, the one revolted over taxes and the other still has The British Monarch as its Head of State. One couldn’t find the means to end slavery peacefully, while the other saw it dissolved once and for all under Britain’s 1834 Slavery Abolition Act.
Having studied in detail The Battle of Gettysburg, and while there in June of 2001, I brought along my paints and did on-the-spot watercolour sketches of the most poignantly-historic locations among those now-peaceful fields.
On July 3rd, 1863, on a stiflingly-hot afternoon, after two entire hours of constant cannon bombardment of the Yankee position on Cemetery Ridge, General Robert E. Lee ordered a massive charge across a mile-wide expanse of field. This was the concluding, and most desperate action of the horrific three days as tens of thousands Southern troops marched shoulder-to-shoulder into the deadly cannonading of Northern forces.
They were instructed to aim for an inconspicuous, yet noticeable ‘copse of trees’, dead centre in the Union Line. Only one hundred or so made that destination, the more than 20,000 others suffering an indescribable onslaught of cannon and massed rifle fire.
After painting this little painting, I solemnly walked the distance to those trees. It was a sobering, awful, respectfully-difficult-yet-important mile-long journey through the wind-blown grasses of a place now very hushed and calm. I’ve never been quite the same before, or since.
What an enormous difference between two neighbouring countries, all due to differing attitudes to being deemed ‘Colonists’.