Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Found in the Attic? a Cowardly Soldier's Diary of Gettysburg

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Found in the Attic? a Cowardly Soldier's Diary of Gettysburg

Article excerpt

With the recent fuss about the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I was all the more excited by a surprise while cleaning out the attic the other day.

Beneath the Honus Wagner baseball cards and next to the Andy Warhol high school journal containing doodles of soup cans was the Civil War diary of ancestor Rutherford B. Rotstein, a private in the 999th Pennsylvania Regiment and reluctant combatant at Gettysburg. He wrote better than he fought, which wasn't saying much.

Here are some excerpts:

July 1, 1863: Well, this was a fine day. My feet were dog tired from the march from Pittsburgh and I was looking forward to catching up on my sleep when a commander yells at me and my buddies, "You men go seize the high ground! We need to get atop Little Round Top, Big Round Top, Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, all of it! Now get going!"

What, run uphill after marching for days from Pittsburgh? Lord almighty, what do these generals think we're made of?

I was starting to yell, "Yessir, officer, why don't you get down off your fine steed there and loan him to me and I'll be happy to do that," when old Caleb (he's a friend from Allegheny City -- good boy, though a bit thick in the head) whispers I'd best keep my trap shut.

What bothered me even more was those names they give to the places -- Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge. All it took was hearing those and my spine went to jelly, like usual, from imagining the grim reaper laughing himself hoarse while standing over my mangled body on the battlefield.

Anyways, me and the boys move along like we're supposed to, good soldiers that most everyone but me is, except that we're lost about half the time because you can't see anything through the blasted smoke. Plus, we're city kids, and every hill and every copse of trees looks like just about every other one to us.

"What a plain place for a battle -- where are we gonna get a drink when it's over?" I says to Caleb at one point. He shushed me again just as some blasted Reb's bullet whistled about 3 inches past my ear. Boy, them Rebs know how to handle a rifle. I wish my dad had taken me hunting more as a boy instead of reading Shakespeare by the fire so much. …

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