Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign

By Kent Masterson Brown | Go to book overview

Two
The flies and vermin of the dog days

What Lee observed in the pastures ahead of him on the late afternoon of 3 July was a scene of misery and death. A Union soldier recalled the fields in front of Cemetery Ridge after the battle:

Like sheaves bound by the reaper, in crevices of the rocks, behind
fences, trees and buildings; in thickets, where they had crept for safety
only to die in agony; by stream or wall or hedge, wherever the battle had
raged or their weakening steps could carry them, lay the dead. Some,
with faces bloated and blackened beyond recognition, lay with glassy
eyes staring up at the blazing summer sun; others, with faces downward
and clenched hands filled with grass or earth, which told of the agony of
the last moments, here a headless trunk, there a severed limb; in all the
grotesque positions that unbearable pain and intense suffering contorts
the human form, they lay. All around was the wreck the battlestorm
leaves in its wake—broken caissons, dismounted guns, small arms bent
and twisted by the storm or dropped and scattered by disabled hands;
dead and bloated horses, torn and ragged equipments, and all the sor-
rowful wreck that the waves of battle leave at their ebb; and over all,
hugging the earth like a fog, poisoning every breath, the pestilential
stench of decaying humanity.

The whole battlefield was, wrote another observer, “one trodden, miry waste with corpses at every step.” All the fences had been destroyed, and the country was so open that citizens of Gettysburg remarked that roads were no longer necessary for travel anywhere in the twenty-five-square-mile vicinity!1

The town of Gettysburg was in shambles. Buildings, houses, and walls were pocked and riddled by shell and small arms fire. Windows were smashed,

-41-

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