The site where Doles’s Brigade swept the field at Gettysburg began my trek through the battlefields of my great-grandfather. None of the family – that I know of — had ever made the pilgrimage to his battlefields.
His grandchildren talked about him all the time. Helen Pannill Ramsey presented all us great-grandchildren with a hand-colored photograph of Lt. William C. Cherry in his uniform. A box of letters he received while in the Union prison camp rested in a large ornate bookcase in my grandparents’ home in Fort Worth on Lipscomb Street. I saved that box when the house was closed in 1973. I have been transcribing the letters, which begin in the 1850s.
I also inherited a pocket Bible that Pvt. Cherry inscribed with his name in Richmond in 1862. Someone told me years ago that an indentation on the front cover showed where the Bible had stopped a mini-ball in combat. But Crab does not tell that story in his memoir.
I came back to the Civil War in the late 1980s through the Ken Burns documentary. In 1989, I stopped for the night in Gettysburg while driving home from Newark. At my bed-and-breakfast, someone told me to arrive before 8:30 a.m. at the visitors’ center of the battlefield and I could hire a park ranger for a brief tour.
The ranger asked if I had any relatives in the battle. All I knew was William C. Cherry and Doles’s Brigade. That was enough.
We drove to the marker where the brigade had defeated Barlow and Kryszanowski’s commands of the XI Corps. A small Rebel flag – placed by another visitor – waved at the base of the marker.
The Houston Civil War Round Table, which I frequented, offered an annual field trip. In 1998, I signed up for Gettysburg. The incomparable Ed Bearss took the Round Table through the all three days of the battle. At the end of the tour, I returned to the plain where the brigade formed line of battle on July 1. As best I could, I followed their march up to the Doles marker.
Since then I have walked virtually all of Crab’s batlefields, stood in his trenches at The Wilderness, and observed the place of his capture in 1864 near the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania Court House. I have visited his prison camp at Fort Delaware and seen the remnants of Morris Island, where the Union army penned him with 600 Confederate officers in front of their lines “under fire of our guns” (Regimental History, p. 128). It is a privilege to stand where he and his brothers James A. Cherry and Samuel Cherry fought.
Most of the poetry from the Civil War strikes us as maudlin. But the 4th Georgia Regiment produced a writer named Will Henry Thompson. He enlisted in the Confederate army at 17. I read his poem as a boy. It is fitting to close the 150th commemoration of the battle with his words:
The High Tide At Gettysburg
A cloud possessed the hollow field,
The gathering battle’s smoky shield:
Athwart the gloom the lightning flashed,
And through the cloud some horsemen dashed,
And from the heights the thunder pealed.
Then, at the brief command of Lee,
Moved out that matchless infantry,
With Pickett leading grandly down,
To rush against the roaring crown
Of those dread heights of destiny.
Far heard above the angry guns
A cry across the tumult runs,-
The voice that rang from Shilo’s woods
And Chickamauga’s solitudes,
The fierce South cheering on her sons!
Ah, how the withering tempest blew
Against the front of Pettigrew!
A Khamsin wind that scorched and singed
Like that infernal flame that fringed
The British squares at Waterloo!
A thousand fell where Kemper led;
A thousand died where Garnett bled:
In blinding flame and strangling smoke
Their remnant through the batteries broke
And crossed the works with Armistead.
‘Once more in Glory’s van with me!’
Virginia cried to Tennessee;
‘We two together, come what may,
Shall stand upon these works to-day!’
(The reddest day in history.)
Brave Tennessee! In reckless way
Virginia heard her comrade say:
‘Close round this rent and riddled rag!’
What time she set her battle-flag
Amid the guns of Doubleday.
But who shall break the guards that wait
Before the awful face of Fate?
The tattered standards of the South
Were shriveled at the cannon’s mouth,
And all her hopes were desolate.
In vain the Tennessean set
His breast against the bayonet;
In vain Virginia charged and raged,
A tigress in her wrath uncaged,
Till all the hill was red and wet!
Above the bayonets, mixed and crossed,
Men saw a gray, gigantic ghost
Receding through the battle-cloud,
And heard across the tempest loud
The death-cry of a nation lost!
The brave went down! Without disgrace
They leaped to Ruin’s red embrace;
They heard Fame’s thunders wake,
And saw the dazzling sun-burst break
In smiles on Glory’s bloody face!
They fell, who lifted up a hand
And bade the sun in heaven to stand;
They smote and fell, who set the bars
Against the progress of the stars,
And stayed the march of Motherland!
They stood, who saw the future come
On through the fight’s delirium;
They smote and stood, who held the hope
Of nations on that slippery slope
Amid the cheers of Christendom.
God lives! He forged the iron will
That clutched and held that trembling hill!
God lives and reigns! He built and lent
The heights for freedom’s battlement
Where floats her flag in triumph still!
Fold up the banners! Smelt the guns!
Love rules. Her gentler purpose runs.
A mighty mother turns in tears
The pages of her battle years,
Lamenting all her fallen sons!
One Response to Gettysburg: a personal note
Great poetry! And what a family history!