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Posted By: on: 07/24/2000 18:50:33 EDT
Subject: RE: THe Great Charge.... Was it Stupidity or Raw Courage or????

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I was browsing through the pictures that I took that are now on the web. (Thanks Bill!!).... It took me back to that Saturday.. I remeber when I took those, thinking, you have got to be kidding!.. They marched in formation across of a mile in spots of rolling country side, maintaining formation as much as possible... I am out of shape, but I kept thinking, ok they are under fire at this point and at this point they had the presence of mind to dress lines and go back at it. They kept going despite friends, brothers, fathers uncles, family! getting hit, falling, the carnage, and horror. But they KEPT GOING!.. They get to the fence at the Pike, at this point catching the first solid volley fire of the troops on the ridge line, push over through, the fence and now at the double quick get to the wall........ What was it that drove them? what kept them going? Dedication to cause? such fear of dishonor and disgrace that they would rather die then turn back? WOuld we have been of such medal? Could you, I or any of our friends done that??? Was it stupidity on the average soldiers part to keep going? Or was it Raw courage?

I wonder, I wonder......


Hi Jim,
Good question! I thought about that, too, as we walked across. I was in the group walking Pettigrew's route and we had no swales to occasionally hide us from the guns behind the wall. Like you, I couldn't help but marvel at their courage. Shelby Foote once said that if he'd been there and looked across that field at the wall, he might have said "no sir, marse Robert, I ain't going." Then he said, "but I wouldn't have had that much nerve. Nobody would have." I guess maybe it was not only courage that drove them on, but trust in Lee as well as their sense of honor.

Jim and Carolyn,
I felt the same thing as I crossed that field. There I was in front, carrying the banner, and thinking "I'm a brillant flash of color in a green field. What am I doing?" I cannot imagine doing that while shot and shell are being fired at me from across the way, especially since Pettigrew's men did not have any swales to take cover in. To face the enemy, certain death and to keep going is pure and simple courage. I am sure I would not have had that if it had been 1863 and I was crossing that field. Those men are, to me, heroes..each and every one.shari

Well I found this place for good or bad. I hope you folks were not tring to lose me and my spelling. Anyway I have thought about this for along time. Armys up until W.W.II would ecept almost any amount of dead. I think two things come into play. Unlike us in this day in age. The civil war era people where some what use to a lot of death. A lot of children died . adults often died early. Today something that would of killed most folks then are just routine now. I know this is pretty basic. I konw myself at the age of 32 would of died in 1863. My lungs filled up but for me it was just a 5 day hospital stay. Back then I would of left a pregnent widow and 5 year old son. Now that would of been thought of as a rareity but back then it would of been almost a common place event. The next thing that changed the way we think about honor and such things was W.W. I the "great war" changed everything from art to poltical thought to the way wew think about life and death. It showed how totally savage how man could become. The boys that went off to fight the Spanish in 1898 felt almost the same way as the boys of 1861. And yet in 1917 the dough boys knew that they were getting into a blood letting and went about in a more straight forward we got to get this done mentality. Anyway thats the only answers I could come up with. I don't know maybe Im tired and this is some sort of ramble:Old Juan

Old Juan, glad you found us. No, we're not trying to lose you!

Was the Charge Stupidy or Raw Courage? Actually probably not either one and at the same time a little of both. To understand why men made that Charge we have to understand a couple of things, Civil War Tactics, the mindset of people back then, as Old Juan pointed out premature death was somewhat more commonplace than today.

Why did soldiers march soldier to shoulder across that field into the face of the enemy? Quite simply (maybe too simply put) Because that's the way it was done. To break through an enemy line you attacked with as many men as possible - you sent 15,000 men against the enemy line, say 6,000 didn't make it to the line, but that still left 9,000 men to break through. Part of this of course was due to the limitations of the weapons at the time, with single shot, relatively slow loading muzzle loaders, the only way to get more bullets fired at the enemy was to put more men in the Line of Battle. The fire and maneuver tactic didn't become practical until weapons weapons improved AND the military strategists realized that there was a better way to fight (?).

But still, what made the men make that awsome march across those fields in the July heat of 1863?
Courage, yes - how else do you explain a willingness to march into the face of the enemy's guns. Faith, faith in their leaders that this charge would break the enemy's line and win the battle, maybe win the war and give them and their families they believed they were fighting for. Fear, fear that if they didn't make the charge they could never face family and friends back home, fear of being labeled a coward. Stupidity - no not stupidity on the soldier's part, ignorance maybe, but not stupidity. Ignorance of the fact that there had to be a better way to achieve victory.

I'm sure I left something out, but those are some of my thoughts on this.
Bill N-T

Hi folks!
Bill mentioned faith; here's another possibility. Faith that *some one* would make it out alive, and that maybe they would be one of the lucky ones. I guess 'lucky' would depend on the soldiers' perspective. Unscathed, or with minor wounds would be more desirable than just 'alive'--those field hospitals were no picnic.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone's replies. It really got me to thinking 'why' my ancestors did what they did (even though they weren't at Gettsyburg)during their time served in the Civil War. For honor, duty, family, country, or for all of these reasons and more.
Thanks, Barb

Great new site, though I mainly "lurked" on the old one, I was really missing my daily "fix":-) Regarding the charge - I don't think stupidity had much to do with it. Many of the participants were veterans with a very clear idea of the grim prospect before them. But they had confidence in their own ability and in Lee's leadership. One officer wrote that they never doubted but they would plant their banners in the enemy lines. As someone said earlier, most of the men came from tight-knit communities and were serving alongside boyhood friends and relatives. News of any act of "cowardice" reaching home would be an impossible stigma to bear. and its a well-attested fact fact throughout military history that troops fight better when serving with long-term comrades and the bonding which follows.

There were in fact a few reports of some "Shirkers" if that's not too strong a word, but remarkably few



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