Saturday, June 29, 2013

`Hastening to Gettysburg'

Confederate troops under the command of Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ewell moved down the Shenandoah Valley toward Pennsylvania and overran the Union garrison at Winchester on June 15, 1863. A week later the first Southerners crossed into Pennsylvania. On June 24, Lt. Edmund DeWitt Patterson of the 9th Alabama Infantry, part of the Third Corps of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, was still in Maryland, near Boonesboro. Patterson was born in Lorain County, Ohio, in 1842, and moved to Alabama at age seventeen. He taught school and clerked in Waterloo, Ala., and enlisted in May 1861. His wartime journal was published in 1966 under the title Yankee Rebel. In his July 24, 1863, entry, he reports his unit, under the command of Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, is camped in a “pretty meadow.” The following day they march to Hagerstown, Md., where he notes: 

“Everything on the road looks strange to us coming as we do from the desolate fields of Virginia. Here we see houses, barns filled with grain, fine stock etc. Today we met a fine large drove of beef cattle going to the rear. Some of the boys who have fully realized the effects of the war at their own houses are fairly itching to retaliate, but Gen’l. Lee’s order issued the morning we crossed into Md. is too strict.” 

On June 26, around 11 a.m., Patterson’s unit crossed into Pennsylvania. With two friends, one named Jim Crow, he straddles the state line, downs the contents of a canteen filled with what he calls “a supply of the `needful,’” and drinks “some pretty heavy toasts.” While passing through Chambersburg, Pa., the following day, Gen. Lee road up the column “speaking kindly to acquaintances and passed on. The boys never cheer him, but pull off their hats and worship.” Near Fayetteville, “Jim and I went out and took supper with a good old Pennsylvania farmer; plenty of everything, especially apple butter, the first I have tasted since I left Ohio.” 

On July 28, a Sunday, Patterson reports “no preaching either in camps or in town.” Some soldiers have “captured” chickens, which is “against positive orders,” but Patterson and other officers excuse the thefts. On Tuesday, June 30, two divisions depart “in the direction of Gettysburg” – his first mention of the town. He writes: 

“I took dinner yesterday at the hotel, and at night Jim Crow, Dick Hobbs and I went out about two miles into the country to get supper, and had a magnificent time. The young lady was Union but called herself a `copperhead.’ I would not mind being bitten by her a few times.” 

Two days later, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Patterson was taken prisoner by Union soldiers. He was held in the prison camp on Johnson’s Island, Ohio, in Sandusky Bay, some fifty miles west of his birthplace. Patterson was released in a prisoner exchange in March 1865, one month before the end of the war, went on to study law and was elected to Tennessee State Senate in 1882. He served as a circuit court judge from 1886 to 1897, and May 22, 1914, in Redlands, Calif. In “Melville’s Letter to William Clark Russell” (Taken in Faith: Poems, 2002), Helen Pinkerton writes: 

“Boys in the wild wind fell
Like autumn leaves in a New England gale,
Or lay in swathes, blue as a Cape Cod pond,
Their fresh young flesh scythed down with ripened wheat
Or plucked unripe in orchards, berry patches,
Their bodies, under dying horses’ hooves,
Crushed like the late June clover their feet crushed
Hastening to Gettysburg.”

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