The Irish Brigade at Gettysburg

The first week in July is usually remembered for the creation of America.  And with very good cause.  But the first week in July is not just the birth of the United States, but it’s saving as well.  I don’t mean that the Declaration of Independence is our saving point, but I am referring to the very long weekend of the Fourth of July 87 years later…

…in 1863.

The Civil War had been raging or three years, and it seemed to be going badly for the Union.  Through in the west, the Army under Ulysses Grant was dong well, they had stalled outside of Vicksburg, often referred to the lynch pin of the south.  Lincoln said of Vicksburg: “Vicksburg is the key, the war cannot be won until the key is in our pocket.”

In the East, General Robert E. Lee had bested four Commanding Union Generals (George B. McClellan, Ambrose E. Burnside, John Pope, & Joseph Hooker.) and was now attempting to maneuver into Pennsylvania.

Vicksburg was under siege.  For those who don’t know, a siege is an attack and blockade on a fixed position with the intent of reducing it through attrition or assault.  In the case of Vicksburg, Grant had made a terrible gamble, cutting his army loose in enemy territory, without his supply lies, and pushed across the Mississippi river and through the back country to arrive surrounding Vicksburg.  He had been fighting the campaign since April, and thought it was clearly coming to an end on the front, the newspapers and citizens back home had been waiting for some change, but have been hearing nothing from the west except “Grant’s still outside Vicksburg.”

The Confederate strategy had to change.  Lee made the bold assessment and took the long chance (something that had served him well in this war up to this point.) and proposed a new attack.  He was going to take his Army of Northern Virginia and invade the north.  First they would attack the Capitol of Pennsylvania at Harrisburg, taking the arsenal there, and follow that us with the symbolic attack at Philadelphia, before turning back south and attacking Washington, D.C. from the north.

The Army of the Potomac, under a new commander George Meade, knew abut the move, but were unsure the destination.  So they too moved from Virginia into Pennsylvania in an attempt to head them off.  Though both sides were aware of each other’s movements by mid June, the two armies didn’t run into each other until July 1st, just south of the town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg Day One

Confederate Maj. Gen. Henry Heth had moved a brigade under Gen. Pettigrew into the town to gather supplies, particularly the cash of badly needed shoes that were said to be in the town.   Union Calvary Commander Brig. Gen. John Buford dismounted his divisions and posted them along three ridges just west of the town.  So when Pettigrew came out of the town, the ran into Union Calvary with repeating carbine riffles.  The problem was, The union army wasn’t all up yet.  The confederates were just up the road, while the rest of the union army was still nearly a days march away.  Buford sent back word to his Corps Commander John Reynolds, and he brought up the first army corps on the double time.  Unfortunately this wasn’t enough.  The Northern position, started to wane, and eventually collapsed. (Particularly when John Reynolds was shot and killed while telling his men to push forward.)     and the confederates pushed the Union army back across a large field and the Union took control of some high ground south of the City along what was called Cemetery ridge. (So-called because there was a cemetery, not because of the battle, though it will become a very fitting name.)

July the First ended as a Confederate victory.  This was more than just a prelude to the fierce and bloody fighting of the next two days, this first day ranks as the 23rd largest battle of the war.  Nearly a quarter of the Meade’s army and a Third of Lee’s was engaged on this day.  The casualties are fairly even.  Union dead, wounded, and missing was approximately 5,500 men.  Confederate losses were about 5,250 men, though confederate records are harder to determine because most of their records were badly kept or destroyed.

Check back tomorrow for day 2.  And if you are interested, I suggest checking out both The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and the film based on it, Gettysburg.


Well, my fellow New Yorkers would have noticed this, but the MTA has changed their services, and therefore a new map has been issued ad is on every train in the city.  The problem is that it is ugly.  And it got me thinking about past maps and how the art forms, advertising trends, and printing technology affected the maps.

I have a love of maps.  I think they’re fascinating, and they say so much about the world in which the map was created and for what purpose.  In the case of the subway system, the maps were to catch the eye, direct the passenger, and (until the most recent incarnation) add some color and panache to the subway.

For example, here is the IRT system map from 1904:

And the full system map from 1924:

Colorful and informative.  In 1959 the map was replaced by this Christmas themed map:

But my personal favorites came from the 60’s and 70’s:

They are bright, colorful, interesting to look at and reflect the style of the times.  So what do the last two maps say about our society?

Well for starters it would appear as if all the trees in the parks were burned away as if we lived in The Road Warrior.  The top map, with all those now superfluous lines, is still in the spirit of colorful,, eye catching, and helpful.  The new map looks like we ran out of the color green.  My only hope is that when the new Fulton line opens up they will get rid of this awful atrocity of a map with something with some vegetation and color.

For those with the time (and this could easily be done in a hour or two) you should check out the Transit Museum in Brooklyn.  Here’s the website:


The museum goes through the entire history of the subway system and other transit systems that have since been abandoned.  But the coup de grais are the old subway cars from the entire history (including advertisements of soldiers punch Hitler in a deodorant ad.)  definitely worth the price of admission.

In the next few weeks, many things of importance happened in America.  Today The U.N. Charter was signed in 1945; The first U.S. troops arrived in France in 1917 during World War 1; Sonny and Cher’s divorce was finalized in 1975, but of all of these things (and many others that I did not mention) the most significant might be that in the year 1784, Delaware patriot Caesar Rodney died.

Delaware was formed when three of the lower counties of Pennsylvania declared their independence from the England and Pennsylvania in June of 1775.  Rodney, along with his long time political ally and friend Thomas McKean, where the ones who pushed to create the state.  Rodney is probably best known, however, for being the deciding vote for Independence.  On July 1st 1776, Thomas McKean arrived at Rodney’s home and beckoned the him to ride back to Philadelphia, and Rodney’s overnight ride  through a thunderstorm from Dover to Philly was immortalized on the Delaware state quarter issued in 1999.

Rodney was also elected to the office of the President of Delaware in 1777.

He suffered from cancer and had a scar mark from a removed tumor on his face.  He would cover it up with a green handkerchief, but because of this, there are no portraits of the man because he was self conscious.  Rodney said of his ailment:

“that horrid and most obstinate disorder.” He later wrote, “The doctor must conquer the cancer, or the cancer will conquer me …. my constitution requires rest and my wish is to indulge it”.

Holding nearly 40 separate offices in his entire political Career, Caesar Rodney was one of our most ardent patriots, hard-working revolutionaries, and founding-iest founding fathers.  I tip my hat to you, sir.


Originally uploaded by SeanReadsHistory

The first volume in the lengthy and ongoing Oxford History of the United States, The Glorious Cause focuses mainly on the American Revolution.
Started in the year 1763 (or roughly the end if the French and Indian War) and finishing off in 1789 (with the Inauguration of George Washington) the book covers the political, religious, marshal, and social changes that occurred over the course of the war. But, as John Adams Said, the war was only part of the revolution.

“The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”

Currently I am on page 135. And let me tell you, this book so far, is pretty dry. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. There is a very in depth analysis of the Political machinations of the English Parliament and the sentiments and views of property and taxes in the new World. See. Dry.

The war hasn’t started yet, and as far as I can tell I am now entering the year 1766. So there was the Stamp act crisis, and the meeting of the Stamp Act Congress (which was the precursor to the Continental Congress.) Soon the Townsend Act will be passed, and the continuing struggle between Parliament and their sentiments towards the Colonies, and the Colonial assemblies fighting back against Parliamentary authority will continue until one day a few dozen militia will stand up against the full weight of the British Army at Lexington and Concord. But that’s still nearly ten years away and probably 50 or so more pages of reading. Keep checking back, and I’ll let you know my progress.

Summer reading

Summer reading

Originally uploaded by SeanReadsHistory

I am making an attempt this summer to read the first four books of the Oxford History of the United States. I’ve already started The Glorious Cause. I will get more specific on the daily blog entries, but here is the stack of books. This looks to be fun.