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Jefferson Davis tossing in his bed,
Can’t get the woes out of his head.
Vicksburg’s in trouble, supplies are running low,
War clouds over Richmond, and they ain’t just for show.

"Tomorrow morning the war conference starts.
We’ve got to do something to strengthen Southern hearts.
Our land is torn, the crops gone to seed,
The mills can’t keep up with the army’s need."

"If only England would come on our side.
How long will it take for London to decide?
Too bad they’ve a surplus of our cotton.
Send them more and it’ll get rotten."

"The one thing needful is a great victory.
Frighten the pants off the enemy.
Give their peace party more of a clout.
Force old Lincoln to call, ‘Time out.’"

"Then this terrible war will cease,
And I can take off and visit my niece.
The Confederacy will be a nation
Second to none in God’s creation."

Lee arrived at half past eleven
To meet with Davis and Secretary Seddon.
They had hoped to persuade him to Vicksburg go forth.
Instead he proposed to invade the North.

"I will march into Pennsylvania, deep in Washington’s rear,
Where a victory will cost them dear.
It will remove the invader from the Virginia region
During the vital harvest season.
We’ll accomplish the fall of the Northern capital,
And encourage foreign intervention against the Federal."

Davis and Seddon were impressed.
They called for the cabinet to be addressed.
The members all agreed with the gray-bearded general,
Whose fame, they said, in the world is venerable.
"He has logic, he is invincible.
We stand behind him in substance and principle."

All except Postmaster General Reagan from Tennessee,
Who quaked for the disaster if the South lost the Mississippi.
He tried to convince Davis and his fellow cabinet members of his view:
Move against Grant in the West and destroy him on cue.

But Reagan saw he was losing ground
The aura of Lee was too profound.
"I can’t go up against this champ.
His business is war -- mine, a postage stamp.
Ah, well, I gave them my say.
Now it’s time to decide the way."

Davis and the others heard both men out.
The vote was taken that left no doubt.
None of them from his conscience did waiver;
The vote was five to one in the general’s favor.

Northern chorus:
"General Lee from ole Virginny,
Thinks more of his state than of the Confederacy.
Sick of seeing Virginia laid low,
So to the North he will go."

The Army of the Potomac, "Fighting Joe Hooker" in command;
Just two months before, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had defeated them grand
At a place in Virginia called Chancellorsville.
While Lincoln went looking for a new man to fill the bill,
General Joe Hooker was general still.
Now reinforced and recuperated,
Ninety thousand troops at arms watched Lee and waited.

Lieutenant General James Longstreet left his position,
Went to see Lee with a proposition.
"We should receive rather than deliver the attack when the two armies come to grips, wherever that may be,
Forcing the Federals to give us battle when we are in strong position and ready to receive them; that’s the key."

Lee heard him out with courtesy,
Which Longstreet mistook for an "I agree."
Lee intended no such thing, of course,
Whereby trouble was stored up for the whole Rebel force.

Next in the ear of General Lee
Was Jeb Stuart, his chief of cavalry.
"I suggest that I cross the Potomac and move into Hooker’s rear,
The better to annoy and delay him when he comes near."

Lee approved, but was very frank:
"I need you back to guard my right flank.
You must keep me informed where Hooker’s army lies,
And screen my movements from his eyes."

Southern chorus:
"General Lee, make it clear to the man, no ‘ifs’ or ‘mays.’
You want Stuart back within three days.
Don’t give him the chance to use his discretion,
Or else he will go on a glorious raid to make an impression.
In your heart and in your mind,
You know without him you are blind."

Stuart crossed the river to the east and went forth,
But the Union army had crossed the river to the west and gotten north.
While the cavalry was off on its mission,
Lee knew not the enemy’s position.

The Confederate army left without delay,
Up through South Mountain and out of VA,
Across the Mason-Dixon line,
And into Pennsylvania, right on time.

General Longstreet’s I Corps first in line.
General Ewell’s II Corps not far behind.
A.P. Hill’s III Corps riding in their wake.
Seventy-five thousand for the Confederacy’s sake.

With Stuart and his cavalry gone,
Lee lost the eyes he depended on,
And asked everyone he met,
"Any news from Stuart yet?"

"Any news from Stuart yet?" for a week became his cry,
But no one he asked could return an affirmative reply.
To make matters worse, when days passed without word from his cavalry ace,
Lee falsely assumed the Union army had not left its base.

The Confederate army was dispersed far and wide,
Not knowing that Hooker’s whole army was massed near their side.
If Lee did not concentrate fast,
Hooker would destroy his army at last.

On the eve of the momentous battle in the land,
President Lincoln relieved Joe Hooker from command.
The Army of the Potomac, as decreed,
Fell under the charge of George Gordon Meade.

General Meade, cold and austere,
A reliable soldier who did not easily fear.
Hardly known in the rank and file,
To inspire and dazzle was not his style.
He laid out his plan without musing:
Make Lee attack him on the ground of Meade’s own choosing.

The army generals on both sides
Had something hidden in their hides --
Country, honor, pride, and right,
But something more that makes them fight.
Have you seen their pictures in the books?
Don’t be fooled by their distinguished looks.
Behind that gentlemanly stare
Killer instincts burn and flare.
Make one mistake and like a flood
They’ll strike you there to draw your blood.

Lee’s presence in Pennsylvania caused panic in the North.
The politicians in Washington paced back and forth.
And the residents of the Keystone State?
Some fled while others did nervously wait.
Civilians of all sizes and ages did fuss and cuss.
"There will be shooting and killing; what will become of us?"

On June 28, 1863
(Even the dates in rhyme must be)
Lee learned from a spy named Harrison
Of the location and strength of the Union garrison,
Learned they were led by General Meade.
Now Lee would have to take more heed. 

"General Meade will commit no blunder on my front.
And if I make one he will take advantage of it. He won’t be reluctant."

Confederate couriers galloped through the night
To get the scattered corps drawn up tight.
All the roads led to a small country town
Destined to become a place of renown
The name of the town: Gettysburg.


Day One --
Here comes the sun.
The morning saw A.P. Hill’s III Corps on the Cashtown Pike,
Marching eastward to Gettysburg -- yikes!
The town possessed a supply of shoes,
And the Confederates needed them; their own were sorely used.

Buford’s cavalry blocked the road,
Firing carbines and cannon as fast as they could load.
"Cavalry against an army corps, did you say?
Wipe them up fast and continue on our way."
But the cavalry held them off for five hours
‘Til the Union infantry arrived in their powers.

It was hot as a cooker on that summer day.
The troops cast off their packs as they rushed on their way.
Sweat poured down their bodies and dust flew up from their feet.
Many were tired and ‘stroked by the heat.
But on to Gettysburg was the decision,
So, thousands of soldiers marched toward the point of collision.

General Buford heaved a big sigh;
The Union I Corps was coming up nigh.
"It’s about time; I could hold them no more.
General Reynolds will now have to take o’er."

Mounted on his horse, next to a tree,
Reynolds lined up his troops against Hill’s advancing infantry.
He then sent word back, "On the double, hurry up,
The battle is flaring up." 

A Rebel soldier spied him and said,
"Now there’s an important looking Fed,"
Loaded his musket, rammed down the lead,
Drew a bead on the general and shot him dead.

Command passed on to Doubleday
Who fed fresh troops into the fray.
Hill with more men than he,
Kept piling them in relentlessly.

Army divisions marched miles at a rapid pace
To meet the enemy face to face.
Streaming with sweat and panting for breath,
Some destined for mercy, others for death.

The Union I Corps held on savagely,
But suffered fearful casualties.
After noon a division of Ewell’s II Corps came down from Carlisle
To hit the Union right flank in strength and style.
Howard’s XI Corps came up just in time,
And a battle rolled and crashed all along the line.

The Federal troops could barely hold.
Then more pressure began to unfold.
Jubal Early of Ewell’s II Corps, hurrying westward from York,
Struck Howard’s right flank and popped its cork.

Heads were taken off by cannon balls,
Volleys felled attacking troops as if they were dolls.
Advancing troops in perfect, straight lines did lie,
Some fallen to the front, others fallen backwards to die.

Bodies shattered to pieces by artillery,
Arms and legs torn away like debris.
In the fields of wheat and rye,
Bullets pierced flesh and men dropped down to die.

On the ridges, in the plain,
Bodies sprawled in death or pain.
"Water, water," moaned the wounded.
But no one could help them, and die they soon did. 

Some wounded, crawling on hands and feet,
Stretched themselves out and died in the heat.
Men fought to the death to defend their flags,
Flags shot up so bad they were naught but rags.

The blood ran like a branch all around,
And that, too, on the hot, parched ground.

Lee reached the scene and took over the helm.
He saw that the Federals were overwhelmed.
Howard’s XI Corps had had their fill;
They retreated through Gettysburg to safety on Cemetery Hill.
Doubleday’s I Corps, too, could not hold their ground
And took off for Gettysburg and ran through the town.

The Confederates stormed in mightily after them.
In the streets and alleys was pure mayhem --
Bullets flying everywhere,
Battle smoke hanging in the air,
Soldiers lost and confused,
Rebels and Yanks mingled and bruised.

Doubleday’s men had their fill
And followed their brothers up Cemetery Hill.

Acting on the troubling news he had gathered,
Meade at once pulled his army together.
He sent General Winfield Hancock to assume command of the army
And report back if Gettysburg was the place to fight the enemy.

Hancock arrived just as the beaten Feds were assembling on high ground.
He got them into position and reported that this was a very good place they found.
He settled down to hold the place
Until the rest of the army showed its face.
He feared that Lee would renew the assault,
But, surprise of surprises, the Rebel army came to a halt.

Southern chorus:
"A.P. Hill, take Cemetery Hill.
It’s yours for the taking still.
Take that hill, A.P. Hill.
He who owns it wins the till."

Lee conferred with Hill about sending his troops to the attack.
Hill complained they were exhausted and ready to hit the sack.
Lee pressed not the issue.
"All right, we shall miss you."

Next, Lee thought Ewell would be able.
"Carry that hill if you find it practicable."

Southern chorus:
"General Lee, don’t give a discretionary order.
Be specific, not ‘you oughter...sort’er.’
Tell them, ‘Take Cemetery Hill at all costs!’
They’re the subordinates, you’re the boss."

"And you, General Ewell?
Cemetery Hill is a jewel.
You can storm it, you can do it.
If you don’t try, they’ll say that you blew it."

But Ewell found the order vague
And decided not to move a leg.
Ewell’s lieutenants, disappointed and amazed,
Protested, but obeyed.

General Lee mopped his brow;
Here comes Longstreet to see him now.
"General, your plan to attack the enemy on those heights
Is not what we agreed upon before we came here to fight."

Longstreet said on, "Sir, you must listen to me,
Meade has us where he wants us to be.
He on the heights, we on the plain.
We stand to lose, he to gain.
He is anxious that we should attack,
A good reason in my mind for holding back." 

"Ah me," thought Lee, "Where is my power?
If only Old Jack were here for an hour.
But my trusted Stonewall’s been shot dead;
I now have Longstreet in his stead."

Lee replied as though his hearing was dim,
"If the enemy is there tomorrow, we must attack him.
We have won this day, it appears,
But in terms of position, we are in arrears."

Longstreet demurred.
Had not Lee heard?
"Let’s move around to his weak spot, his left,
And force him to attack us where we select.
Forget those heights; we must fight him on the defensive.
Meade’s army, not his position, is our objective."

Seeing Lee’s determination was stuck,
Longstreet decided not to push his luck.
"Tomorrow I will renew my plea.
Manana...manana...manana is good enough for me."

Most of the Union army was at hand,
Ready to make a determined stand.
The rest of the blue flood was on its way,
Would arrive by noon the next day.

Meanwhile from the hills south of town,
General Meade with his glass looked down.
"What a sight!
What a strong defensive position from which to fight.
I am pleased with what I see.
Tomorrow from up here I will fight with Lee,
And he from down there will contend with me."


Day Two -- the sun wakes up the sky,
Sends slanting rays where sleeping armies lie.
Men from exhausted sleep or sleepless night do crawl
In answer to the reveille call.

Longstreet went to see his chief
And anxiously took up his beef:

"Move around to the south, past the Union left flank, and strike to Meade’s rear."
Lee replied, "Without Stuart’s cavalry to scout, I know not how many men Meade’s got near.
Any news from Stuart yet?
He’s close at hand by now, I’ll bet."

"Forget Stuart, sir; he’s out of the picture.
When he shows, you can give him a lecture.
He’s up at Carlisle, miles to the north and on his way,
But he and his horsemen we won’t have today."

Lee thought a moment with care.
"Without my cavalry, your move I cannot dare.
No. The enemy is there,
And I am going to fight him there."

Just south of Gettysburg the battle would take place,
The armies in position face to face.
The line the armies took to fight
Looked like a fish hook standing on its eye with barb to the right.

The Confederates were to the west and north of Meade.
From there they waited for the word to proceed.

Ewell’s corps in the north below the hills
Faced Howard’s and Slocum’s corps upon Cemetery and Culp’s Hills.

Hill’s corps to the west on Seminary Ridge
Faced Hancock’s corps along Cemetery Ridge.

Longstreet’s corps to the west was a skip and two hops
From Sykes’ and Sickles’ corps near two mounds called the Round Tops.

Pickett’s Confederate division was coming on from the west,
While Sedgewick’s corps was marching to join Meade without rest.

The morning passed with no action
Until Union General Sickles committed a small infraction.
He abandoned Little Round Top, a haven of protection,
And moved his men to a place he thought was a better selection.

Longstreet seeing the move, of course,
Hit Sickles with overwhelming force.
In a peach orchard and a wheat field
The Union III Army Corps reeled.
Sickles’ leg was shattered.
Reinforcements were all that now mattered.

Meade ordered Hancock to go the rescue.
Blood ran red on the blades of fescue.
The Federals tried to hold on in the "Devil’s Den,"
A jumble of rocks well named by men.
With bullets ricocheting like bees ‘round a hive,
It’s a wonder that anyone came out alive.
We do not kid;
Not many did.

Meade called Sykes’ corps into action
To save his left flank from extinction.
Hood’s division of Longstreet’s I Corps towards Little Round Top hurried.
If they took it, the entire Union position on Cemetery Ridge would be buried.

But Major General Warren of the Engineers
Saw them coming and took off for volunteers.
He ran into an advance Union brigade and artillery,
And ordered them to the top of the Round Top in a hurry.
By the narrowest margin imaginable,
The Confederate assault was rendered null.

Meade’s left flank was saved,
But it had been a damned close shave.

The Confederates kept coming on infuriated.
In many places they almost penetrated.
The Union troops held on as bosses
And in the process suffered fearful losses.

The attacks at the northern end did equally abound.
Slocum’s XII Corps beat off four attacks without giving ground.
Ewell’s men up the steep wooded slopes of Culp’s Hill did climb,
But could not make it to the crest in time.

In midafternoon, Lee looked to the north and what did he see?
Stuart coming with the cavalry
Out of the wild blue yonder.
Now, that was a sight of wonder.

"Greetings, General Lee, look what we have captured for you:
Prisoners, wagon trains, and loaded with supplies, too."
Lee replied with a wrinkled brow,
"What good are those things to me now?"
Lee did not censure nor complain,
But, as a father, welcomed Stuart back again.
"Forget it. Come on now, help me get those people.
This is our last chance, and we are able."

But Stuart’s men and horses were in jaded condition.
They needed a rest before taking up position.
General Longstreet had been right;
Today the cavalry was unable to fight.

Dusk fell and the day surrendered.
Yet General Early led his men up a ravine to smash the place defended.
They broke through and overran Howard’s XI Corps’ artillery on Cemetery Hill.
But as darkness came on, Hancock sent a brigade over, which fit the bill.
The Confederates, who would have won fame if they succeeded,
Were driven back to whence they proceeded.

Silenced now the sounds of missiles whizzing ‘round the soldiers’ ears,
Agonies of the injured, their screams and tears,
Thuds as bodies are punctured by lead,
Attacks that turn bayonets a liquid blood red,
Clubbing a musket against a head,
Cannonballs crashing, caissons exploding,
Men like demons firing, reloading.
The casualties on this second day were worse
Than they had been on the first.

As a full moon shone through the smoke-stained air,
A council of war did Meade prepare.
In a little farmhouse, a headquarters of sorts,
The Union commanders gave their reports.
They all said that they had suffered heavy losses,
But if Lee attacked on the morrow
They could hold their ground -- beg, steal, or borrow.

Did we say "if?" Change that to "when."
For to a man they expected Lee would attack again.
As long as a chance of victory did remain,
He would live up to his fighting name.

Lee and his generals did not sit around and moan;
They held a powwow of their own.
After many a desperate attempt, they had inflicted heavy losses, fine,
But suffered dreadful losses, too, and failed to break the Union line.

"Gentlemen, we have got to strike one more blow.
Pickett’s division and Stuart’s cavalry are here and ready to go.
Listen up, men;
Here’s what we will do and when:
Tomorrow Pickett reinforced will hit Meade’s center for the kill,
While Ewell renews the assault on Culp’s Hill,
And Stuart curls around their right
And disrupts their rear to divert their fight.
With coordination second to none,
The day will be won."

With the best laid plans of armies in tow,
The generals, soldiers, and their horses to sleep did go.


Day Three --

What happened next we shall see.

Dawn came and birds began to trill.
To the north, General Ewell’s men renewed their attack on Culp’s Hill.
But their attack proceeded without coordination;
Pickett and his troops were not yet in position.

The Union defenders poured down upon them deadly musket fire.
The Confederate soldiers had to give up and retire
To the plains below to moan.
The last try for the heights was blown.

When Stuart’s cavalry attacked their rear at midday,
The Yankee cavalry drove them away.

Morning passed with sporadic fire.
The Union army waited for the next event to transpire.
The sun beat down upon the ground.
The fighting on Culp’s Hill died away; noon turned around.
Suddenly the great tension unwound.
Boom! All ears heard a cannon sound.

A puff of white smoke drifted up to the sky
From a Confederate gun in the peach orchard nearby.
Boom! Another shell, one more --
The signal that Lee’s artillery was waiting for.

From every gun the Confederates had came one long rolling crash,
Aimed for the enemy -- their heads to bash.
One hundred forty cannon lined up to the north a mile,
Began a bombardment in the grand style.

Thunder came down over Gettysburg,
So loud it was heard in Pittsburgh.
‘Twas the Confederate cannons their wrath pouring forth,
Seeking to blast holes in the artillery and infantry of the North.
An equal number of federal guns did pound.
The barrage tore up the ground.

Terrifying as it was to hear,
The balls passed over the Union heads and hit the rear,
Causing casualties to the artillery, supply trains, and tents,
But hardly a scratch to the troops in defense,
Who dug their nails into the ground
Whenever a shell hit the rocks all around.

For an hour, some say two,
The Union infantry naught could do,
But pray to God to get them through.

A smoke bank hung on the ground so low
That no side could see the other below
Until the Confederate’s ammunition ran low;
The smoke lifted, and what a show.

Lee looked east across the plain.
That look on his face, could it be pain?
The Federal army behind rocks was barricaded.
"A frontal assault will succeed if properly led and coordinated.
Go to it, General Longstreet, do,
And may God go with you."

Tough Longstreet surveyed the Union line,
Shook his head and to himself remarked (though not in rhyme),
"General Lee, General Lee,
Have you lost touch with reality?
A frontal assault on a position entrenched?
Why, there’s no army arrayed can do it without getting wrenched."

But no more to his commander-in-chief did he say.
He saw that Lee’s mind was made up that day.
The responsibility of command was on Lee.
Longstreet’s job was to obey to a "T."
Having made his assessment clear,
He was not about to cry in his beer.
"I would not order this charge deluxe;
That’s why Lee gets paid the big bucks."

Pickett’s division of Longstreet’s I Corps would co-lead the charge
With brother regiments joining the cause.

General Pickett up to Longstreet did prance.
"General, shall I advance?"
Longstreet, choked, unable to speak the order,
Just bowed his head in a gesture to go forward.

Up from the ground they arose,
To win a mighty triumph over their foes.
They took off to strike the strongest part of the Union line,
And on the way would be targets prime.
The flower of Lee’s army, keyed
To defeat the flower of the army of Meade.

Union soldiers on the eastern ridge looked west.
What they saw could not have been guessed.
The Confederate troops out of the trees and shadows appear;
A sight that could only instill fear.
Lined up in double and triple rank,
A solid mile from flank to flank.

The Army of Northern Virginia advancing now;
To crush the Yankees was their vow.
Red flags they waved, "Here we come."
Their barrels and bayonets gleamed in the sun.
Fifteen thousand men, look see,
Passed through the Confederate artillery,

Walked into the open field,
Paused and formed up with no intent to yield.
Their faces set, their lips pursed,
Nearly a mile they had to traverse.

The Union artillery waited, for their long range shells were gone;
They had only grape and canister to depend upon.
Bide your time cannoneers,
Soon you will be the cause of many tears
In the Southland where friends and families yearn
For boys and men who will never return.
Likewise, you mothers dear
In the northern tier
Will get letters that will pain you:
"Your son has been killed in action in Pennsylvania."

The long Confederate lines crossed Emmitsburg Road,
Paused again, their guns to load.
Mercurius stood at eighty-seven degrees.
The command was given, "March toward that little clump of trees."
They did as they were bidden.
That’s where the center and strongest of the Union line
(Hancock’s I Corps) was hidden --
Behind a low stone wall, topped by fence rails.
Their orders: Knock the wind out of the Rebels’ sails.

When they reached the halfway mark,
The Union muskets began to bark.
A brigade of Vermonters curled forward and opened fire.
The impact on the Confederate right flank was dire.

On the left flank, a similar story:
Ohio troops caught the soldiers and made them sorry.
The two ends of the Confederate line crowded into the center,
And kept coming forward, the Union line to enter.

Hancock’s artillery now joined the fight
And sent a blast of canister into the Southern might,
Which hit the Confederates at their core.
From the battlefield there went up a roar
That sounded like a wounded bear
Knapsacks, muskets, and body fragments were tossed high in the air.

Longstreet, looking on from the rear,
Remarked to an observer, "Our end is near."
The observer retorted, "It’s not over till it’s over, as they say."
To which Longstreet replied, "How I wish you prove me wrong today."

The Confederate center came on close and strong,
Then halted and fired a volley into the Federal throng.
The fighting here was full of fury.
Pickett’s men broke in across the stone wall and fired point-blank at the defending infantry.
Some of the defenders were overwhelmed and withdrew
As numbers of Confederate soldiers got through.

The Confederates tried to seize
The little clump of trees,
Tried to overrun the position and hold the ground gained
Until help came.

The smoke was blinding, choking --
Threats and curses thus invoking.
The Confederates were crowding in;
Keep it up and they would win.

But numbers of soldiers told the story,
Not individual power and glory.
The Union army had many more,
Who were sent in on the double to even the score.
They came in swarms,
Discharging their firearms.
Even those regiments who had withdrawn back
Regained their nerve and opened a sharp counterattack.

The crowd became so dense
That some of the Union reinforcements hit their own men inside the fence.
And Confederate cannon shells
Blindly struck down Confederates as well.

General Hancock, riding up to restore his force,
Was shot off his horse.
General Armistead had led the men that broke the Federal alliance.
He was waving his sword, urging his men on -- a great figure of defiance.
But the incoming Federal tide
Mortally wounded him, and on the battlefield he died.

The climax was passed for the Reb.
The Confederate high-water mark was reached and began to ebb.

Lee and Longstreet could see the debris
Like a wave crashing on the shore and flowing back to the sea.
The charge was broken.
What returned was a token
Of the men that had started out. But it was not a rout.
The Confederate soldiers still had clout.
They went back sullenly but not unglued,
Ready to turn and fight if the Yankees pursued.

No need to worry on that day;
The Federal soldiers were happy to watch their enemies go away.
They were exhausted from beating back
The supreme effort of Lee’s attack.

From his headquarters across a brook,
General Meade rode forward to have a look.
He saw the field littered with bodies and debris,
And learned that his soldiers had won a great victory.
He took off his hat, ready to shout aloud,
Then thought better of it and said, "Thank God."

On the other side of the battlefield large,
General Lee rode forward to rally the men who had made the charge.
His heart was broken;
These words he has spoken:
"It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault.
Instead of Go! I should have said Halt!"

Then to himself he said,
"I should have stayed home in bed.
Ah, what’s the use of ‘ifs,’ ‘shoulds,’ and ‘buts,’
The men acted bravely and showed their guts.
Now will come the Monday morning quarterbacks
Ready and willing to fault our attacks --
Those who are looking for someone to blame,
And others seeking to lift their own name.
Oh, well, let them foam.
We gave it our best; now let us go home.

Here’s what was said by one old Rebel vet:
"Don’t fret so, boys, Old Robert’ll get us to Washington yet."

Northern chorus:
"General Meade, now that Lee has fallen back,
Go after him. Attack! Attack!
Don’t let his army get away
So they can fight another day.
Destroy Lee’s army before it gets over the border.
Then, not only the battle, but the war will be over in short order.
Crush it now; once and for all make it a goner,
And Washington will throw a grand ball in your honor."

The thought did cross General Meade’s mind,
But he was not so inclined.
"General Lee’s army is dug in,
And we are exhausted to the skin.
He wants us to pursue an attack.
Not on your life; he can wallop us back.
I will not be the cause of this great victory turning into shame,
And allow a defeated Lee to rise to higher fame.
To have held him back is one thing, great.
To attack him now would be a mistake.
Let me rest and tarry,
Lest he turn and rend me."

Lee forded the Potomac without listing,
Almost a third of his army killed, wounded, or missing.
Meade’s losses were slightly greater.
The impact of what happened would come later.

A simple conclusion to three days in the sun:
Lee had lost, Meade had won.
General Lee, a brilliant strategist, indeed;
At Gettysburg he met his match in Meade.

Northern chorus:
"Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the queen.
Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair." 


A few days later nude, leafless trees meet the eye.
Bullet-ridden trunks seem to sigh.
Bird nests are empty; their residents have hit the skies.
The ground below with broken branches is disguised.
Rolling plough-land is furrowed by cannon balls,
The boulders pocked by ricochet spalls.
But otherwise peace has returned;
The meeting between the two armies has adjourned.

A woodchuck comes crawling out of the ground,
Sits up on his haunches and looks around.
He sees men lying on the grass like beeves,
Wonders what tricks they have up their sleeves.

The Gettysburgians relieved, heave great sighs,
Help bury the dead and return to their lives.
Photographers come to snap their frames
Of the puffed up, bloated remains
Of men and horses dead on the grass,
Their bellies like balloons filled with gas.

Lee did not lose the South’s esteem,
And Meade did not gain the North’s, it seems.
President Davis received double news
That gave him a case of the St. Louis blues.
In the West Vicksburg had fallen, in the North Lee had lost.
Davis did not despair. But what a blow! What a cost!
He straightened his shoulders, pulled up his chin.
"There will be other battles to win.
General Lee had a bad day, that’s all.
The South will prevail, do you hear me, you all?"

And what of General Meade? Did he become a hero?
Au contraire-o.
After his great victory that day,
Here’s what Lincoln had to say:
He said it through Old Brains Halleck, his general-in-chief,
And it provoked Meade to anger and grief.
"I need hardly say to you," Halleck wired,
"That the escape of Lee’s army without another battle has made the President greatly ired.
It will require an active and energetic pursuit on your part to remove the impression.
So, get on the ball, attack him and end the Secession."

General Meade with indignation
Tendered his resignation.
But Washington cooled off and accepted it not.
Meade retained his general’s slot.

Four months later, no more, no less,
President Lincoln paid the battlefield a visit and delivered his Address.
Those under the sod
Did not applaud.
A few brazen crows watched, perched on wooden crosses lined up in rows.
Nervous squirrels nibbled last mouthfuls before the winter snows.
They cared nothing for the dead;
The living are the ones to dread.

The battle is now a long time gone.
No one is left of father or son,
Of sweetheart, friend, coward, or brave.
All have been gathered to the grave.

The North fought to keep the country federated,
While the South fought for the right to be separated.
Distanced from us by so many a year,
We marvel at what to the soldiers was so dear
As to make them fight so bravely, even hand to hand.
It is so hard to understand—

We who never fought can never know
The horrors of that battle long ago.

Soldiers, companies, regiments have their stories
Of shame, defeats, heroics, and glories.
But this is the Gettysburgiad,
Not the Iliad.
So here we end our poem
And like General Lee we now go home. 

Want to know the rest, hey?
Read the records of the Blue and Gray.


(Copyright 1998, Stephen J. Milioti)

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