04/09/07 - cleaning up

In today's excerpt - the job of cleaning up at Gettysburg. The battle had left fifty thousand dead, wounded or missing in a town of only 2,500. Four months later, in November of 1863, an estimated twenty thousand descended on this same small town to hear the oration of Edward Everett and a dedication by Abraham Lincoln:

"Eight thousand human bodies were scattered over, or (barely) under the ground. Suffocating teams of soldiers, Confederate prisoners and dragooned civilians slid the bodies beneath a minimal covering as fast as possible. ... Even after most bodies were lightly blanketed, the scene was repellent. A nurse shuddered at the all-too-visible 'rise and swell of human bodies' in these furrows war had plowed. A soldier noticed how earth 'gave' as he walked over the shallow trenches. Householders had to plant around the bodies in their fields and gardens or brace themselves to move the rotting corpses to another place. Soon these uneasy graves were being rifled by relatives looking for their dead—reburying other bodies that they turned up even more hastily (and less adequately) than had the first disposal crews. ...

"[For the November dedication ceremony] state delegations, civic organizations, military bands and units, were planning to charter trains and clog the roads, bringing at least ten thousand people to a town with poor resources for feeding and sheltering crowds. ... Governor Curtin [of Pennsylvania], starting from Harrisburg (thirty miles away) [took nine hours to make the trip]. ... Governor Ramsay of Minnesota started a week before the dedication, and was stranded, at 4:00 am on the day of delivery in Hanover Junction with 'no means of getting up to Gettysburg.' ...

"[On the eve of the speeches, chief orator Edward] Everett was already in residence at [host David] Wills' house and Governor Curtin's late arrival led Wills to suggest that the two men share a bed. ... Everett's daughter was sleeping with two other women, whose bed broke under their weight. William Saunders, who would have an honored place on the platform the next day, could find no bed and had to sleep sitting up in a crowded parlor."


Garry Wills


Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America


Simon and Schuster


Copyright 1992 by Literary Research, Inc.


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