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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

at Gettysburg

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Driving around the Gettysburg battlefield at sunset in mid-summer, itís hard to reconcile how so much death and suffering could have occurred in such a beautiful, peaceful place.

Fittingly, in the late evening when most of the daily thousands of visitors are gone and the fireflies appear, the Pennsylvania battleground with its more than 1,700 monuments and plaques seems more like an enormous cemetery than a national historic site commemorating a momentous military engagement. Indeed, more than 3,000 of the 7,000 or so soldiers who died here during the first three days of July 1863 lie buried nearby. Many are in unmarked, mass graves.

More American soldiers fell in one day of fighting during that pivotal Civil War battle than before or since.

Among the 157,000 soldiers who took part in the bloody clash (97,000 Northern soldiers versus 70,000 Confederates), were 1,303 Texans Ė members of the 1st, 4th and 5th Texas Infantry. They constituted just over 75 percent of Brig. Gen. J. B. Robertsonís so-called Texas Brigade, the remaining 24-plus percent being 426 men with the 3rd Arkansas Infantry. While a small component of the overall rebel force, the Texas Brigade fought hard and suffered greatly.

At Gettysburg, the brigade was part of what was known as Hoodís Division, since its overall commander was Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood, future namesake of Killeenís giant Fort Hood. (Hood got wounded in the fight, but survived.) The Texas Brigade took part in every major battle of the four-year war except Chancellorsville. Of 5,000-plus who served in the unit at one time or another, only 617 were around when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in April 1865.

But despite the Texas Brigade's earned reputation as the Southís shock troops, of all the many and varied monuments dotting the landscape at Gettysburg today, only four directly honor the fighting Texans and their Arkansas comrades.

The first Texas-related monument, a squat gray granite obelisk, went up in 1913 -- the 50th anniversary of the battle -- at the area along the Confederate battle line where the Texas troops had been gathered. Several thousand soldiers showed up for a blue and gray reunion that July, many of them from Texas.

Another half-century passed before the second Texas-related monument went up at the battlefield. That is a larger, though certainly not imposing, red granite monument dedicated in September 1964 during the centennial observance of the war. (In all, Texas placed 11 markers at battle sites across the South noting the role played by Lone Star soldiers.) The most salient portion of the state's Gettysburg marker reads:
From near this spot the Texas Brigade
at about 4:30 p.m. on July 2 crossed
Emmitsburg Road and advanced with
Hoodís Division across Plum Run toward
Little Round Top. The Texas Brigade
after severe fighting on the slopes
of Little Round Top retired to a
position on the south side of Devilís
Den. The Brigade held this position the
night of July 2 and during the day on
July 3 then fell back to a
position near this memorial on the
evening of July 3. On the field at
Gettysburg the Texas Brigade suffered
597 casualties.

Actually, more recent scholarship has identified 604 casualties. Though many people take "casualty" as a synonym for death, the military counts anyone killed, wounded, missing or captured as a casualty.

The Texas Brigade of 1,729 men had 152 killed, 312 wounded, and 128 missing or captured for a casualty rate of 32.8 percent. The highest casualty rate was sustained by the 5th Texas Infantry. Of its 409 men, 54 were killed, 112 wounded and 45 missing or captured for a staggering casualty rate of 51.6 percent. The 415-man 4th Texas Infantry had a 27 percent casualty rate with 28 killed, 53 wounded and 31 missing. The 1st Texas Infantry of 426 soldiers lost 29 killed, 46 wounded and 22 missing for a casualty rate of 22.8 percent. Finally, the 3rd Arkansas Infantry had 426 men and lost 42 killed, 101 wounded and 40 missing for a casualty rate of 38 percent.

In modern warfare, casualty calculations are more complicated, but by way of semi-comparison, from 2001 to 2010, the American military combat death rate in the Middle East was 27.7 men or women per 100,000 personnel. And of the wounded, roughly 90 percent survived. In other words, Gettysburg was a slaughter house.

The final line on the 1964 Texas marker reads: "Of all the gallant fights they [the Texas Brigade] made none was grander than Gettysburg."

In addition to the two monuments, two metal plaques on stone bases note the locations of Hood's and Robertson's headquarters at the battlefield.

Despite all the stone and metal at Gettysburg commemorating this or that unit or action, at the 1913 reunion Gen. Dan Sickels, the last surviving high-ranking Union officer who fought there captured the essence of the matter. When someone observed that no marker stood in his honor, the one-legged general unknowingly spoke for both blue and gray when he replied: "Hell, the whole battlefield is my monument."

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" July 6, 2016 column

Related topics:
World War II | World War I | Texas Monuments | Texas

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