(first posted in 2013)
This July is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought during the American Civil War. All summer, the Gettysburg area will be flooded with thousands of visitors curious about the bloodiest battle (50,000 casualties) ever fought by Americans.
There will be re-enactments, one in late June put on by the Blue Gray Alliance and the second in early July, hosted by The Gettysburg Anniversary Committee. Over 12,000 re-enactors are expected to participate in this historic event.
Sheila and I won’t get to Gettysburg this year, but our visit just before the 149th anniversary gave us a sobering look at the challenges faced by the infantry on both sides of the conflict.
The Pennsylvania terrain, with its rolling hills and valleys, as well as open fields, was perfect for well-positioned cannon. Whichever side placed its cannon first, dominated the area in front and below the artillery barrage. The cannon would fire, disrupt the advancing line of infantry and cause horrible damage. There were 630 cannons at Gettysburg, that some say, dictated the outcome.
The photo below shows the extent of the cover available to soldiers involved in Pickett’s Charge, the last major fight at Gettysburg. No boulders, no buildings, just grass and split rail fencing standing between the Confederate Infantry and the cannon/bullets flying from Cemetery Ridge.
Soldiers at Gettysburg carried a variety of rifles, most notably Sharps, Burnsides, Merrills, Ballards, Maynards, and Spencer Muskets and Repeaters, as well as the Enfield Musket. An expert rifleman could shoot and reload a single shot musket three times a minute, but in battle conditions, less often. During Pickett’s Charge, the Union had rotating groups of four men taking shots and reloading in turn. The Confederates marched up the rise in single line waves over a hundred men wide, having little opportunity to reload while under fire and fully exposed.
Over 12,500 Confederate infantry assaulted the Union position above them. Cannon fired from both ends of the ¾ mile field, attempting to soften the opposition, but cannon and rifle fire created smoke rising from the field and obscured the view of any Union targets. By the midway point for the Confederates crossing the field, shooting was blind. Although they made a courageous effort, few of the Confederate soldiers ever made it past the stone wall at the High Water Mark.
During the upcoming re-enactment of this famous struggle, re-enactors will be required to have their rifles inspected before they can enter the battlefield. No modern weapons will be allowed. Any re-enactor who does not wish his weapon to be inspected, will not be permitted on the field. Commanders will not inspect the weapons of their own men, so as to prevent even the appearance of favoritism.
No dirt can be in the rifle barrels, ramrods can only be used by the safety inspectors, no bullets (or other projectiles) can be in the barrels, limits on firing range distances will be imposed, among many other safety regulations.
Why all the precautions? Less careful enforcement of the rules and guidelines of former re-enactments resulted in re-enactors getting shot or injured. Bullets had been left behind in weapons before re-enactments began, among other safety violations.
If you can’t make it to the re-enactments this summer, add a trip to Gettysburg to your bucket list for the future. The Battle of Gettysburg was a defining moment in American history and the National Military Park underscores the sacrifices that soldiers make for us every time they put on the uniform.
*Photos taken by Patti Phillips
Our concrete driveway developed a few cracks after a lousy winter of plummeting temperatures and icy conditions. The breaks kept getting wider and holes started opening up, a disaster waiting to happen. Patching the worst of the areas with the ready mix stuff didn’t work anymore. When my neighbor tripped and staggered against my truck one day, barely avoiding a full-out fall, common sense told me that it was time to call the experts.
A local contractor had done a really good job of laying sidewalks for us a few years before, so we called him again. He gave us an estimate (ouch) and started work the next week. The jackhammers and sledge hammers pounded away all day, workers carried away truck loads of the broken concrete slabs, sink holes were filled, and the ground underneath was readied for the pouring of the new driveway.
A huge truck arrived early the next morning with 20 tons (can that be right?) of cement spinning in that enormous rotating drum. All for us. Sheila and I were amazed that we would need that much of the stuff for our normal-sized driveway.
As the guys got to work pouring the mix and spreading it around, I had a chance to look at their feet. The crew was wearing rubber boots and at times, they had trouble moving in the muck. ‘Cement shoes’ came to my crime-oriented mind.
Every once in a while in movies or TV shows from the 70s and 80s, we heard the term ‘cement shoes’ mentioned in connection with mob hits. It referred in part to a method whereby ‘enforcers’ got rid of bodies. The victims would be tied to a concrete weight and tossed into a nearby lake or river. Sometimes, the victim’s feet would be encased in concrete. The longer the body stayed underwater, the less likely identification would be possible, and the more likely that the murderer could get away with the crime.
In real life, crimes (and even accidents) including concrete, can also involve active construction sites.
There is a persistent Hoover Dam myth that will not go away, despite steadfast, repeated denial from experts and the Hoover Dam authorities since the 1930s. Workers are supposed to have been buried while the concrete was being poured. No evidence has ever been produced to support that theory, yet tour guides still fend off questions from curious vacationers about the supposed bodies beneath their feet.
But, in December, 2012, a concrete worker was found buried in recently poured concrete in California. The victim had been killed with a shotgun, then stuffed in a hole before being covered with several inches of the cement. The chief suspect lived and worked at the site where the body was found.
Then there was the Georgia case. In October, 2012, a body placed in a plastic storage bin, then encased in concrete, was found buried in a backyard. The suspects first told their father that they put a dog they didn’t like, in that spot. It turned out that the dog in question belonged to the body entombed in the concrete.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have access to that amount of concrete. But, my contractor does. I wonder what lies beneath his piles of old slabs in the driveway graveyard? Glad I paid the bill in full.
*Photos by Patti Phillips
What would you do if you found your neighbor lying in the driveway? No blood, no sign of foul play, just Sally, flat on her back taking a snooze on the concrete.
Would you call 911 first? Or try to help her while she’s on the ground?
Whatever you do to help, do it fast. If Sally’s had a stroke or a heart attack, speed is important. Average response time nationwide (from the time the dispatcher contacts the EMS to the time they arrive on the scene) is 8-10 minutes – longer if you live in a rural area. Do CPR if you’re certified, or are told by the dispatcher how to do it. Don’t move the person, but it’s okay to keep them warm with a blanket or jacket until the ambulance comes.
911 dispatchers listen to panic calls a lot. People gasp, “I think he’s dead,” or “She’s not breathing…” The callers are often just too scared to get close enough to the person to find out for sure. Dispatchers contact the police and/or the ambulance squad who then go to assess the situation and do what’s needed.
Sometimes, when we weren’t busy working a case, the job fell to my partner and me. When we were First Responders and saw a body on the ground, my partner made sure the ambulance was on its way and I checked to see if he/she was still warm and breathing. One of the gals in the vice squad said she put a mirror under the nose of the possibly dead guy/gal to see if it fogged up. She swore that even if breathing was shallow, she could tell for sure one way or the other. I never carried a mirror in my pocket, but it worked for her.
If I couldn’t see the chest rising or falling, I checked for a pulse. The best spot was on the neck, to the left or right of the windpipe, up near the jaw. I usually got a pretty strong beat there. My partner liked to press on the inside of the wrist, but I never could find my pulse on my own wrist, so I stuck with placing two fingers on the neck.
With any luck at all, and a little help from her friends, Sally will get a ride to the hospital instead of the morgue.
I had to check a couple of bodies while I was on vacation in Jamaica, but they were way past needing help from anyone. Murder is messy and I hope you never come across a scene like that.
*Photos taken by Patti Phillips