Civil War

KN, p. 56 “How many cannons at Gettysburg?”


Cannon located along the line of trees on Seminary Ridge.


Our trip to Gettysburg started with a stop at the Visitor’s Center where we picked up guide books and maps of the Gettysburg National Military Park. We decided to take the self-guided tour through the 6,000 acres of battlefields so that we could take plenty of photos and move at our own pace. Our plan was to follow the maps in order of the original battles 149 years ago. We had three days to get it done.


It’s tough not to be struck by the different terrain the soldiers had to deal with – gradual hills, wide fields cut with a few split rail fences, tree covered rocky outcroppings. It was sunny and hot during our drive, so weather conditions were pretty similar to that of the soldiers back then. Except we were wearing shorts, had on comfortable shoes, carried plenty of water, and we were traveling by car. The Union and Confederate soldiers were not as well equipped.


There were cannons everywhere. The guidebooks said that over 650 guns were hauled into the area by both horses and men. Much of the artillery seen on the hills today saw use during the Gettysburg campaigns.


There are a few reasons that cannons played a big role at Gettysburg:

*The constant, deafening level of noise was meant to demoralize the infantry waiting for orders to cross the open fields.

*Holding the high ground was easier with the cannons firing from close to a mile away, cutting down soldiers before they moved in on the hill.

*The large percentage of rifled guns meant that cannons could be fired with greater accuracy over a distance than the smoothbore cannons. That resulted in more damage to more men in the enemy camp with minimal risk to your own side.


This is a cast iron rifled gun, stamped (starting clockwise at 12:00) with the serial number of the gun, the manufacturer, the year of production, the weight of the gun, and last, the inspector’s initials (9:00).


Rear view of cannon, showing knob used to adjust the angle of the cannon, which changes the range of the shot.


Statue in honor of men who fired and maintained the cannons, valuable pieces of equipment at Gettysburg.


Downtown Gettysburg building. The small flag shows the location of a cannonball fired during one of the skirmishes through town.




My dad (who served in the infantry in WW2) told me once that basic training included crawling under barbed wire during live ammo fire from either artillery or rifles firing across the fields in front of the soldiers. If you panicked and stood up, you were dead.


At Gettysburg, if a soldier had a grudge against a guy in his outfit, it would not have been that hard to shoot him in the back during one of the charges. Who would have bothered to check each body to see where the kill shot came from, when thousands of guys lay dead in the fields?


Field Cannons



*Source: Holt, Betsy. “Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center: Official Guidebook,” Nashville, Tennessee, Beckon Books, 2011.


*Source: Newton, George W. “Silent Sentinels: A Reference Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg,” New York, NY, Savas Beatie LLC, 2005.



*Photos by Patti Phillips




KN, p. 55 “Murder During the Civil War.”

It’s Summer and for us that means road trips to nearby American battlefields to learn about our military history or to watch a reenactment. New Jersey has plenty of battlegrounds because of the Revolutionary War, but since I have more time on my hands these days, we decided to drive to rural Pennsylvania, to the area where the bloodiest battle of the Civil War was fought 149 years ago – Gettysburg.

We discovered at the Visitor’s Center that there were over 50,000 casualties in the three days of Gettysburg, more than the entire population of our hometown in New Jersey. The records also show that of the 600,000 + who died during the four years of the Civil War, 520 were murdered. The totals are staggering, but the fact that murders were counted separately tells me that someone was trying to follow the law during the war, even though standards for justice were not the same in the 1860s as they are now.

Motives for murder have not changed: greed, love, revenge. But, what would be considered murder now, might have been accepted as ‘he had it coming,’ back then. Tons of western movies (and history books) tell us that if a man caught a thief stealing his horse in the mid 19th c., nobody would have blamed him for shooting the culprit dead in his tracks.

Keeping that in mind, after looking at a couple of pamphlets from the Visitor Center gift shop, I’m suspicious about that official Civil War murder count. I read:

*The Union and Confederacy viewed acts of war differently. The North considered Sherman’s burning of Atlanta acceptable. Southerners thought it criminal.

*Officers needed in battle, got away with killing fellow officers. Confederate Gen. Marmaduke killed Gen. Walker in an illegal duel, but only spent a few hours in jail.

*The side holding the upper hand wrote, interpreted, and enforced the law. Henry Wirz was convicted of crimes/murders committed at Andersonville, but similar offenses at a Northern prison were ignored at the end of the war.

Setting aside the appalling conditions at the P.O.W. camps that caused the deaths of thousands, the murder count is probably off.


*Source: Buhk, Tobin T., “True Crime in the Civil War” Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2012.

*Photo by Patti Phillips


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