Smallwood on Gettysburg

Wednesday July 3, 2013

[This hasn’t ever happened before, as far as I am aware. I began writing, thinking I would contact Joseph Smallwood, and within a sentence, he was doing the writing.]

Raining incessantly, like that night at Gettysburg. It rained, and it rained, and it rained, — and not a man on the field that wasn’t glad of it. The cannon wouldn’t be able to move, the cavalry wouldn’t be able to move, and the supply wagons and everything. It was going to stop.

We wanted to beat the rebs, and we would have liked to finish it off, war and all, if we could, but we didn’t have it in us. Flesh and blood can only stand so much, and they need time to come back. Remember that, when you think to criticize George Meade. It is true he was afraid that if he came off the hills he might throw away what he had just won by the skin of his teeth. Chancellorsville was only two months past, and maybe Jackson was gone, but Lee was still there!

Yes, I see it. even today we don’t know for sure he made a wrong choice, although it does look like it.

The only thing he did was not gamble on a sure thing. [That is, risk a sure thing by taking a further gamble.] Grant would have done it, and Sherman maybe. But damned few others would have, and these were brave and experienced officers. There was too much riding on it. By standing pat he could remove any threat to the government – at least, any threat he could measure, for he was not a political man, and he didn’t weigh in war-weariness the sure way Mr. Lincoln did. Was he going to risk a certainty for a chance that maybe was too glittering? [i.e., maybe illusory because alluring]

Remember, too, those Johnnies got plenty knocked up in three days of fighting, but they weren’t out of ammunition and they weren’t out of fight, any more than we were. It’s just, we had all been knocked off our feet for the moment. We had to get our wind back. But if they’d been attacked, they’d have called on their reserves of manhood and courage just as we would have. It wouldn’t have been any sure thing. And suppose we’d lost, or got outmaneuvered somehow, or lost a hell of a lot more men than they did, trying to stop them from getting over the river? It looks safe from an editor’s office, or from ten years on, but it didn’t look safe in Gettysburg in July.

You were lying in your tent, wounded. You heard about the debate later, I suppose.

I was lying on the ground left for dead, till after midnight or so. Then I was lying in my tent, in the version where you didn’t show up. I was out of my head with fever and all for four-five days, then I started getting back, though I never amounted to much afterwards. In the version where I got healed by that angel, I was up that suppertime, surprising people, back to work, and there was plenty of it.

Well, Joseph, it was a great day, and you and all the boys have our continuing thanks. You put off the fall of our government for a full century – more, by other people’s counts – and that was worth doing.

Like any war, it had its good effects and its bad effects. Them that made that war happen had a lot to answer for.

Yes, did they not! And on both sides, as usual.

You don’t generally find a scrape where one side is entirely innocent and the other one guilty. And the guilt of this one goes back a long, long time. But people don’t see so much the consequences of their actions, and they don’t care much about what they can’t see.

Well, my best wishes always, Joseph. And that was quite a night we shared in 1863/1994.

Yes it was. And look at all it has led to so far. Good deeds do get rewarded.

Seems like it. Be well, friend.

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