Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July's routine repairs

Stationed at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides in July 1943, my dad's ship, USS Vestal, observed a busy repair schedule. The Saint LouisHMAS Hobart, and HMNZS Leander all received repairs for battle damage. In addition, Vestal tackled numerous "routine not alongside repairs" to: YP-515, YFD-21, Montpelier, Columbia, SC-640, YFD-21, YMS-97, Saint Louis, Honolulu, Boreas, APC-34, Taurus, Denver, ClevelandPyro, Saugatuck, Balsam, and SC-701. During the same period, Vestal also managed to construct a landing craft ramp and complete various other ship and base facility jobs.

During the month of July, the Vestal's crew worked under a constant threat of enemy air attacks, going to general quarters at least 4 times.

Source: USS Vestal War Diary, July 1943

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Repairs to the subchaser, SC-701

In July 1943, Dad's repair ship, Vestal, worked on 2 different submarine chasers: USS SC-640 in early July, and USS SC-701 beginning on today's date.

Subchasers were a class of some of the smallest warships in the U.S. Navy. In the Pacific Theater these ships were tasked with some of the most dangerous missions in the war, from convoy escort duty to the deployment, resupply, and rescue of coast watchers in islands deep behind Japanese lines.

Often overshadowed by the much larger cruisers, destroyers, and battleships, the subchasers had a remarkable war history of their own. Part of the so-called "Splinter Fleet" (so nicknamed for their wooden hulls) 438 of these sub chasers were deployed in WWII, largely in the Atlantic against the German submarines. Many, however, were sent to the Pacific and saw a lot of action against the Japanese submarine force as well as involvement in naval battles in the Solomons and elsewhere.

Source: NavSource Online
A subchaser's crew included 3 officers and 25 enlisted men. At 95 tons and 110 feet in length, these small warships were armed with a 40 mm gun and two .30 cal. machine guns plus a depth charge projector. Each ship presented a smaller, but deadly force with which the enemy had to contend. At least one subchaser (SC-699) is credited with sinking a Japanese sub. Many subchasers were sunk, run aground, or otherwise seriously damaged in hazardous coastal patrols.

Both the SC-640 and SC-701 were commissioned in 1942. Not much additional information is available about either ship. Apparently, both were based out of Espiritu Santo. In 1943-1944, SC-701 patrolled along the shores and harbors of the New Hebrides Islands and also provided escort for cargo ships. After the war, in 1946, the SC-640 was transferred to the Maritime Commission. The SC-701 followed 2 years later. Apparently that is where their known history ends. But these two submarine chasers, just a couple of a host of under-sung heroes of WWII, briefly crossed paths with my dad, Frank Dolan, in Espiritu Santo for a few days in July 1943.

Sources: USS Vestal War Diary, July 1943; USS SC-701 War Diary 1943-1944; The Splinter FleetPatrol Craft Sailor Association

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Emergency repairs to the HMAS Hobart

On today's date in 1943, Dad's ship, Vestal, began emergency repairs to the Australian cruiser, HMAS Hobart. The job will take almost a month.

In the early evening of July 20 while in the Solomon Islands, Hobart was hit by a shallow-running torpedo from a Japanese submarine 10 miles away. The torpedo struck the port side of the ship, missing the aft magazine by only a few feet. It caused significant structural damage and lifted the 60-ton gun turret completely off its seating. Two propellers and shafts were blown off, and another was badly damaged. 13 sailors and officers were killed and 7 injured.

The pictures taken at Espiritu Santo of the damaged ship are incredible. It's a wonder that Vestal's crew was able to make repairs to the stricken Hobart sufficient for it to sail on to Sydney in late August for permanent repairs. The extent of the damage will require her to remain out of service through the end of 1944.

Reentering the war by early 1945, Hobart saw further Pacific action before sailing into Sagami Bay, where she was present for Japan's signing the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945. For the next 2 years, the ship participated in the occupation of Japan. Ironically, 15 years after the war, Hobart was sold for scrap to a Japanese firm.

Sources: USS Vestal War Diary, July 1943; Royal Australian Navy

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Repairs to USS Columbia

On today's date in 1943, Dad's ship, Vestal, began a 3-day repair job to 2 of the 4 boilers on the light cruiser, USS Columbia.

After commissioning in July 1942, Columbia, namesake of the South Carolinian capital, went to the South Pacific in time to participate in the final phases of the Guadalcanal Campaign begun in August of that year. In late January 1943, she was one of the US ships present during the Battle of Rennell Island, the last major naval engagement with the Japanese. During the next several months, Columbia conducted patrol and bombardment missions in the Solomon Islands as the Allies began the campaign to seize bases up the island chain from Guadalcanal. At the beginning of November 1943, Columbia shelled enemy targets  at Munda on the island of New Georgia, after which she was repaired by Vestal at Espiritu Santo. She then supported landings on Bougainville, and on the night of November 2nd, took part in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay. She remained in the area to support further landings in the Green Islands during February and Emirau Island in March 1944.

USS Columbia during WWII
Source: NavSource Online
Following overhaul in the States, Columbia returned to the Pacific war zone to cover amphibious assaults on Peleliu in September and Leyte in October 1944. On the night of October  24-25, she participated in the Battle of Surigao Strait, the final major gun and torpedo action of the Pacific War. Her operations in the Philippines continued in December, with the landings at Mindoro, and January 1945, with the Lingayen Gulf invasion. On January 6 and 9, in the Lingayen Gulf operation  she was hit by 2 Japanese suicide planes, which caused serious damage and heavy casualties among her crew.

The cruiser underwent repairs until June 1945, after which she participated in final operations against the Japanese. For 2 months, she took part in the Borneo landings and sweeps against Japanese shipping in the East China Sea. After Japan's surrender in August, Columbia supported occupation in the Central Pacific and transported war veterans back to the States.

In the year after the war, she served on training duty, but was decommissioned in 1946. She then joined the Atlantic Reserve Fleet until 1959, when she was sold for scrap.

USS Columbia earned the Navy Unit Commendation and 10 Battle Stars for her WWII service.

Sources: USS Vestal War Diary, July 1943; South Carolina Confederate Relic Museum & Military Museum

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Temporary repairs to the USS Saint Louis

Near the end of 1942, the light cruiser, USS Saint Louis (the "Lucky Lou" of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941) was ordered to the South Pacific, where she participated in the final stages of the Guadalcanal Campaign and the first part of the offensive into the Central Solomons. On July 6, 1943, Saint Louis engaged Japanese warships in the Battle of Kula Gulf. In another night action, the Battle of Kolombangara on July13, she was torpedoed in the bow. After the battle, she sailed to Espiritu Santo for temporary repairs by Dad's repair ship, Vestal, which began on today's date in 1943, and continued until the 29th. Saint Louis then sailed to Mare Island to complete the work. The Saint Louis will return to the Solomons for war service through the end of the year.

Torpedo damaged bow of USS Saint Louis after the Battle of Kolombangara,
July 13, 1943. USS Vestal (AR4) is alongside in the left background.
Source: NavSource Online

USS Vestal with USS Saint Louis alongside about July 20, 1943

Commissioned in 1939, Saint Louis saw major action in the Pacific throughout the remainder of the war, earning 11 Battle Stars. At war's end, she was part of the fleet that carried veterans back to the United States. In 1946, Saint Louis was decommissioned, and in 1951, she was sold to Brazil. In 1960, the ship sank near Cape of Good Hope while under tow to Taiwan.

Sources: USS Vestal War Diary, July 1943; Wikipedia

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Battle of Kolombangara, 1943

The Naval Battle of Kolombangara was fought at night in the early hours of July 13, 1943, near the island of Kolombangara in the Solomons. An Allied naval force under Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth, fresh from his success in the Naval Battle of Kula Gulf on July 6, attacked a Japanese reinforcement force under Rear Admiral Shunji Izaki. Izaki's force was attempting to land reinforcement troops at Vila, on the southern side of the island of Kolombangara, by way of Kula Gulf on the island's eastern side. Ainsworth's mission was to protect the north shore of the big island of New Georgia—which only recently had become a Marine beachhead—from attack by the enemy. If possible, Ainsworth was to prevent Japanese reinforcements from landing.

Ainsworth was unaware that the Japanese knew of the presence of his naval force at least 2 hours before the battle began. From his Japanese flagship, Jintsu, Isaki ordered a torpedo attack on the Allied ships. In the attack, American cruisers targeted Jintsu with a barrage that killed both the admiral and the ship's captain. Although the Jintsu counterattacked, sinking the destroyer USS Gwin and damaging the light cruisers USS Saint Louis, USS Honolulu, and HMNZS Leander, Jintsu broke in two from an earlier torpedo hit and sank. Most of Jintsu's crew perished along with Admiral Izaki.

Source: HyperWar: USMC Operations in WWII, Vol 2

In a tactical victory, the Japanese force in the Battle of Kolombangara escaped serious damage. It also successfully landed 1,200 men at Vila. On the other hand, at great cost, Ainsworth accomplished his mission of preventing an attack on the Marines on New Georgia, while losing a destroyer plus significant damage to 3 additional ships. Ainsworth also successfully deterred the Japanese from future use of Kula Gulf. After the Battle of Kolombangara, the Japanese will be forced to use a more dangerous passage, thereby becoming easier prey for US destroyers and PT boats.

For my dad, Frank Dolan, a weldor on the repair ship Vestal at the Naval base on Espiritu Santo, the Battle of Kolombangara will mean a lot more ship repair work to cram into an already busy repair schedule. In the days ahead, Vestal will perform temporary repairs to 2 of the cruisers damaged in the Battle of Kolombangara, USS Saint Louis and HMNZS Leander.

Sources: Wikipedia; National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Naval Battle of Kula Gulf, 1943

In July of 1943, the Allies began launching their next offensive against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, landing troops on the island of Rendova on July 5th, the first step to seizing the major Japanese airstrip on New Georgia Island.

On the same day, Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth led a U.S. task force of Navy cruisers and destroyers to the New Georgia Sound, or "the Slot,"1 in the Solomons. They planned to stop a Japanese naval transport from reinforcing its force on Guadalcanal.

Source: Perry-CastaƱeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas

The Battle of Kula Gulf began in the early hours on today's date in 1943, when Ainsworth's task group confronted 10 enemy ships off the northwest corner of New Georgia. Within the first few minutes of the battle, Ainsworth's force managed to sink the destroyer Niizuki, killing Admiral Teruo Akiyama. Another Japanese destroyer was forced to run aground and was later destroyed, and 2 more were damaged.2 Consequently, the Japanese were only able to land a portion of the 2,600 reinforcement troops they planned.

Admiral Ainsworth's success, however, was tempered by the loss of one of his light cruisers, USS Helena. Flashes from Helena's guns made her a target for the enemy. Within a few minutes, she was struck by 3 torpedoes and sank soon after, with a loss of 168.

1"The Slot" was so named by the Allies for both its geographical shape and the high volume of warships that used it. The many Japanese naval transports to resupply their garrison on Guadalcanal were referred to as the "Tokyo Express." Many naval battles were fought in and around "the Slot" during 1942 and 1943, between the Allies and the Imperial Japanese Navy.
2One of the damaged Japanese destroyers that escaped was the Amagiri. On August 2, near Kolombangara, the Amagiri will run down and cut in two the famous USS PT-109, commanded by future President, Lieut. John F. Kennedy.

Sources: Report of USS Helena, July 30, 1943; Destroyer History Foundation

Friday, July 5, 2013

Repairs to YFD-21

Dad's repair ship, Vestal, was equipped to conduct a wide range of repairs to almost any vessel of the fleet. While stationed at Espiritu Santo in 1943, crews from Vestal worked for several weeks in June and July on an unusual vessel—unusual at least to a non-Navy and maritime person like me.

The Yard Floating Drydock, YFD-21, although considered a medium size dry dock, was still an enormous floating apparatus. (Apparently, during the war, auxiliary ships like these didn't warrant actual names. However, the YFD-21 came to be known by its unofficial name, USS Rebuilder.) Sixty-six YFDs were constructed for the war effort (although there are numerical designations through 82). Most of the YFDs were placed in service at commercial repair yards, but a few, like YFD-21, were utilized overseas by the Navy to supplement its auxiliary dry dock fleet.

YFD-21 / AFDM-5
Source: NavSource Online

Commissioned in 1943, the YFD-21 was designed with a huge center section that could be lowered to allow a ship to be floated in. When the drydock was raised, the ship then rested on a dry platform from which it could be serviced, especially the sections that ordinarily would be underwater. Floating dry docks, like the YFD-21, had a lifting capacity up to 20,000 tons. They supplemented land-based dry docks that were in short supply as the war progressed in the Pacific. These floating docks provided the flexibility and mobility needed as circumstances evolved during the war.

While not the most glamorous of Navy vessels, the ready availability of the mobile dry docks like YFD-21 at advance bases, and the dedicated service rendered by their own crews and those from repair ships like the Vestal, saved many ships and minimized the time they were out of action for repairs. As one writer noted, these grand floating dry docks may well have represented the margin between the success and failure for the Allies. They certainly should be named among the vessels that helped to win the war.

Former USS YFD-21 / AFDM-5 / Resourceful in Subic Bay, 2011
Source: NavSource Online

After her commissioning in 1943, YFD-21 served at the strategic naval base on Espiritu Santo Island. Next it was shifted to other islands in the New Hebrides, then to the Philippines. In 1945, the vessel was redesignated Auxiliary Floating Dock Medium (AFDM-5). It served in the Navy fleet until it was struck from the register in 1997. Today, it is one of the few surviving vessels from WWII, now in commercial service in Subic Bay, Philippines. In 1979, it was given an official name: Resourceful.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why do we still sing the "Battle Hymn"?

It's inevitable that somewhere in patriotic celebrations tomorrow, some well-intentioned group will sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." However, there is a host of reasons why Americans should resist the urge. Perhaps a little history and exposition of this famous, yet scornful, song may shed a little light on why I feel as I do.

In the early months of 1861, the Civil War was going badly for the North. The Confederacy was winning, and the Union was having a hard time justifying losses to its citizens. The North needed a new cause, and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe was there to provide it. As the story goes, one night in November 1861, after visiting Yankee soldiers in Washington D.C., Howe had a poetic vision of Union victory. In the morning twilight, she penned, "almost without looking," some of the most famous lyrics of the war. The poem was unveiled to the nation in The Atlantic Monthly1 in February of 1862. It soon found a ready vehicle for distribution in the popular Yankee marching song, "John Brown's Body." Howe's song, now retitled the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," became the rallying cry for the Union in its war against the Confederacy. Abraham Lincoln was so fond of it that he referenced it in his speeches throughout the war.

The "Battle Hymn" is the most famous song of the Civil War’s musical legacy. It has been rendered into several stirring and patriotic versions. 150 years later, it continues to be performed by military bands and sung in public assemblies everywhere. It has even found its way into a few Christian hymnals. In my mind's ear, I still can hear the little Friends congregation of my childhood singing (ironically for pacifist Quakers) the stirring chorus, "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on."

Howe's radical hymn is a cultural curiosity. Its fusion of Christian images with a confident secular moralism is extraordinary. It presents a righteous Federal army in a glorious cause, wielding the sword of truth against the Rebel foes of freedom. Drawing on prophetic symbolism and romantic metaphors Howe portrayed the war against the South in powerful biblical categories. Shrouding her extreme political agenda in the mantle of familiar biblical imagery, she enshrined for the ages the aims of a humanistic and militaristic gospel. She linked the prophetic pictures of divine vengeance ("grapes of wrath") with the certainty of a righteous crusade ("His truth is marching on"). Remarkably her anthem instantly became a catechism for a new world order, a lyrical cadence for young soldiers marching in step with Northern ideology. It’s even more astounding that this Unitarian hymn continues to be sung today by otherwise biblically minded Christians.

So why do we sing the "Battle Hymn"?

It's easy to fall into a habit of uncritically singing along with the lyrics to a song. And that is a danger. Songs are powerful pedagogical tools by which information is imprinted on the heart. Through repetition, lyrics are set in the soul for life. That’s why the excuse kids give that they aren't listening to the words of their favorite tunes just doesn't wash. Everyone unconsciously stores repeated data in the memory for later recall, and lyrical music is a forceful way to imprint it there. Too often even Christians robotically resonate to biblical sounding phrases while glossing over their underlying meanings. And this is the hazard in singing Howe's "Hymn."

Consider, for example, the familiar lines from the first stanza:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Notice the clear eschatological theme. Julia Ward Howe certainly can't be accused of being a Christian theologian. But she did have enough biblical knowledge to draw on some vivid images and phrases from Scripture. The first line is an obvious reference to the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. While chapter 4 of Apostle Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian church may have been in her mind as she wrote, the rest of the Bible also repeatedly announces this event. "The coming of the Lord" will bring an end to history in an event when those who have died in Christ, together with Christians still living, will be received by Christ in eternity. For any who are not spiritually ready for the Lord's coming, they will meet with tragic judgment and eternal punishment.

But it is not that biblical day of reckoning that Howe envisions. Instead, she conveniently mixes the scriptural teaching of the end of the age with her passion for apocalyptic vengeance upon the Southern armies of her day. The line "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored" makes this fact plain. The text she uses is most likely from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 63:3), although Revelation 14:18-20 is a parallel passage:
I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: For I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.
But has Howe made a legitimate application of the sacred text? Not likely. In its biblical context, Isaiah's prophecy is clearly directed against Edom (verse 1), which had set itself against God and his people. The prophecy is also applicable to all the enemies of God, which he will one day bring to judgment, trampling them in his fury and staining his robes in their blood. Clearly Isaiah is providing a metaphor for the coming judgment of the nations, "the day of the Lord." The "trampler" returning from Edom is a sure image for the Son of God who in verse 3 carries out his righteous justice. But Howe has misapplied this Scripture to fit her dreadful vision of Northern victory.

And she isn't finished yet. Consider the second verse:
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
What could Howe mean by building an altar? The use of altars in the Bible is associated with worship and memorial. One remarkable but overlooked event in Civil War history is the outbreak of spiritual revival among soldiers on both sides of the conflict. These evangelistic meetings are well documented, and likely thousands of soldiers, from privates to generals, came to sincere faith at the "altar" of their Savior Jesus Christ. My own great grandfather witnessed this great revival of Christian faith in the spring of 1864 while encamped at Dalton, Georgia. He, along with thousands of other soldiers, clearly saw Jesus at work in the camp "watch-fires" of this period of great spiritual renewal.

Could this be what Howe is referring to? Hardly. Hers is a symbolic altar whose purpose is to induce God to carry out a "righteous sentence" on the enemies of the Union government. Actually, Israel's King Saul attempted this very thing in ancient times, a fact that Howe overlooked. Saul performed an unauthorized burnt offering for his soldiers in an effort to invoke God to defeat the Philistine enemies. For his sin of presumption, God took away Saul's kingdom and gave it to another. In a similar manner, Howe's altar image calls upon God to bring judgment upon a people of opposing political views. In neither instance can there be hope of inviting God's blessing.

But her theology gets even worse in the lines of the third verse. In fact, it's downright heretical.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnish’d rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
"Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.
"Gospel writ in burnish'd rows of steel"? Fighting in the Civil War was more brutal than all previous wars, often barehanded or with bayonet. "Give them steel" was an oft-heard command when the fighting was in close, and the bayonet was the only sensible weapon. That makes it hard to imagine any lover of the good news of the Christian gospel singing these lines. Now, sad enough are the tragic scenes of history when the Church wrongly took up the sword to conquer her foes. But is this what Howe means, forcing the gospel of Christ on the enemy at the point of a bayonet? I don’t think so. Indeed, she perverts the meaning of the gospel message, twisting it to justify her utilitarian view of God's grace. "Offer no pity to those who despise our cause, and you will receive God’s grace,” she seems to promise in the second line. In the third line there is a clear reference to Christ as victor over the serpent, Satan (Genesis 3). But rather than offering the hopeful message of victory over the devil through our conquering Savior, Howe provides a perverse rendering of Scripture that calls upon Christ to crush her political enemy, which she personifies as "the serpent." It’s no wonder that many later editions of her "Hymn" omit this vile verse.

In her "Battle Hymn," Julia Ward Howe blatantly hijacked the gospel of grace for militaristic and ideological purposes. It is nowhere more evident than in the evocative final stanza:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
What possibly could she be saying in this verse? Extending to her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she actually means to praise our Savior Jesus Christ who was "born across the sea." Indeed, Jesus has the power to change lives completely, making rebel sinners "new creations" in Christ (I Corinthians 5:17). But that is not what she is implying. Rather than using the gospel language of "regeneration" or "conversion" to describe the change in a sinner's heart through grace, Howe instead chooses to use "transfigure." In fact, the term "transfigure" and its variations are used in the Bible, but their uses are limited. Jesus was transfigured (Matthew 17 & Mark 9), "and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light." In the Old Testament, Moses may have had a sort of transfiguration after seeing God in person (Exodus 34). But biblical transfiguration is definitely not what this poet has in mind.

None of the transfiguration references in the Bible relate to the image Howe evokes, nor, more importantly, do they connect with her assertion in the third line that Christ's purpose in saving us is to send us out to die to free those in political or institutional bondage. But this actually is the heart of the abolitionist's "fiery gospel." In reality American slavery was an issue that divided this country during that great conflict, and it needed to be abolished. But doing so by killing slaveholders or even giving one’s life in a crusade to free slaves is not the gospel of grace found in the Scriptures. The truly Good News is not mere freedom from human bondage, but actual freedom from bondage to sin through the atoning work of Christ. Anything less is no gospel to die for. In fact, it’s no gospel at all.

For a song that captures so many biblical images, it is astounding that Julia Ward Howe left out one central message of the gospel: Love. In particular, Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was an unconcealed attempt to cast the Union Army, "the Lord's army,” as executor of God's righteous judgment on the contemptible South. And she and her promoter, President Lincoln, did so by co-opting biblical imagery and sacred Scripture to promote their own political and social agenda. As such, the song ought to be rejected by Christians and other sensible people, even as it should have been decades ago. We already have so many wonderful songs for Christian patriots who want to sing out their love of God and country.

So, how about we just discard this derisive and irreverent song once and for all?

Comments in this essay refer to the version of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as it first appeared to the public in The Atlantic Monthly, February 1862, Vol. 9,  No. 52.
The Great Revival in the Southern Army is a well documented, if often neglected, part of the history of the War Between the States. My great grandfather, Nathan Richardson Oakes, who served in the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, personally witnessed the result of this great spiritual renewal that swept through the army in 1864. In one of his letters to the Confederate Veteran (Vol. 7, p. 408) published in 1899, he recalls the conversion of one of his comrades in a camp meeting in Dalton, Georgia. For other stirring eyewitness accounts of Christian revivals in the army throughout the war, see Christ in the Camp by J. William Jones.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Battle of Gettysburg, 1863

150 years ago on today's date in 1863, a legendary battle began at the crossroads of the county seat of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It will be known as the Battle of Gettysburg, and it will become the battle with the largest number of casualties in the war.*

After his success at Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May, Gen. Robert E. Lee led his victorious army through the Shenandoah to begin his second invasion of the North. He intended to shift the focus of his summer campaign away from war-damaged Virginia, and he hoped his penetration into Pennsylvania would influence Northern politicians to give up on the war. It is one of the few times in the North-South conflict that the ravages of warfare were brought home to Northern states.

Gen. Lee concentrated his full strength against Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. On July 1, Confederate forces converged on the town from west and north, driving Union defenders back through the streets to the low ridges of Cemetery Hill. During the night, reinforcements arrived for both sides.

On July 2, Lee attempted to envelop the Federals, first striking the Union left flank at the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, and the two Round Tops, with Longstreet’s and Hill’s divisions, and then attacking the Union right at Culp’s and East Cemetery Hills with Ewell’s divisions. By evening, the Federals retained Little Round Top and had repulsed most of Ewell’s men.

During the morning of July 3, the Confederate infantry were driven from their last toe-hold on Culp’s Hill. In the afternoon, after a preliminary artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. The famous "Pickett’s Charge" momentarily pierced the Union line, but it was driven back with severe casualties. To the east and south, Stuart’s cavalry attempted to gain the Union rear but was repulsed.

On July 4, Lee was compelled to begin withdrawing his army toward Williamsport on the Potomac River. His train of wounded stretched more than 14 miles.

Not so well known is another important conflict between Northern and Southern armies, the Tullahoma Campaign,** fought over the same period in Middle Tennessee. As Lee was retreating from Gettysburg, the last shots were fired in the Tullahoma Campaign as Gen. Braxton Bragg withdrew his army from Tennessee. And yet a third Confederate defeat took place on July 4: Gen. Ulysses S. Grant accepted the surrender of Gen. John C. Pemberton's Confederate army at Vicksburg. July 4th, 1863, will prove to be one of the darkest days for the Confederacy.

Gen. Robert E. Lee
Gen. Braxton Bragg
Gen. John C. Pemberton

Sources: CWSAC Battle Summaries; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn

* To see an excellent animated map of the Battle of Gettysburg, visit the Civil War Trust website.

** To view my blog about Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, who fought in Bragg's
Army of Tennessee, in the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment,
please visit: