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Today is the 150th Anniversary of the first day of fighting at Gettysburg. To those of you under about 50 that must seem a very long time ago. But to me, not so much. I'll turn 70 this year, and it occurred to me that 150 years is only two reasonably long lifetimes ago. Indeed, I thought of a photo I have of myself as a baby, taken during the Second World War, and being held by my Dad's Grandmother. He was fighting in Italy at the time. His Grandmother had been born during the American Civil War.

The picture was taken in the Fall of 1943. The woman holding me was born in the Spring of 1864, her parents generation were the ones doing the fighting, suffering, and the dying in the Civil War.

There were two monumentally important events going on in July of 1863, together they determined the final outcome of that war. The first had started at the beginning of the year, as Grant began trying different means to take Vicksburg, and thus give the Union the entirety of the Mississippi River. By July he had had Vicksburg under siege for about a month and half. On July 3rd the Confederate commander asked Grant for terms, and the formal surrender was signed on July 4th. Lincoln is quoted as saying, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea." The great transportation system of the middle of the country belonged exclusively to the Union. The Confederacy was split in two.

But in the East Robert E. Lee still had a powerful Confederate army, and had decided to use it to invade the North, rather than simply defend Richmond, repulsing attacks by the Army of the Potomac as it ran thru one commander after another, until maybe the North would get tired of the whole business and let the Southern states go.

John Buford
By end of June 1863 Lee's army and the Army of the Potomac were drawing closer to each other, though neither knew quite where the other was. On June 30th the cavalry commander John Buford had arrived near Gettysburg, and was quite sure he knew what was in front of him--the bulk of Lee's army, with a major engagement about to commence. He picked the high ground and deployed his troopers, and sent a messenger to his commander, John Reynolds, who was in charge of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac, telling General Reynolds what was about to happen and asking him to send in the infantry as soon as possible. Buford would try to hold what he had claimed for the Union, but knew that without the infantry he could not hold for long.

In the morning the first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg were fired. Reynolds did indeed arrive in time, he and the first of his troops getting there in mid-morning. While he was deploying his men Reynolds was killed, hit by a Confederate musket ball. He died almost instantly. In the evening of that day both Lee and General George Meade, the current commander of the Army of the Potomac, knew that the major battle between their respective armies had begun, and were busy deploying their troops and planning their strategies.

I was trying to be mindful of all of that as I went about my own chores today, noticing that hundreds of lawn chairs had already been put out along our town's parade route, and flags, including mine, were already flying. I put mine out this morning, in honor of General John Buford and his cavalry troopers, and their sacrifices for this nation.

So today, as you go about your business, perhaps getting ready for the Fourth of July, as I and my little town are doing, I hope that you too will try to spare a thought for what was going on at Gettysburg 150 years ago. While we celebrate our nation's freedom I hope we will remember the far far bloodier trials of the Civil War, which gave freedom to the ancestors of many our friends and neighbors, people who were held in slavery a mere two long lifetimes ago. The Union victory at Gettysburg, on July 3rd, and at Vicksburg on the same day, did indeed give our country a new birth of freedom.

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