By ART CHANCE
It’s the title of a song from the Civil War era, in which the singer laments the peaceful times when “the boys” tented on the old campground.
Many men, most in rural areas, were members of the State militia in mid-19th Century America. Many were compelled to be members as a matter of law unless exempted.
157 years ago tonight tens of thousands of men were “tenting” on the ground between the Little Round Tops and Culp’s Hill near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Actually, few were “tenting,” They were lying wounded on the field awaiting aid. The descriptions of that night range from macabre to merely eerie. Many tell of men singing songs of home and longing. Some describe the lanterns of the orderlies moving like fireflies on the fields seeking the wounded and trying to aid them.
Three of my four great or great-great grandfathers were there that day; two with Longstreet in the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field, both of whom lived to tell the story.
My maternal great grandfather, a generation closer because he married a young wife after his first wife died, was with Wright’s Brigade, Hill’s Corps, in the middle of the Confederate line attacking the Union line on Cemetery Ridge.
They attacked through the smoke and the setting sun and took that damned hill; they spiked the US guns. And then the support from the left didn’t come and they were alone on the hill with no support. They fell back to the Codori Barn halfway down the hill. Their admired colonel was badly wounded, and they offered a white flag to secure his removal to medical attention.
The Yankees refused, and would only accept the surrender of the entire regiment. My great grandfather took a .69 ball in his shoulder in that retreat. He was treated in a Confederate field hospital and since he was walking wounded, was returned to the ranks.
Hill’s Corps and Wright’s Brigade were something of a rear guard in Lee’s retreat. Wright’s Brigade fought in the rear guard action at Manassas Gap protecting Hill’s retreat. My great-great uncle James Marion Riner was captured and made a guest of the Yankees at Point Lookout, Maryland for awhile.
I grew up with ghosts in my closet. I understand both the predestinarian faith of the religious South and the “it would take more courage not to” loyalty to kith and kin of the Southern soldier. My great grandfather took that .69 ball in his left shoulder, was treated in a field hospital, walked 110 miles back to Richmond and fought a couple of battles along the way. He was admitted to Chimborazzo Hospital in Richmond on 16 July, two weeks after he was wounded. He was treated for his wounds and given 30 days leave to recover. He went home and married a much younger woman, from whence cometh I.
There isn’t actually a public monument of a Confederate soldier in my home town in Georgia. There are a couple of fancy private monuments to men who had a lot of money and barely crossed the county line during the Civil War; that is the way Southern society worked.
I’ve advocated to my Southern friends that they should abandon the monuments. The people who placed them there don’t live in the “doughnut” cities anymore. The White South long ago abandoned Southern cities; many, I among them, abandoned The South altogether.
Take the monuments down, preserve them, and put them in museums where they can be preserved. This fight was lost long ago.