Saturday, May 9, 2009

Set in Stone

For those of you who have never visited Gettysburg, PA, the place is literally strewn with Civil War memorials to the soldiers who fought in the bloody three-day battle that took place there on July 1-3, 1863. My Mum lives just a few steps from the battlefield, and while I was visiting her, I recalled that one of the monuments features a dog. She remembered another one. So during a brief break in the rain, we went out to take photographs. 

This is the monument that I remembered. It's dedicated to the New York Infantry Irish Brigade. The pooch, an Irish Wolfhound, is a symbol of loyalty, not an actual mascot. The attitude of the dog is perfect. I once had a roommate with a Wolfhound named Moose. He would often lie outstretched with his great big head resting on his giant paws, just like this. 

The infantry sustained more than 200 casualties during the battle.

This is Sallie. She was an actual dog, a mascot for the Pennsylvania 11th Infantry, which fought just yards from the Irish Infantry along the tree-lined ridge. 

According to Gettysburg lore, Sallie got separated from her soldiers during the battle, but in the evening, when the guns fell quiet, she found her way back to the Union line to search for and stay by her men. After Gettysburg, she accompanied the 11th Infantry for almost the entire war until she was killed by a bullet during battle in February, 1865, just weeks before the Confederacy's surrender. 

Gettysburg is a strange place. As my mother says, it is one of those rare places where the dead have supported the living for generations. There's a morbid quality to the interest people have in the town. Every statue is a monument to people killed violently and painfully. Sometimes I find the undercurrent of grief and pain overwhelming, and yet the countryside is so beautiful and serene. Farmers still grow apples and peaches in the outlying orchards as if nothing had ever happened there. And people come from all over the country to dress up in hoop skirts and general's uniforms to pretend that it's 1863 all over again. Curious. 


1 comment:

  1. Hey, random factoid: My great grandfather designed the Gettysburg commemorative half dollar issued in 1936. There is not a dog on it :(


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