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July 4, 2012

The Fight for Freedom, et al

Norman M. Covert

Today is Independence Day, a time for glorious celebration and bombs bursting in air! We mark 236 years of freedom which requires us to protect and defend the remarkable Declaration of Independence that rebuked British tyranny.


The past year’s so-called “Arab Spring,” which virtually trades one despot for another, bears little resemblance to the resolve of our Founding Fathers at Philadelphia assembled.


I wondered what was happening hereabouts on past July Fourths, so I consulted “....and all our yesterdays” by publisher John Ashbury.


Mr. Ashbury’s report included completion of an iron and brick fence around Frederick’s Courthouse Square in 1823; the Washington Monument on South Mountain was completed in 1827; Charles Carroll of Carrolton laid the cornerstone in 1828 for the railroad in Brunswick; and construction began for the C&O Canal that same year; in 1927 locals dedicated the reconstructed Barbara Fritchie House.


I have spent this singular anniversary at home and abroad. For several summers my dad and I camped out at the Church of God Camp Meeting, surrounded by the Bull Run Battlefield in Manassas. We took a break from the preaching and singing to admire fireworks in the distance, then enjoyed a treat of homemade ice cream.


I was privileged to compile and edit two Civil War soldiers’ diaries for the Interlaken, NY, Historical Society. Bandmaster John Chadwick and enlisted musician John L. Ryno of the 126th New York Regiment of Volunteers revealed their privations as the Battle of Gettysburg unfolded in July 1863.


They had a unique view of the battle, occupying space a stone’s throw from today’s visitor’s center. I offer both notations by date:


(Ryno) June 28-29 – Frederick City. We are encamped on the bank of the (Monocacy) river...We got up at 2 o’clock this morning. We have had breakfast. We left Frederick at 8 o’clock and marched through…Liberty Town, Johnsville and Union town making a march of 33 miles. The men are very tired and hundreds of them fell out by the way.


(Chadwick) July 1 – Marched about six miles and camped in the woods about 11 o’clock a.m. Here we find more troops.  It is said the whole Army of the Potomac are united at this place. There is a large Army here now, and we expect to have a fight in a day or two. In the afternoon we were ordered to march back to protect a baggage train. We marched about three miles and returned, but found the troops all gone. We marched on about six miles further and halted for the night. We marched in all 18 miles. That night we learned that they were having a fight at Gettysburg.


(Ryno) July 1 – We struck tents this morning at 7 and marched until 11, then awaited further orders. We marched back to Uniontown then turned around and marched back to Taneytown and fell out. The regiment went on to Hagerstown where they expect a battle.


(Chadwick) July 2 – In the morning at four o’clock we started for Gettysburg, a distance of about 20 miles. When we arrived at this place, the troops were drawn up in line of battle. There had not been any fighting except for a little cannonading. In the afternoon, about 3 o’clock, the battle commenced, and it was a hard battle. Our Regiment lost heavily, but the day was ours. I was at the hospital taking care of the wounded....


(Ryno) July 2 - I am at Taneytown this morning and feeling rather poorly. The artillery was passing all night. I left Taneytown and came to where the men were fighting. They had a very hard battle and our troops drove them two or three miles. The musketry has ceased but batteries are playing on them. I have tried hard to find my brigade, but cannot find them tonight.


(Chadwick) July 3 – They commenced firing about daylight, but did not do much to skirmish until about 1 o’clock p.m. In the skirmish many of our boys were wounded and some were killed....


(Ryno) July 3, 1863 – Cannonading commenced this morning at four and lasted until six in the afternoon then a general engagement took place which lasted nearly an hour. The Rebs made a charge on us and we drove them back with great slaughter. We took a large number of prisoners during the fighting. Eugene Holton was wounded in the afternoon with a piece of shell. I was up all night with the wounded but will join my company tomorrow.


(Chadwick) July 4 – Report came in that Col. Sherrill was killed. Nothing but skirmishes today. Report that the enemy are falling back.


(Ryno) July 4 – Skirmishing has been going on all day. The boys have brought in several of our dead today.


(Chadwick) July 5 – The enemy have fallen back. They left their dead and wounded upon the field. At four o’clock we were ordered to march. We marched until about 10 o’clock and halted for the night. It rained hard all night. I had not so much as a blanket, having left them for the wounded....


(Ryno) July 5 – All quiet this morning. The Rebs have left and our troops are burying their dead this morning. We left camp at 6 p.m. and marched six miles and encamped for the night.


A soldier’s life is short on glory; long on danger, but our troops who are in harm’s way this Independence Day know why they are in the battle zone.


Cherish your independence and freedom! They do!


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