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Host: Scott LaMar
ABOVE: Confederates march during the Pickett’s Charge re-enactment in Gettysburg this summer. BELOW: General Robert E. Lee (re-enacted by Frank Orlando) during his appearance on “Radio SmartTalk.”
At 3:15 p.m. July 3, I stood in a field between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge on the Gettysburg battlefield. At that exact moment, 150 years before in 1863, 12,000 Confederate soldiers were moving toward Union troops assembled in front of them.
The frontal assault became known as Pickett’s Charge, and it was a disastrous defeat for the Confederate army of Gen. Robert E. Lee — one from which it probably never fully recovered.
As I stood in knee-high grass beneath partly cloudy skies overhead, I took the time from snapping photographs for witf.org to soak in the scene.
To my right were about 15,000 marchers walking in the footsteps of the Southern soldiers executing Pickett’s Charge. Many were re-enactors dressed in full Confederate uniforms.
On my left assembled along Cemetery Ridge were the Union lines. There were re-enactors dressed in blue, but not as many Yankees as Rebels. The Union side stretched for a mile with spectators standing 20 deep to witness history.
As I looked around, chills went down my back. I thought to myself, “This is as close to the real Pickett’s Charge as anyone has ever seen.”
There wasn’t smoke over the field or cannons roaring, but there were thousands of men dressed in blue and gray uniforms about to “clash.” Instead, they embraced in hugs.
July 3 was the culmination of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but it also was the third day of witf’s coverage of the activities.
“Smart Talk” had broadcast live from Gettysburg all three days. As a student of American history and the Civil War in particular, I was thrilled to host the program.
On day one, when the Seminary Ridge Museum had its grand opening, we broadcast from below the historic cupola where Union Gen. John Buford spotted Confederate soldiers emerging from the woods on the first day of the battle.
Lee, with re-enactor Frank Orlando strictly in character, answered all my questions about his strategies at Gettysburg.
Historians, museum curators, and the authors of books on Gettysburg stopped by for on-air visits.
Thousands marched in the footsteps of Confederate soldiers during the Pickett’s Charge re-enactment.
What I learned from our three days at Gettysburg is that the war is over and the nation has reconciled, but the battle is still being fought verbally. Of course, the military strategies will be debated forever, but I witnessed much more: two locals heatedly argued whether one’s ancestors owned slaves, someone in the Union lines yelled “Fredericksburg!” to the oncoming Confederates in reference to a Union frontal assault that failed miserably in 1862 and spectators shed tears at the graves of soldiers killed 150 years ago. It was just like it all happened yesterday.
And witf ’s “Smart Talk” will broadcast this November at what might be the highlight of the 150th commemorations — President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”
On Nov. 19, 1863, Lincoln made what is probably the most famous speech in American history. In just over two minutes and in 272 words, the president articulated the ideals of freedom of the Founding Fathers, the meaning of the Civil War and the equality of all Americans.
History is one of the favorite topics of “Smart Talk” listeners. I believe they, like many Americans, don’t need a round number commemoration to think about the people and events that shaped our nation. But they certainly appreciate the efforts to bring the history alive once again and honor those who sacrificed so much.
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