Last week with great fanfare our nation commemorated the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. July 4-7, about 15,000 volunteers participated in one of the largest battlefield reenactments of the year.
Although Kentucky did not send a division or even a brigade to participate in the monumental 1863 battle, Kentuckian John Bell Hood played a significant role for the Confederacy.
Born in Owingsville in 1831, Hood was raised near Mt. Sterling. A West Point graduate, Hood at age of 22 and became one of the most rapidly promoted leaders in Confederate history. He was made a major general in 1862, serving admirably at the battles of Sharpsburg and at Fredericksburg.
Hood was an important figure at Gettysburg, being ordered by Gen. James Longstreet to attack the Union’s left flank against his own wishes. He had scouted the Union position on their extreme left and wanted to move around their flank and attack from the rear.
Under Longstreet’s orders, Hood would have to lead his men through Devil’s Den’s rough ground strewn with huge boulders, and do so in full view of the enemy. He repeatedly protested the order to no avail. Although Longstreet was in agreement with Hood, he reminded him that was relaying Gen. Robert E. Lee’s orders, and he would carry them out as given.
Hood reluctantly agreed, and when the assault commenced at 4 p.m., his men were engaged in heavy fighting almost immediately. An artillery strike near Hood wounded his left arm so severely that he had to be removed from the battlefield.
This was a great setback to his troops, who were accustomed to Hood leading from the front. The general would survive to fight again months later, but he never regained the use of his arm, which rested in a sling for the rest of his life.
Although Hood and his men failed in their attack on the Union left, many other circumstances contributed toward deciding the outcome of the battle. Fighting in unfamiliar territory that was rocky ground, the Confederates showed their fortitude, but ultimately failed in their objective on the second day of the Gettysburg battle.
The three days of fighting resulted in horrific losses for both the Confederate and Union armies. The Rebel army of 75,000 was decimated, suffering 23,000 dead, wounded or captured, including 4,700 officers. Notwithstanding the Yankee victory, Federal casualties surpassed 23,000 including 3,100 officers.
More than 3,500 Confederate soldiers were taken prisoners during Pickett’s Charge.
The Battle of Gettysburg had been a brutal massacre for all sides involved.