The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Learning the Lessons of History

Posted on | April 30, 2019 | Comments Off on Learning the Lessons of History


What are we actually arguing about?

Willoughby Run is a stream too small to be called a creek. Trickling southward through the hills of Adams County, Pennsylvania, it runs between two low ridges and crosses U.S. Highway 30 east of what is now a golf course, but which on the morning of July 1, 1863, was farmland. On the ridge west of Willoughby Run was a tavern owned by Frederick Herr and on that ridge, two brigades of Confederate infantry assembled, having marched some seven miles from Cashtown that morning. These brigades belonged to a division commanded by Maj. Gen. Harry Heth, part of the III Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, the vanguard of Robert E Lee’s force invading Pennsylvania. They marched that July morning toward a memorable clash near a crossroads town less than a mile east of Willoughby Run, a place called Gettysburg.
Heth and his men had little trouble brushing back the Yankee cavalry that had sought to obstruct their march toward Gettysburg where, it is said, Heth believed he might capture a supply of shoes for his ragged troops. As the Confederate brigades lined up on Herr Ridge west of Willoughby Run, the blue-coated cavalrymen pulled back to the ridge on the east side of the stream, on the farm of a man named McPherson. The Union cavalry, commanded by Brig. Gen. John Buford, kept up a desultory fire with their carbines, with little effect on the Confederate infantry at a distance of nearly a quarter-mile, concealed by trees on Herr Ridge. Buford’s troopers were supported by a six-gun battery of artillery, and Heth brought up his own artillery to return fire, as he reconnoitered the position. The Southerners believed the main Union army was still far from Gettysburg, and that they faced no more than cavalry, perhaps supported by some local Pennsylvania militia. Heth gave the order for an advance, with the two brigades deployed on either side of the road leading east. On the north side of the road was a brigade of Mississippi troops commanded by Brig. Gen. Joseph Davis, nephew of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. South of the road was a brigade of troops from Tennessee and Alabama, commanded by Brig. Gen. James J. Archer, a Maryland native and an alumnus of Princeton University.
Archer’s brigade was one of the best in the Confederate army, having led the charge that broke the Yankee line at the Battle of Chancellorsville. One of Archer’s regiments, the 13th Alabama, was led by Col. Birkett Davenport Fry, a West Point dropout whose career had included volunteer service in the Mexican War and the notorious “filibuster” expedition to Nicaragua. And in the ranks of the 13th Alabama that July morning were two young privates from Randolph County, Winston Wood Bolt and his brother Robert, whose fate is of more than passing interest to me. When Heth ordered the advance from Herr Ridge, Archer’s brigade marched down to Willoughby Run and waded across the shallow stream then up the hillside beyond. The 13th Alabama was near the right flank of the brigade, and their attention was focused toward the woods on their left near the road, where Union troops were putting up a spirited resistance. Someone on the Confederate line noticed that these Yankees were wearing a distinctive style of hat they’d seen in previous battles and called out: “Ain’t no militia. It’s them black-hat fellows again. It’s the Army of the Potomac.” . . .

You can read the rest of my latest column at The American Spectator.



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