News Column

Gettysburg Remembered 150 Years Later

July 3, 2013

For the Civil War, it was all about wrenching choices. It was about simply following orders.

On this day 150 years ago, the smell of gunpowder intermingled with the moans of the wounded and dying on the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa.

July 3, 1863, marked the third and final day of an epic collision of ideologies that would result in 50,000 casualties among the North and South troops amassed there.

When the fighting ended on this day 150 years ago, 3,155 Union soldiers lay dead on the battlefield. A total of 3,903 Confederates were cut down.

And one warrior, Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, suffered a fate worse than death for any ranking officer. His detractors said he botched an order from Robert E. Lee that they say would have made all the difference for the Gray at that moment in battle.

It was an order to charge into a fortified flank of Union Blue that Longstreet told Lee wouldn't work.

But this was war. Longstreet was a product of West Point. And an order was an order, for better or worse.

In the end, the reputation of Longstreet, whom Lee referred to as "My Old War Horse," fell just as dead on the grass at Gettysburg.

When you visit the battlefield three hours northeast of Morgantown these days, however, you'll see Longstreet's redemption in bronze.

It's a statue of the general in full gallop on the horse he called, "Hero," and it was created by renowned sculptor Gary Casteel, who grew up in Preston County, served in Vietnam and learned his craft as a stonecutter's apprentice in Italy.

There was that, plus the time he hitchhiked to the Rhode Island School of Design right out of high school with $8 in his pocket.

"Uh, yeah," Casteel said with a laugh. He is now 67 and has works displayed across the country. "I found out I needed a little more money than that. They wouldn't take me at first."

His family had soldiers on both sides of the fighting in the War Between the States, so he won't take sides.

He also won't take what he calls a "white-washing" of history regarding the Civil War. Make that, "blue-washing," he said.

When the North Carolina-based Sons of Confederate Veterans commissioned him to do a statue of Longstreet in 1991, the U.S. National Park Service initially turned it down.

Of the 1,300 monuments erected at Gettysburg, Casteel said, only around 10 percent of them celebrate Confederate soldiers.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans did some hard-charging of their own, though, and the statue was a go.

"They went through the back door and lobbied their lawmakers," the artist said.

Seven years later, in 1998, the work was done, and the statue, which depicts Longstreet looking back in that charge to regard the men under his command, was home.

"He's on that battlefield because he belongs there," Casteel said, who also appreciates Longstreet's rock 'n' roll defiance after it was all done.

'It's the truth'

After the war, Longstreet spoke out and said publicly he disagreed with Lee's order on the Gettysburg battlefield that day.

He also supported his West Point classmate, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, when he made his bid for the White House.

He even became a Republican -- the party of Abraham Lincoln -- to boot.

Now, 150 years later, Casteel is looking forward to a new Gettysburg sculpture he's unveiling in the days ahead.

This one depicts brothers Wesley and William Culp, who fought on opposite sides in the war.

"It's a reconciliation piece," he said. "It's the truth, and if we have a problem accepting the truth within our history, then our country is lost."

Source: Copyright Dominion Post (Morgantown, WV) 2013. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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