Last updated on January 5, 2021
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I still remember a road trip I took through Gettysburg in 1993 on my way back to California. Much like a trip to Lexington/Concord, I try to imagine what the battles might have looked like, even if that seems a bit romantic, thinking of existential horizons. The nostalgia for pre-modern war is always problematic and it seems like the sense of how brutal and how slow battles might have gone are not appreciated. Glory, the film by Ed Zwick is one of the first to try to replicate the pace of a battle. In this case the battle devolves to close quarter combat.
It raises the question of what if the Confederates won the battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, PA, darn counterfactual histories of the Civil War.
Alternate history is related to, but distinct from, counterfactual history. This term is used by some professional historians to describe the practice of using thoroughly researched and carefully reasoned speculations on “what might have happened if…” as a tool of academic historical research, as opposed to a literary device.
Although there are Victorian examples of counterfactual history, it was not until the very late 20th century that the major interest for exploration of counterfactuals in history began.
An early example is If It Had Happened Otherwise (1931) which features a contribution by Winston Churchill who examined what would have happened had Robert E. Lee won at the Battle of Gettysburg. Although this volume is notable for featuring imagined histories by serious historians, the histories are presented in narrative form (in most cases with a fairly whimsical tone) without any analysis of the reasoning behind these scenarios, so they fall short of modern standards for serious counterfactual history and are closer to the fictional alternate history genre.
A significant foray into treating counterfactual scenarios seriously was made by the economic historian Robert Fogel. In his 1964 book Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History, Fogel tried to use quantitative methods to imagine what the U.S. economy would have been like in 1890 had there been no railroads. Fogel hypothesizes that, in the absence of the railroad, America’s large canal system would have been expanded and its roads would have been improved through pavement; both of these improvements would take away from the social impact of the railroad. He estimates that “the level of per capita income achieved by January 1, 1890 would have been reached by March 31, 1890, if railroads had never been invented.”
Later, in Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, he argued that slaves in the Southern states of America had a higher standard of living than the industrial proletariat of the Northern states before the American civil war.
The fight for Little Round Top was an intense conflict within the larger Battle of Gettysburg. The struggle to control a strategic hill on the battle’s second day became legendary for dramatic feats of bravery conducted under withering fire.
Despite repeated assaults by seasoned Confederate troops, the Union soldiers who arrived at the top of the hill just in time to defend it managed to throw together a stout defense. The Union troops, facing repeated assaults, succeeded in keeping the high ground.
Had the Confederates been able to seize Little Round Top, they could have overrun the left flank of the entire Union Army, and possibly won the battle. The fate of the entire Civil War may have been decided by the brutal fighting for one hill overlooking Pennsylvania farmland.[…]
By holding the high ground at the southern end of the line, the federal troops were able to deny the Confederates the opportunity to completely turn the tide of the battle on the second day.
It is even conceivable that Lee's army might have cut the Union Army off from the roads to Washington, D.C., leaving the federal capital open to great danger.
Little Round Top is the smaller of two rocky hills south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—the companion to the adjacent, taller hill named Big Round Top. It was the site of an unsuccessful assault by Confederate troops against the Union left flank on July 2, 1863, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, during the American Civil War.
Little Round Top was successfully defended by a brigade under Colonel Strong Vincent, who was mortally wounded during the fighting and died five days later. The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, fought its most famous engagement there, culminating in a dramatic downhill bayonet charge. The battle at Little Round Top subsequently became one of the most well-known actions at Gettysburg, and of the entire war.
The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloody turning point of the American civil war, will be widely commemorated this week, but the role played by Chinese soldiers in that historic conflict will remain largely ignored, as will the war's broader legacy of exclusion and discrimination for Chinese Americans.Thanks, though, to the efforts of a small number of dedicated American authors, historians and civil war buffs, largely of Asian heritage, many Chinese soldiers who served in the “war between the states” have been identified, including some who fought at Gettysburg, and at least one of those so-called Chinese Yankees was from Hong Kong.It is hard to imagine how a 19th-century Hongkonger could find himself fighting in one of the costliest conflicts (620,000 lives were lost over four years) in American history. As Hong Kong historian Elizabeth Sinn reminds us, though, in her recent book, Pacific Crossing, by the time the first shots of the civil war were fired, in 1861, the US was already an important destination for the Chinese diaspora. Many Chinese boarded ships in the rapidly expanding maritime hub of Hong Kong bound for Gold Mountain, as San Francisco was known, the terminus for the world's first truly international gold rush.
Food in the Civil War era was some of the original farm-to-table cuisine, made from seasonal, small batch ingredients found in the immediate vicinity. When the country was catapulted into depression following the war, cooks had to get creative with what few ingredients they had on hand. Some of the recipes they developed out of necessity still exist today.
1. Cold Ham Cake
One of the more novel recipes from the Civil War era, this delightful meal sees a giant chunk of ham minced and mixed with pepper, cinnamon, clove, and ginger. Then the whole mess is mashed into a casserole dish and baked until congealed. Sound familiar? Welcome to the world, Spam.
Similar to pickled eggs, pickle-lily found prominence in the mid-1800s as a way to preserve basically anything that needed saving over the winter. A pickling solution was prepared in a cask or jar, then vegetables were dropped in throughout the season. A number of modern equivalents of these Civil War staples can be found on grocery store shelves today, including cocktail onions, dill pickles, and pickled beets.
There’s a trend for people to identify the native land on which they’re speaking in public: I was born and raised on Klaipėda and Lithuana land and currently live on Wappinger, Tunxis, and Quinnipiac land native-land.ca.
— Tom Morello (@tmorello) January 2, 2021
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