Happy 3rd of July!
It’s not often you can look at a calendar and know without question exactly where one of your direct ancestors was, what he or she was doing, and who with, exactly 155 years earlier.
Without your ancestor’s diary or letters, it would be tough to be sure. I don’t have either of those, but I still know.
On July 3, 1863, my 18-year-old great-great grandfather, Smith DeVoe, was about 38 miles south of Harrisburg, Pa., in a sleepy farming community with a population of 2,400. Beginning on July 1, however, the place had to make room for a few visitors — about 70,000 Confederate soldiers and some 94,000 thousand Union troops who collided in the theretofore quiet village of Gettysburg.
The resulting three-day conflict became the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil.
By now you’re probably thinking — not unkindly, perhaps, but still thinking it — that this is going to be a paean to my heroic relative. It is not, I promise. Truth be told, we have no record of any heroism on his part at any point during the three years he served in the Union Army. He went in a private in September 1861 and came out a private three years later — tough to do amid all the casualties of war opening up higher-ranking positions, but he managed it. He served in the Sixth Independent Battery, New York Light Artillery, a mounted or “flying” battery of 130 men. There is no record that he ever did anything more, or other, than his duty.
Woody Allen famously noted that “80 percent of life is showing up.” On July 3, 1863, my ancestor showed up. He didn’t even enter the fight that day. He and his battery mates were held in reserve just west of the Taneytown Road. They built a stone monument there; that’s how I know. He was with his older brother Charlie that day; they were in the same battery.
Uncle Charlie made it all the way up to corporal during the war, but was busted back to private after nine months. While I don’t know what he did wrong, I would have liked to have been with him when he did it.
No one can ever accuse the DeVoe brothers of pulling rank — they had none.
Gettysburg would end up being the turning point of the Civil War, the war that preserved our “perfect union” and ensured the end of slavery. This July 3, I’d ask you to raise a glass to the DeVoe brothers and so many others just like them.
Thanks for showing up, guys, and happy 3rd of July!
Roderick Taylor lives in Minnetrista.