Morning in the Cornfield. A gray dawn. The rain, heavy at first, tapers off to a drizzle. Rain quiets the crowd and adds a somber tone to the scene, already heavy with the memory of sacrifice 147 years ago today. Rangers Keith Snyder, Brian Baracz, and John Hoptak read from diaries, letters, and reports of men who survived this fight, “the very vortex of hell.”
Battery B, John Gibbon’s old outfit, the man who trained the Iron Brigade. Their fire tore through Confederate ranks, knocking dirt, rocks, fence rails, and men about with each discharge of canister. Keith describes this moment in the chaos of battle so you can almost see it.
We move on the fence bordering the northern edge of the Cornfield and move south through the “corn.” A ranger reads from a soldier’s account – “Men I cannot say fell; they were knocked out of ranks by the dozen.” Soldiers of the 12th Massachusetts, which lost 67% of its strength that morning in less time than I will it take to write this post, describe a scene of complete horror. Both sides stand toe to toe, blazing away with equal abandon. When the morning waxes in to afternoon and fighting on this part of the field subsides, over 2000 men lie in the Cornfield and surrounding woods.
Ranger Keith Snyder reminds us we are standing on sacred ground. “If you don’t think so,” he says, know that only two days ago a soldier of New York, whose remains were found in the northwest corner of the Cornfield, departed for Saratoga National Cemetery in his home state, to be buried there with full military honors. This soldier, and so many others like him in his generation and our own, has earned our undying gratitude for laying his life on the altar of freedom. And so we gather today and remember.
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