Monday, June 27, 2011

Battle of Gettysburg destroys Abraham Bryan's Farm

In July, 1863, the American civil war was entering its third bloody summer. While winning most of the battles, Confederate general Robert E. Lee knew he was in a war of attrition with the north and the union Army of the Potomac. With the south’s limited manpower and industrial capacity facing the seemingly unlimited manpower and industrial capacity of the north, Lee knew no matter how many battles he won, he could not win a war pitting material and human resources of the southern states against those of the northern states.

After defeating the Army of the Potomac at the battle of Chancellorsville in late April and early May, 1863, a battle that cost Lee the life of the brilliant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Lee decided that an attack into northern territory north of Washington, DC, would put the entire war on a different footing. Lee also knew a letter had been prepared to deliver to President Abraham Lincoln, calling for a cessation of the war and recognition of the confederacy by Lincoln, after Lee had destroyed the Army of the Potomac.

With that in mind, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia headed north, with the goal to attack and sack Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, thus pressuring Washington into abandoning the war.

On July 1, 2, and 3, 1863, General Lee’s army of Northern Virginia was locked in deadly combat with Union General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in the small farming village of Gettysburg, Pa. Gettysburg was approximately 3 hours from Harrisburg, Pa and Washington, DC, and Washington was already in a mild panic over Lee’s invasion so close to the nation’s capital.

Lee probed and attacked both the left and right flanks of the Union lines, then decided on July 4th to attack the Union center. Led by General George Pickett, the attack, preceded by an intense artillery barrage, came over an open field and reached the union positions before faltering and being repulsed. Those union positions included the farm of Abraham Bryan.

Bryan was one of 170 free black Americans who were living in Gettysburg at the time of Lee’s invasion. After learning of the approach of the confederate army, Bryan and the other black Americans left Gettysburg, fearing the Confederates would capture them and send them south into slavery.

The modest home pictured here was the home of Abraham Bryan, and his fences were destroyed and his crops trampled as first, Union soldiers used the area for defensive purposes, and then Confederate soldiers attacked through them trying to overwhelm Union lines. Mr. Bryan’s home was riddled with bullets and shell fragments. His home nearly destroyed, Mr. Bryan petitioned the government for $1,028 in restitution after the battle, and received $15. Undeterred, Mr. Bryan rebuilt his home and his farm and prospered until his death in 1879.

A plaque on the battlefield notes that he and James Warfield, who lived near the southern end of Seminary Ridge, were a part of a "small, unique group of farmers" who were free black men who also owned property.

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