“A Woman Named Moses” – Harriet Tubman and the Combahee River Raid

By Becky Oakes ’13

Shortly before midnight on June 2, 1863, three Union gunboats cautiously floated up the Combahee River, avoiding Confederate torpedoes based on information from a highly respected Union spy, a woman named “Moses.” Their destination? The rice plantations of the South Carolina low country, which contained soil so rich the crop they yielded was nicknamed “Carolina Gold.” However, this was no typical raid on Confederate property. The soldiers charged with this task were men of the 2nd South Carolina, an all black regiment, and by daybreak, over seven hundred and fifty slaves would be free.

And who was that trusted spy named Moses?

Harriet Tubman.

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Harriet Tubman

Typically introduced in fifth grade classrooms as the face of the Underground Railroad, the usual image associated with Tubman is that of her clandestinely transporting slaves to freedom under the cover of darkness. Her role during the Civil War is less well known, but no less dynamic. From the outset of the war, Tubman assisted Union soldiers and freed slaves in many different ways. She gained a reputation for nursing soldiers sick with dysentery with medicines made from roots, and for teaching freed slave women how to lead independent lives. She was also a passionate advocate for freedmen’s issues, and often brought them to the attention of military authorities. However, it was her skills in guerilla warfare and espionage that earned her the respect of the both Union officers and the northern press. Continue reading ““A Woman Named Moses” – Harriet Tubman and the Combahee River Raid”

“A great weight at my heart:” A Personal Reaction to Pickett’s Charge

By Becky Oakes ’13

When our great victory was just over the exultation of victory was so great that one didn’t think of our fearful losses, but now I can’t help feeling a great weight at my heart. Poor Henry Ropes was one of the dearest friends I ever had or expect to have. He was one of the purest-minded, noblest, most generous men I ever knew. His loss is terrible. His men actually wept when they showed me his body, even under the tremendous cannonade, a time when most soldiers see their comrades dying around them with indifference.

When twenty-one year old Henry Livermore Abbott penned these words on July 6, 1863, I highly doubt he expected his letter to be reconsidered by twenty-one year old Becky Oakes on July 6, 2013. Aside from being the same age, the Henry Abbott of 1863 and I have very little in common. He was a Harvard graduate from Massachusetts, and an officer in the Army of the Potomac. I am a graduate of Gettysburg College, originally from Ohio, and I study the Civil War. He wrote these words for his father, I type these words for a blog.

However, Henry Abbott and I happened to be standing at the exact same spot on July 3rd, one hundred and fifty years apart.

Becky Oakes, '13, next to the 20th Massachusetts monument
Becky Oakes, ’13, next to the 20th Massachusetts monument

Continue reading ““A great weight at my heart:” A Personal Reaction to Pickett’s Charge”

Profile of Senior CWI Fellow Becky Oakes ’13

By Emily Weinick ’13

“It was the most nervous I’ve ever been. You can convince yourself you don’t know anything.” The first day working at any new place can be nerve-racking. But what if your job is to be the living spokesperson for a war fought more than 150 years ago? For Becky Oakes, an intern last summer at four Civil War battlefields in Fredericksburg, Virginia, the first day on the job proved to be a rewarding experience after she let the anxiety melt away. A family who traveled from Indiana to Fredericksburg had come to ask her about the battle, one in which their ancestors had fought. “Before I knew it, I was grabbing maps out from under the visitor’s desk and showing the family where their relatives would have been positioned. In that moment, I realized I could do this.”

FredSpot Photo

Continue reading “Profile of Senior CWI Fellow Becky Oakes ’13”

Returning the Landscape to its Battlefield Appearance: Part Three of Three

By Tricia Runzel ’13, Gabby Hornbeck ’13, and Becky Oakes ’13

Within the last couple of years, the Gettysburg Cyclorama Building has become a point of tension for Gettysburg buffs across the country. After a long battle, the National Park Service has recently begun demolishing the structure. In an effort to better understand the controversy over the fate of the Cyclorama Building, three Civil War Institute Fellows have completed a three part video series explaining both sides of the argument and why the decision was ultimately made to return the landscape to its 1863 appearance.

Click below for our final installment of this series, “Returning the Landscape to its Battlefield Appearance.” If you missed parts one and two, check out “The Cyclorama Land in July 1863” and “Mission 66 and the Creation of the Cyclorama Building.”

Remember to share your thoughts on the Civil War Institute’s Facebook page. Continue reading “Returning the Landscape to its Battlefield Appearance: Part Three of Three”

Mission 66 and the Creation of the Cyclorama Building: Part Two of Three

By Tricia Runzel ’13, Gabby Hornbeck ’13, and Becky Oakes ’13

Within the last couple of years, the Gettysburg Cyclorama Building has become a point of tension for Gettysburg buffs across the country. After a long battle, the National Park Service has recently begun demolishing the structure. In an effort to better understand the controversy over the fate of the Cyclorama Building, three Civil War Institute Fellows have completed a three part video series explaining both sides of the argument and why the decision was ultimately made to return the landscape to its 1863 appearance.

Click below for the second installment of this series, “Mission 66 and the Creation of the Cyclorama Building.” Check back in the coming weeks for the conclusion of this series, “Returning the Landscape to its Battlefield Appearance.”

Continue reading “Mission 66 and the Creation of the Cyclorama Building: Part Two of Three”

The Cyclorama Land in July 1863: Part One of Three

By Tricia Runzel ’13, Gabby Hornbeck ’13, and Becky Oakes ’13

Within last couple of years, the Gettysburg Cyclorama Building has become a point of tension for Gettysburg buffs across the country. After a long battle, the National Park Service has recently begun demolishing the structure. In an effort to better understand the controversy over the fate of the Cyclorama Building, three Civil War Institute Fellows have completed a three part video series explaining both sides of the argument and why the decision was ultimately made to return the landscape to its 1863 appearance.

Here is the first installment of this series, “The Cyclorama Land in July 1863.” Check back in the coming weeks for parts two and three, “Mission 66 and the Creation of the Cyclorama Building” and “Returning the Landscape to its Battlefield Appearance.”

Continue reading “The Cyclorama Land in July 1863: Part One of Three”

All Roads Led to Gettysburg: The 75th Anniversary

by Becky Oakes, ’13 They came by train like specters of a bygone era. The year was 1938, the average age of the boys in blue and gray was ninety-three, and the 75th anniversary of the battle marked the last great reunion of Union and Confederate v…

By Becky Oakes ’13

They came by train like specters of a bygone era. The year was 1938, the average age of the boys in blue and gray was ninety-three, and the 75th anniversary of the battle marked the last great reunion of Union and Confederate veterans on the hallowed fields of Gettysburg. Just over 10,000 veterans of the War Between the States were still alive, representing the last direct links to the four pivotal years that shaped our nation. As this number grew fewer each year, these soldiers and the stories they possessed, faded from living memory into the annals of an ever-changing world. But from June 29th to July 6th, the memories of 1,845 old soldiers came together at Gettysburg.

 

The wounds from America’s most terrible conflict were by no means healed by 1938. Sectional and racial divides still ran deep. Several veterans declined their invitations, animosity from a lifetime ago still fresh in their minds. Commissioners had difficulty convincing both the United Confederate Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic to attend. However, the story of those who refused to come is not the story that survived the test of time.

 

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Photo courtesy Gettysburg College Digital Collections.

Continue reading “All Roads Led to Gettysburg: The 75th Anniversary”