MEDINA — George P. Metcalf, a Liverpool Township native, never comprehended the scope of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought between Union and Confederate forces over three days in July 1863.
That’s because Metcalf was in the middle of the battle, as a Union solider in the New York Volunteer Infantry. It was his first combat experience.
“The common solider sees little of what goes on in the battle, where 200,000 men are engaged, and the line of battle is 3 or 4 miles in length,” Metcalf wrote in his memoirs. “All I can say is that on July 2, our army of 100,000 were in a line of battle, shaped like a horseshoe, with the toe pointed toward Gettysburg.”
That night, Metcalf’s unit advanced into a field to support other troops. Enemy shells rained down.
“We dropped to the ground, and bullets from 10,000 rifles went whizzing through the air, over our heads ... and striking the ground,” Metcalf said. “The flash in the dark was like red tongues of serpents. The cheering of men, the shrieking of the wounded, all of this was new to me.”
The reading from Metcalf’s memoirs — by the Medina County Historical Society’s Farrell McHugh — was part of “Civil War Voices,” a presentation Saturday afternoon by the Medina County Historical Society at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on East Liberty Street.
About 100 people attended the event, one of several this year to celebrate Medina and the county’s bicentennial. The presentation included excerpts from an 1861 speech to Congress by Medina’s H.G. Blake; the 1862-63 diaries of Lorenzo Vanderhoef, a Civil War solider; and “Medina County: Coming of Age 1810-1900” by Joann King.
In addition, Will Jean, St. Paul’s choir baritone, and David Gooding, the church’s music director, performed songs from the Civil War area including “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!”
Patrick Abbey, a historical society volunteer, portrayed Vanderhoef, and Linda Limpert of the historical society read from King’s book.
Blake, the first editor of The Medina County Gazette before the Civil War and a mayor of Medina afterward, was a member of Congress when he delivered a speech entitled “Freedom Takes No Step Backward.” At the time, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, but war had not yet begun.
In the speech, performed Saturday by Richard Clark of the historical society, Blake expressed opposition and outrage toward a proposed U.S. Constitutional amendment that would in effect protect slavery from future government interference. The amendment was an attempt at compromise between the Northern and Southern states.
“Let us listen to no compromise with the seceding states until they will concede that the government of the United States is a government proper, and not a mere compact of states; that secession is rebellion; and that it is the duty of the government to put down such rebellion,” Blake said.
“Any compromise that acknowledges the power of a band of traitors to force concessions from the loyal people of the United States is the destruction of the Union and the demoralization of the government,” Blake said.
He said any compromise should involve sacrificing slavery, not freedom.
“Slavery is the cause of all our troubles,” Blake said. “Slavery menaces the Constitution and the Union. Slavery proposes to destroy our government and drench the land in fraternal blood. Freedom proposes to stand by the Constitution as it is.”
Blake’s prophecy of blood-soaked battlefields came true, as Metcalf witnessed at Gettysburg. He watched as rebel soldiers were “cut to pieces” by Union artillery. Then he was ordered to move.
“I put the butt of my gun in the front of my face, and held up my trusty frying pan, so it would stop any unfriendly bullet,” Metcalf said. “As far as I knew, I ran forward to a pile of rails, a sort of breastwork. I counted out 54 caps and laid them on the rails to be handy for firing.
“I discharged my gun 53 times,” Metcalf said. “Whether I actually hit anything, I could not tell.”
Messages may be left for Bob Sandrick at (330) 721-4060.