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Diorama, lecture focus on pivotal Civil War battle

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Published:   |   Updated: June 1, 2013 at 05:51 PM
TAMPA -

The story that Christy Johns has heard her entire life goes like this:

Her great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Scanlon was 17 years old when he joined a Mississippi regiment to fight in the Civil War.

Scanlon, along with 72,000 other Confederate troops, marched to Gettysburg, Pa., in the summer of 1863 to fight in a battle that many history buffs said was the turning point in the war.

“He was wounded in a peach orchard on the second day,” Johns said. “He played dead. I guess that’s why I’m here.”

On Saturday, Johns, along with 40 others, was at Nuance Galleries, 804 S. Dale Mabry Highway, to view a 6-by-15-foot diorama of the battle and to hear a lecture by local historian and art gallery owner Rob Rowen.

Johns said she did not see her relative’s peach orchard represented in the diorama, because it probably was not in the area where some of the fiercest fighting took place.

What transpired at Gettysburg not only is woven into the fabric of American history, she said, but also in her family story.

“It is a significant moment in history,” Johns said.

Rowen said Gettysburg marks the first time the North was invaded by a Confederate force.

“The South needed a big victory,” he said. “The North was getting tired of fighting.”

The three-day battle at Gettysburg lasted July 1-3 and was one of the bloodiest confrontations in the war, he said.

The diorama showed where Union troops attempted to hold a defensive line to the north of the town while the Confederates marched into the area from the South.

It was so hot the day before that half of the Confederate troops marching into Gettysburg “fell out from heat exhaustion,” Rowen said.

The fighting started at 9:15 a.m. and people tend to forget that Gettysburg was a populated town when the first shots were fired, he said.

“Residents stood on Oak Ridge, watching the battle,” Rowen said. “But there was a lot of inaccuracy with the cannons and the rifles, so the residents stopped watching because they were afraid they were going to get hit.”

Rowen’s lecture on Saturday and the next, on June 8, focus on the first day of the battle. The second day of the battle will be discussed on June 15 and 22.

The final lecture, on June 29, will focus on the battle’s last day, and what has become known as “Pickett’s Charge,” after Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s failed assault on a Union stronghold on Cemetery Ridge.

The unsuccessful attempt resulted in massive casualties for the Confederacy.

During three days of fighting, 23,055 Union soldiers were killed or wounded, and 23,231 Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded.

Barbara Simpson, who taught advanced placement history at Plant High School for 34 years, said she attended Saturday’s lecture not only to see the diorama but perhaps to learn some details she didn’t know.

“This is a pivotal battle in American history,” she said. “It saved the Union.”

Rowen’s series of talks commemorate the battle’s 150th anniversary, which begins June 30. Each lecture starts at 12:30 p.m. at the art gallery.


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