Loud noise travels a long way, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this in some situation. Fireworks and artillery practice on military bases are some of the best examples I can think of.
Okay, so what’s this got to do with Back To Gettysburg on Tuesday? Well, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of the long range reports of the fighting at Gettysburg. Just how far away were those cannon blasts heard?
Meet The Disturbers Of The Peace
Artillery. The “bad boys” of Civil War battlefields. Noisy, dangerous, and very “troublesome” to attackers, the field artillery pieces lobbed round shot, canister, grapeshot, and exploding shells – depending on the situation.
At Gettysburg, artillery was involved from Day 1 of the battle, but the huge cannonade before “Pickett’s Charge” on Day 3 was probably the loudest and most intense noise ever heard on the North American Continent, up to that time in recorded history. Hundreds of cannons were firing as the Confederates shelled the Union position (or attempted to) and the Union guns answered back.
How Far Away Was The Cannon Battle Heard?
Gettysburg – The Battlefield: “the vibrations could be felt, and the atmosphere was so full of smoke that we could taste the saltpeter.”
York, Pennsylvania – 28 miles: “the roar of artillery” could be “heard distinctly….at times rapid and heavy.”
Around Lancaster, Pennsylvania – approximately 5o miles: people were reporting “a continuous cannonade audible…from the direction of Gettysburg.”
Cecil County, Maryland – 120 miles: farmers were hearing “thunder”
Chester County, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia – 120 miles: folks “looked up to the sky in puzzlement for the source of thunder on a cloudless day.”
No Hearing Protection
In modern times, ear protection is required at a shooting range. At re-enactments, the military participants wear earplugs. But during the Civil War, there wasn’t much hearing protection available.
A Confederate soldier reported: “The noise and din were so furious and overwhelming as well as continuous that one had to scream to his neighbor lying beside him to be heard at all… Men could be seen, especially among the artillery, bleeding at both ears from concussion.”
What Do You Do?
The artillery kept firing. The civilians hid in their cellars or other places of safety. The soldiers laid on the shaking ground and waited; some fell asleep.
Men in the 12th New Jersey Regiment started counting artillery shells flying over their heads. “We turn on our backs, look up and trace the course of the shells; we could see a dark line flit across overhead and others cross this toward every point of the compass.”
(All quotes from Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by A.C. Guelzo, pages 396-398)
Excerpt From Blue, Gray & Crimson
Time ceased. Only the shaking ground, crashing weaponry, and the awful smell of battle smoke existed. She held her siblings close, feeling James’s trembling and Rachel’s sobs, but to try to speak would be in vain. It seemed as if all the fury of a judgment day was being unleashed. (Blue, Gray & Crimson, page 111)
From the epicenter of battle to a distance of at least 120 miles, the Gettysburg conflict rocked the physical and/or sound world. Sounds travels fast and the echoes from the Pennsylvania battlefield resounded far away. Long before informative newspaper accounts and military reports reached “the outside world”, the sounds of battle were announcing a tragedy of massive proportions.