William P Collum-Battle Of Gettysburg
Thousands of people have made incredible journeys to arrive in the great state of Pennsylvania on this day in history. This day is the monumental Fourth of July, 1863. Our country is 87 years old on this day, but no one here is celebrating. There’ll be no barbeques or checkered tablecloth. There’ll be no home-made ice cream or sliced watermelon. Because of days past, this place is filled with tears, heartaches, and concern for the future.
For three solid days, the surrounding miles of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, have been filled with deadly sounds of rockets, fireworks, explosions, gunshots, and screams echoing through the air with lethal exclamations of finality. Sounds from this time in history resounded through the hillsides with a threatening impending doom not soon forgotten by citizens of the area. The clanking of sabers and swords seem to magnify the words “Brother against Brother”; most of these young men had never even been in a brawl with a buddy; now they find themselves fighting to the death with someone they never knew. Not much older than boys, these men were unprepared for such a horrifying battle. The aftermath of these three days is a ghastly scene of over 7,000 bodies of young men scattered over the many bloody acres of devastation. The battle of Gettysburg went down in history as one of the bloodiest battles ever fought.
A heavy torrential rain greeted the area very early this morning on America’s birthday with a seemingly definite intention to continue for many hours. The rain is so strong and powerful, its very strength demanded respect, and declared its purpose to be monumental in this area. It is as if God is saying, “Wait till I get it cleaned up before you go in.” The rain also softened the ground, to make digging easier. At that point in time, the shovel, spade, and pick axes, were the only digging instruments available. The ground will be softer, and easier to dig after a day of rain.
Among the many human lives lost in the battle, there were also 5,000 horses and mules killed in combat. This battle was fought in the hottest time of the summer; temperatures reached almost 90 degrees. These hot temperatures and long days of relentless sunshine will expedite the decomposition of the first bodies fallen. The atrocious stench from the dead animals will soon be unbearable. The flies swarming around the decomposing carcasses will not take long to spread diseases. It is essential to get these bodies buried expeditiously for health reasons.
Of the thousands of people traveling here, each person has a different reason for their presence. None of their reasons are of the celebratory nature. This is only the first day of all these journeys. Each day hereafter for weeks, people will travel here to walk over these hillsides. As news travels across the country, more and more will make the expedition to try to find loved ones lost or wounded. Each parent hoped to find their son wounded in a makeshift hospital. Most were gravely disappointed.
Most of the people arriving are in search of their loved one who perished in battle. Their hope is to take their loved one home for burial. There is a strong possibility that they cannot find their soldier. Another scenario is that they can find him, and because of decomposition, cannot move him. The intense pain and agony within the hearts of these family members cannot be imagined. The more fortunate travelers are the first arrivals; they have a good chance of taking their soldier home.
When the rain subsides, the first arrivals of the weary relatives will begin their search. Through tears they search, with prayers they hope, with heavy hearts they mourn.
One of the fallen soldiers was William P Collum. William was barely 27 when he enlisted in this war. His parents, Absalom and Lucinda Collum knew their son William perished on one of these hillsides. William P Collum was one of the many thousand men to be laid to rest on the premises. No headstone exists in any of the family burial places, it is safe to assume that William was buried where he died, and his name is inscribed among many others who lost their lives, and couldn’t be returned home for interment. Many heartbroken parents were left with only a piece of paper stating simply “Killed in Action”.
There are others who traveled here just to look. Yes, even then, the people would go to great lengths just “to see”. Idle curiosity was not created by the now generation; we do not have a monopoly on inquisitiveness.
Wonderful people also traveled here volunteering to clean up. Armed with shovels, spades, and a willingness to work, they arrived by the wagonload. The disposing of all the dead animals was probably the most difficult to do, and continued for many days. Other people volunteered to work in the local temporary hospitals to give aid to the wounded. Every large building available was turned into a facsimile of a hospital. This battle left more than 27,000 wounded and needing care.
Since the beginning of time, there have always been those who visit devastation for an illegal, immoral, and indecent purpose. This was also true in the aftermath of the war. While heartbroken parents were searching for their sons, these looters were searching for valuables. While volunteers worked diligently to clean up the area, the scavengers worked diligently to find artifacts they could sell for profit. While local citizens and volunteers busied themselves to provide medical help and food for all the wounded, these vultures picked over the entire area with no thought of giving aid to anyone.
The government sent a man to oversee the organization of the clean-up process. Captain Willard Smith captured several of the “citizens” carrying off trophies. He confiscated their treasures, and put them to work burying dead horses. Of the “trophy hunters” he caught, he gave them a choice, help, or leave. There were many who escaped the authorities, and took a large amount of valuable government property. Some of the property was later found and claimed, but the priority of Captain Smith was clean-up.
The clean-up was slow, but it went as planned. The recovery of stolen artifacts was a slow and complicated undertaking, but it too went as planned. Medical treatment for the wounded was the best available at that time, so recovery was the best to be hoped for. The citizens of Gettysburg soon recovered from the destruction their town suffered.
Today, the main industry in Gettysburg Pennsylvania is tourism. With historical sites such as Gettysburg National Military Park and the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the metropolis of Gettysburg is being reimbursed each day many times over for the damage they suffered in the battle. Constant reenactments of the battle serve as another form of income for the locals.
My heart is filled with pain for the spirits of the 7,000 men who perished on the hillsides of Pennsylvania in 1863. Many are buried there, and never had a visitor from a family member.
All young men, all created equal, no matter if they are north, or if they are south, whether they are right, or whether they are wrong. The wound is deep, the pain is crucial, the screams are loud, the blood is red, and death is final.
William P Collum 1833-1863 son of Absalom Collum 1807-1869 and Lucinda Read 1809-?
Siblings of William P: John, Elbert, Catherine, Edmond, James, Martin, Whitford, Seaborn, Reba, Rebecca, and Ezra.