Nineteen thirteen was an eventful year in the United States, as Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as President of the United States, Congress established the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor, the 16th and 17th Amendments were ratified, and the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Between July 1st and 4th, in 100-degree weather, more than 53,000 Civil War veterans from 46 of the 48 states visited Gettysburg where they lived in tents located southwest of the town, about 200 yards from the High Water Mark Monument on the battlefield. The average age of the participants was 72, with New York veteran Micyah Weiss at 112 the oldest, and Colonel John Lincoln Clem, aged 61 (who had run away from home at the age of 10 to serve as a drummer boy in the Union Army of the Cumberland), the youngest.
The first time that Union and Confederate veterans reunited in Gettysburg was in 1887. In 1906, another small reunion occurred in Gettysburg when Union veterans from the Philadelphia Brigade and Confederates from Pickett’s Division met. In April 1908, Brigadier General H.S. Huidekopper, a Civil War veteran who lost his right arm in the battle, suggested to then Pennsylvania Governor Edwin Smart that the state host a 50th anniversary event at the battlefield. Smart used Huidekopper’s idea and organized a special legislative committee to plan the first major reunion of the Blue and Gray. On May 13, 1909, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created the 50th Anniversary Battle of Gettysburg Commission to consider and arrange for a proper and fitting recognition and observance at Gettysburg. In June 1910, the United States Congress created a Joint Special Committee on the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg to confer with the commission and recommend proper actions to be taken by Congress. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania contributed $450,000 toward the cost of the event. In August 1912, Congress passed a bill that appropriated $150,000, along with the use of Army troops to set up and operate a massive tent city to house the veterans. Altogether, the individual states contributed $1.75 million toward the reunion.
The planning for the reunion lasted about five years and spanned the tenure of two governors from Pennsylvania and two presidents from Pennsylvania College. In 1911, Edwin Smart’s term as governor ended, and John K. Tener was inaugurated. Tener was born in Ireland on July 25, 1863, just weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg. After his father’s death in 1872, his family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After attending public school, he worked at the Oliver Iron and Steel Corporation as a clerk between 1881 and 1885. Tener had a five-year career in Major League Baseball as a pitcher and an outfielder, playing for the Baltimore Orioles (a different team than today’s Orioles), the Chicago White Stockings in the National League (currently the Chicago Cubs), and the Pittsburgh Burghers (of the short-lived Players League). After his baseball career, Tener entered the banking business, working as a cashier at the First National Bank of Charleroi and becoming its president in 1897. As president, he organized the Charleroi Savings and Trust Company. In 1908, Tener was elected to the U.S. Congress representing Pennsylvania’s 24th district. As a congressman, he organized the annual Congressional Baseball Game.
Due to the resignation of Pennsylvania College President Samuel G. Hefelbower in December 1909, there was no representative of the college on the original local anniversary committee. However, after taking office as president in the fall of 1910, William A. Granville became deeply involved in the planning of the 50th Anniversary. Granville was born in White Rock, Minnesota, to Swedish immigrant parents. He attended nearby Gustavus Adolphus College for two years and taught mathematics and served as treasurer at Bethany College in Kansas from 1886 to 1891. Granville then went on to Yale University and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy in 1893 and a Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1897. He began a fifteen-year career as a faculty member in Yale’s mathematics department before becoming Pennsylvania College’s president.
Two years later, President Granville offered the use of all of the college’s facilities during the celebration, an offer which the Board of Trustees approved at the December 27th, 1912 meeting. At the same time, Dr. John Singmaster, the president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary since 1903, also offered assistance. A January 29th, 1913 article in the Gettysburg Compiler reported that Dr. Singmaster said that 100 people could be provided for at the Seminary with Dr. Granville indicating that Pennsylvania College could provide for 250 more.
The college provided housing not only for Governor Tener and his staff and the 50th Anniversary Commission but also for President and Mrs. Wilson, his cabinet, and governors. Besides political figures, students from the college also stayed on campus to work during the celebration. The headquarters of the Pennsylvania Commission was located in tents between Pennsylvania Hall and Glatfelter Hall. College and seminary dormitories provided rooms for about 530 special guests; one of the dormitories was McKnight Hall. (A picture of the hall is at the top. Currently, McKnight Hall is home to many of the college’s world language departments.) Many of these guests had their meals in a large tent between Pennsylvania Hall and the gymnasium in Linnaean Hall. (It was torn down in 1942. Today, the Sentinel statue is located in that area.)
The 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was a huge success. During its course, President Woodrow Wilson, Vice President Thomas Marshall, Speaker of the House Champ Clark, and at least eleven governors gave addresses. The highlight of the celebration was the meeting of Pickett’s Division and the Philadelphia Brigade at the stonewall marking the famous High-Water Mark of the Confederacy. There, on July 3, 1913 at 3 P.M., the Confederate veterans made a last assault on the Union line. President Granville described it as “a most interesting chapter in the history of the College”. Not only did it serve to make “our institution more generally known,” but also it was “ of pecuniary benefit to College, over $5000 being received in rental.” Even though Pennsylvania College’s contribution was not on a grand scale, its involvement was significant and was one of the most honorable moments in the history of the institution, which became Gettysburg College in 1921
Gettysburg Compiler, December 18, 1912.
Gettysburg Compiler, January 29, 1913.
Glatfelter, Charles. A Salutary Influence: Gettysburg College, 1832-1985, Vol. 2. (Gettysburg: Gettysburg College, 1987).
“Half a Century After the Battle of Gettysburg, Thousands of Gray-Haired Veterans.”