By Olivia Taylor ’25
In the days, weeks, and months following the Battle of Gettysburg, journalists and newspaper editors feverishly attempted to recapture the full details, implications, and meaning of the massive fight that had transformed one small, formerly obscure, south-central Pennsylvania town into a household name. While some reporters struggled to ascertain the exact facts of the battle amidst the chaotic aftermath, others wrote with clear political agendas intended to sway the hearts and minds of their readership and, in turn, bolster their respective side’s support for the war effort. Still others searched for meaning in the aftermath through the prisms of religion, world history, and other lenses. In this mini-series, students will explore the myriad ways that 19th-century newspapers, throughout the North and South, “re-fought” the Battle of Gettysburg, its factual components, and its larger significance in print in the immediate aftermath of the fighting.
Pictured above is a display of four different cigars offered by the Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company. This display sits in a place one might not expect: The Mr. G’s Ice Cream gift shop. Entering the store, one is met with seasonally appropriate “Life is Good” apparel, Gettysburg sweatshirts, and candles that have been designed to smell like favorite Mr. G’s ice cream flavors, such as salted caramel and black raspberry. These cigars, as well as the other Civil War memorabilia available in the store–which includes everything from watercolor prints of scenes on the battlefield to Gettysburg, PA shot glasses–are tucked away in the back of the store.
The Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company cigars come in four different “custom blends”– the General, Guardian, Quartermaster, and President, allowing buyers to select the cigar that best suits their personality and fits their desired takeaway memory of their time in Gettysburg. The “Guardian,” described as having a “stronger flavor,” might appeal to someone who sees themselves as a strong protector of their family. The “President,” which is clearly Abraham Lincoln, targets both Abraham Lincoln aficionados and those seeking a general connection to the past through historical face recognition alone, as well as those who might identify as leadership figures. Abraham Lincoln’s historic importance as President during the Civil War, and his site-specific relevance to Gettysburg where he delivered his iconic address, generate an appeal to this cigar. The “General” presumably targets those who pride themselves on their bravery and leadership, and this particular cigar’s description noting its make from the “finest pipe tobacco” lends a refined and distinguished air to it. While there is no description of the flavor profile of the “Quartermaster,” one could assume that this cigar appeals to the casual, self-informed military historian, ones who might think of oneself as a “quartermaster” of their own household.
The company also appeals to the possibility of experiencing history first-hand through these cigars and the sensory experience of smoking them. The company makes sure to note in the product description that a “Union General purchased cigars for his command as they were approaching the Gettysburg battlefield,” implying that those who purchase one of these cigars will be able to, in part, relive the experience that these Union soldiers had: By smoking one of these cigars, you will feel like the soldiers riding into battle. Additionally, these “original Gettysburg cigar[s]” are wrapped in Pennsylvania shade leaf, which further reinforces the unique, place-based emphasis of the Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company, rooting the purchaser–and the very experience of smoking one of these locally sourced cigars–in the historic location that America’s most iconic battle occurred.
The dichotomy between the sale of Civil War memorabilia alongside lighthearted items like ice cream and “Life is Good” apparel truly plays to the complexity of the consumer culture of Gettysburg. In a town that sees millions of visitors every year, the ability to draw people into local businesses is important; stop by for ice cream and stay to peruse the gift shop, a one-stop shop for all things Gettysburg! In the same trip, visitors can enjoy a scoop of one of Mr. G’s handcrafted ice cream flavors, drinking in the sweet scent of fresh waffle cones and sprinkles, and purchase a “historic” cigar or two through which to remember their visit to town and battlefield some days, weeks, or months after their departure. In so doing, the visitor can “immerse” oneself in those famed first few days of July of 1863 experienced by the hard-fighting soldiers who, too, enjoyed similar cigars on their march into history.