Battlefields and Supermarkets: The Importance of Battlefield Preservation and the Case of Camp Letterman

By Savannah Labbe ‘19

Gettysburg National Military Park is an immense park, encompassing and preserving a large section of the battlefield. What many don’t realize, however, is that the battlefield was not confined only to the areas that have been preserved, but also to a much larger section of the greater Gettysburg area. Where now stands the Giant supermarket was once home to land that the Confederates retreated over and also, more importantly, to a large battlefield hospital, Camp Letterman.

Tents at Camp Letterman
Tents at Camp Letterman in August, 1863. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, most of the wounded and the medical staff moved on with the army. However, some wounded couldn’t be moved due to the severity of their injuries. All these men were consolidated into the general hospital that became known as Camp Letterman, which housed around 21,000 badly wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. It was the largest field hospital of the Civil War with 500 tents and the capacity to house 21,000 wounded. About 1,200 soldiers died there, but that number could have been much higher if not for Major John Letterman’s advanced triage system. His system became the gold standard of medical practice during that time period. Since Camp Letterman treated both Union and Confederate soldiers, they were able to interact and help begin to heal the divide that was crippling the nation. For example, there was a picnic at Camp Letterman in which both Union and Confederate soldiers ate and played games together. Camp Letterman was also involved in the First World War, providing housing for soldiers in the wake of the Spanish flu epidemic. Continue reading “Battlefields and Supermarkets: The Importance of Battlefield Preservation and the Case of Camp Letterman”

Appomattox: 152 Years Later

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

Just over a week ago was the 152nd anniversary of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.  Although that number may not be as big a deal as the 150th anniversary a few years ago, there was something else special about this year. For only the seventh time since 1865, April 9th fell on Palm Sunday, just as it did on the day that Grant and Lee met in the McLean House. Not only was I lucky enough to attend this commemoration, but I was able to revisit the job I held over the summer by volunteering that weekend. Arriving on Friday, I donned a volunteer uniform, attached my nametag from the summer, and walked out into the surprisingly cold air.

Names on Bags)
A small section of the 4,600 paper bags with the names of slaves emancipated in Appomattox County that lined the roads throughout the park. Photo courtesy of the author.

Luckily the weather was vastly improved on Saturday and Sunday, as hundreds of visitors flocked to the small village far out of the way of most tourists. Volunteers greeted visitors at the parking lot and helped to answer questions across the site. All weekend, interpretative programs were delivered on topics including Union General Philip Sheridan’s 1865 Central Virginia campaign, the United States Colored Troops at Appomattox, and the surrender proceedings themselves. Reenactors, both Union and Confederate, camped within the park, carrying out firing demonstrations to represent the fighting within and around the village and recreating the stacking of Confederate arms. Continue reading “Appomattox: 152 Years Later”

A Taste of the Civil War: Barbara Sanders’ Lecture on Civil War Era Food

By Savannah Labbe ‘19

There are few ways to better immerse oneself in the past than through food. It is relatively easy to follow a recipe from the Civil War era and enjoy the same cuisine as Union and Confederate soldiers. In this way, one can experience the past in a most interactive way. Experiencing the past was accomplished in the lecture “Hearth, Hardtack, and Hospital: A Close Look (and Taste) of Civil War Era Food,” given by Gettysburg National Military Park education specialist Barbara J. Sanders. The lecture focused on the topic of the interaction between history and food, specifically in the Civil War.

FryingHardtack1887
Many soldiers would fry their hardtack to make it more appetizing. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Sanders’s lecture, while directed at an older audience, was just as interactive as one she might give to a younger audience. She provided samples of food from the Civil War era for the audience to try and showed the audience how rations were issued, having an officer stand with his back to the rations, randomly reading off names of the soldiers to make sure that no soldier was purposefully getting a larger ration than another. She also ground up some coffee beans with a bayonet, as the soldiers would have done. All of these activities helped the audience better experience and imagine what a soldier’s diet and food preparation habits would have been. Continue reading “A Taste of the Civil War: Barbara Sanders’ Lecture on Civil War Era Food”

Abolitionists Day: Why Now?

Olivia Ortman reports on Gettysburg’s first-ever Abolitionists Day, offering her take on the event as a day of coming together.

By Olivia Ortman ’19

This past Saturday, I attended the very first Abolitionists Day here in Gettysburg. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the Seminary Ridge Refectory, but the crowded room seemed like a promising sight to me. When the event started, I was greeted with the words of famous abolitionists—William Loyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe—being spoken by reenactors in period garb. As I listened, I couldn’t help wondering why now? This was a question I heard echoed by many of the other event goers. Why hold the first Abolitionist Day on March 4, 2017?

abol-day-reenactors
Several of the reenactors who attended to commemorate the abolitionists. Photograph by author.

Thankfully one of my professors explained that this day was also Confederate Flag Day. Last year at this time, Gettysburg was home to a Confederate flag rally. Although I was not present at that event, I heard stories about it from friends. Fellow blogger Jeff Lauck compared the event to battle as angry demonstrators turned the day into a hostile debate of whose view of the flag was right. This Abolitionist Day, activity was meant as a response to that Confederate flag event. It was an alternative for people who didn’t want to celebrate the controversial history and separation evoked by that divisive symbol. Continue reading “Abolitionists Day: Why Now?”

The 2016 Fortenbaugh Lecture: Individual Responses to Lincoln’s Assassination

By Hannah Christensen ’17

Every year on November 19th, the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, a distinguished scholar of the Civil War Era is invited to speak as part of the Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture and present an aspect of the Civil War in a format that the general public can understand. This year, the 55th annual Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture was delivered by Dr. Martha Hodes of New York University. Dr. Hodes’ lecture was based on her book Mourning Lincoln and argued, based on personal primary sources from the immediate aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, that Americans’ responses were by no means consistent. Not everyone mourned, nor was everyone totally focused on the assassination, partly because there were differing visions for the nation’s future.

Martha Hodes' book Mourning Lincoln. Photo courtesy of Yale University Press
Martha Hodes’ book Mourning Lincoln. Photo courtesy of Yale University Press

At the beginning of her lecture, Dr. Hodes explained that she has always mentioned Lincoln’s assassination in the course she teaches on the Civil War, but  she did not become more interested in the event until after 9/11. She said it made her think about “how people respond to transformative events on the scale of everyday life.” She began to wonder how individual people responded to such a transformative event as Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and came up with the idea of writing a book about it because no one had written about the assassination using individuals’ own, private words. Continue reading “The 2016 Fortenbaugh Lecture: Individual Responses to Lincoln’s Assassination”

A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Past: The National Museum of African American History and Culture

By Danielle Jones ’18

On September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened to the public after almost two decades of planning and more than a century of fighting for a memorial for African Americans. Starting in 1915, when a group of United States Colored Troops sought a memorial for their fallen soldiers, African Americans have worked to have their history remembered on a national scale. A congressional commission for a museum dedicated to African Americans was signed in 1929 by Calvin Coolidge, but the stock market crash in October prevented the museum from being built. The memorial was pushed to the back burner until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s galvanized the need for a museum again. In 1986, a joint resolution proposed by Representatives Mickey Leland of Texas and John Lewis of Georgia as well as Senator Paul Simon of Illinois marked the beginning of the modern fight for a museum dedicated solely to African Americans.

The representatives faced strong opposition from Congress about the museum. Perhaps the strongest opposition came from Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) who argued in 1996 that “once Congress gives the go ahead for African Americans, how can Congress then say no to Hispanics, and the next group, and the group after that?” Helms even went as far as stating that as long as he was in the United States Congress, there would be no museum. Despite this uphill struggle, in 2001 President George W. Bush signed House Resolution 3442, establishing a commission to develop a plan of action for the creation of the museum. In 2006, the location of the museum was finalized, and in 2009 the architectural group Feelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup was announced as the winner of the design competition held in January of that year. On February 22, 2012 the ground breaking ceremony for NMAAHC was held.

A view of the museum's stunning architecture. Photo credit: Douglas Remley / Smithsonian.
A view of the museum’s stunning architecture. Photo credit: Douglas Remley / Smithsonian.

Continue reading “A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Past: The National Museum of African American History and Culture”

The Moment We’ve all Been Waiting For: Lee’s Gettysburg Headquarters Opens

By Savannah Rose ’17

On October 28, 2016, the doors of the Mary Thompson house located on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg opened before a crowd of over one thousand Civil War Trust members and Civil War enthusiasts. In 2013, the Civil War Trust purchased a portion of land on Seminary Ridge, land covered with a motel, a brewery, a restaurant, and the Mary Thompson house, which some know as the headquarters of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Since purchasing the land the Civil War Trust, in partnership with other organizations, has worked to restore the Thompson property to its 1863 appearance by tearing down numerous contemporary buildings and restoring the house used by Lee during the Battle of Gettysburg. This past Friday, I walked my way up to Seminary Ridge, excited to see the finished project after watching the spot’s restoration for years.

Visitors wait in line to enter the newly restored Mary Thompson House. Visitors will now see the structure as Confederate General Robert E. Lee would have seen it when he arrived on July 1, 1863. Photo courtesy of the author.
Visitors wait in line to enter the newly restored Mary Thompson House. Visitors will now see the structure as Confederate General Robert E. Lee would have seen it when he arrived on July 1, 1863. Photo courtesy of the author.

When I got to the top of the ridge, braving the cold and the wind, I found the attendees surrounding a small stone house. The scene seem so different than it did just a few years ago when I entered the restaurant that once stood on the site. The crowd amassed near the house where the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band stood with a small podium, filling the air with Civil War music. Lee’s headquarters remained closed as more people began to arrive. Continue reading “The Moment We’ve all Been Waiting For: Lee’s Gettysburg Headquarters Opens”

Images of Power, Images of War: Schmucker Art Gallery’s New Exhibit

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Bodies in Conflict: From Gettysburg to Iraq is a brand new exhibit in Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College. Curated by Mellon Summer Scholar Laura Bergin ’17, it features eleven depictions of bodies engaged in various conflicts in U.S. history, ranging from the Civil War to the war in Iraq. In addition to curating the physical exhibit found in Schmucker Art Gallery, Bergin also created a virtual version, which can be accessed online through the Schmucker Gallery web page. Of particular interest to those interested in the Civil War are two of the oldest pieces in the collection, a lithograph depicting Pennsylvania Bucktails engaging with “Stonewall” Jackson’s men and stenograph images that depict the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Stereoscope portraying the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
This stereoscope portraying the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg is featured in Bergin’s exhibit. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Bergin’s self-designed major, Images of Conflict, was the basis for creating the exhibit, and her interdisciplinary focus shines in the exhibit’s curation. Bergin focuses on both the artistic and historical context of each image, bringing to the forefront the emotions each image is attempting to convey to the viewers. She worked closely with her faculty mentor, Shannon Egan, director of Schmucker Art Gallery, as well as Carolyn Sautter and Molly Reynolds of Musselman Library Special Collections in order to gather pieces from the college collections for the exhibit. Bergin also wrote up short essays for each piece featured in the collection that provide historical context as well as her own interpretations of each piece’s meaning, which are installed next to each piece and featured in the exhibit catalog. Continue reading “Images of Power, Images of War: Schmucker Art Gallery’s New Exhibit”

"A Terrible Beauty is Born": A Panel on the 1916 Easter Rising

By Meg Sutter ’16

On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, Gettysburg College students and faculty gathered in Penn Hall Lyceum to acknowledge the centennial of the Easter Rising. On April 24, 1916, the day after Easter Sunday, an armed rebellion led by Irish Republicans seized the General Post Office and other major buildings in the center of Dublin, and declared a “Republic of Ireland.” Approximately 1,600 members of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army participated in the six-day rebellion. The Rising was an act to overthrow the British government in Ireland and provoke a full-out revolution. After a week, however, British forces squashed the rebellion and arrested 3,000 people. The following month, fifteen leaders of the Rising were executed. While the Rising did not initially gain support from the Irish public, the ensuing brutality administered by the British in the aftermath of the rebellion spawned public dissent and fueled political unrest and further violence.

Three Gettysburg College faculty members, Benjamin Luley, Ian Isherwood, and Robert Bohrer, presented at the Wednesday night panel. Vice Provost Jack Ryan gave opening remarks and introduced the panel.

Speakers
Members of the faculty panel. Photography by the author.

Continue reading “"A Terrible Beauty is Born": A Panel on the 1916 Easter Rising”

This Month in Civil War History: April 2016

By Jeff Lauck ’18

A hand-colored lithograph by Currier & Ives depicting the attack on Fort Sumter. Photo via Library of Congress
A hand-colored lithograph by Currier & Ives depicting the attack on Fort Sumter. Photo via Library of Congress

Click the play button below in order to listen to “This Month in Civil War History.” You can also scroll down to read through the transcript if you would prefer to read it. This report is also airing on WZBT 91.1 FM throughout this month. Thanks to WZBT for their help in producing this piece.

Transcript:

Continue reading “This Month in Civil War History: April 2016”