Back in February of 2014, I was rather surprised to receive a phone call from a Mr. John Hennessey, head of interpretation at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. John had been chatting with my advisor, Dr. Peter Carmichael, and had heard the story about my interesting ancestry and its connection to the Battle of Gettysburg. John then called me after getting my information from Professor Carmichael and invited me to be a part of the “Years of Anguish” Program that was being held at the Salem Baptist Church on April 5th, 2014. The themes of the panel were presidents, generals, and descendants of the American Civil War and John invited me to share the story of my ancestors’ involvement in the war as part of the lecture. I was truly honored and hit with a jolt of excitement when I realized that I would be telling my story to a crowd of people who were just as passionate about the Civil War as I was.
On the night of March 5th, 2014, a crowd of Gettysburgians and devoted fans filtered into a small auditorium to hear Dr. Allen C. Guelzo who was giving his final lecture in his Abraham Lincoln lecture series, a four-part analysis about the president’s rise to power to his death. The fourth and final lecture focused on President Lincoln’s triumphs in his presidency and many of the challenges he overcame in the last two years of his life. Dr. Guelzo began with talking about the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and its reception in the Union and in the Confederacy. Lincoln received angry and confused questions about why the war should be fought for slave freedom rather than just the country’s reunion. Also, the Proclamation’s wider acceptance was hindered by the string of Union military failures that seemed to plague the eastern Army of the Potomac: George McClellan’s failure to pursue Lee’s Army of the Northern Virginia after the tactical draw at Antietam in September 1862, Ambrose Burnside’s major blunder at Fredericksburg in December 1862, and Joseph Hooker’s large failure at the hands of Lee at Chancellorsville in May 1863.
It is no secret that slavery in America was abhorrent — people endured such abuses as beatings and were often thought of as less than human. When looking at prebellum slavery, artist Glenn Ligon found that he could tell the narratives of black women — stories of horrors endured under the whip, stories of rape — through the medium of his photo etchings. On February 21, 2014, I attended a lecture in Gettysburg College’s Mara Auditorium that spoke about Ligon’s art. Professors Kimberly Rae Conner, Crystal Feimster, and Scott Hancock were the key speakers for the lecture and all approached Ligon’s pieces with different and interesting interpretations.
The first speaker, Professor Kimberly Rae Connor, herself a Gettysburg College graduate (’79), talked about how she was inspired to look at poetry from African-Americans, which was a shift from her original focus of European literature, when she did her dissertation at the University of Virginia. While doing her research, she became extremely passionate about black history when she learned of some of the slave narratives she read. She also remarked on the progress of racial integration at Gettysburg College and the University of Virginia, and how in the 70s and 80s, minority recruitment was still very low at both of these schools. In other places outside of colleges and universities there were observable scars of the Civil War, as well. Professor Connor spoke about a visit to Monticello. During the tour, one of the guides referred to Thomas Jefferson’s slaves as “servants.” By changing the word, the tour guide bestowed upon the slaves a freedom and agency they did not possess under the south’s Peculiar Institution.
Many historians who study the United States share a passion for studying Abraham Lincoln’s intricacies and complexities. One of those historians is none other than Dr. Allen Guelzo. Dr. Guelzo has given many lectures on Lincoln, the most noteworthy of which is his four-part lecture series on the President’s life. On January 28, 2014, Dr. Guelzo presented a lecture in Gettysburg College’s Kline Theatre called “Lincoln: The Uncertain President”. The lecture was primarily focused on Lincoln’s rise to power, starting with his debates with Stephen Douglas to the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr. Guelzo’s main theme throughout the lecture was showing how Lincoln, during the early years of the Civil War, was confronted with a situation that no president had ever dealt with before. Lincoln was new to the presidency and a war of secession was new to the country.
January 23, 2014, marked the opening of the exhibit “Out of Rubble” that features the work of eighteen international artists from more than ten countries. The show examines the complex issues and contexts surrounding war — from causes and consequences to the possibility of recovery. Prior to the exhibit’s opening, three professors from three different colleges gathered in Gettysburg College’s Kline Theatre for a symposium — a lecture that discussed the paintings and photographs that grapple with the aftermath of war. All wars have shown destruction and death, but how have these themes lingered through time? How have they changed from war to war?
For as long as I can remember, one of the most recognizable and famous speeches I ever learned about was the Gettysburg Address. The image of Lincoln I have had since grade school is one of a great emancipator who cared deeply about freeing the slaves. As I have grown older and read many different works from many different authors, this image of Lincoln has transformed. However, when reading the words of the Gettysburg Address, you can see that by November 1863, Lincoln truly believed that the American Civil War was a war then waged for freedom and not just reunion. Being at the Soldier’s National Cemetery on the cold, blustery morning of November 19, 2013, I almost couldn’t fathom that 150 years earlier, Abraham Lincoln was on Cemetery Hill too, speaking his immortal words. He was not only asking for the nation to keep fighting, but invoking the idea that there was still work to be done for the future generations to create the nation that the forefathers had envisioned. Continue reading “A Timeless Charge: The Gettysburg Address from 1863 to 2013”
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a man of many talents. He served as one of America’s most distinguished presidents and possessed an abiding love for the military, a passion that led him to become General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during WWII. He was the man behind the “Liberation of Europe” and led the way for his forces to rid the world of tyranny. However, before he was a president and before he was a general, Ike was a captain fresh out of West Point who wanted to achieve fame and glory on the battlefields of World War I. Instead of being sent abroad to active duty, Ike was assigned the domestic duty of training potential tank crews at a new army camp on the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
As our readers certainly remember the summer of 2013 was the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. On the days of the July 1-3, 1863, the pivotal battle of Gettysburg was fought between the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, possibly to decide the fate of the nation. By 1863, the death toll had reached catastrophic levels and both North and South were growing fatigued by war. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was looking for a final knockout blow against the Union Army. After his victory at Chancellorsville in May 1863, Lee took his army of 80,000 men north into southern Pennsylvania, slowly being pursued by Union Gen. Joseph Hooker’s army of 93,000 men. On June 28th, Hooker was replaced by Gen. George Gordon Meade.The two armies collided in Gettysburg two days later.
The first two days of the battle were extremely costly for both sides, racking up close to 15,000 to 20,000 casualties total every single day. The events that took place on the night of July 2, 1863 shaped the decisions and outcomes on July 3. General Meade called a council of war among his generals to find out what condition his army was in and whether they should continue to defend Cemetery Hill/Ridge. This pivotal meeting during this pivotal battle happened in the small quarters of the Leister farmhouse on Cemetery Ridge. It’s hard to imagine that people like Lydia Leister lived on the land that turned red with the blood of men in blue and gray. Continue reading “Inside the Leister House – July 2, 2013”
It is almost impossible to comprehend the fact that 150 years ago today, the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was still rebuilding itself from the destruction, death, and decay that resulted from the climactic battle between the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on July 1-3, 1863. I must say that it was a tremendous honor to have worked with the National Park Service so far this summer and I look forward to the rest of it. Without a doubt, the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was my true test of the summer, and it was an extremely rewarding and, at times, trying experience. To describe the events that took place during the anniversary, I suppose I should start from the beginning.
The anniversary officially kicked off on June 30th, when throughout the day, the NPS and Gettysburg Foundation staff began to receive the mass amounts of the visitors that were flooding the town. While most of the permanent staff members began their anniversary programs with specific key moment stations, I was still assigned to my normal schedule, which for that Sunday included giving my 10:30 a.m. Third Day Program, which is basically a walking tour of the High Water Mark at the Angle on Cemetery Ridge. I had my biggest group yet of over forty-five people and it was extremely well received by them, especially those who were visiting Gettysburg for the first time. The big climax to the 30th was the commemorative kickoff at Meade’s Headquarters in the evening, where the U.S. Army Brass Band was accompanied by a 21 gun salute from howitzers.
Many historians would agree that Abraham Lincoln was one of the most complex individuals of the Civil War Era. He was a strong and fascinating politician. However, Lincoln’s leadership has generated mixed reviews among historians and Civil War buffs everywhere, particularly keeping divisions between the North and South. Dr. Frawley’s lecture, held in McCreary Hall at Gettysburg College, discussed how Lincoln navigated the Union through the war. In particular, Dr. Frawley considered the legalities of war and military conduct in the 1860s.