The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg: Healing the Divide? 

By Savannah Labbe ‘19

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

Larkin Woodruff, 50th USCT. 75th Anniversary of Gettysburg medals. Veterans attending 75th Anniversary commemorations wore medals like these full of symbolism. The bundle of wooden rods surrounding an axe is a classical symbol called a “fasces.” In Roman times, it stood for martial strength through unity and brotherhood and brotherhood. Sadly, Larkin Woodruff died just weeks before the 75th Anniversary Commemoration in Gettysburg, PA. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.

Between June 29 and July 6, 1938, approximately 1,870 Union and Confederate veterans gathered at that fateful battlefield where many of them had fought 75 years earlier. The veterans stayed in camps and took part in various ceremonies and parades, including a parade of veterans from all wars since 1863, as well as a military flyover. The highlight of the ceremonial events, however, was the dedication of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial on Oak Hill outside of town. President Franklin Roosevelt made the dedication speech on July 3, 1938, around the same time Pickett made his charge 75 years before. More than 200,000 people attended, watching the friendly reunion of men who had once been enemies. Together, two men—92-year-old Union veteran George N. Lockwood of Los Angeles, CA, and 91-year-old Confederate veteran A.G. Harris of McDonough, GA—undraped the flag covering the memorial.

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All For Honor: Officer Responses to the McConaughy Letters

By Olivia Ortman ’19

In Special Collections here at Gettysburg College is a compilation of letters by Civil War officers responding to an invitation to attend the very first reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg. The reunion was initiated by David McConaughy–a lawyer in Adams County, PA who had organized a group of local men to fight for the Union during the war–and was meant to be a time for the officers who had fought here to come together and walk the battlefield. On this walk, they would point out the locations their troops had occupied during the fight so that McConaughy and his committee could put up markers. When I saw this collection, I knew I had to dig in.

I looked at a total of 102 responses sent by the officers and cataloged them by which side the officer fought for and whether he had agreed to attend. I also reviewed the content of each letter, wondering what the men thought about rehashing the battle, especially since only five years had gone. Was it perhaps too soon to reopen the wounds of this bloody battle and ask men to recount what had happened here?

The response from former Union officers was exactly what I had predicted. 91 union officers replied to McConaughy’s invitation and 71 of them said that they would take “great pleasure” in being present for such an important event. In his letter, A. Von Steinweir wrote, “I anticipate much pleasure from the renewal of former associations and from meeting with you & the members of your association, by whose disinterested labors many historical facts, relating to the great contest, will be rescued from oblivion.” Many of the officers even spoke of bringing their wives with them for the event. This was a chance for these men to relive a moment of glory, and they all wanted to take advantage of it. Although twenty men ultimately had to decline the offer to revisit the battlefield, many of them cited current military obligations, in great detail, that kept them from attending. All would have gone if it had been possible. Continue reading “All For Honor: Officer Responses to the McConaughy Letters”

A Complex Homecoming for Union Veterans: An Interview with Lesley Gordon

Lesley Gordon
Lesley Gordon. Image courtesy of the University of Akron.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies.  Today, we’re speaking with Lesley Gordon, Professor of History at The University of Akron. Gordon’s publications include: General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend (University of North Carolina Press, 1998), Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and their Wives (Oxford University Press, 2001), and This Terrible War: The Civil War and its Aftermath (Longman, 2003). Her latest book, A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War, was published in 2014 by the Louisiana State University Press.

CWI: What challenges and opportunities did US veterans encounter upon returning home from the war?  What was the process of re-assimilation back into civilian life like?  How did that process vary across different regions, classes, races, and ethnicities?

Gordon: Union veterans came home after the war hoping to return to normalcy. Demobilization happened quickly, especially considering how many soldiers had served and how long this “terrible” war had lasted. However, many found resuming their prewar lives difficult. Some of course did successfully return to their families, jobs and lives and blended smoothly and quietly into postwar society. We know more about those who struggled and failed—they simply left more records or drew more public attention. Some veterans were recovering from lingering wounds, physical, emotional and psychological ones. Yet, increasingly all veterans realized that they faced a changed postwar society, and a civilian population largely ready to move on. By the turn of the century, a growing perception of the Union veteran was that of the dependent pensioner, reliant on the state for care and financial support.

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Lost Cause in the Oval Office: Woodrow Wilson’s Racist Policies and White-Washed Memory of the Civil War

By Jeff Lauck ’18

For the past several weeks, students all across the nation have opened up discussions on race relations on university campuses and in American culture at large. The latest battlefield in the fight for greater inclusion is Princeton University, where protestors from the Black Justice League staged a 32 hour sit-in at the president’s office. Princeton University, traditionally viewed as a bastion of progressivism and liberal ideology, is coming under fire for its reverence for perhaps their most famous graduate, President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson graduated from Princeton University Class of 1879 and served as president of the school from 1902 until 1910, after which he was elected Governor of New Jersey and subsequently the 28th President of the United States.

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President Woodrow Wilson addresses the crowd at the 50th Anniversary Blue & Gray Reunion at Gettysburg in 1913. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At a superficial level, Princeton seems entirely justified in venerating their well-accomplished graduate. However, as the Black Justice League has pointed out, President Wilson has also left a legacy of racism in his wake. In July 1912, Wilson enlisted the help of African American civil-rights leader William Monroe Trotter to increase his prospects among the black community during his campaign for the presidency. In exchange, Wilson promised to promote fairness for all Americans. During the first year of Wilson’s presidency, Trotter again visited Wilson to follow up on his promise. Trotter brought with him prominent civil-rights leader Ida B. Wells as well as documented proof of a policy of segregation in federal offices. Trotter and Wells were dismissed with “vague assurances” from the president. In a third meeting in the Oval Office in 1914, Trotter escalated his rhetoric, charging that the president himself was promoting Jim Crow policies in the federal government. Wilson responded by arguing that segregation was put in place to benefit blacks and should not be seen as a “humiliation” for the African American community. The conversation quickly took a turn for the worse and Trotter and his delegation were escorted out of the White House, tempers flaring. Continue reading “Lost Cause in the Oval Office: Woodrow Wilson’s Racist Policies and White-Washed Memory of the Civil War”

All Roads Led to Gettysburg: The 75th Anniversary

by Becky Oakes, ’13 They came by train like specters of a bygone era. The year was 1938, the average age of the boys in blue and gray was ninety-three, and the 75th anniversary of the battle marked the last great reunion of Union and Confederate v…

By Becky Oakes ’13

They came by train like specters of a bygone era. The year was 1938, the average age of the boys in blue and gray was ninety-three, and the 75th anniversary of the battle marked the last great reunion of Union and Confederate veterans on the hallowed fields of Gettysburg. Just over 10,000 veterans of the War Between the States were still alive, representing the last direct links to the four pivotal years that shaped our nation. As this number grew fewer each year, these soldiers and the stories they possessed, faded from living memory into the annals of an ever-changing world. But from June 29th to July 6th, the memories of 1,845 old soldiers came together at Gettysburg.

 

The wounds from America’s most terrible conflict were by no means healed by 1938. Sectional and racial divides still ran deep. Several veterans declined their invitations, animosity from a lifetime ago still fresh in their minds. Commissioners had difficulty convincing both the United Confederate Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic to attend. However, the story of those who refused to come is not the story that survived the test of time.

 

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Photo courtesy Gettysburg College Digital Collections.

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The Woolson Monument and the Grand Army of the Republic

On September 12, 1956, a crowd of nearly 3,000 people gathered at Zeigler???s Grove on Gettysburg???s Cemetery Hill to witness the dedication of a monument of Albert Woolson, known formally as the Grand Army of the Republic Monument. This event was th…

By Mary Roll ’12

On September 12, 1956, a crowd of nearly 3,000 people gathered at Zeigler’s Grove on Gettysburg’s Cemetery Hill to witness the dedication of a monument of Albert Woolson, known formally as the Grand Army of the Republic Monument. This event was the highlight of the 75th National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), held from Sunday, September 9th through Thursday, September 13th. Woolson, a native of Antwerp, New York, who grew up in Minnesota, was born on February 11, 1847. He died on August 2, 1956, at the age of 109, only a month before the dedication of the monument bearing his likeness. Woolson is credited with being the last Union survivor of the war, and soon after his death, the G.A.R. was officially dissolved.

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Pennsylvania College During the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

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,…

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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.
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Lewis Tway’s Tin Cup

On July 1, 1913, veterans of the American Civil War, both Union and Confederate, gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The anniversary activities served a dual purpose of commemorating the battle and those who p…

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On July 1, 1913, veterans of the American Civil War, both Union and Confederate, gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The anniversary activities served a dual purpose of commemorating the battle and those who perished there, and giving veterans the chance to come together and reminisce and share with each other experiences that few outsiders would be able to appreciate or understand. Despite worries that hostility may lie between veterans from the North and South the event as a whole was a harmonious occasion that ultimately commemorated the anniversary of one of the greatest battles fought on American soil.

For many, mention of the American Civil War conjures up notions of excitement and danger; these elements, while certainly present, had less of a presence than many of us would believe. In fact estimates say that up to 75% of a soldier’s time was spent marching and in camp, in situations that were relatively safe from the threat of combat. This led to periods that soldiers described as times of intense boredom.
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The Veterans’ Home That Wasn’t

The Veterans??? Home That Wasn???t: What the Gettysburg Asylum for Invalid Soldiers can tell us about the tangled themes of place and healing In July of 1913, well over 50,000 Civil War veterans from both the Union and Confederate armies descended upo…

By Brian Johnson ’14

What can the Gettysburg Asylum for Invalid Soldiers can tell us about the tangled themes of place and healing?

In July of 1913, well over 50,000 Civil War veterans from both the Union and Confederate armies descended upon Gettysburg.  They had come to commemorate the events that had transpired there 50 years earlier but not the viscerality of the fighting and loss that they had experienced.  These silver-haired men came to Gettysburg amidst the triumph of sectional and spiritual reconciliation; healing was the order of the day.  And where could healing take place more powerfully and symbolically than at the site of one of the climactic battles of the Civil War?  If veterans of the Blue and Gray could shake hands at a place as brutally contested as the stone wall of Pickett’s Charge – and do so amidst sincere good feeling – reconciliation and healing must have been complete.

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What does this have to do with the Gettysburg Asylum for Invalid Soldiers?  The 1913 Gettysburg Reunion was a testament to how powerful place can be in creating a fitting sense of healing and even closure to a painful historical event.  National cemeteries at Civil War battlefields, like the one at Gettysburg, represent the same concept.  Many Union soldiers killed during the battle are buried in Gettysburg, the place where they fell, in what is seen as a fitting resting place.  But beyond these better known examples of the 1913 Reunion and the National Cemetery, a very similar process – one that utilized a place to create a sense of healing – was also at work in 1867 with the proposal of a veterans’ home known as the Gettysburg Asylum for Invalid Soldiers.
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