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”