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”

First In the Nation’s History: Gettysburg From Battlefield Memorial Association to National Park

By Hannah Christensen ’17

Just over a month after the Battle of Gettysburg turned the town on its head, local attorney David McConaughy sent a letter to several prominent citizens suggesting that “there could be no more fitting and expressive memorial of the heroic valor and signal triumphs of our army…than the battle-field itself.” He had already purchased some of the ground, and in order to keep the effort going, he suggested trying to get Pennsylvania citizens to contribute money to purchase and preserve more. In order to manage this fund and the battlefield, McConaughy proposed the formation of a preservation association and made a plan to seek its formal incorporation by the State Legislature. The idea went over well with the local citizens, and on September 5, 1863, they and McConaughy met to consider the matter of battlefield preservation. What they established was Gettysburg’s first preservation organization and the nation’s earliest attempt to preserve a Civil War battlefield.

The beginnings of battlefield preservation went hand in hand with another post-battle development: the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. David Wills and McConaughy presented competing solutions to the problem of where to put thousands of Union dead, and Wills’ plan won out. McConaughy’s plan was designed to benefit the local Evergreen Cemetery, while Wills had planned for an entirely separate cemetery. McConaughy then turned his attention to battlefield preservation: he and the group of citizens that met on September 5th created the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA), which created a fund for preservation purposes to be supported by voluntary subscriptions at $10 per share. They also appointed a provisional committee from which an executive committee would be elected; they would also appoint local committees across Pennsylvania.

When the fund was large enough, the subscribers were supposed to elect trustees, meet at Gettysburg, and organize. The officers on Gettysburg’s preliminary committee consisted of Joseph R. Ingersoll (chair), Dr. Samuel S. Schmucker and Rev. J. Ziegler (vice chairs), T. D. Carson (treasurer), and David McConaughy (secretary). The executive committee consisted entirely of Gettysburg residents and included J. B. Danner, J. L. Schich, D. A. Buehler, David McConaughy, R. G. McCreary, George Arnold, and T. D. Carson.

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View of woods near the location where General John Reynolds was killed c. July 1863. This area was one of the first parts of the battlefield purchased on behalf of the GBMA. Photo via Library of Congress.

Continue reading “First In the Nation’s History: Gettysburg From Battlefield Memorial Association to National Park”

Treason or Slander?

by Gabby Hornbeck, ’13 On July 4th, 1863, Henry J. Stahle, editor of the Gettysburg Compiler was arrested and sent to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. He was accused of “copperhead treason” in the form of informing a “rebel colonel” during the…

By Gabby Hornbeck ’13

On July 4th, 1863, Henry J. Stahle, editor of the Gettysburg Compiler was arrested and sent to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. He was accused of “copperhead treason” in the form of informing “a rebel colonel” during the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.(1) In speaking of his discussion with General Morris upon his forced return to Fort McHenry in late July of 1863, Stahle wrote,

We suspected that some fiendish political opponent was at the bottom of it, and we could afford to suffer more yet in order to discover him–and hoped Gen. Morris had now evidence enough to enable us to place our finger upon the very man. We asked him why he ordered our return. He replied, ‘a letter from Gettysburg.’ We asked to see it, and it was produced. There it was!–in the hand-writing of and signed by D. McCONAUGHY (2)

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Some Limitations on Reunion

by Drew Hoffman, ’15 Five years after the last shot was fired at Gettysburg, it would be the project of Captain David McConaughy of Adams County, PA to bring officers who had fought in the battle back to Gettysburg. David McConaughy was attempting…

By Drew Hoffman ’15

Five years after the last shot was fired at Gettysburg, it would be the project of Captain David McConaughy of Adams County, PA to bring officers who had fought in the battle back to Gettysburg.  David McConaughy was attempting something big for August 23, 1869.  His plan was for a reunion of generals from both sides to come back to Gettysburg.  He also sought to compile information about the positions of all the units that fought in the battle in order to create a detailed account for posterity.

However, what McConaughy proposed was really unprecedented in 1869.  Some in the press believed it could be a major flop.  Even McConaughy’s good friend, Samuel Crawford wrote from Alabama that, “I fear you will not have any representation from the South.  There are many officers and soldiers of Hood’s Division around me and from them [I] have learned some very interesting facts.  They do not seem inclined to go to Gettysburg for the purpose indicated.”

In fact, the reunion was largely only attended by soldiers of the Army of the Potomac, rather than both sides of the battle: only two southerners would eventually show up.  Certainly, generals who had played massive roles in the battle such as Robert E. Lee and George Sykes did not attend.  Positive replies came in mostly from mid-level Union officers.  Why was this? Was it because too little time had elapsed since the guns fell silent? Was it also because southern generals spitefully were shunning the memory of a battle in which they lost?

A reply from John Gibbon is telling.  Gibbon, a veteran who served under Confederate General Ewell during the battle wrote from Utah in 1869:  “I sincerely regret my inability to be present at such a interesting meeting as your propose, and I fear that the meeting is so close at hand and my station so remote that I can be but of little assistance to you in corresponding [. . .]”

The distance involved in such a trip must have seemed almost insurmountable to Gibbon.  Extensive travel in 1869 was difficult even with the growing system if railways being built throughout the country.  For many others, the costs associated with travel were a vexing problem.  Many veterans including William L. Tilton conditioned their attendance on receiving compensation for these expenses, stating: “[I] will come if I can have a pass over the several railways from Boston to Gettysburg.”  If it was expensive for a former Union general to go from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, it must have been a pretty penny for Crawford’s men in Alabama to attend.  With such factors to be taken into consideration, it is easier to understand why the majority of officers who attended McConaughy’s reunion were from adjacent states, such as Ohio and New York.

The immense distances involved in trying to gather men together was something that stretched the limits of the speed of the travel of communication and people.  While the idea of returning to the battlefield appealed to countless veterans, these limitations would prove to be a significant blow to the regional balance on McConaughy’s attendance roster that August in 1869.  It would take another 44 years before McConaughy’s dream could be realized at the battle’s bicentennial in 1913.


Sources:

David McConaughy Collection.  Gettysburg:  Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. Blight, David W.  Beyond the Battlefield:  Race, memory, and the American Civil War.  Boston:  University of Massachusetts Press, 2002.  120-125.

“The Gettysburg Reunion.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 24, 1869.

Weeks, Jim.  Gettysburg:  Memory, Market, and an American Shrine.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2003.  105.

Bury Them in Peace

The creation of the Soldiers??? National Cemetery in Gettysburg was designed to honor the fallen Union soldiers of the battle with a peaceful final resting place easily accessible for visitors. This was a difficult, costly, and momentous undertaking…

This post was first published on the Civil War Institute’s previous blog901 Stories from Gettysburg.
The creation of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg was designed to honor the fallen Union soldiers of the battle with a peaceful final resting place easily accessible for visitors.  This was a difficult, costly, and momentous undertaking, but its success is as important today as as it was in 1864. While only a small percentage of the total number of visitors to Gettysburg see the National Cemetery, it is important to recognize the hard work and dedication which went into its creation. Equally as important are those who were not buried in the cemetery, those who were left buried on the field until 1871, the Confederate dead.

After the initial burials of the dead soldiers of Gettysburg in July 1863, townspeople and officials noted a few problems with the grave sites: agricultural issues because bodies were buried on working farms, visitation issues for both known and unknown soldiers, shallow graves that failed to show the respect due for men who had died for their country, and the lack of a place  for communal remembrance. As a solution, Dr. Theodor Dimon, a relief surgeon sent from New York, suggested part of the Evergreen Cemetery should be purchased and turned into a national cemetery for the interment of the Union dead, as made possible by the passage of a law in 1862 allowing the Federal government to purchase land for use as national cemeteries. David McConaughy, president of the board of directors for Evergreen Cemetery, made a similar suggestion to the state of Pennsylvania to buy plots of land and bury all of the state’s dead there. Understanding the need for reinterment, David Wills, a prominent Gettysburg attorney, spearheaded the movement to purchase the land and create a national cemetery at Gettysburg for all Union men.

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David McConaughy’s Letter of Invitation to Robert E. Lee

In the summer of 1869, Gettysburg attorney David McConaughy, president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, invited former Confederate commander Robert E. Lee to participate in a reunion of officers in Gettysburg for the purpose of …

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In the summer of 1869, Gettysburg attorney David McConaughy, president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, invited former Confederate commander Robert E. Lee to participate in a reunion of officers in Gettysburg for the purpose of interpreting and memorializing the battlefield.   Inviting Lee was an obvious choice for McConaughy. The general, however, was clearly reluctant to attend the event or indulge in Civil War remembrance. In fact, the public attention he received often made him uncomfortable and he became more reticent in divulging his side of the story. At face value, his desire to not “keep open the sores of war” appears to be a magnanimous gesture meant to suppress the ill will engendered by remembrance of the War’s bitter sectional animosities. That Robert E. Lee politely refused to attend a public event celebrating his most famous defeat is understandable. Lee was a reserved individual who rarely betrayed his innermost feelings.  For example, Lee delegated the task of writing his famed and emotional farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia to his aide, Colonel Charles Marshall. However, a look at Lee’s own words and actions in the years following his surrender at Appomattox offers further insight into why the Civil War remained a painful topic of discussion for Lee.

Of all the veterans McConaughy sought to bring to the battlefield the former commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee, guaranteed the greatest amount of publicity for McConaughy’s project. After his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia in April 1865, Lee became the embodiment of both reconstruction and reconciliation for the beleaguered South. Lee’s public persona was that of a defeated yet dignified elder statesman whose grace offered dejected Southerners a model of behavior to emulate.    Continue reading “David McConaughy’s Letter of Invitation to Robert E. Lee”