Secession for Sale?: Marketing the Confederacy

By Charlie Miller ’25

Ever since the Civil War ended, many sons and daughters of the South have worked tirelessly to ensure that the spirit of their Confederate ancestors and their failed rebellion would live on, and in a favorable (though often false) light. Historians, politicians, and citizens alike have grappled with such interpretations since the final shots were fired in 1865. The Lost Cause discourse pushes notions of Northern aggression against a peaceful Southern society, deifies leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and highlights the bravery and success of Southern troops against enormous odds. For generations, many Southerners have sought to elevate the image of the Confederate cause and its defenders within the public sphere, initially celebrating them through memorial associations, monuments, parades and literature. Through the moral teachings of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and other materials, they also ensured that every Southern school child would remember their forefathers with nothing short of unadulterated reverence, and emphasize their brave defense of home and hearth against Northern aggression. At Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts, one can find an interesting item that continues to carry on this persistent strand of Confederate memory in the United States today.

The item in question is a shirt emblazoned with a giant, majestic black bald eagle, opening its wings to reveal a sword and the Confederate Stars and Bars. Above the eagle floats a large banner with bold print which proclaims, “You Need a Lesson in American History,” with another banner underneath the eagle stating “If this shirt Offends You.” The shirt is clearly a response to recent backlash against the Confederate flag and Confederate memory as a whole. An owner of this shirt would wear it to show both their ancestral or regional pride, as well as their continued loyalty to the romanticized notions of the Old South. By featuring such merchandise, it appears that the store is looking to cater to, among other niche cultural tourism groups, those who wish to preserve and promote a somewhat siloed version of the memory of the fallen Confederacy’s leaders and soldiers—one that separates martial valor and battlefield bravery from the causes and consequences of Confederate secession.

Gettysburg has long provided an ideal platform for a more romanticized and sanitized version of Confederate memory to flourish, as it plays into Lost Cause notions of an honorable and brave South fighting against insurmountable odds for a noble cause.  One of the most famous spots on the battlefield, the “high-water mark of the Confederacy” at the Angle on Cemetery Ridge, quickly emerged as the symbol of the closest that the Rebels came to winning the war; according to Lost Cause rhetoric, after their brave defeat at Pickett’s Charge, the Confederates never again would get the chance for ultimate victory, and yet they fought on, dutifully and nobly, for another two years in defense of everything they held dear. This concept is flawed, as there is no one real battle, nor spot on any battlefield that held the singular power to turn the teleological tide of war for good, and the war very much hung in the balance throughout the bulk of 1864. However, a palpable place where the Rebels valiantly “almost” realized their dream, against overwhelming odds, holds incredible staying power in the hearts and minds of many, from both the North and the South. Such a tantalizing notion helps to explain why a pro-Confederate shirt would be for sale in a store located at the site of the South’s greatest defeat, in addition to why the former Confederate states were allowed to erect a plethora of monuments to their men along the battlefield.

For many, both commemorative landscapes such as monuments and memorials, as well as cultural tourism souvenirs such as this shirt serve as a reminder of the Confederate soldiers’ bravery and sacrifice, even in defeat. The erection of Confederate state monuments and statues are some of the most famous efforts to preserve Southern pride and to help educate future generations as to the “most important” causes and consequences of the war, yet their overarching statements carry over into the types of memorabilia sold at the greatest “shrine” to the Civil War in all of America–Gettysburg. Even in defeat, proponents of Confederate memorialization and commercialism emphasize that their men fought bravely and justifiably to the end, accomplishing significant moral victories, if not military ones, despite overwhelming odds. Just as the “high-water mark” represents for Southerners all that they had gained in the face of adversity, this shirt (in a similar, but more blunt sense) aims to project an unshrinking declaration of pride in and respect for the Stars and Bars and for those who fought courageously under it. The assertive language seems to warn any naysayers against disrespecting fallen Confederates, arguing that they don’t truly understand the Civil War or the full “truth” behind the history of the Confederacy if they are upset by the iconography of the shirt. It urges people to be unabashedly proud of what Confederate soldiers and leaders accomplished and how hard they fought, while again siloing how Confederates fought away from the principles that they fought for.

Additionally, the symbol of the eagle is a fascinating part of this shirt. The bald eagle is famously the symbol of the United States, yet a flag whose people took up arms against the U.S. is emblazoned within the eagle. It is not difficult to see the irony here, yet there might be an explanation. Confederate rhetoric during and after the war promoted the notion that the secessionists were the noble successors to the Founding Fathers of the Revolution. They believed that they, and not Northerners, were carrying on the noble duty of the men who established the Constitution and America’s democratic republic, and that southerners’ “freedom” and “states’ rights” were principles that the Constitution upheld. Perhaps this shirt is trying to tap into  these ideas, and use the eagle as a bold  statement that the Confederates were rightly attempting to carry out the vision of the nation’s founding fathers. (Of course, absent from this statement is  the fact that  “freedom” and “states’ rights” that the Confederates fought for were inextricably bound to the institution of slavery.

As many know, countless different interpretations of the battle of Gettysburg and the entire Civil War have proliferated over the past 160 years. The Lost Cause and other interpretations that cast the Confederates in a noble and positive light dominated much of postwar discourse in the South, and eventually in the North as well, gaining a foothold that allowed it to seep into the mainstream of the Civil War’s commemorative and commercial culture and national memory. As this shirt demonstrates, threads of this interpretation are still alive and clearly marketable.

Two Sides to Every Coin: Donald Trump’s and Harriet Tubman’s Complicated Relationships with Gettysburg

By Carly Jensen ‘24

Commemorative coins are popular among gift shop visitors of all ages, whether the purchaser is a history buff or the coin just happens to attract them. Sometimes coins are only available in specific locations, and hunters must travel to find their newest piece. Other times, the shiny veneer entices their gaze, and the figure on the coin draws them in. Coins like the ones pictured above may not be valuable, but they are prevalent throughout Gettysburg’s tourist shops. The Harriet Tubman and Donald Trump coins are a great example of Gettysburg’s thriving dual tourism identity: One side is deeply connected with Civil War history, while the other aims to connect significant present-day issues or political figures with Gettysburg’s Civil War past.

Donald Trump is one of the last figures visitors would expect to see in a Gettysburg gift shop. Although the president did visit the military park in 2016, his trip was not particularly memorable. He visited the scene of Pickett’s Charge and presented a speech but left soon after for his next stop on the campaign trail. When tourists visit Gettysburg, they expect to see souvenirs with Civil War iconography on them, such as flags, cannons, and soldiers. Seeing the face of such a recent president with little connection to the town would make anyone look twice. However, for some, this coin appeals to a sense of proud patriotism; Trump was the country’s president and has touted himself as a redemptive figure for a fractured nation and a “true patriot” who can “make America great again” by re-inculcating traditional American ideals within society. For many tourists to Gettysburg, their visit is part of almost a compulsory stop at one of America’s national “shrines”—a place where the founding ideals of the country were contested in one of the most pivotal and largest battles of the war, a place where Abraham Lincoln famously reaffirmed the sacredness of the Union cause and a place to reaffirm one’s own personal patriotism and devotion to honoring our nation’s fallen heroes. Thus, for some, a visit to Gettysburg and the purchase of a Trump commemorative coin thereat is a cohesive ritual in American patriotism, aimed to simultaneously honor the past and ensure that the future of their nation will be “worthy” of that past. While it is true that the casual collector of presidential coins may simply see this item and want to purchase it merely to expand their collection, and others may purchase it out of sheer admiration for the former Commander in Chief, many purchasers undoubtedly open up their wallets due to what they see as Trump’s modern-day embodiment of the patriotic ideals for which thousands of men fought and died at Gettysburg—the ideals of Lincoln’s Republican Party that they see reflected in Trump’s. Thus, the coin represents a truly unique type of Gettysburg tourism.

The Harriet Tubman coin aligns much more closely with the expected Civil War niche of Gettysburg tourism. Tubman was an escaped slave who made several trips back into the South to rescue about 70 enslaved people using the Underground Railroad. Although Tubman never made the journey to Gettysburg, her story is essential to the broader Civil War story. Numerous locations within Gettysburg and Adams County purport to have been “stations” along the Underground Railroad. Tubman’s famous rescues and usage of the Underground Railroad have made her a household name; she is the subject of movies, books, and even children’s stories. It makes sense that her photo would be on a commemorative coin, though some might wonder why such coins are sold here. Despite her lack of a Gettysburg connection, her status as a hero in the Civil War would certainly attract visitors and prospective purchasers to her coin, and the town’s fame as a border town during the war and home to many stops on the Underground Railroad somewhat justify the inclusion of such an item in the gift shops.

Because Gettysburg is the site of the bloodiest Civil War battle and frequently the first and/or only battlefield that tourists visit, increasingly, both the town’s museums and souvenir shops have striven to address the entire history of the Civil War. Thus, Harriet Tubman’s coin has a few layers; it not only represents Tubman’s personal story but also serves as a reminder of the price of freedom and equality—a price exacted on the fields of Gettysburg as well as in other critical battles. Additionally, in an attempt to appeal to a wider and more diverse set of tourists, many souvenir stores (like the museums and National Park Service) seek to provide stories and tangible items that speak to a broader cross-section of the American public by featuring the stories of those who, in the past, were often relegated to the shadows of history. In purchasing this coin, visitors thus might not only see their personal history more inclusively represented but will also be reminded of the ties between the causes of the war and the battlefield that they just visited.

The placement of the Donald Trump and Harriet Tubman coins is intriguing. During President Trump’s term, there were several pushes to replace President Andrew Jackson with an image of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. However, all of these attempts failed under the Trump administration. The redesign of the currency has since been accelerated after President Biden’s election but has yet to have a current implementation date. President Trump’s refusal to place Tubman on the $20 is political, as he did not want to bend to the will of the Democratic Party and his predecessor, President Obama. However, the juxtaposition of the two commemorative coins does not seem circumstantial; the politically charged legacy of President Trump and his connection to the debates over Harriet Tubman’s monetary image may make visitors more inclined to buy one coin over the other. For instance, supporters of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill may purchase her coin after seeing it next to President Trump’s as a way to support her memory. Others who admire President Trump and support his political partisanship may buy his coin as another keepsake of his term and his political vision for the country. However, some collectors or buffs may still buy both.

Gettysburg has a complicated history. On the one hand, it is a Civil War town that tries to preserve the legacy of the war for the future generation. However, it is also a town in 21st-century America that has to keep up with the politics and social issues of the modern era. As a “pilgrimage” site for a true cross-section of visitors from all over the country—and all around the world—Gettysburg is perpetually navigating the fine balance between past and present, the unique and the universal. The juxtaposition of the Harriet Tubman and Donald Trump coins perfectly illustrates these tensions; President Trump’s controversial governance also reveals the ways in which the present often informs public understanding of the past. While some Gettysburgians wish to focus the visitor’s gaze squarely on the past, others are much more rooted in yoking that past to the present in an attempt to shape the future. There are promises and perils to each. For those involved in the business of “selling Gettysburg,” it means a constant juggling match as they compete for visitors’ minds and money.

My Very First Cannon: Taking the Battlefield Home

By McKenna White ‘25

Visitors to Gettysburg will not be hard-pressed to find a cannon; however, most cannons of Gettysburg are larger than two inches and are meant to be filled with cannon balls, not pencils. Yet, visitors to the Civil War Store will find just this type of unique cannon amongst a wall of other oddly shaped pencil sharpeners ranging from trees to tanks.

Coming in at one inch tall by two inches long, this pencil sharpener masquerading as a cannon looks remarkably similar to the real thing. Raised rivets painted copper to appear to have an “antique finish” and working movable wheels help this cannon-sharpener to appear as realistic as possible.

As previously established, there is an abundance of cannons on the Gettysburg battlefield, so much so that they have become a staple of battlefield promotional photographs and the subjects of countless Gettysburg sunset pictures. Gettysburg would simply not be complete without cannons.

In a way, it is quite ironic how the cannons at Gettysburg have become such a romanticized symbol of the battlefield. What were once mass-killing machines have become props for thousands of photographs and “cool” playgrounds for young children visiting the battlefield.

For many visitors to Gettysburg, especially these young visitors, their battlefield experience revolves around seeing, touching, climbing on, taking pictures in front of, etc. a cannon. It is a pivotal experience that many remember long after their trip to Gettysburg ends. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that they would want to memorialize their cannon experience with a tactile, albeit miniature, replica. The fact that it doubles as a pencil sharpener is a bonus that can be used to convince parents to purchase the cannon or allow them to bring it to school to show off to their friends.

Now every time that a child has to sharpen their pencil in school, they can pull out their cannon-shaped sharpener and remember their wonderful experiences from their trip to Gettysburg. In addition, they get lots of admiration from their friends and classmates regarding their super cool new tool/toy, prompting further conversation regarding their trip to Gettysburg, what they have learned, and likely a few statements along the lines of “Gettysburg had cannons everywhere, it was so cool!”

Most young visitors come to Gettysburg on trips with their schools or families. They stay for a few days, learn about the battle that took place for three days here, and then head back to their regularly scheduled, often boring, classroom work. Yet, for a select few, Gettysburg will stay with them beyond the battlefield, in the form of a cannon-shaped pencil sharpener.

Battlefields and Baseball: Affirmations of the All-American Identity

McKenna White ’25

It is no secret that one can find all manner of oddities in the shops of Gettysburg; however, located in a small basket on the floor of the Civil War Store’s back room is perhaps the last thing one would expect to find: A baseball. This baseball, pictured above, is covered with important battle dates and painted images of Civil War battlefields and generals. It even includes the signatures of Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

Though these two things, baseball and the Gettysburg battlefield, seem mutually exclusive, they have both become staples of the all-American identity. Throughout the years, citizens of the United States have engaged in activities and practices that affirm their Americanness and affirm their patriotism to themselves and others. Baseball has become so entwined with American identity that it is commonly called America’s pastime and is the national sport of the United States. Players of the sport have also been regularly immortalized in trading cards and other related memorabilia.

In the same line of thinking, every year thousands of people from around the country make the pilgrimage to Gettysburg, the so-called “High-Water Mark of the Confederacy,” “turning point of the Civil War,” and site of  “America’s Bloodiest Battle”.  Therefore, it makes perfect sense that any “true” American citizen would want to possess an object that doubly re-affirms their patriotism, allowing them to remember, or in some cases prove, their visit to one of America’s most important historic sites while participating in the commercial culture of America’s favorite game.

Yet, the placement of these baseballs in the shop is also quite telling. First and foremost, they are located in one of the back rooms, situated amongst the novelty name keychains, plastic figurines and toy guns. Their location, combined with their placement on the floor and the fact that, although they commemorate some of the bloodiest battles in American History, these baseballs have no images of blood or gore, support the idea that the sale of these baseballs is targeted towards children, particularly young boys.

Imagine an 8-year-old boy walking into the shop during his family’s trip to Gettysburg. He drags his parents towards the room with all the toys and is immediately enthralled with the plastic rifles and miniature figurines; however, when he goes to take a closer look at the products, he notices a basket of Civil War baseballs that have pictures of battles and generals. He picks one up, thinking of how cool he will look showing it to his friends back home because it has not one, but two signatures of Civil War Generals, much like the baseball cards they’ve been collecting, or the baseball they might have taken to a game on which to collect signatures of their favorite players. Alternately, he might be thinking of how much fun he will have playing catch with his dad (what could be more American than that?). His parents agree to buy the baseball, simply happy he is “engaging” with the history around him.

For many, visiting Gettysburg is a rite of passage. Hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families visit the small Pennsylvania town every year, with tourist groups ranging from middle school class trips to Boy Scout Troops, to Veterans Associations. For some, it is their first taste of the history constituting what some scholars have termed “America’s only all-American conflict;” for others it is merely an assertion of their all-American identity—a pilgrimage to (arguably) their nation’s most famous “shrine.” For everyone, it is a unique experience that they want to remember and continue to engage with, in some form, well after their visit. How better to do so than by purchasing a Gettysburg-themed keepsake imbued with a jointly iconic symbolism of the United States: The baseball.

 A Gettysburg Ghoul: Magnets, Memorabilia, and the Marketing of Civil War History at Gettysburg

Carly Jensen ’24

Who doesn’t love a good magnet? These fun keepsakes are popular decorations for fridges, washing machines, and lockers. Every glance at them is a reminder of a fun vacation. Magnets serve as a tool for memory; they bring a person back to where they bought their souvenir. This Gettysburg ghoul magnet from Gettysburg Souvenirs & Gifts (pictured above) is an adorable and fun reminder for tourists who visit the battlefield. However, it also gestures (however playfully) toward another way for visitors to connect with the repercussions of the largest battle of the Civil War, particularly the shocking bloodshed, death, and grief that resulted in its wake. Exploring a battlefield may not resonate with everyone; however, a material object visitors can take home with them may help to provide a visual and tangible connection to the history they just encountered. Although cute, this magnet depicts a dead soldier, thus reminding its purchasers of the hauntingly gruesome toll that the battlefield they just visited exacted on thousands of men long after returning home.

Gettysburg is well-known for being the site of the war’s bloodiest battle and the historic cemetery where Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. The town draws people, old and young, interested in the Civil War from across the globe. One popular attraction for families is ghost tours. These walking groups travel around town in search of frightening ghost encounters while the tour guide provides a history of the town and the surrounding buildings. Often led by a charismatic guide in period garb, these tours are the trip’s highlight for families. Magnets like the one pictured above are excellent reminders of that highly sensory connection with history. Visitors can fondly recall the warm summer night they spent wandering the streets of Gettysburg, touring the battlefield, and enjoying an ice cream after their ghost tour. They could imagine that the “glowing orb” that they saw on their tour could have looked like the cute ghost on their magnet. They may even wish to return for another chance to contemplate the bloody battle and maybe even encounter the wandering spirit of one of its long-dead combatants.

The ghost in this magnet is floating above headstones in a cemetery. However, it is unclear where the spirit is; the Confederate kepi bars him from actual burial at the National Cemetery. Perhaps he is there hovering, haunting his Union enemies for eternity. His packs, potentially full of cartridges, hard tack, or letters from home, remain with him in death as reminders of his life cut short by war.

Gettysburg has a unique perspective on tourism. For many, Gettysburg is the first and only Civil War battlefield they visit because of its name recognition. Therefore, it is essential to market the town well as the Civil War experience as a whole. This magnet shows how Gettysburg continues to be haunted by the effects of the most significant 19th-century conflict in American history. The imagery immerses visitors in Gettysburg’s ongoing history; ghosts continue to plague the town even 150 years later. The magnet is a tangible way for tourists to remember the ghost tours, the National Cemetery, and the overall ghastly battle events in a way that continues to spark the imagination long after their return home. Souvenir shops also encourage people to purchase kitschy items like this to remember (and market) their visit; everyone wants a piece of the most famous Civil War town.

Ghost-themed magnets are among many on display at Gettysburg Souvenirs & Gifts and are common to the rest of the town. Gettysburg is full of stores with eye-catching memorabilia, but this magnet stands out because of the ghostly imagery and tactile nature. Children love to play with rubbery and bendable objects, making this a popular magnet choice. It also appeals to the sensationalized idea that tourists visited a “haunted” town. The manufacturer made an interesting choice by creating a Confederate ghost instead of a Union one. After all, the Federals were the victors. The “Lost Cause” narrative of Southerners fighting for a noble cause against impossible odds may inform this choice. The soldier’s body floats above the graves of possible enemies, doomed to mourn forever the loss of his fellow Confederates who fought and died courageously against a formidable foe. Many tourists are particularly fascinated by Confederate history because of popular notions of universally gallant, chivalrous Southern soldiers and their doomed fight for secession new nation. This magnet plays on this romantic appeal and creates a souvenir for visitors interested in Southern history, swayed by the often poignant, sentimentalized portrayals of the Confederate cause.

Ghost tourism and iconography is a huge selling feature for Gettysburg. Many people believe a place with such an incredible amount of violent death must surely be haunted. They crave to glimpse a soldier who fought in a war over a hundred years ago. Many tourists are not Civil War buffs, so ghost tours and stories are ways that they can actively engage with the battlefield and town’s history on a more sensory and imaginative level. Sometimes, this kind of engagement can fuel further interest in unpacking the history and legacy of the battle on an even deeper level. This magnet is a reminder of the soldiers who died at Gettysburg, and the experiences the tourists had interacting with the repercussions of mass death and possibly their own spirit encounters here. Alternately, it can serve as another unique collectible for the individual or family who has made a hobby of historical “ghost tourism” and might collect similar magnets or memorabilia from other supposedly haunted historical sites they have visited.  Whatever the reason behind the purchase, this magnet on a family’s fridge or board will serve as a constant reminder of their visit to Gettysburg, the still palpable legacies of the mass bloodshed that occurred there, and the thrill of the unknown that still enshrouds the historic town and battlefield in mystery.

USCT Toy Soldiers for Sale…and Black Confederates?

Charlie Miller ’25

Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts is a classic souvenir shop, where families from far and wide negotiate mementoes and purchases with their children after a long day of walking up hills, perusing monuments, and following along with the audio tour. The store sells everything related to Gettysburg, including relics, shot glasses, and t-shirts. In the front room, they have a small section on the wall for toy soldiers. These figurines are just that–toys. However, the highly popular collectibles market that has seen various old, seemingly “worthless” trinkets like baseball cards and dolls also includes these miniature warriors. People young and old have long delighted in creating vast recreations of famous battles throughout history, collecting famous troops, or simply entertaining themselves or their child on a rainy day.

This store sells all manner of Civil War toy soldiers, from the plastic (and cheaper) sets of the blue and gray, to the carefully crafted and painted figures from the Irish brigade, the iconic green flag and gold harp gleaming on each one. While serious collectors often spend hours researching every facet of a prospective purchase, casual toy-soldier enthusiasts may well glaze over the matter of historical accuracy when dealing with these figurines. Admittedly, as I looked at the display, my eyes scanned over several of the soldiers, and I reminisced about my days playing with toy soldiers in my room as a child. However, in doing so, my gaze soon fell upon a cluster of soldiers whose real life counterparts never actually fired a shot at Gettysburg: United States Colored Troops.

Over 175,000 black men fought for the Union, beginning in 1862 when President Lincoln signed the Second Confiscation and Militia Acts. By the end of the war, they made up around one-tenth of the entire United States force, and fought bravely in many brutal engagements. Some of the most famous of those units include the 54th Massachusetts Colored Troops, who stormed the Confederate garrison at Fort Wagner, the subject of the Academy-Award winning 1989 film, Glory. Often due to the nature of their assignments and to the brutality with which Confederate soldiers fought them, Black soldiers sometimes fell at a substantially higher rate than white soldiers, and were paid far less. Confederates’ particularly violent treatment of Black soldiers reached a crescendo during Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s infamous, controversial massacre of surrendering troops (many of them black) at Fort Pillow, Tennessee on April 12, 1864.

It is intriguing that Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts features USCTs for sale, as the only African-Americans directly involved with the military actions of the Gettysburg campaign were the slaves who accompanied Lee’s men on their march north, along with the free blacks who were captured and sent south (often back into bondage) by the Confederates.  It appears that the store’s merchandise choice may be an attempt to connect Gettysburg with the greater American Civil War. For many visitors, Gettysburg is their first and only Civil War battlefield, and as is evident in the National Park Service’s own museum as well as at other institutions in town, there is a growing emphasis to more squarely contextualize Gettysburg’s role within the larger war, both for historical accuracy and to help those first-time Civil War tourists to appreciate broader themes and stories beyond, yet still somehow related, to Gettysburg proper.

Along these lines, perhaps the inclusion of USCT toy soldiers is a conscious attempt to connect Gettysburg to the cause of emancipation and the black freedom struggle that was so inextricably bound up in the cause of Union and why soldiers fought at Gettysburg at all. If such intentions are indeed reflected in the store’s choices, it would represent a relatively modern approach to marketing and understanding the battle and war within a grander context. For many, the battlefield long has been viewed through a reconciliatory lens, where both northerners and southerners could come to marvel at the bravery and heroic actions of the men that fought on each side, regardless of their causes. Many of those individuals have yearned to minutely analyze every tactical maneuver made on the field. However, in more recent years, an increasing number of visitors have sought look to connect the historical landscape more broadly with the causes and outcomes of the war, particularly with regards to emancipation and race relations.

Needless to say, this contemporary (and for some more uncomfortable) approach is often missing in merchandise and souvenir shops throughout town. Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts might sound like one of these typical shops that does not delve into the causes or politics of the war, but their sale of a USCT toy soldier shows otherwise. Alternately, but relatedly, maybe they are seeking to be inclusive in their merchandise such that they are better able to appeal to a wider and more diverse group of visitors who yearn to see their racial history and Blacks’ contributions to the war as a whole reflected in the kinds of merchandise available for sale in town.

While this store’s apparent attempt at selling merchandise that is more historically inclusive is praiseworthy, my optimism was admittedly sullied by something I encountered on another visit to the store: A Black Confederate toy soldier.

The “Black Confederate myth” is a well-known fallacy, and one that has been exaggerated and inflated to justify the Southern cause by promoting the narrative that the Confederacy was fighting merely for states’ rights, and that slavery was a benevolent institution. While Southern Blacks sometimes accompanied their enslavers in the ranks, there are no records of any African-Americans seeing combat as a part of the Confederate army. No Black man ever dressed in gray and was a soldier in the form that the figurine shows. While toy soldiers are often meant to provide a re-creation or specific interpretation of a battle, the sale of a Black Confederate toy soldier has other implications for the seller’s intentions, whether they be indeed rooted in promoting the Lost Cause narrative, or simply an historically uninformed attempt at providing “collectibles for all.”

Toy soldiers have provided a variety of functions through history, even including aiding military leaders in planning their campaigns. Now, collectors look to find toy soldiers, old and new, that are unique and capture a specific part of military history.  Unfortunately, neither a child interested in collecting toy soldiers for play nor an adult who is not particularly well –versed in the history of the Civil War era would likely think to second-guess the historical accuracy of such a figure, and might indeed believe that there were actually Black Confederate soldiers.

The sale of representative figurines of soldiers that, on one side did not exist, and on the other side, were prevalent but not present at Gettysburg brings up interesting questions and discussions about the possible motivations or reasons behind the merchandise for sale at Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts.  Whether or not certain messages are intentional through the sale of particular merchandise, such messages are being readily and enthusiastically consumed by scores of visitors from across the country, and even around the world, some for better, others for worse.

Where a Painting Lies

By Hayden McDonald ’25

Sitting on the floor of the Civil War Store on Steinwehr Avenue, leaning against a glass case of Gettysburg-themed hoodies and mugs, lies a painting. This painting, framed in a classy wooden mounting, stands out as an oddity when compared with many of the other items for sale around it. In a store chock full of toy muskets, Confederate shot glasses, and Robert E. Lee- themed pocket watches, a painting of this caliber draws some attention. Resting by itself on the floor of the shop, proudly displaying its $45 price tag, it entices any passerby to stop a moment and take a closer look.

The manner in which a work of art depicts war is key to understanding how it is meant to be interpreted. War is, after all, the thing which wears two faces. It is a thing of glory, of heroism, of individual and collective valor. It is unfortunate, but it is necessary, and through war some of the most revered of human traits are brought to the fore. And yet war is hell. It is destruction, devolution, despair borne of deep-seated political, sectional, an ideological divisions. It shatters friendships, families and nations alike, and leaves a smoldering trail in its wake. Clearly, this painting focuses mostly on one of those interpretations: A lone Union man gallantly operates a cannon all by himself against the advancing tides of an unseen foe, his comrades either shot down or having fled from his side. A disabled gun sits helpless in the foreground, serving as a reminder of the dangers of battle. Behind the lone patriot waves the stars and stripes, blurred in the haze of black powder smoke. This artwork celebrates the heroism and gallantry of battle, and of the individual, specifically. The flag in the background reinforces the patriotic zeal that it is designed to evoke. The battle that is taking place could be any during the Civil War, but what matters is the man and the action that is unfolding. It is not necessarily a rare, complicated, or noteworthy piece of fine art, yet it embodies many of the same sentimental war tropes as do many of its more expensive cousins.

The odd placement of the painting within the store thus seems to create a disconnect between the artwork’s subject matter and its display. . One might expect that something of this relative commercial value and  subject matter, with its lofty implications about Union, war, and individual valor, would be displayed in a place of prominence and easy viewing–someplace where it could catch the eyes of wandering shoppers and pique their interest, not sitting out of the way on the floor where someone would have to crouch to get a proper view of the art. Why, then, would the shop owners decide to place this painting here? It is clear that this shop does not receive most of its revenue from the sale of paintings; far from it. It is a place to purchase a plastic rifle, or a kepi, or a T-shirt with a witty phrase on it. It is not a place to peruse the visual arts. There are other places to do that in Gettysburg, and the Civil War Shop seems to acknowledge that. However, the inclusion of such a piece in a store like this suggests some attempt to make the shop seem more “official” in its hawking of “history and heritage”-themed souvenirs. After all, there can’t be a Civil War store in Gettysburg that doesn’t have a painting for sale.

In Gettysburg, there has long existed a nearly inseparable, though at times uneasy bond between commercialization and commemoration. This visual tidbit of the (supposedly) “real” war helps to bridge the gap between the shop’s distantly-connected-to-history Gettysburg souvenirs and the heart of what makes the town and battlefield worth visiting and remembering in the first place. It serves as an admission on the part of the shop that perhaps Gettysburg does and should mean more than just lighthearted, collectible memorabilia such as shot glasses and toy guns, and yet the commercial remains inextricably bound up with the commemorative. Indeed, if one looks broadly enough, perhaps a more authentic, however sentimentalized, meaning of Gettysburg can be found anywhere in town, even leaning against a display case on a shop floor.

The Wild West of Gettysburg

By Olivia Taylor ’25

One can find apparel and merchandise to suit truly any member of the family while perusing the shops in Gettysburg’s commercial districts. Pictured above are two toy handguns: One “Johnny Reb” and one “Billy Yank.” This photograph was taken in the “Civil War Etc, Etc.,” store at the Gettysburg Outlets, though this exact product can be found in several different gift shops throughout Gettysburg.

Looking at the “Johnny Reb” and “Billy Yank” toy guns, one can imagine the exact scene in which they might be used: Two kids chasing each other around the battlefield, pretending to shoot at each other, while their parents take in the more historical aspects of the Gettysburg battlefield by gazing at monuments and reading interpretive waysides. For children, these toy guns turn the Gettysburg battlefield into a sensory experience, which exposes them to history through play, rather than simply reading or hearing about it. History becomes exciting and engaging–a hands-on “adventure” rather than words in a book or a monument inscription.

That being said, with the exception of “US” and “CS” screen-printed onto the “holsters” of these cap guns, there is really nothing about them that screams “Civil War.” In fact, most soldiers did not even carry a sidearm. If anything, these toys much more closely resemble something out of the “Wild West.” By tying these supposed “Civil War-themed souvenirs” to the iconic imagery of the “Wild West,” the manufacturer seems to be trying to romanticize and dramatize the idea of war; when we think of the “Old West,” we tend to think of noble, stoic cowboys who, through grit and brave determination, stood their ground on the American frontier, pistols ever by their side to intimidate their enemies.  So, too, did the stalwart common soldier of the North and South, the manufacturer wants you to believe, and so can you when you purchase these pistols!

 However, as fun and engaging as these items seem to be on the surface level, it is important to note that they obscure much about the realities of Civil War combat and the experiences of the common soldier on the front lines. The presumably average Civil War soldier takes on the same air as a rough-and-tumble cowboy, an almost lawless gunslinger who is out fighting largely on his own, on behalf of his own interests, as we are often led to believe that the American cowboy of old had. Such fighting is often portrayed as thrilling and glorious. In reality, for the average soldier, combat was nothing glorious; it was dirty, it was painful, and it was terrifying. By eliding Civil War combat with the stereotypical shootouts on the American frontier, the manufacturer is thus encouraging particularly youngsters to imagine Civil War battles—as romantic, stoic fights akin to that of a Western stand-off, and implies that they, too, can re-live the experiences of those soldiers by playing battle with these “authentic” souvenirs of Gettysburg. America, they are led to believe, was thus forged through thrilling and daring adventures, on romantic landscapes, by daring and heroic gunslingers on the eastern battlefields and western frontier alike.

 All that being said, Gettysburg is known as “the town” to visit for a Civil War-oriented family vacation. The sale of products like these toy guns does indeed provide an engaging, fun, and active means for kids to connect with the battlefield on a surface level that does have its own benefits, given that they might not yet be able to fully appreciate the deeper history of the location. These guns sell because they create a playful, albeit sanitized, version of Civil War combat and the soldiering experience that likely reminds young visitors of familiar tropes like the American cowboy of the “Wild West.” Though seemingly mundane, toys like these enable children to build an initial connection with historical events, gaining exposure to topics that they might not encounter in school for many years. For some, fond memories of purchasing the “Johnny Reb” or “Billy Yank” toy gun while on a family trip to Gettysburg and running through their backyards back at home, “re-creating” the Gettysburg landscape might well spark future interest in the Civil War, and prompt an eventual return to the battlefield—a return in which the nuances and complexities of Civil War combat, soldiering, and Gettysburg’s place in the historical record might begin to unravel themselves just a bit more.

Gettysburg in a Globe: The Essence of War, Suspended in Time

By Hayden McDonald ’25

Gettysburg is a town filled to the brim with gift shops. At each place, a story–an interpretation of the battle–is told through the souvenirs for sale there. No place, however, spends more time pondering what story their items tell than Gettysburg National Military Park. There, every item for sale aligns with the Park’s interpretive mission for the battlefield. No matter how small or mundane, each item has something to say about the battle of Gettysburg.

In the gift shop attached to the visitor’s center, alongside the fully stocked bookshelves and across from the Gettysburg-themed fudge recipes, stands a shelf full of that most unassuming of souvenirs: Snow globes. These snow globes do not depict Gettysburg, sleepy with the weight of a fresh blanket of snow, nor do they show the battlefield, obscured in a fog of floating smoke. Only the armaments of war are housed within. A miniature cannon sits permanently fixed atop a mini hillock, with a rifle and a sword leaning upon its side. Upon its base flies an eagle, imbuing the piece with patriotic sentiment and pride in our nation’s martial past.

 However, despite this explicit Civil War imagery, this piece manages to remain noticeably nondescript. If one was to take off the Gettysburg National Military Park stamping, little remains that directly connects this piece to Gettysburg specifically. The hilltop that the cannon sits upon may be Little Round Top or Culp’s Hill or Oak Ridge, or it might be any hilltop on any Civil War battlefield across the country. The globe features no distinct geographic features or historical figures to distinguish it as commemorating the bloodiest battle of the Civil War aside from the labeling. The contents of the globe capture the essence of the Civil War generally, but not Gettysburg specifically.

But what does this say about Gettysburg National Military Park’s interpretive mission? In the ever-changing intermingling of history and memory, Gettysburg’s myriad tour guides, caretakers, souvenir hawkers, and consumer marketers have frequently aimed to make the historic town and landscape into a memorial not only to the battle, but also to the overall war in which it occurred. Gettysburg, we are told, encapsulates the full range of personalities, conflicts, complexities, and big questions that defined the Civil War. For many visitors, it is their first, and sometimes only, Civil War battlefield visit—a visit which, in one fell swoop, can educate, inspire, and provoke the visitor to contemplate the enduring legacies of the Civil War as a whole. In the same fashion, this snow globe—a snapshot of an iconic symbol of the war, stamped with the name of the war’s most iconic battle—seeks to represent the war and its timeless swaying power in its entirety.

The Park works to keep the landscape as close as possible to that of 1863. In a constantly developing and modernizing world, the Gettysburg battlefield has tried to remain in the nineteenth century as much as possible. The conflict is kept alive through the commemoration and memorialization of the battlefield. In many ways, although Gettysburg National Military Park’s interpretation of the battle is constantly evolving and the historical memory of the battle continuously contested, the park’s hopes for touching the hearts and minds of its visitors through that interpretation and meticulous preservation remain constant, and are much like this snow globe: The landscape—even with its myriad post-war and twentieth-century commemorative monuments and markers—is somehow timeless.  It is to provide a snapshot of the Civil War and the nineteenth century as a whole, frozen in time, a living memorial to the battle to ponder with great wonder. It unfolds before the visitor, seductively beautiful, bucolic, and serene, silently waiting for the visitor to come along, to ponder, and to shake it to life.

Ice Cream and… Cigars?

By Olivia Taylor ’25

In the days, weeks, and months following the Battle of Gettysburg, journalists and newspaper editors feverishly attempted to recapture the full details, implications, and meaning of the massive fight that had transformed one small, formerly obscure, south-central Pennsylvania town into a household name. While some reporters struggled to ascertain the exact facts of the battle amidst the chaotic aftermath, others wrote with clear political agendas intended to sway the hearts and minds of their readership and, in turn, bolster their respective side’s support for the war effort. Still others searched for meaning in the aftermath through the prisms of religion, world history, and other lenses.  In this mini-series, students will explore the myriad ways that 19th-century newspapers, throughout the North and South, “re-fought” the Battle of Gettysburg, its factual components, and its larger significance in print in the immediate aftermath of the fighting.

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Pictured above is a display of four different cigars offered by the Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company. This display sits in a place one might not expect: The Mr. G’s Ice Cream gift shop. Entering the store, one is met with seasonally appropriate “Life is Good” apparel, Gettysburg sweatshirts, and candles that have been designed to smell like favorite Mr. G’s ice cream flavors, such as salted caramel and black raspberry. These cigars, as well as the other Civil War memorabilia available in the store–which includes everything from watercolor prints of scenes on the battlefield to Gettysburg, PA shot glasses–are tucked away in the back of the store. 

The Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company cigars come in four different “custom blends”– the General, Guardian, Quartermaster, and President, allowing buyers to select the cigar that best suits their personality and fits their desired takeaway memory of their time in Gettysburg. The “Guardian,” described as having a “stronger flavor,” might appeal to someone who sees themselves as a strong protector of their family. The “President,” which is clearly Abraham Lincoln, targets both Abraham Lincoln aficionados and those seeking a general connection to the past through historical face recognition alone, as well as those who might identify as leadership figures. Abraham Lincoln’s historic importance as President during the Civil War, and his site-specific relevance to Gettysburg where he delivered his iconic address, generate an appeal to this cigar. The “General” presumably targets those who pride themselves on their bravery and leadership, and this particular cigar’s description noting its make from the “finest pipe tobacco” lends a refined and distinguished air to it. While there is no description of the flavor profile of the “Quartermaster,” one could assume that this cigar appeals to the casual, self-informed military historian, ones who might think of oneself as a “quartermaster” of their own household.

The company also appeals to the possibility of experiencing history first-hand through these cigars and the sensory experience of smoking them. The company makes sure to note in the product description that a “Union General purchased cigars for his command as they were approaching the Gettysburg battlefield,” implying that those who purchase one of these cigars will be able to, in part, relive the experience that these Union soldiers had: By smoking one of these cigars, you will feel like the soldiers riding into battle. Additionally, these “original Gettysburg cigar[s]” are wrapped in Pennsylvania shade leaf, which further reinforces the unique, place-based emphasis of the Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company, rooting the purchaser–and the very experience of smoking one of these locally sourced cigars–in the historic location that America’s most iconic battle occurred. 

The dichotomy between the sale of Civil War memorabilia alongside lighthearted items like ice cream and “Life is Good” apparel truly plays to the complexity of the consumer culture of Gettysburg. In a town that sees millions of visitors every year, the ability to draw people into local businesses is important; stop by for ice cream and stay to peruse the gift shop, a one-stop shop for all things Gettysburg! In the same trip, visitors can enjoy a scoop of one of Mr. G’s handcrafted ice cream flavors, drinking in the sweet scent of fresh waffle cones and sprinkles, and purchase a “historic” cigar or two through which to remember their visit to town and battlefield some days, weeks, or months after their departure. In so doing, the visitor can “immerse” oneself in those famed first few days of July of 1863 experienced by the hard-fighting soldiers who, too, enjoyed similar cigars on their march into history.