“Through tear-dimmed eyes, Federal and Confederate veterans of the Civil War stoodlast night with clasped hands or arms affectionately thrown around once broad but now stooping shoulders and watched the sun go down …
“With every passing minute the sun, dipping lower toward the grove in whose
shelter the Confederates formed for the historic assault, assumed a ruddier tinge, until,just as it touched the horizon, it looked blood-red, as though symbolizing the scenes of carnage on which it looked down in the
dreadful days of July 1, 2, and 3 1863.”
The Pittsburg Press, July 1, 1915
The 1913 Gettysburg reunion was a Gettysburg Battlefield encampment of American Civil War veterans for the Battle of Gettysburg's 50th Anniversary. The June 29–July 4 gathering of 53,407 veterans was the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion, and "never before in the world's history (had) so great a number of men so advanced in years been assembled under field conditions.” Fifty years after the battle, many of those in attendance were in their 70s.
According to the Portsmouth Times, on June 30, a group of local Civil War veterans of Gettysburg left the N&W Depot in Portsmouth on a “special” B&O train headed for this 50th Anniversary commemoration. All travel expenses were paid by the State of Ohio.
The Battery L, First Ohio Light Artillery group attending the event included E. H. (Henry) Wishon, Marion (Frances) Temple, A.T. Holcomb, and Gilbert C. (Clinton) Wood of Lucasville. And from nearby areas, the roster recorded the departure of John H. McGhee, James F. Miles, Joseph Hornung, Charles W. Shaw, Harrison Massie (who had been wounded in the battle on July 3, 1863), and Abraham Doll. In a prior article about the reunion, the names of Thomas Arnold and Thomas Journey were also recorded as “planning to attend.”
The article said, “Mr Wishon states that he will be able to pick out the very spot on which he was standing when a rebel shell bursted over his head, sending many of his comrades to their long home. He insists if the woodman's axe has sparered a certain tree, he will find the one behind which he took temporary shelter when the bullets were falling around him like hail stones.”
All honorably discharged veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans were invited to the reunion, and veterans from 46 of the 48 states attended. Despite concerns "that there might be unpleasant differences, at least, between the blue and gray,” the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.
- Note – A violent event away from the reunion did occur at Hotel Gettysburg where a man named Henry from a prominent Virginia family used a "vile epithet" for President Lincoln and reportedly stabbed 8 people. The Virginia governor subsequently spoke on behalf of the perpetrator, a Philadelphia attorney who was in the area to locate his father that he claimed was a Confederate general. The father, a Confederate Major, posted the bail.
This was a report by John M. Morris, formerly of Portsmouth in his article titled “Notes of the Trip to Gettysburg in the Portsmouth Times. August 19, 1913:
“This afternoon, our Governor Cox made a nice speech at the big tent … In the evening, Governor Cox said, “Boys. I am in receipt of an invitation to visit the Confederate Camp … I would like to have you go with me … We marched over to the Gray Camp, and were very cordially received, and spent quite a pleasant evening.
“This evening down at the Village, someone made a disrespecting remark about President Lincoln, which was immediately taken up, and quite a serious cutting scrape was the result. I understand it looked like a riot for a while, but I am told it was all the outcome of too much drink.”
The first veterans actually began arriving on June 25 and within days the “Great Camp” swelled to overflowing. Every veteran was provided a cot and bedding in a tent that would hold eight men. Meals were served from a kitchen at the end of each company street and varied from fried chicken suppers to pork roast sandwiches with ice cream for desert.
By the end of the reunion, the army kitchens had supplied over 688,000 meals to reunion participants. Invariably the days were hot and the thermometer topped 100 degrees on July 2. Heat exhaustion and physical fatigue resulted in hospitalization of several hundred veterans. Over 9,980 patients were treated by medical personnel for ailments ranging from heat exhaustion to stomach disorders.
Though President Woodrow Wilson had made a conscious effort to avoid the event, he was persuaded by an assistant not to let such an opportunity slip by. Following some last minute arrangements, Wilson came to Gettysburg to address the veterans on July 4th.
Virginia-born Woodrow Wilson had become president in March. He was the first Southerner to be elected to that office since the end of the Civil War, and his July 4 speech in a large tent erected on the battlefield drew wild enthusiasm from the ex-Confederates.
"When the President faced the audience in the vast canvas enclosure, the rebel yells were given with a vengeance, almost drowning out the noise produced by the handclapping and applause from the Union veterans," Pittsburgh Press reporter James J. Farrell wrote on July 5, 1913.
It is recorded that Wilson was no friend to African-Americans. Among other measures, he ordered re-segregation of federal offices and expressed support for the Ku Klux Klan. Nevertheless, in his Gettysburg speech he emphasized both the economic power of the re-united United States and "its world-wide fame as the home of free men."
* Note – Judging from the stories and photographs that appeared in the Pittsburgh papers, The Press and the Gazette-Times, blacks had no part in the golden anniversary commemoration of Gettysburg except in service roles. Farrell, the Press reporter, reported that veterans appeared simultaneously amused and uncomfortable when several of the reunion's African-American cooks set up a mock slave auction. Farrell wrote that the cooks, having "some idle moments to dispose of ... entered into the play with the enthusiasm of kids." Farrell wrote: "A crowd of veterans who gathered laughed, but it could be seen they were affected by the unusual and startling recollection of a state of affairs which had helped to materially precipitate the awful war they are survivors of.”
The conditions at the event were hot and dusty to say the least. Heat exhaustion and physical fatigue resulted in hospitalization of several hundred veterans. Over 9,980 patients were treated by medical personnel for ailments ranging from heat exhaustion to stomach disorders. Remarkably, only nine veterans passed away during the week-long encampment. One unnamed Southerner relayed to a reporter …
"I'm jest about as hot as I was the last time we all charged, but I ain't so scairt. And them Yankees ain't a-going to get my tobaccy this time the way they did then, either."
The youngest veteran at the reunion was 61 years old and the oldest "alleged that he was 112 years." Aged men in hundreds wandered the battlefield and packed into the Great Tent erected in the field of "Pickett's Charge" adjacent to the camp, for daily meetings and ceremonies. The veterans visited battle sites where they or their comrades had been fifty years before.
The presence of khaki-clad US Army personnel caused a lot of excitement. The soldiers were there to guard camp supplies, give demonstrations, and provide services to the veterans who delighted themselves discussing the modern weapons of war. One report states: “Many an aged veteran was eager to explain how much things had changed in fifty years to any soldier who was handy and army personnel were entertained by old soldiers at every turn.”
The scheduled events took place as follows:
Military Day included an address recommending a stronger military ("we ought to build two battleships for every one laid down by Japan"), a reading of the Gettysburg Address, and a Seminary Ridge review of the VA division by their governor. At night, an impromptu Union raid on the Confederate side of the Great Camp resulted in joint parades and camp fires following the "charge.”
Civic/Governors' Day had 65 unit reunions, the Wells statue dedication, and a Webb/Pickett flag ceremony at the Bloody Angle on the hour of Pickett's Charge. In the Great Tent from 4:30-6 P.M. was the New York Veterans' Celebration, which included a speech by Colonel Andrew Cowan in which he again called for a Gettysburg peace memorial.The fireworks by the Pain Fireworks Display Company at 9 p.m. included "gigantic set pieces covering the entire face and crest of Little Round Top.”
On National Day, the Pennsylvania State Memorial with 8 statues installed in April was dedicated, and President Woodrow Wilson arrived at 11 a.m. in a special train car, traveled through the borough, and entered the Great Tent through 2 rows of Boy Scouts. Wilson addressed the audience in the Big Tent about national unity and departed the camp after the National Anthem that followed (attendees similarly returned to their quarters). The subsequent Tribute to Our Heroic Dead with "a silent, solemn, sacred five minutes at 'Attention' by" people throughout the Gettysburg area, e.g., at the College Hotel and Seminary Hotel.” The Tribute began with a bugle salute over the camp while the Gettysburg bells tolled noon in the distance, followed by the remaining minutes of silence punctuated by periodic artillery firing from the distance. From 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7,147 automobiles (at least 1 from each state) used the national park roads.
Talk about some serious victuals consumed during the event (again from a report in The Gettysburg Times July 5, 1913 edition) ...
“The slaughter of chickens for the Fourth od July dinner served on the battlefield was alsmost as great as was the havoc among the Blue and Gray on the field fifty years ago. Nearly 20,000 were needed to serve the hungry soldiers of the Civil War and the 900 regulars on duty in the camp … In addition to a bountiful supply of stewed chicken the old soldiers had mashed potatoes, corn, ice cream, cake, coffee, bread and butter.”
John M. Morris reported in the Portsmouth Times ...
“The names of the Boys that came to Gettysburg in 1913, and who took part in that Battle in 1863, are as follows:
Right Section – Ben F. Reed, John Summers, James Miles, John McGhee
Center Section – Marion (Frances) Temple, John M. Morris
Left Section – Frank Piles, Harrison “Tip” Massie, Charles Shaw, Henry Wishon, Joseph Hornung, Billy Gage, Abraham Doll (Some names may be incorrectly spelled despite the best checking.)”
Morris also reported about some of the activity of the local group while they attended ...
“The scenery looked familiar. Just like looking at an old picture that you have not seen for years. While we were there, two Confederate Soldiers came over from where their line was, shook hands with me, and one of them said: 'Were you in this Battery?' I said I was. “Well,” said he, 'Shake! I belonged to the Brigade that charged your Battery twice. I'm from Georgia.'”
“I told him I was glad to meet him and that I thought that they did some pretty good charging.
“'Yes, and we all though you did some pretty good shooting,' said he, 'and we tried to give you your money's worth.'
And they surely did.
“He said, 'This reunion here of both Armies that were engaged in the fight, is one of the greatest, grandest things that any Nation on the face of the Globe can boast of. Here, fifty years ago, we were engaged in one of the greatest battles of the Civil War. Today we meet as old neighbors and friends, anxious to let feelings be buried, and nothing but friendship and brotherly love exist. Oh, my Dear Sir! This is a great Country, and one worth living for. Goodbye! I am glad I met you.'
“And my Johnnie friend was gone. After pulling a little cedar bush that grew up on the very spot our gun stood in that engagement, and Henry Wishon waved the flag that he brought with him from Portsmouth, Ohio, we turned our faces toward the Camp. I forgot to mention that the Commission has erected a very nice little Monument to mark the location of the Battery, with the following inscription:
“'Had a splendid time, and were treated as nice as men could be, and as tenderly cared for, as men could be. Every little detail that would in the least add to our pleasure and comfort was looked after, and Governor Cox was on the job all the time, watching the interests of the Boys from Ohio.'”
View from Little Round Top
The Gettysburg Times reported of the departure of veterans in their July 5, 1913 edition ...
“The departure proved to be full of interesting incidents. Old soldiers took with them many mementoes of their stay here. They were allowed to carry home their plates, cups, knives, forks, and spoons furnished by the War Department and nearly all took advantage of the opportunity to do this. Doubtless they will be handed down to coming generations as valued family possessions.
“Bits of things found on the battlefield proved to be the mementoes of many. One veteran was seen taking home a tiny pine tree in a small crock; another had a sprout from a willow tree which he claimed had saved his life during the battle; others took along branches or canes, and note has already been made of the veteran from Iowa who carried home two suitcases full of ground from the scene of Pickett's Charge.”
One must wonder if this unnamed “tree lover” was Henry Wishon of Lucasville, Ohio. The local soldiers boarded their train and returned from what was perhaps the most memorable anniversary of any event in American history. Many local meetings of Battery L were held after they got home, each with dwindling numbers of survivors of Gettysburg. The event remains close to the understanding of our community, our state, and our nation.
“The greatest parade in American history has finally come to an end. The Grand Army of the Republic has marched off to join the shadows and no matter how long the nation exists there will never be anything quite like it again.
“There was an open door to the past, and what we could see through that door was magically haunted. But when the last notes of the bugle hung against the sky, the door swung shut. It cannot be reopened.”
--Life Magazine, August 20, 1956
“The Great Gettysburg Reunion of 1913.” http://www.thomaslegion.net/thegreatgettysburgreunionof1913.html
Brian Resnick. “A Second Gettysburg Address, 50 Years After the Civil War.” The Atlantic. July 1, 2013.
Beitler, Lewis Eugene (editor and compiler) (December 31, 1913). Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg: Report of the Pennsylvania Commission (Google Books) (Report). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Wm. Stanley Bay (state printer).
Bradley, A. E. (Lieut. Colonel) (October 24, 1913). Office of Chief Surgeon Report (Google Books). Report of the Pennsylvania Commission (Report). Medical Corps, U. S. Army.
Davis, William C. (1995) . Gettysburg: The Story Behind the Scenery (Fifth Printing ed.).
"The Peace Memorial Bill: Speech of Colonel Andrew Cowan of Louisville." (Google News Archive). Gettysburg Compiler. April 18, 1914.
"The Gettysburg Reunion." (Google Books). Report of the Pennsylvania Commission. March 29, 1913.
"Pathetic Night Scene in Veterans' Great Reunion"(Google News Archive). The Pittsburgh Press. July 1, 1913.
Gettysburg National Military Park Commission. "An Introduction to the Annual Reports of the Gettysburg National Military Park Commission to the Secretary of War.” The Gettysburg Commission Reports. Gettysburg, PA: War Department.
“March on Rebs: Blues Advanced on the Grays Wednesday Night", "Many Leaving", "Reviewed Virginians"(Google News Archives). Gettysburg Times. Times and News Publishing Company. July 3, 1913.
Geore H. Wood. “Will Go to Reunion. Portsmouth Times. May 31, 1913.
Len Barcousky. “Rebel Yell Echoes Again Across Gettysburg Fields.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 7, 2013.
John M. Morris. “Notes of the Trip to Gettysburg.” Portsmouth Times. August 19, 1913.