Blue and Gray Reunions
On the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg a sight never seen before or since gathered on the fields just south and west of town. The fields that were once the stage for one of the largest attacks on American soil, became a campground for the aging veterans as they once again met. This time though it was a peaceful reconciliatory gesture.
Years of preparation were needed to get ready for the large number of men who were expected to respond to Pennsylvania’s call to reunite the veterans. You can only imagine the logistics involved in preparing to house and feed, what the organizers thought would be only 40,000 men. Pennsylvania with an act of the legislature May 13 1909 created the 50th Anniversary, Battle of Gettysburg Commission who would contact 46 of the 48 states to arrange for state organizations to supplied troops for the grand reunion. Each state had their own Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) or United Confederate Veterans (UCV) and each would be notified. The event would cost over $1,033,000, with PA providing the lion share of $450,000.
Even months before the event wells were being drilled to supply plenty of fresh, clean and cool water for the attendees. Latrines with running water were made available. Housing wasn’t going to be a problem. A huge tent city was erected with company streets in the fashion they were formerly used to. However wooden sidewalks in the center were built for the unsure footed. The ages of the veterans ranged from possibly 62 to 112 years.
Many other amenities were provided as well. There were hospitals and aid stations. There was a temporary Post Office. And there was a temporary morgue just in case someone would pass on while at the event, 9 veterans did. According to records the PA State Police were on hand for mainly crowd control because, besides the veterans, another 100,000 visitors were expected to be in the Gettysburg area. The crowd however was fairly well behaved with the exception of a few of the veterans who did get a little carried away with their words and a fist or two was seen flying through the air.
The veterans first arrived on the 29th of June on a special railroad spur built for the occasion. It would take the men into their camp and would be within easy walking distance of the camp. A Grand Tent that measured 200 feet wide and 450 feet long was set up and could hold 13,000 chairs at any given time. 385 Boy Scouts from the Washington D.C. area were on hand to be personal aids to some of the aged men.
On July 2nd the men from both North and South would walk a short distance toward the “Bloody Angle” the “High Water” point in which both army faced each other in mortal combat. Men from General Webb’s and General Pickett’s men would run head long into each other in hand to hand fighting. Only this time they would reach their hands across the wall and clasp hands of friendship. They would press their faces into each other’s shoulders. In the picture, you can clearly see a Second Corp-Second Division flag. These were the men of the 69th PA Irish, The Philadelphia Brigade along with the 71st and 72nd men. They locked hand in hand with friendship.
A reluctant President Woodrow Wilson at the last minute decided to attend the event gave in part this statement. “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten, except that we shall not forget the splendid valor; A tribute to our Heroic Dead with a silent, solemn, sacred five minutes.” Then they paused for a few moments. Altogether, 53,409 men attended the 50th Anniversary event.
I must mention here that Elder Statesman, Senator, and war time General Daniel Edgar Sickles was among the attendees. As he was been pushed around the field by an aid; a minister told him it was a shame that there were no monument in his honor. Sickle’s replied, “Hell, the whole damned battlefield is my monument.” After the war his life’s goal was to have Gettysburg Battlefield made into a National Park. At the 75th Reunion the few men still able to, had their pictures taken at their regimental monuments, that were by then positioned all over the fields. This is what Sickle meant. He was 74 years old at the 50th, he would died at age 94.
As the reunion was coming to its conclusion Pennsylvania Governor John Tener invited the veterans to once again come to Gettysburg on the 75th Anniversary. You can imagine the how the already aging veteran may have laughed at such an invitation. They figured this would be their last and for most it was.
“On either side of the old line is the bravery of Gettysburg forgotten? In the end they voted for brotherhood and extreme sacrifice of friendship, to admit the Confederacy’s colors. We are glad it is so; it is an example to us and future generations.” “The tramp, tramp of marching veterans uniformed in blue and gray on the fields of Gettysburg in 1938 will reverberate far beyond the confines of that historic spot. For the first time since 1913 the survivors of the conflict between the north and south are to parade in official friendly reunion.” “The spirit of such a reunion will be the spirit of hate forgotten, of strife buried. Let Yank and Reb each shake out his old flag. It will quicken the heart of America to see them marching together, a tattered remnant of the brave young host that that once stormed the green slope of that same Gettysburg.
The official attendance figures of those could be there were 1359 men from the northern states and 486 from the southern states. The tent city this time was erected on the north end of Gettysburg on the Gettysburg College property.
Once again the men advanced and stood across from each other at the angle. This time only a handful of men were there to shake hands and fall into a final embrace. This would be the last time these 1845 men would see each other.
For those who may be interested our area had only one man who was able to accept the invitation. His name was Pvt. Israel A. Kent from McAlisterville. He was not originally from our county, but was born and raised in Noble County, Ohio. He served with the 42 Ohio Volunteers, before settling in our county. He was 100 years old when he attended the 75th reunion, but died during the winter on January 30, 1939. He would have been 101 on March 20, 1939.
Each year on Remembrance Day, November 19th this year, we celebrate their sacrifice and visit their positions on the fields and march one more time, the streets of Gettysburg.
Donald E. Husler Jr. 968 Airport Drive, Mifflintown PA 17059-8414
(h) 436-8678 © 979-8678