Fistfights, Heat Exhaustion and Not Enough Taters: What It Was Like at Gettysburg’s 50th Reunion

The frequent story of the 1913 reunion of the Blue and Grey at Gettysburg emphasizes camaraderie between former foes and the shared reminiscences of previous glories. Greater than 50,000 aged veterans confirmed up, creating the largest tent encampment on American soil because the Civil Warfare. The nationwide press coated the four-day occasion in exhaustive element, and President Woodrow Wilson gave his personal “Gettysburg Tackle” that, whereas not fairly on a par with Lincoln’s, was nonetheless extensively praised.

There was one other facet to the reunion that has been misplaced amid all of the nostalgia and patriotism hooked up to the occasion, nonetheless. One in all warmth, chow shortages, and brief tempers. A few of these studies have come to mild solely lately due to the web digitization of newspaper archives. Reporters didn’t have recording gadgets or available databases for fact-checking. They have been reliant on reminiscence and notes to write down their tales. That’s the reason names have been spelled in a different way in numerous studies and a few males may get away with telling whoppers about their age and wartime service.

Just a few of the 55,000 veterans who attended the reunion disembark from their practice and head for the most important veteran gathering in Gettysburg historical past. They’re remarkably overdressed for the summer time in contrast with present requirements. Notice the “OHIO” on the lead veteran’s hatband. (Library of Congress)

From ALL Over

Veterans got here from 46 of the 48 states (minus solely Nevada and Wyoming). Those that got here from the Far West spent 4 days or extra on trains to get to Gettysburg, a city served by only one rail line. A few of the getting older males had argued for a Gettysburg reunion ever because the final one 25 years earlier in 1888. Whereas there have been nonetheless sufficient of them round to carry a reunion, they lobbied for one more grand get-together. Not all, nonetheless, have been in favor. Seventy-seven-year-old R.M. Holbert of Fort Value, Texas, who had fought below the Stars and Bars remained an unreconstructed Insurgent. “I gave these Yankees all that was a-comin’ to ’em within the sixties,” he mentioned, “and it’s sure I’m not goin’ to idiot ’spherical ’em now.” Apart from, he added, “Gettysburg is simply too far north of the Mason-Dixon line.” On the opposite excessive was an 85-year-old veteran who lived along with his son. The son instructed the previous man he couldn’t go “below any circumstances,” so the vet crawled out a window and went anyway. Who might be impartial about one thing so vital to their lives?


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Newspapers in numerous little cities throughout the nation adopted the preparations of the veterans who deliberate to go. A few of the males whom no person had paid consideration to for years have been all of a sudden celebrities and interviewed by each reporter who may get them to take a seat down. The ensuing tales have been typically lengthy on derring-do and brief on info, reflecting the passage of the years and the need to please. Choose Charles C. Cummings of Fort Value, who thought-about himself one thing of a historian, recounted how as a member of the seventh Mississippi Infantry he had been wounded on the primary day of the battle. However as he went on, he got here off higher than Maj. Gen. George Pickett, who in his model misplaced a leg within the cost bearing his identify and “died on account of his damage” quickly thereafter. Pickett really died in 1875—with two good legs.

The reunion was hosted by the U.S. Military, the Gettysburg Battlefield Fee, and the city of Gettysburg itself. Besides for many who might need associates within the city or managed to safe a room within the Gettysburg Lodge, all people received the identical lodging: U.S. Military tents, courtesy of the Philadelphia Provide Depot. Their occupants included officers and privates alike. The tents have been specified by avenue after avenue overlaying a number of hundred acres. A few of the previous vets received misplaced at night time looking for their avenue. The Military additionally arrange mess tents, relaxation stations, hospitals, and phone strains for an anticipated crowd of 40 to 50 thousand. All their planning and preparation, nonetheless, have been overwhelmed by the 55,000 veterans and 10,000 guests who confirmed up. The Battlefield Fee put collectively this system and raised cash, and the city threw open its doorways symbolically talking.

Dry City

However the city’s hospitality prolonged solely up to now. They prohibited the sale of alcohol, so the aged gents needed to make do with what that they had introduced with them or ship out to different close by cities, slightly foraging harking back to the previous days. The spirit of camaraderie included former rivals sharing a bottle in get-togethers at night time, leading to “many circumstances” of “overindulgence in alcohol” being handled within the native hospital.

Charles McConnell, who served as a sergeant within the twenty fourth Michigan, introduced this tent. The Iron Brigade veterans shared the canvas with their former First Day foes from North Carolina. (Library of Congress)

The Blue and Grey didn’t simply meet at Gettysburg. Many former enemies traveled collectively, typically for a number of days. They have been already acquainted with one another again of their hometowns and had labored collectively earlier than. As an illustration, on Ornament Day (Memorial Day) yearly, United Accomplice Veteran (UCV) camps and Grand Military of the Republic (G.A.R.) posts within the former Accomplice states held joint ceremonies whereas adorning the veterans’ graves within the native cemeteries, albeit with completely different flags. Now they collaborated in elevating the cash to attend the reunion. 

Most of the aged gents, dwelling on piddling pensions and the charity of relations, couldn’t afford such a visit on their very own. Collectively Blue and Grey launched fund-raising drives. In Fort Value, as an example, the members of the R.E. Lee Camp of the UCV and the William S. Parmley Publish of the G.A.R. fashioned a joint committee they known as the “Blue and Grey Committee” to boost cash and plan the journey. They organized with the St. Louis and Southwestern Railway (aka the “Cotton Belt”) for his or her very personal automotive to take them on the cut price fee of $39.40 per individual round-trip, reservations required.

At one level, 80 veterans have been mentioned to be making the journey from Fort Value, however when the day arrived solely 5 had really bought tickets. Their numbers swelled to twenty as they have been joined by males from as distant as Houston. Their most distinguished touring companion was former Accomplice Basic Felix H. Robertson, the Texas consultant on the Gettysburg Battlefield Fee who had already hung out on web site getting ready for the large occasion. Now he was again in Texas to steer the Texas contingent.

The encampment was located between the Emmitsburg Highway and West Accomplice Avenue. The Nice Tent is at far left, and a railroad serviced the camp. It’s attention-grabbing that the memento pennant at proper pits Grant, not Meade, towards Lee. (Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg/Report of the Pennsylvania Fee December 31, 1913)


The intrepid vacationers set out on their journey on June 26 at 8:50 p.m. They picked up further veterans as they crossed Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, and on the best way shared liquid refreshment that they had introduced on board to ease their aching bones and move the time extra pleasantly. Due to the Cotton Belt’s preparations they didn’t have to alter automobiles even as soon as all the best way throughout 5 states. 

They arrived hale and hearty at Gettysburg’s little practice depot on the night time of June 30 solely to find there was a scarcity of tents. They needed to sleep on the bottom below the celebs that night time however took the foul-up in good nature, recalling related sleeping preparations 50 years earlier than. Not less than they didn’t need to eat hardtack, and nobody could be capturing at them the subsequent day. A few of the males most popular to sleep exterior, at the least till a deluge hit on July 2. There have been separate encampments for Blue and Grey, however many veterans spent their time visiting the opposite facet’s tents.

To accommodate the extra 1000’s, the Military needed to scramble, even borrowing circus tents and packing within the assigned occupants. Nonetheless, there weren’t sufficient tents readily available, and transport in additional from St. Louis would have taken too lengthy. So tons of slept on the bottom, willingly or in any other case. The chief criticism in regards to the Military-served chow was not the standard of the meals however the meager quantities they received at each meal. Most of them had not gone hungry because the finish of the struggle, and now they have been reliving one other disagreeable facet of soldiering that they thought that they had put behind them.

There have been gestures of kindness over and above the frequent courtesies. Col. Charles McConnell, a twenty fourth Michigan coloration bearer at Gettysburg, introduced from Chicago a big tent to function the headquarters for his previous regiment. As soon as it was arrange, nonetheless, he invited the survivors of James Pettigrew’s North Carolina brigade to affix them. The 2 regiments had fought one another on July 1, 1863; now they’d collect below the identical tent as brothers in arms. It was additionally the one tent on the entire discipline not furnished by the U.S. Military.

United States troops place an overheated veteran into an ambulance. A soldier holds his marketing campaign hat over the face of the prostrate sufferer. 1000’s of the getting older warriors left early as a result of warmth. (Library of Congress)


Except for lodging and meals, the largest drawback was the brutal July warmth. The temperature reached 90˚ F. exterior on the second day, reaching 103˚ indoors with no such factor as air-con. The forecast was that it might go larger earlier than it was time to go away. These temperatures have been much like what that they had been in 1863, however these have been now not younger males hardened by campaigning. A whole bunch would undergo warmth prostration and wind up within the hospital tents over the course of the 4 days.

On July 2, Gen. Hunter Leggett, the U.S. Military officer in cost, instructed a reporter that 6,000 males had already departed, and he estimated one other 1,000 leaving that night time. He tried to place one of the best face on it by explaining that the previous fellows had gotten what they got here for: an opportunity to see the previous battlefield another time, shake fingers with long-ago foes, and reconnect with comrades. Having completed all that, they have been able to return residence and sleep in their very own beds and eat residence cooking. On July 2, a storm blew by means of that changed sweltering temperatures with soaked clothes.

Getting across the battlefield, which had not modified a lot since 1863, was a problem for the aged veterans. Whereas some made pilgrimages to Satan’s Den or Culp’s Hill, most weren’t so energetic. They stayed within the shade and hydrated with one type of liquid refreshment or one other. A lot of the socializing that went on was at night time after the solar went down and the day’s warmth had dissipated. Some Union vets organized an impromptu fife and drum corps and went calling on their Accomplice comrades.

FIGHTING’s CHarm Had Light

The previous fellows weren’t a lot within the first day’s combating. As a substitute, they needed to go to the websites and recount the tales of the second and third days. That was true of either side. Judging by the studies, a exceptional variety of the Confederates in attendance took half in Pickett’s Cost, or at the least that was the best way they remembered it. Fifty-year-old reminiscences may get blurred. Two veterans, one Union and the opposite Accomplice, met at Satan’s Den. The Accomplice discovered the spot the place he had been wounded on the second day and recalled {that a} Yank had saved his life by giving him water. The Union veteran cried out that he was that Yank. 

The issue with the touching story is that the Johnny Reb had been a member of Garnett’s Brigade, and so they didn’t combat at Satan’s Den. Reporters wrote down the tales they heard with out making an attempt to confirm their authenticity, typically acknowledging that some tales could have been the results of “fifty years of embellishment.” Based on veterans of either side, there had been onerous hand-to-hand combating on all three days, at locations with memorable names: Barlow’s Knoll, Culp’s Hill, Satan’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Spherical High, the Bloody Angle.

Micyah Weiss served within the 144th Pennsylvania. He claimed he was someplace north of 100 years previous, and was proclaimed the oldest veteran on the fiftieth reunion. (Library of Congress)

THE OLDEST VET at Gettysburg

The oldest veteran on the reunion was Micyah Weiss, a Union vet who mentioned he was both 110 or 112 years previous (the story modified) and who additionally occurred to be a veteran of the Mexican Warfare (1846-48). If true, he was a freak of nature. He mentioned he had enlisted with the 144th Pennsylvania on the superior age of 55, which means he was older than many of the senior officers in his second struggle. Nobody at Gettysburg in 1913 requested for a start certificates, and his tales of service in two wars entertained his fellows for 4 days. The youngest was 61-year-old John Clem who mentioned he had been a Union drummer boy in 1863, however his story, too, was subsequently questioned. 

Distinguished attendees included the governors of six states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Iowa). Texas Gov. Oscar Colquitt thought-about coming, and as late as June 25, newspapers reported he was going. However on the final minute he determined to not go, as a substitute naming Gen. Robertson, the state’s solely native-born Civil Warfare basic, to characterize Texas. For these with lengthy reminiscences, Robertson was the identical officer who had been disgraced by the actions of his troops within the Saltville Bloodbath (Oct. 2, 1864) to the purpose that Gen. Robert E. Lee known as for his court docket martial. 

However all was forgiven now. Robertson was in Gettysburg on Could 21 when Gettysburg formally welcomed the Battlefield Fee. He delivered the opening speech, receiving a “large ovation” from the assembled townspeople and making him the primary Southerner ever to talk because the Pennsylvania city’s consultant at a public occasion. Now he was again and main the Texas contingent of veterans. 


The Gettysburg expertise was a dream come true for Robertson. Within the spirit of forgive and neglect, his checkered previous was not introduced up. He was feted by Yanks and Johnny Rebs alike. For 4 days he strutted in regards to the city in his basic’s uniform, which was spotless and match surprisingly effectively for one thing that had been within the closet for 50 years. One of many heat, fuzzy anecdotes to come back out of the reunion concerned Robertson on the final night time. As associated by him later, he chanced to fulfill a former West Level classmate who fought on the opposite facet, Gen. Barlow (presumably Francis Barlow, the one Union basic by that identify).

Members of the Union 2nd Corps close to the well-known Angle on Cemetery Ridge with a banner bearing their corps insignia. (Library of Congress)

Each in his telling have been members of the category of 1857, and now they have been seeing one another for the primary time since 1861. The Texan acknowledged Barlow first and launched himself, and so they spent a number of hours in Barlow’s tent reminiscing about West Level and their wartime experiences.

No person again in Texas questioned the story, but it surely had a number of issues, starting with the truth that Francis Barlow died in 1896. He additionally by no means attended West Level. Robertson entered West Level in 1857, however he would have been a member of the Class of 1861, not 1857, had he graduated, however he left in January 1861 to affix the Confederacy.

Plenty of tales additionally of doubtful authenticity have been perpetrated at Gettysburg throughout these 4 days of 1913. Reputations have been burnished after the actual fact, careers rewritten, and reminiscences created out of entire material. Amongst Texans, nonetheless, Felix Robertson, final surviving basic officer of the Confederacy (he died in 1928), would at all times be a hero.


Neither the previous warhorse Felix Robertson nor the attending governors have been the largest celebrities on the reunion. That honor went to the descendants of beloved basic officers, a choose group that included a son and two grandsons of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, A.P. Hill’s daughter, two grandsons of Gen. George Pickett, and three granddaughters of Gen. George Gordon Meade.

The grand reunion of Blue and Grey wrapped up on July 4 with a sequence of speeches climaxed by President Woodrow Wilson’s speech. Then it was residence for the previous fellows. The “after-action” report on the occasion mentioned there have been solely 9 fatalities through the 4 days, eight Union males and one Accomplice. One newspaper reported that a kind of deaths was the results of being struck by a automotive.


It’s not possible to know precisely what number of attended. The depend of Lewis Beitler who compiled the Report of the Pennsylvania Fee was 53,407, however that quantity blurs the truth that 1000’s departed earlier than it was over. Varied newspaper reporters on the scene additionally supplied completely different counts. Tips on how to depend them? Nobody may know for certain what number of have been there.

 The theme of “unity of North and South,” was endlessly repeated afterwards. It was symbolized by the assembly of the survivors of Pickett’s Cost, Billy Yank and Johnny Reb, on the stone wall on July 3, precisely 50 years after they clashed there in a demise wrestle. Now the onetime foes shook fingers throughout the wall. (The latter could have been true, however the former was open to query.)

Virginia veteran with the Richmond Clothes Bureau coat he wore through the struggle. (Library of Congress)


Opposite to later studies, all was not peace and love between the previous gents. A blended group received into it within the eating room of the Gettysburg Lodge on July 2 when a Union vet defended Abraham Lincoln towards the jibes of Southerners. Seven males have been stabbed, all of them Yanks. The victims have been all frivolously injured, and their assailant was launched.

Fort Value Choose Charles C. Cummings was not shy about partisan emotions in his speech on the final day of the reunion. Mentioned he proudly, “The South has risen once more,” not as some kind of “New South” however as “the identical Outdated South!” Buried in the course of his speech, this assertion drew no response from the group.


Amongst all of the half-truths and tall tales to come back out of the reunion was one fable that has taken on added significance lately, specifically that the Gettysburg occasion did nothing to honor the nurses who attended the 1000’s of wounded in 1863. However they have been definitely honored in 1913. Mrs. Salome M. Stewart, a resident of the city, turned her home “on a quiet little avenue” right into a headquarters for the nurses of either side. Throughout the battle it had been an emergency hospital for the wounded of either side run by Mrs. Stewart and 6 like-minded ladies of the city.

With phrase of the reunion unfold throughout the nation, the nurses got here again to Gettysburg from as distant as New York, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. A few of the veterans of either side who had been below their tender ministrations got here by to see them. Even reporters dropped by to see why all the eye on these gray-haired women and hopefully get a recent human-interest angle on the reunion. So, no, these ladies have been hardly forgotten.

The nice and cozy afterglow of the Grand Reunion stayed with attendees lengthy after they bid farewell to Gettysburg. Choose Cummings pronounced it, “the grandest event of the century,” including, “The spectacle of fifty,000 males who previously fought one another fraternizing won’t ever be seen once more.” Maybe essentially the most exceptional factor to come back out of it was the proposal that Accomplice and Union veterans’ organizations merge into one referred to as the United American Veterans. However nothing got here of it. An occasional reunion with their counterparts was okay, however subsuming their distinctive identities into some built-in group was an excessive amount of.


One individual who didn’t attend the reunion was Sallie Pickett, aka LaSalle Corbell Pickett. Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett’s widow, 70 years previous, was nonetheless mourning the demise of her son, George Jr., two years earlier. As she wrote a buddy: “Oh, I would really like a lot to be there, however don’t really feel that I might have the ability to bear up below the flood of feelings reminiscence would arouse. My husband is useless, my son is useless, and it might be finest for me to not attend.”

Her well being was additionally lower than the journey from her residence in Washington, D.C. So, she despatched her two grandsons, George III and Christiancy Pickett, to characterize the household. They have been the focal point for all of the Virginia veterans who had hoped “Mom Pickett” would attend the reunion as she had in 1888.

The Pickett boys, 19 and 17 respectively, introduced their grandmother’s heat needs and posed for footage. Veterans offered them with a particular present for Sallie. It was a gold pocket watch engraved to “Mrs. Genl. George E. Pickett.” The message on the again mentioned the whole lot about their excessive regard for the final and his girl. Engraved in tiny print letters, all caps, to her was this inscription: 

“…by Pickett’s males in reminiscence not solely of our beloved basic however her personal loyalty to us his troopers. July third 1913.”

Sallie cherished the reunion watch till her demise in 1931, in addition to a watch engraved with George’s battles, which she had given him as an anniversary present. She thought-about herself George’s spokesman to his males. They in flip revered her.

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