November 1863: Giving Thanks in the Midst of War

waud camp thanksgiving 1861

Setting aside a day to give thanks is an American tradition deeply rooted in the history of our country. Every year, many look back to the Pilgrim’s and their arrival in Massachusetts as the beginning of the holiday we now know as Thanksgiving. Indeed, the Pilgrim settlers did have a feast in 1621 to give thanks to God for their blessings upon arriving in Plymouth. Native Americans were present on that occasion, though it was not the grand moment of cultures coming together to embrace peace and prosperity that popular history often alleges it to have been.

While the tale of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving is deeply ingrained in our modern understanding of the holiday, few realize that Thanksgiving is also deeply rooted in the American Civil War. In October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation of thanksgiving, calling upon the nation to set aside the fourth Thursday of November to pause and give thanks to God. Lincoln was far from the first to do this; during the Revolution, the Continental Congress set aside several days for giving thanks, and George Washington issued a similar proclamation in 1789 during the first year of his presidency. John Adams and James Madison also issued similar proclamations, meaning that Lincoln was reviving an old American tradition that had been dormant for many years. Even earlier in the Civil War, Lincoln himself had issued similar proclamations in April 1862 and July 1863, giving thanks for military victories over the Confederacy. Confederate President Jefferson Davis had also issued proclamations of thanksgiving.

Yet, Lincoln’s proclamation of October 1863 stood apart from those earlier in the war; indeed, it still stands apart today. The incredible events of that year provided incredible context for Lincoln’s words of thanksgiving. While the nation had gone through difficult times before, especially during the darkest days of the Revolution, the challenges which Lincoln and the country faced in 1863 were unique in many ways.

152 years ago, our nation was in the midst of the bloodiest conflict in American history. Hundreds of thousands had already died during the Civil War, with hundreds of thousands more having been afflicted by the effects of battle, both at home and on the battlefield. Millions wondered over what their ultimate fate would be at the conflict’s end: would they gain their freedom promised by the Emancipation Proclamation, or, would their masters reclaim them as property once again.

It would seem, in the midst of so much suffering and peril, that the country would not have anything to rejoice in as 1863 drew to a close. But yet, the year had provided glimpses of hope for the Union. It began with William Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland delivering a victory in Murfreesboro, Tennessee at the bloody battle of Stones River. Several months later, in the midst of that summer, Rosecrans and his army outmaneuvered Confederates in the Tullahoma Campaign, securing central-Tennessee for the Union. Rosecrans’s victory had been simultaneous with two much grander Union successes. On the first three days of July, the Union Army of the Potomac met Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg in the biggest and bloodiest battle of the war. The three-day fight saw over 50,000 casualties and a war changing victory for the Union. The following day, on July 4, Ulysses S. Grant secured the surrender of Confederates in Vicksburg, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River once again.

Even into that fall, the bloodshed continued. September saw an enormous toll at Chickamauga in Georgia, where over 34,000 men were casualties over two days. In November, Union and Confederate forces were squaring off at the crucial city of Chattanooga. By year’s end, 1863 had proven to be the bloodiest year yet of the war, though the fighting was still far from over.

In the midst of this fighting and bloodshed, President Lincoln decided itLincoln was time to revive and formalize a long-standing American tradition of giving thanks in times of plenty and peril, beginning the annual day of Thanksgiving that we observe today. As Lincoln’s proclamation explains, in spite of all the carnage and fighting tearing the nation apart, the country was weathering the storm of the war. Elections, commerce, and industry were still proceeding in the North, showing that American democracy was stronger than the threat of rebellion and war. Even in the darkest days of American history, Lincoln still found resilience and hope.

In the years following Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation, presidents continued to issue similar measures. The holiday was formalized as the fourth Thursday in November by an act of Congress in October 1941, just weeks before America would once again find itself engaged in a war testing its fundamental values. Even in the darkest days of American history, with thousands of men dying on battlefields hundreds of miles from home, or thousands of miles from home, whether in times of war or peace, Americans have still found time to pause and give thanks for what we have.


By the President of the United States of America.


The year that is drawing toward its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watching providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State


Daniel Vermilya
Gettysburg National Military Park

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“‘Such Then Is The Decision’: General Meade and the July 2nd Council of War”

We’re honored today to feature Dr. Jennifer Murray, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, as a special guest contributor. Dr. Murray served as an Interpretive Ranger at Gettysburg for many years, and was recently awarded the prestigious Bachelder-Coddington Award for her book, On a Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933–2012.

Leister Farm House

Meade’s Headquarters- the Lydia Leister House & barn today (National Park Service)

Near 3:00 on the morning of June 28, 1863, Colonel James Hardie, a staff officer to General in Chief Henry Halleck, arrived to the tent of Major General George Gordon Meade.  The Army of the Potomac had been maneuvering and marching north for weeks.  As General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia penetrated into Maryland and Pennsylvania, a clash with the Confederate forces seemed imminent.  Meade, commanding the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac, had positioned his men slightly south of Frederick, Maryland.  Surprised at Hardie’s untimely arrival, Meade presumed he had been relieved of command.  Instead, Hardie presented the general with an order from President Abraham Lincoln.  Meade was to assume command of the Army of the Potomac, effective immediately.[1]  Three days later, in the morning hours of July 1, Union troops clashed with Confederates along the Chambersburg Pike, west of a small town in Adams County, Pennsylvania.  The battle of Gettysburg had begun.

As the day continued, additional Union and Confederate units joined fighting, which now engulfed areas west and north of town.  By dusk, Union troops had retreated through Gettysburg, regrouping on key terrain south of town, namely Cemetery Hill.  Additional units arrived to the field and Union soldiers began to establish a defensive position along Cemetery Ridge.  Meade reached the battlefield around midnight.  Determined to Meade, George the initiative, Lee ordered a series of attacks along the Union flanks the following day.  On July 2nd, Confederates captured ground along the southern end of the battlefield, at Devil’s Den and the Peach Orchard, and held positions along Culp’s Hill, the right flank of the Union defensive line.  Still, after two days of fighting, and a mounting casualty toll, estimated at 16,500 combined casualties, neither side could claim decisive victory.[2]

That evening, at 8 PM, Meade telegrammed Halleck, informing him of the day’s fighting and the army’s current strategic situation.  In the telegram, the commanding general declared his intention to remain in his present position, but indicated that the nature of operations would depend on consultation from his subordinates.  “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow,” he offered, “but am not prepared to say, until better advised of the condition of the army, whether my operations will be of an offensive or defensive character.”[3]  Meade called for his subordinates to gather at his headquarters, convening the campaign’s first Council of War.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, Meade called three Councils of War, on July 2nd, 4th, and 12th.  In modern military parlance, Meade utilized the Councils of War to understand his operational environment, defined as the conditions, circumstances, and influences that impact a commander’s decisions.  By calling a meeting of his subordinates, Meade sought to gain a clearer picture of the physical environment, the nature of the area of operations, and the information environment, intelligence on the enemy and of his own army.  The council, convening shortly after the day’s fighting had ended, proved critical for gathering and disseminating information.  As Meade’s telegram indicated, the commanding general used the council to meet with his subordinate officers and to evaluate his operational environment and engage in strategic, conceptual planning.  Fundamentally all operational planning is based on imperfect, incomplete knowledge.  Military leaders identify problems and evaluate potential approaches.  Councils of War, the gathering of subordinates to frame problems and develop approaches, functioned to provide a clearer, informed forecast to the nature of the operations.[4]  Once the generals had defined an operational approach, Meade allowed his subordinates to vote on the army’s subsequent operations.  In seeking consensus from his generals and then allowing them to vote on the ensuing course of action, Meade demonstrated a collaborative decision making process.

Near 9 o’clock on the evening of July 2nd, eleven generals joined Meade at his headquarters, the Lydia Leister farmhouse.  The small room, totaling no more than “ten or twelve feet square,” held a bed, table, and two chairs.  Present at the meeting included Meade’s Chief of Staff, Major General Daniel Butterfield and the army’s engineer, Major General Gouverneur K. Warren.  Major Generals Winfield Scott Hancock and Henry Slocum represented the army’s “wing commanders.”  Additionally, each corps had a representative at the council.  Major General John Newton represented the 1st Corps; Brigadier General John Gibbon the 2nd Corps and Major General David Birney the 3rd Corps.  The army’s 5th, 6th, 11th, and 12th Corps were represented by Major General George Sykes, Major General John Sedgwick, Major General Oliver Otis Howard, and Brigadier General Alpheus Williams respectively.[5]

At first the discussion was “very informal” and conversational.[6]  Engaged in two days of heavy fighting and calculating diminishing supplies, the generals evaluated their operational environment.  Corps commanders speculated on their capabilities; Butterfield recorded the effective strength of the Army of the Potomac at 58,000.  Warren, suffering from a shrapnel wound to the neck, slept through the bulk of the council.  Meade reportedly contributed little to the conversation, but listened incisively.  After several hours of conversation, Butterfield formulated three questions.[7]  These questions guided the conceptual planning and framed the Army of the Potomac’s operational environment.

Leister Farm 1863

The Leister House, photographed by Alexander Gardner on or about July 6, 1863, and the condition of land and buildings found by the widow upon her return. (Library of Congress)

Butterfield’s first question considered the feasibility of the Army of the Potomac remaining in Gettysburg.  “Under existing circumstances,” he queried, “is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or to retire to another, nearer its base of supplies?”  The second question posed, “It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or await the attack of the enemy?”  And, finally, if retaining the defensive, the generals debated how long they could hold their current position.[8]  Meade then exhibited deferential leadership, allowing the generals to vote on each of the questions.  The council proceeded with the most junior officer, Gibbon, voting first.  Gibbon favored retaining the army’s existing position, with a slight modification, believing the army was “in no condition to attack.”  Other generals echoed this sentiment.  Slocum, commanding the 12th Corps, declared, “stay and fight it out.”  When the results of the council unanimously favored staying and fighting, Meade succinctly declared, “Such then is the decision.”[9]

By gathering his subordinates, Meade now had a clearer, defined understanding of the status of his army; in putting the questions to a vote, Meade found his subordinates in agreement with himself.  With a consensus obtained, the Army of the Potomac prepared for the third, and ultimately final, day of battle.  Optimistic about the condition of his army, Meade penned his wife the following morning, “All well and going on well with the Army,” declaring that “Army in fine spirits and every one determined to do or die.”[10]  On July 3rd, Meade’s army proved resilient, repulsing the Confederate army along Culp’s Hill and steadfastly holding their position along Cemetery Ridge in the battle’s climatic assault of Pickett’s Charge.  Union troops held their position through the following day, Independence Day, anticipating a Confederate assault that did not come.  Battered and defeated, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat.  Federal victory came at a high cost, however.  The Union army suffered approximately 23,000 casualties.[11]

In the weeks and months following the campaign, Meade’s leadership at Gettysburg became a topic of frequent and vociferous criticism.  In the spring of 1864, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War (JCCW) investigated the Gettysburg Campaign and specifically Meade’s leadership.  Meade testified before the Congressional committee on two occasions, March 5th and the 11th.  Congress leveled several accusations against the commanding general, including the allegation that he did not want to fight at Gettysburg.  Meade’s critics used the July 2nd Council of War as evidence that the commanding general did not want to fight at Gettysburg, but infact wanted to retreat.  To be sure, minimal evidence suggests that Meade favored withdrawing from Gettysburg.  Such allegations stem from several of Meade’s critics.  Appearing before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, Butterfield and Birney both testified that Meade wished to retreat.  A March 12, 1864 article published in the New York Herald, leveled damning allegations against Meade’s leadership and his supposed reluctance to fighting at Gettysburg.  Signed “Historicus,” it is popularly believed that Daniel Sickles, Meade’s most noted and vocal critic, wrote this article.[12]

Meade worked feverishly to address these criticisms and to dispute accusations of dilatory leadership.  In testifying to Congress on the July 2nd Council of War and his supposed desire to retreat, the general declared, “The opinion of the council was unanimous, which agreed fully with my own views.”[13]  Too, Meade defended his use of Councils of War, stating, “they were probably more numerous and more constant in my case, from the fact that I had just assumed command of the army, and felt that it was due to myself to have the opinions of high officers before I took action on matters which involved such momentous issues.”[14]

On February 1, 1865, Congress ended its inquiry of the Battle of Gettysburg and Meade’s leadership.  The Congressional investigation failed to yield decisive results and amounted to little more than political grandstanding.  Meade remained in command of the Army of the Potomac through the duration of the war.  Confederate surrender and Union victory, however, did not quell disputes over Meade’s leadership at Gettysburg.  Union veterans writing postwar accounts continued to perpetuate the claim that Meade did not want to fight at Gettysburg.  In writing his memoir, Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, published in 1882, Abner Doubleday portrays Meade as a commanding general reluctant to fight at Gettysburg.  Regarding the Council of War on July 2nd, Doubleday notes that Meade “was displeased” with his subordinates’ unanimous decision to stay and fight, but “acquiesced in the decision.”  While not even present at the evening’s council, Doubleday quoted Meade as stating, “Have it your way, gentlemen, but Gettysburg is no place to fight a battle in.”  Leaving no doubt to his readers, Doubleday adds, “there is no question in my mind that, at the council referred to, General Meade did desire to retreat.”[15]


In 1879, James Edward Kelly, a New York City native and illustrator, met with a series of Union generals.  He questioned them about the war and sketched their portraits and other images.  Kelly’s sketch, “Council of War at Gettysburg,” offers a visual interpretation of the July 2nd meeting at the Leister House.  Kelly depicts fourteen generals at the council.  Two of the generals in the sketch, Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the cavalry corps, who is depicted leaning in the doorframe, and Rufus Ingalls, chief quartermaster, sitting on the chair with his back toward the viewer, were not present at the council.[16]

With the generous assistance of the staff at Gettysburg National Military Park, nearly 150 years after the July 2nd Council of War, a group of Gettysburg enthusiasts gathered in the Leister House in an effort to recapture the scene of the Union high command.  Gathering fourteen people into the small room proved a logistical challenge in its own right.  As the “generals” took their place, individuals quibbled over the posture, posing, and positioning of their commander.  While our photographer, Will Dupuis, captured the scene, individually and collectively we reflected on the momentous events that occurred in that exact space in 1863.  The damp March air contrasted starkly with the humid, sultry July evening.  James Hessler, representing Daniel Butterfield, remarked on the practical difficulties in communicating with so many subordinates.  This command structure was soon simplified; following the Gettysburg Campaign the Army of the Potomac was reorganized.  As it had 152 years earlier, conversation and debate swirled around Meade’s leadership.  Some applauded Meade’s initiative to gather his subordinates and exchange information in a controlled environment, something that General Lee chose not to do.

CoW Photo

The recreation of Kelly’s Council of War. Photo Courtesy of Will Dupuis.

In putting Meade’s leadership to a vote, our “council” found the general’s conduct at Gettysburg capable, if not admirable.  Others, however, have not been so kind.  In the latest study of the Gettysburg Campaign, historian Allen Guelzo offers a critical interpretation of Meade’s generalship.  Relative to the Council of War on July 2nd, Guelzo promotes the theory that Meade did not want to fight at Gettysburg, but the unanimous decision of his subordinates to say and fight “stripped away” Meade’s excuse to withdraw.  Through the duration of the war, and ultimately his life, Meade shouldered the criticism of his conduct at Gettysburg.  Writing to his wife shortly after Christmas 1863, he quipped of the accusations aimed toward his leadership, “before long it will be clearly proved that my presence on the field was rather an injury than otherwise.”[17]

Dr. Jennifer Murray
Assistant Professor of History
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise






[1] George Gordon Meade to Margaretta Meade, June 29, 1863, The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, II, edited by George Gordon Meade (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), 11-12 [all notes hereinafter cited as L&L, II with corresponding page].

[2] Edwin B. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968), 442.

[3] United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vols., in 128 parts (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901) vol. 27, part I, 72 [all notes hereinafter from the Gettysburg volumes cited as OR with corresponding volume and page number].

[4] “Planner’s Handbook for Operational Design,” Version 1.0, Joint Staff, J-7, Joint and Coalition Warfighting, October 7, 2011, IV-1.

[5] John Gibbon, Personal Recollections of the Civil War (New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1928), 140.

[6] Gibbon, Personal Recollections of the Civil War, 140.

[7] Minutes of the Council, July 2, 1863, OR, I, 74; Gibbon, Personal Recollections of the Civil War, 140.

[8] “Minutes of the Council, July 2, 1863,” OR, I, 73.

[9] Gibbon, Personal Recollections of the Civil War, 142.

[10] George Gordon Meade to Margaretta Meade, July 3, 1863, L&L, II, 103.

[11] Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign, 541.

[12] Historicus, “The Battle of Gettysburg,” New York Herald, March 12, 1864.  Available in OR, I, 128-136.

[13] Meade, March 11, 1864, 126-127.

[14] George Meade Testimony, Union Generals Speak: The Meade Hearings on the Battle of Gettysburg, edited by Bill Hyde (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 128.

[15] Abner Doubleday, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg (New York: Scribner’s, 1882), 184-185.

[16] Generals in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War, edited by William B. Styple (Kearny, N.J.: Belle Grove Publishing 2005).

[17] Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, 2013), 352-356; George Gordon Meade to Margaretta Meade, December 28, 1863, L&L, II, 163-164.

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Winter Lectures and More! Winter Programming at Gettysburg National Military Park

snowy sat.

While most people come in the summer, winter is a great time to visit and explore Gettysburg National Military Park. On January 9, 2016, the annual Winter Lecture Series begins. Featuring some of the best National Park Service Rangers and Historians from across the region, this 11-week series of hour-long talks will examine some of the more controversial and complex aspects of the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War. From Reconstruction to the struggle for reconciliation, the rise of the Lost Cause, and the creation of battlefield parks, the decades following the end of the war represent one of the darkest, least recognized chapters in American history. And yet so many aspects of this important period continue to define and challenge us today. The Winter Lecture Series is held at 1:30 p.m. on weekends in the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center from January 9 through March 13, 2016.

In addition to the Winter Lectures, Gettysburg National Military Park is pleased to announce the Gettysburg’s Battlefield Book Series! Meeting 11:00 AM -12:00 AM, every Saturday from January 9 to March 12 this series will examine significant works of history and literature on topics related to the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War. We invite you to read along over the course of the winter before attending the informal one hour discussions in the Ford Education Center of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. The Park staff will lead the meetings, providing a brief overview of that week’s topic and discuss the chapters read. The two selections for Confederates in the Atticour inaugural Battlefield Book Series tie in with the theme of our Winter Lecture Series—the aftermath and legacy of the American Civil War.

From January 9 to January 30 we will examine our first book , the recent classic, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, by Tony Horwitz. Horwitz traveled the country, delved into the world of Civil War reenacting, visited the battlefields and historic sites where the war was fought, and explored the numerous ways in which the legacy of the Civil War is still very much alive.

  • January 9             Chapters 1-5 (pg. 3-124)
  • January 16           Chapters 6-9 (pg. 125-209)
  • January 23           Chapters 10-11 (pg. 209-311)
  • January 30           Chapters 12-15 (pg. 312-390)

Our second book, Gettysburg Requiem: The Life and Lost Cause of William C. Oates, by Glenn LaFantasie is an examination of life and times of William Oates, the enigmatic Gettysburg Requiemleader of the 15th Alabama at Gettysburg. Oates full life took him from the taverns of Alabama to the slopes of Little Round Top and beyond. LaFantasie’s biography provides an intimate look at what one Confederate officer did before, during, and after the American Civil War. We hope you will join us this winter, read along, and share your thoughts and perspectives on these two fascinating books.

  • February 6                     Part 1 (pg. 1-67)
  • February 13                   Part 2 (pg. 69-109)
  • February 20                  Part 3 (pg. 111-171)
  • February 27                  Part 4 (pg. 173-243)
  • March 5                         Part 5 (pg. 245-309)

Finally, every Sunday at 11:00 AM park staff will lead an examination of the many monuments and markers found on the battlefield landscape. More than just a battlefield park, Gettysburg issnowy cannon one of the largest outdoor sculpture gardens in the world, featuring over 1,300 unique monuments, markers, memorials and plaques. These monuments and memorials make Gettysburg one of the best marked battlefields in the world, and each have an important story to tell. Join a Park Ranger for Stories in Stone: The Monuments at Gettysburg and discover the unique messages these bronze and granite sentinels tell. This hour long program meets every Sunday from January 10th to March 13th in the Ford Education Center at Gettysburg National Military Park.

For a complete schedule of all programs and featured speakers, check the park website or call the Visitor Information Desk at 717-334-1124 ext. 8023. Can’t make it to Gettysburg? All Winter Lectures will be filmed and made available on our park YouTube page: 

Winter Lecture Series 2016:
Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Remembrance:
The Aftermath and Legacy of the Civil War

Sat. Jan. 9
Jubal Early and the Molding of Confederate Memory
Join Park Ranger Matt Atkinson and explore the post-war life of former Confederate General Jubal A. Early. During the Civil War Early saw extensive service in most of the major campaigns of the eastern theater.  Known for his profane and blunt personality, he served as a writer and editor of the Southern Historical Society Papers, and played a major role in shaping how southerners remembered Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee, and what became known as “The Lost Cause.”  By laying aside the sword and taking up the pen, Early made a direct impact on how generations of Americans would understand the Civil War.
Matt Atkinson, GNMP            

Sun. Jan. 10
Louisiana Radical: James Longstreet and Reconstruction (1866 – 1875)
Follow the career of  former Confederate General James Longstreet from the end of the Civil War to Reconstruction-era New Orleans. Park Ranger Karlton Smith will shed light on Longstreet’s post-war politics, his role in shaping reconstruction in Louisiana, his involvement with some of the era’s major players, and his participation in the Battle of Liberty Place. – Karlton Smith, GNMP

Sat. Jan. 16
Power and Distorted Relationships: The Psychology of the “Loyal Slave” and “Mammy”
In the final days of the America Civil War, previously isolated slave populations found the opportunity to run toward Union ships or infantry encampments. Likewise, as federal forces moved onto these plantations and publicly read the Emancipation Proclamation, newly freed slaves migrated in great numbers to the nearest city where the Freedman’s Bureau worked to reunite scattered families and provide various forms of social or economic support. Southern planters watched their slaves leave with dismay, having lived under the delusion that their “human property” saw them as patriarchs who provided daily protection from birth to death. Their “defections” stripped away any pretense of the master-slave relationship. Join Ranger Troy Harman and explore the shattered notions of the “loyal slave” and “Mammy” following the end of the war and the transformation of southern society. – Troy Harman, GNMP

Sun. Jan. 17
The Long Road to Reconciliation- Veterans and the Record of War
Following the conclusion of the Civil War, surviving Union and Confederate veterans returned home to face an unknown future. United by the shared experience of war, these former soldiers bonded through veterans organizations. In 1866, Union veterans established the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1889 former Confederates banded together to create the United Confederate Veterans.  Both groups endeavored to “right the record” of the conflict. Park Historian John Heiser will examine how these two groups, through their newspapers, regimental histories, and reunions helped to shape our interpretation of the war. – John Heiser, GNMP

Sat. Jan. 23
Freedom, the Civil War, and its Complicated Legacy 
More so than any other era of the nation’s history, Americans have grappled with the meaning and legacy of the Civil War. Join John Hennessey, Chief Historian of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, for an examination of the continued relevance and the complex, controversial, and often contested legacies of the American Civil War.  John Hennessy, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park

Sun. Jan. 24
The Rhetoric of Reconstruction and Reconciliation – What Does it All Mean?
From the end of the war to the present day, Americans have seen their share of promises, proclamations, and declarations; all designed to encourage, enhance, or enforce a particular vision of the Civil War and its aftermath. From Lincoln’s changing recognition of the ultimate meaning of the conflict, evident in his Second Inaugural Address, to the views of a collage of other wide-ranging personalities; from Frederick Douglass, to Woodrow Wilson and George Wallace – all have tried to shape how Americans understand, view, and teach the war. Join Ranger Bert Barnett and explore the decades, leaders, and demagogues of the post-Civil War period.  – Bert Barnett, GNMP

Sat. Jan. 30
Colonels in War, Governors in Peace: Chamberlain and Oates in Reconstruction
The fight between the 20th Maine and the 15th Alabama on Little Round Top is among the most famous incidents of the Battle of Gettysburg, if not the American Civil War. What is less well known is what each regiment’s leader—Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and William Calvin Oates—did following the end of the conflict. Both men went on to become governor of his respective state, and both played a large role in the politics of Reconstruction and in shaping the memory of the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War. Join Ranger Daniel Vermilya and discover the post-war political careers of these two fascinating individuals.   – Daniel Vermilya, GNMP

Sun. Jan. 31
Monuments, Memory and Reconciliation at the High Water Mark
Few places on the Gettysburg battlefield are as highly visited or as symbolic as the High Water Mark.  That something important and significant happened here is apparent to even the most casual visitor.  Why else would this little knot of trees be enclosed by an iron fence, and an imposing bronze monument of an open book with the words “High Water Mark,” flanked by cannons, stand in front of them?  Monuments and National Park Service wayside exhibits cluster densely here as well.  Through the decades it has always carried an importance for Americans.  For Union veterans it was place to remind the nation of their great victory and sacrifice through monuments, a process sometimes fiercely contested.  It was also a place of great pain for veterans of both armies and it served some as a point to find peace and reconciliation with former enemies.  Eventually the nation found it to be the ideal space for national reconciliation.  Historian D. Scott Hartwig will explore the major events up through the battle’s 50th anniversary that transformed this simple landscape into one of America’s most symbolic spaces.
D. Scott Hartwig

Sat. Feb. 6
“Trying to be a Radical and not a Fool”:
Congressman James A. Garfield and Reconstruction
Fresh from the Union army and the battlefields of the Civil War, James A. Garfield of Ohio entered Congress in late 1863 committed to abolition and Radical Republicanism.  Over the next 10-15 years, however, Garfield’s commitment to radicalism softened.  Learn more about Garfield’s background and his political views on African American rights, treatment of former Confederates, and other important national issues during the Reconstruction period.  Historian Todd Arrington will examine Garfield’s Reconstruction-era political experiences and how they prepared him to run for and serve as President of the United States. – Todd Arrington, James A. Garfield National Historic Site

Sun. Feb. 7
Impeached! The Rise and Fall of Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson rose from a humble Tennessee tailor to assume the mantle of the Presidency following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. His handling of the first years of Reconstruction nearly resulted in his impeachment. Join Supervisory Ranger Angie Atkinson for a look at the rise and fall of this controversial figure. – Angie Atkinson, GNMP

Sat. Feb. 13
Preservation and Commemoration at Antietam National Battlefield
2015 marked the 125th anniversary of Antietam National Battlefield, one of the five original battlefield parks created by the War Department. Since 1890, veterans, military groups, preservationists, and the National Park Service have all played a role in the creation, expansion, and preservation of one of the most pristine battlefields in the country. Join Keith Snyder, Chief of Interpretation, for a look at the evolution of the site of America’s bloodiest day. – Keith Snyder, Antietam National Battlefield Park

Sun. Feb. 14
Legacies of Letterman: The Army Medical Corps, 1864-1945
Join Education Specialist Barb Sanders and explore advancements in military medicine from the end of the Civil War to World War II. From the system of triage, evacuation and hospital care instituted by Medical Director Jonathan Letterman, through both the First and Second World Wars, the medical advances of the Civil War ultimately resulted in the advent of penicillin, blood collection, aeromedical evacuation and the treatment of psychiatric casualties. – Barb Sanders, GNMP

Sat. Feb. 20
Adelbert Ames – From Gettysburg to Mississippi
The story of Union General Adelbert Ames is one of courage, and heroism. A Medal of Honor recipient, and original commander of the 20th Maine, he would serve with distinction on countless battlefields of the Civil War. In the post-war years, Ames served as military governor of Mississippi, senator, and later civilian governor.  During his tenure, marked with violence and scandal, he tried to advance the rights of African Americans with mixed results.  Join Park Ranger Matt Atkinson as he tells the story of Adelbert Ames and his remarkable journey from Gettysburg to the political halls of Mississippi.
– Matt Atkinson, GNMP

Sun. Feb 21
If These Things Could Talk: 1866 and the Post War Army
The American Civil War spawned a technological revolution of military arms and equipment. Join Ranger Tom Holbrook and examine original objects from the park’s museum collection that shed light on the post-war army and its reorganization following the demobilization of hundreds of thousands of volunteer troops and the end of Civil War.  – Tom Holbrook, GNMP

Sat. Feb. 27
Furled and Unfurled: A History of the Confederate Battle Flag at Gettysburg
Few symbols are as recognizable or as controversial as the Confederate battle flag. From the men who carried it into battle, to its incorporation into monuments and memorials, the flag is inextricably linked with the battlefield of Gettysburg. Discover the compelling and controversial history of the flag at Gettysburg, and the on-going debate over its meaning and message. – Christopher Gwinn, GNMP

Sun. Feb. 28
Longstreet and Sickles – Together Again for the First Time: The Grand Reunion of 1888
The Grand Reunion of 1888, held on the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, was hailed as a time of reunion and reconciliation. It would also prove to be the first real meeting of many Union and Confederate veterans, Daniel Sickles, Henry Slocum, Joshua Chamberlain, James Longstreet and John B. Gordon among them. All these former enemies joined together in feelings of brotherhood and pride in the accomplishments of a reunited nation. Join Ranger Karlton Smith and explore the events, interactions, and episodes of this important moment in Gettysburg history. – Karlton Smith, GNMP

Sat. March 5
“It was, indeed, a scene of unsurpassed grandeur and majesty” – An Audio-Visual Presentation of the National Park Service’s Coverage of the 150thAnniversary of the American Civil War
Over the past five years, the National Park Service has covered the commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War through extensive photography and video projects. From behind the camera, Jason Martz and a team of passionate and dedicated staff and volunteers have spent countless hours capturing these once-in-a-lifetime events. They have been used for immediate use on web and social media sites for a worldwide audience and have been saved and cataloged for ages to come. Beginning with the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in July, 2011, and ending with the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, Jason will highlight some of the most remarkable and stunning pictures and videos from the past five years. – Jason Martz, GNMP

Sun. March 6
“Our once beautiful but now desolated Valley” – Post-War Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

The aftermath of the Civil War brought many challenges to the residents of the Shenandoah Valley.  In the fall of 1864, the war-torn region had been destroyed by Union General Phil Sheridan’s Blue-Coats during “the Burning,” and in the post-war period, the Valley’s residents not only had to deal with the economic recovery of their formerly-named “Breadbasket,” but also the political changes facing the nation.  Park Ranger Shannon Moeck will discuss how all the Valley’s civilians, including former slaves and Confederate veterans, adjusted and adapted to their new environment, then, while remembering their past, went about rebuilding their lives during this uncertain time. – Shannon Moeck, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

Sat. March 12
The Aftermath of Pickett’s Charge: Was There a Second Wave?
When Longstreet stated to Lee on the morning of July 3, 1863, “there never was a body of fifteen thousand men who could make that attack successfully,” he emphatically concluded with, “it would take twice that many men and even then the issue would be in doubt.” This latter statement is particularly revealing on contingencies to Pickett’s Charge. If one surveys all Confederate troops placed within supporting distance of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble assault, they add up to an additional 15,000 men. Did Lee and Longstreet arrange for another 15,000 combatants in a supporting role? Would they have moved forward under the right conditions? How did their presence contribute to Pickett’s fallback and final retreat of Lee’s army? – Troy Harman, GNMP

Sun. March 13
“We have made the most costly sacrifices” – The Consequences of War
The aftermath of war has consequences, both seen and unseen. The American Civil War left a swath of physical destruction, but it also affected families on a personal level. Sons, husbands, and fathers numbered among the dead and maimed, and families were forever changed. The war not only took lives but it also took innocence, safety, and home. Join Park Ranger Evangelina Rubalcava-Joyce and learn about the shocking aftermath of the Civil War and the fortitude of those who endured it.
Evangelina Rubalcava-Joyce, GNMP

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Centennial Champions at Gettysburg and Eisenhower

This week’s blog takes a look at some of Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site’s “Centennial Champions,” a special group of employees who brainstormed and implemented programs and events to engage new audiences for 100th birthday of the National Park Service, coming up in 2016.

Each of these new park programs or events helps meet the goals of the National Park Service’s Call to Action (C2A), “to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates.”

Our Gettysburg and Eisenhower Centennial Champions are:

Ahna Wilson, Eisenhower National Historic Site

Ahna Wilson, Eisenhower National Historic Site

Ahna Wilson – for Presidential Paint & Wine night. Park staff along with the Gettysburg Foundation and the Adams County Arts Council created an after-hours art event on September 24, called a Presidential Paint and Wine Night. The sold-out event featured a tour of the home and its art, followed by painting instruction and refreshments.  Another will be held in the spring. C2A10 Arts Afire

Elle Lamboy, Gettysburg Foundation

Elle Lamboy, Gettysburg Foundation

Elle Lamboy – for the new Recruits membership program of the Friends of Gettysburg, and for the Presidential Paint & Wine night at Eisenhower National Historic Site (EISE). Elle played a key role in the Gettysburg Foundation’s launching of a new membership level for the Friends of Gettysburg targeting millennials.  The new “Recruit” level is for ages 18 – 38.  C2A 29 Posterity Partners

Tom Forsyth, Gettysburg National Military Park

Tom Forsyth, Gettysburg National Military Park

Tom Forsyth – for Artists in Residency programs. To showcase the meaning of parks and inspire and engage new artists, the park established an “Artists in Residency” program in 2015, hosting artists for month-long residencies through the summer months. C2A3 History Lesson and C2A10 Arts Afire

Curt Musselman, Gettysburg National Military Park

Curt Musselman, Gettysburg National Military Park

Curt Musselman – for Wellness programs. As the chair of the park’s newly created wellness committee, Curt created a series of popular wellness walks and fitness programs throughout the spring, summer and fall. The programs are improving work life, health, safety and morale for park employees. C2A 6 Take a Hike; Call Me in the Morning

Chris Gwinn, Gettysburg National Military Park

Chris Gwinn, Gettysburg National Military Park

Chris Gwinn – for Civil War Trust: Generations.  In July, Chris hosted  the Civil War Trust Generations program.  This walk of Pickett’s Charge featured grandparents and grand-kids bonding on the fields of Gettysburg.  More Gettysburg Generations events are planned in the future. C2A 3 History Lesson and C2A 6 Take a Hike; Call Me in the Morning

Jason Martz, Gettysburg National Military Park

Jason Martz, Gettysburg National Military Park

Jason Martz – for engaging the next generation through the GETT and EISE websites, on multiple social media platforms, with the park blog, “From the Fields of Gettysburg,” and other projects. C2A17 Go Digital

Primary_FindYourParkLogo_URLIn future blog posts we’ll highlight upcoming NPS Centennial programs and events.  Be part of the celebration and Find Your Park!

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, November 5, 2015

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Gettysburg National Military Park Just Got a Little Bigger

During the early morning hours of July 3rd, 1863, Confederate skirmishers and sharpshooters stealthily made their way along the boulder strewn east bank of Rock Creek, across the farm of C. Zephaniah Tawney. These men, mostly members of the 2nd Virginia and 1st North Carolina, short on sleep, wet from repeated water crossings, and strained by the pressures of battle, found favorable locations amongst the stone farm buildings and rocks, drew aim on their blue clad opponents across the water, and opened a brisk and deadly fire. Their intended targets, the men of the 13th New Jersey, 27th Indiana, and 2nd Massachusetts, hunkered down behind what protection their position in McCallister’s Woods afforded, stacked their log and earth breastworks ever higher, and returned the fire when they could.

Photo 1

For much of the fighting around Culp’s Hill, Rock Creek was a dividing line between Union and Confederate troops. The water was much higher at the time of the battle but remains difficult to ford today, as demonstrated by Ranger Dan Vermilya.

The 13th New Jersey, the only unit in Colgrove’s brigade directly facing Rock Creek, was particularly annoyed by the sniping taking place. One member of the 13th, Samuel Toombs  of Company F, recalled the moments following the disastrous advance of the 2nd Massachusetts and 27th Indiana into Spangler Meadow,  “…We moved back to our works fronting the Creek, and the other regiments took up their old position. The enemy threw out a strong line of sharpshooters, who devoted their time to picking off every man whose head appeared above the works. A squad of these men established themselves in a small stone house on the opposite side of the Creek, and they annoyed us terribly by their skillful marksmanship.”

The Virginians and North Carolinian’s across the creek wounded more men than they killed. Yet one of those they shot dead was the stretcher bearer of the 13th New Jersey, a circumstance that served to further enrage the New Jersey men. Lt. Charles Winegar, of the Battery M, 1st New York Light, was called forward. After surveying the position of the Confederates on the Tawney farm, he opened fire with one of this Parrott Rifles, briefly causing the skirmishers to flee for cover, scoring a few direct hits on the Tawney buildings themselves, and giving the beleaguered men of the 13th New Jersey a reason to cheer. Confederate casualties among the 1st North Carolina and 2nd Virginia in this action were light, but one of those killed was Gettysburg’s own Wesley Culp.

Photo 2

Boulders and woods line the east bank of Rock Creek. Soldiers in the 2nd Virginia and 1st North Carolina occupied this position during the morning hours of July 3rd.

The fighting on the east bank of Rock Creek, and the skirmishing and pot-shots taken across it, have always been but a footnote to the larger, bloodier, and more significant fighting that took place on Culp’s Hill proper. The comparatively low numbers engaged, the inaccessibility of the position of the 2nd Virginia and 1st North Carolina, and the relatively scarcity of first hand accounts of the fighting have further contributed to its obscurity. Nevertheless, for the men that fought there, for those who called that tract of land home, and for those wishing to understand the Battle of Gettysburg in all its complexity, the fighting that took place there is of the utmost importance.

Significant steps were taken this week which will ultimately enable visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park to view the fighting around Rock Creek, Spangler Meadow, and McAllister’s Woods, from an entirely new perspective. Thanks to our friends and partners at the Civil War Trust, over an acre and a half of land was purchased, preserved, and this past week transferred to Gettysburg National Military Park.

The yellow tract of land just south of the Z. Taney farm has been purchased and preserved thanks to the work of the Civil War Trust.

Located south of the Zephaniah Tawney farm site (the foundation of which is still visible inside the boundary of the National Park today), the heavily wooded and rocky terrain retains much of its 19th century appearance.

Photo 3

The land in the low ground behind the prominent boulder is a portion of the land preserved by the Civil War Trust and transferred to the GNMP.

The paths and old road beds have been spared from heavy use, long forgotten rock walls, covered with grass and leaves, still crisscross the landscape, and its easy to imagine the prone figure of a Confederate soldier drawing aim at the distant enemy. We are grateful to the Civil War Trust for allowing us to safeguard this battlefield landscape for future generations of visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park.

Christopher Gwinn,
Supervisory Ranger, Gettysburg National Military Park

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An Unflinching Look at the Aftermath of Battle: Sgt. Michael Schroyer Remembers Culp’s Hill

147th PA Monument

The monument to the 147th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Culp’s Hill.

Every once in a while a primary account of the Battle of Gettysburg surfaces where the writer’s candidness and honesty just “grabs” me.  One such narrative is the History of Company “G”, 147th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry by Michael S. Schroyer.  In his recollections Schroyer recounts the heroes and cowards, the brave deeds and the sorrowful aftermath of battle.  Ultimately, he tells it “the way it was.” This is particulalry true of his experiences on Culp’s Hill, July 2nd and 3rd, 1863.

Schroyer enlisted on September 15th, 1862 and served in various campaigns including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and the March to the Sea.  During his service, he received subsequent promotions to Corporal on September 1, 1863, Sergeant on April 1, 1865, and mustered out of service on June 6, 1865.  As a soldier he was nothing flashy or extraordinary, just a simple infantryman doing his duty.  Schroyer real talent came from the pen though.

For his Gettysburg narrative, Schroyer detailed the marches and daily activities of the regiment but then delved into “a few little incidents that happened before, during, and after the battle.”  The following unvarnished and unflinching excerpts from his book depict the horror, tragedy, and cruelty of Civil War combat.

The long haired yellow dog that followed the company from Maryland was with us all thru the Gettysburg battle and when a shell dropped near us and exploded, the dog, who had found a cool place under the rocks, would come forth and bark at the bursting shells.  The dog stayed with us until our return march thru Maryland when he left us and we never saw anything of him again.  Sergeant Reuben A. Howeter, of Company H, who had been a theological student at Missionary Institute of Selinsgrove, was the first man the writer saw killed at Gettysburg.  He was a fine fellow and beloved by all who knew him.

Samuel May, who was a shyster … tried the same game of quit at Gettysburg.  Someone close by the writer fired his musket off so close to my ear as to make it very uncomfortable.  I turned and saw Sam May with a companion going up the hill as fast as he could in the rear of his company.  I told Captain Byers, who was back of me at the time, about them going back.  He used some pretty strong language and started after them right in the midst of the fight.  When he got near them he commanded them to halt, which they did.  They were at once ordered back to their company and Captain Byers told them in the presence of their company officer, Captain Mackey, that they had been making fun of Company G, calling the men cowards, conscripts, etc., and that now while Company G was standing like a rock these men were trying to run away.  Byers further told their captain that if they attempted to get away again that he would turn the fire of Company G upon them.  After this we never received any more taunts from them.

A. Lumbard and the writer walked out over the battle field on July 4th, where the dead were lying around by the hundreds. Seeing a rebel lying on his back with a blanket over his face Lumbard, of course, thinking him dead gave him a kick and said, “This fellow fell nice.” To our great surprise the man threw the blanket off his face and said, “Please don’t hurt me, I am badly wounded” and we walked away without even asking him whether we could do anything for him, or even so much as to offer him a drink of cold water.  This has always been one of the saddest regrets of my life.  We might excuse our actions by the fact that the feeling ran so high between the North and the South; that they were our enemies and ready to kill us at any opportunity; that we were mere boys only 20 years of age and knew but little of the ways of the world; but even granting the above excuses were true, yet how unkind and inhuman our treatment of this man. 

On the third of July after repeated charges by the enemy upon our regiment, the ground in our immediate front was strewn with the dead and wounded.  We noticed one wounded man sat up and reached for a gun.  The supposition was that he intended to shoot someone of our officers.  A few shots were fired at him, but none struck him and I think they were only fired to scare him.  He loaded his gun, placed a cap on the tube, then placed the butt of the gun between his feet, placed the ramrod upon the trigger with one hand and held the muzzle under his chin with the other.  He looked down to see that all was right, when he pushed the ramrod against the trigger and another poor soul was ushered into eternity.  After the retreat of the rebels a number of the company went out to see this man and found he had been shot thru both hips, the ball having gone clear thru.  Many rebel dead were buried on the afternoon of the fourth.

On Sunday morning, July 5th, Samuel Jarrett, James W. Smith, and the writer were detailed to help bury the dead.  Sergeant Wallace was permanently detailed on pioneer duty and he helped to dig the trenches.  Jarrett, Smith and myself helped to gather up the dead and bring them to the trenches.  We four, as my memory serves me, were the only ones of Company G who helped in this work.  The woods were full of dead men and horses, some of whom had been killed on the evening of the second.

On the night of the third, and on July fourth, very hot with heavy thunderstorms and Sunday morning, the fifth, the sun came out bright and hot, and the stench from these dead was something fearful.

While the trenches were being dug we gathered the corpses and the stench was so great that we were ordered not to carry any more until the pioneers had finished their work.  Some of the pioneers got sick and had to quit.  The trenches were dug about six and a half feet wide and about two and a half feet deep.  We placed 42 in one trench and 31 in another.  The trenches were dug in the woods.  A tree separated the two trenches.

We gathered these dead, who lay in every conceivable position, from a very small portion of the field.

In their last resting place they were placed side by side and two deep.  Three men generally brought in a corpse, one at each arm or a stick was placed under their shoulders, and carried to the trenches.  The third one would grasp the legs just above the ankle.  In this manner we lifted the corpse, when the head would drop back almost dragging on the ground, while the blood oozed from out their ears and nose.  Nearly all the dead had turned black.  … Oh! The horrible sight! Can you imagine it? These poor fellows, middle-aged, young men, and boys, fine looking, and to sacrifice their lives for so unworthy a cause and one which they thought was right.  As I write these lines it makes my heart feel sad to think of war’s destruction.  Would you believe it, every one of these unfortunates as they lay there dead, had been visited by the battlefield thieves and every one was searched and their pockets rifled.  We helped carry a very large man.  He had been killed and lay in a pool of water when we placed the sticks under him and started for the trench. In stepping over a mud puddle the stick broke and he fell into the water and such a time as we had in getting him out.

A captain of the pioneer corps cut the bark off the tree and then asked, how many are in the trenches? The answer was 73.  Just then a member of the Fifth Ohio regiment of our brigade, came in with a bare foot (the leg of some Confederated had been shot off just above the ankle.)  A sharpened stick had been stuck into the foot and he carried it in this way to the trenches.  He said to the captain, how many in this trench? The captain replied 73.  The other said make it 73 and one foot.  This story, (as well as the one about the rebel shooting himself) are still told by the battlefield guides.

Matt Atkinson, Park Ranger
Gettysburg National Military Park

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The Grand Reunion of 1888

The Great Reunion of 1913, marking the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, is often seen as a time of reconciliation. The nation had engaged in the Spanish-American War (1898) that saw the two sections coming together to confront a common enemy and which saw many ex-Confederates donning blue army uniforms. But the veterans had come together 25 years earlier in 1888 to pledge loyalty to one country, one constitution, and one flag.

Daniel E. Sickles (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

At the reunion of the Society of the Army of the Potomac held in 1887, Major General Daniel E. Sickles, who had commanded the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac at the battle of Gettysburg, introduced some resolutions for the next reunion. The resolutions provided for a 25th reunion of the survivors of the Army of the Potomac to meet on the Gettysburg Battlefield on July 1, 2, and 3, 1888. The resolutions also stipulated that the survivors of the Army of Northern Virginia be invited. The intention was that the survivors of these once opposing armies “might on that occasion record in friendship and fraternity the sentiments of good-will, loyalty, and patriotism which now unite all in sincere devotion to the country.”

The veterans, averaging in their fifties, began arriving in Gettysburg in the last week of June 1888. Over the next several days, thousands of Union veterans once again descended upon the town, but just a little more than three hundred Confederates were able to attend. For most Confederate veterans, the journey was either too far, too expensive, or the invitations had arrived too late for some to make plans to attend. One newspaper estimated that there were up to 30,000 veterans, soldiers and civilians, on the battlefield. It was noted that no gathering since the battle “has equaled that of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the great event.”

One magazine noted that the “unique and striking feature of the Gettysburg reunion was the fraternal assemblage of men who had, on the same field, fought each other to the death for principles incapable of reconciliation.”

Joshua Chamberlain, Daniel Butterfield, James Longstreet, and Daniel E. Sickles on the Gettysburg battlefield, 1888. (GNMP)

Among the most prominent Union officers to attend were Major Generals Daniel E. Sickles, aged 69, and Henry W. Slocum, aged 61, who had commanded the Union Twelfth Corps. Lieutenant General James Longstreet, aged 67, who had commanded the First Corps of Lee’s army, and Major General John B. Gordon, aged 56, who had commanded a brigade at Gettysburg and was now the governor of Georgia, were the ranking officers representing the South.

One thousand tents had been erected on East Cemetery Hill for the Pennsylvania Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) encampment. Tents were also erected in the Wheatfield for the New Jersey National Guard. Contingents from the U. S. Army were encamped at Reynolds’ Grove and the Springs Hotel. The Springs Hotel, which was located about one mile from town on the west side of Willoughby Run, near the current site of the Gettysburg Swim and Tennis, was the scene of the encampment on the 9th New York State Militia. This unit had served in the battle as the 83rd New York Volunteers. All the hotels in town were booked for the occasion. Confederate General James Longstreet was also staying at the Springs Hotel. Shortly after his arrival at the hotel on June 30, Longstreet was at the center of a group consisting of former Union generals Lucius Fairchild and John C. Robinson and Governor James A. Beaver of Pennsylvania.

It was reported that “hundreds” had started from town to see Longstreet when word was received that he had checked into the hotel. But just before the crowd “hove in sight the dashing ex-Confederate was whisked off to Reynolds’ Grove to participate in the dedication of the monuments to commemorate the deeds and the dead of Wisconsin’s ‘Iron Brigade.’”

On July 1 the First Corps from the Army of the Potomac held their exercises at Reynolds’ Woods (now Herbst’s Woods). One special guest was former Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Longstreet was approached by a one-legged veteran who hobbled up on his crutches to the General “and, grasping his hand, said: ‘General, I fought against you at Round Top. I lost a wing there, but I am proud to meet you here’ Gen. Longstreet’s face beamed with satisfaction as he grasped the extended hand, and said: ‘Yes, those were hot times then; but I’m all right now.” It was reported that three cheers were proposed for Gen. Longstreet “which were given with a will by some 10,000 veterans who had fought against this General from Georgia.”

On the morning of July 2, Longstreet was the guest of Major General Henry W. Slocum of New York at the dedication of several New York monuments on Culp’s Hill. Before the ceremonies began, Longstreet “was decorated with a red rose and a miniature American flag by Miss Sadie Cressey.”

The Grand Reunion was scheduled for the afternoon of July 2, 1888, at the rostrum in theGburg Complier 1888 Reunion Gettysburg National Cemetery. The New York Times reported that this reunion was “the most dignified and inspiring of any of the meetings of survivors of the war that have occurred since Appomattox.” The New York Times also noted that the “actors were the very men who defended this ridge on whose slope the cemetery lies against the repeated and desperate assaults led by the very men 25 years ago this very day who joined them here now in pledges of friendship, loyalty to a common flag, and unity of devotion to a common country. All – place, scene, and the living figures of the men themselves – was inspiring.”

The grand procession began moving down Baltimore Street at 4:30 p.m. Colonel Horatio Gates Gibson, 3rd US Artillery, with two aides led the procession. He was followed by the Artillery Band and a contingent of U. S. Army Regular troops. A local paper wrote that “Uncle Sam’s men never looked better nor marched better, and, of course, they inspired admiration along the whole route.” Luciano Conterno’s 60-piece band led the 9th New York State Militia which was followed by more cavalry. Following the military contingents came state and other military officials and the veteran organizations. The Grand Army of the Republic posts that were present followed. Most of the G.A.R. posts had their own drum corps. The noise “was perhaps only excelled by the din which 25 years ago was made by the artillery of both armies.” It was reported that a squad of about 30 of Pickett’s men “attracted much attention, but all of a pleasant nature.”

While none of the marching troops were allowed inside the Gettysburg National Cemetery grounds, “the veterans and the throng of people poured through and gathered about the arbor at the western end of the great inclosure….there must have been 5,000 of them.” The ceremonies took place at the brick rostrum, which had been erected in 1878, and is at the Taneytown Road entrance to the cemetery.

Sitting on the rostrum “could be seen Gens. Sickles, Longstreet, Slocum and Gordon, who [once] were fighting and trying with all their powers to kill each other at the time of the great action; but now they sat there with the best of feelings toward each other. It was a queer sight to thus see these leaders on opposite sides engaged in friendly intercourse before the vast assemblage which had gathered in the cemetery, the like of which will, perhaps, never be looked upon again.”

Among the other Gettysburg veterans on the rostrum were generals Francis C. Barlow, James C. Robinson, and Samuel W. Crawford, all Union division commanders. Also present were Union brigadier generals Joseph B. Carr, Charles K. Graham, Hiram Berdan, and J. H. Hobart Ward, and Major General Daniel Butterfield, Gen. Meade’s chief of staff during the battle. Brevet Brigadier General James C. Lynch, former captain of the 106th Pennsylvania, who later served as colonel of the 183rd Pennsylvania, was also present.

Joseph Hopkins Twichell

At about 5:00 p.m., the Rev. Joseph Hopkins Twichell (1838 – 1918), the former chaplain of the 71st New York Infantry and a Gettysburg veteran, gave the invocation. Twichell was
the pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut, and had been a close friend of Mark Twain since their first meeting in 1868.

Brigadier General John C. Robinson (1817 – 1897), the master of ceremonies, had been commissioned directly into the U. S. Army in 1839 from New York. He served as colonel of the 1st Michigan Infantry and was promoted to brigadier general on April 28, 1862. He lost a leg at Spotsylvania in 1864 and had commanded the Second Division of the First Corps at Gettysburg. He had served as lieutenant governor of New York (1872 – 1874) and was now serving as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic and as president of the Society of the Army of the Potomac.

General Robinson introduced Major General Daniel E. Sickles (1819 – 1914), “leonine and impressive as he ever is,” as the presiding officer of the reunion. Sickles had served as a U. S. Congressman (1857 – 1861) and organized the Excelsior Brigade at the beginning of the Civil War. He was made a brigadier general on September 3, 1861, and a major general on November 29, 1862.  He lost his leg during the fighting at Gettysburg. He later served as minister to Spain (1869 – 1874), chairman of the New York State Monument Commission, and chairman of the New York Board of Civil Service Commissioners (1888 – 1889). A local paper wrote that Sickles’ speech sounded “the key note for the pleasing interchange of fraternal greetings on the part of men prominent on either side. At the end of his comments, Gen. Sickles stated:

Twenty-five years have passed, and now the combatants of ’63 come together again on your old field of battle to unite in pledges of love and devotion to one constitution, one Union and one flag. To-day there are no victors, no vanquished. As Americans we may all claim a common share in the glories of this battlefield, memorable for so many brilliant feats of arms. No stain rests on the colors of any battalion, battery or troop that contended here for victory. Gallant Buford, who began the battle, and brave Pickett, who closed the struggle, fitly represent the intrepid hosts that for three days rivaled each other in titles of martial renown.


John B. Gordon (Image courtesy Library of Congress)

Sickles then introduced Major General John B. Gordon (1832 – 1904), a brigade commander in the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg and now governor of Georgia. Gordon was described as “tall, slender, with long black hair, cured under at the ends in the old Southern style, and with a hard, cruel, gambler-like face, disfigured by a deep scar made by a Yankee bullet.” There was frequent applause as Gordon’s “swinging sentences, eloquent and ringing, were uttered.” General Gordon greeted the assembled old soldiers with less trepidation than in 1863. He noted that they were meeting today as citizens of a common country with no break in the line from Maine to Florida. There was one suggestion that dominated his thoughts and he asked for a brief indulgence:

My fellow countrymen of the North, if I may be permitted to speak for those whom I represent, let me assure you that in the profoundest depths of their nature they reciprocate that generosity with all the manliness and sincerity of which brave men are capable. In token of that sincerity they join in consecrating for annual patriotic pilgrimage these historic heights, which drained such copious drafts of American blood poured so freely in discharge of duty, as each conceived it, a Mecca for the North, which so grandly defended it; a Mecca for the South, which so bravely and persistently stormed it; we join you in setting apart this land as an enduring monument of peace, brotherhood, and perpetual union.

Gordon repeated his thought “with additional emphasis, with singleness of heart and of purpose, in the name of a common country, and of universal human liberty, and by the blood of our fallen brothers, we unite in the solemn consecration of these battle-hallowed hills as a holy eternal pledge of fidelity to the life, freedom and unity of this cherished republic.”

James A. Beaver

General Robinson next introduced James A. Beaver, Governor of Pennsylvania and a trustee of the Pennsylvania State University. “The glowing tribute,” given by General Robinson, “that was paid him (Beaver) as soldier, statesman, and patriot was the signal for another outburst of applause and three hearty cheers.” James A. Beaver (1837 – 1914) had served as lieutenant colonel of the 45th Pennsylvania Infantry and later recruited and served as colonel of the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry. The regiment saw action at Gettysburg, but Colonel Beaver, not being fully recovered from a wound received at Chancellorsville, was not allowed to assume command. He later lost his leg at the battle of Ream’s Station in June 1864. He refused higher commands because he did not feel it right to leave the men he had recruited for the 148th. He served on the board of trustees for the Pennsylvania State University (1873 – 1882) and was in his second year as governor of Pennsylvania (1887 – 1891). Beaver Stadium at Penn State’s main campus is named in his honor.

Governor Beaver had been appointed by his comrades in the Army of the Potomac to give “a simple but sincere welcome” to the Confederate veterans. He pointed to the fact that at one time the whole people lived under a compact called the Constitution. This compact was subject to “divers and diverse interpretations.” Since the ordinary forms of government could not decide the issues it had to be left to the dread arbitration of war. “But,” the governor stated, “we are now citizens of a common country; claiming no superiority, admitting no inferiority, each claiming to be American citizens in all the attributes of the glorious name.” Governor Beaver concluded by saying:

You and I have something to do with the future. Our faces are to be resolutely turned to the front. The hand which beckons us points forward, not backward, and it is in recognition of this fact and because that we, as wearers of the gray and blue can exert and should exert a great influence in shaping the destiny of this country, that my comrades of the Army of the Potomac have invited you here that we may look each other in the face, may assure you of our desire to accord to you your full share in the work which is before us, of our sympathy in the heroic effort which you have made and are still making in building up a new South, and of our admiration for the courage and fortitude, and the endurance with which you sustained your side of the contest to which I have alluded – whose decision is beyond recall….We welcome you because we need you; we welcome you because you need us; we welcome you because we together must enter into and possess this future, and transmit this heritage to the oncoming generations. If so, let the dead past bury its dead.

Charles E. Hooker

Rev. J. C. McCabe of Virginia, a former chaplain in the Confederate Provisional Army, was to have given a response to Governor Beaver, but he was unable to be present due to a railroad delay. Instead, General Charles Edward Hooker of Mississippi (1825 – 1914) responded to the address of Governor Beaver. General Hooker, a graduate of Harvard Law School, had entered the Confederate army as a private but soon became a lieutenant and a captain of the First Regiment of Mississippi Light Artillery. He was promoted to the rank of colonel of cavalry. He served in the U. S. Congress from 1875 – 1883 and was elected to serve in the Fiftieth Congress starting on March 4, 1887.

It was reported that even though Hooker’s “effort was extemporaneous; it was a splendid one, which evoked great applause.” General Hooker stated that he had not intended to come here and say anything. He had been moved by the generous spirit that extended the invitation to the soldiers of the gray to meet the soldiers of the blue in Gettysburg. Among his remarks General Hooker stated that: “Shall we of the Confederacy, who delight to recall the brilliant and dashing charge of Pickett, the less admire the stubborn and successful resistance of the ‘Iron Brigade?’ They were all Americans, and the American heart is large enough, and American history true enough, to record the valor of all, and claim it as a common heritage.”

General Hooker concluded by saying:

We should be something more or less than men and women could we forget the perils encountered, the hardships endured, and the blood shed for us by the boys who wore the blue and the boys who wore the gray. Their last syllabled utterances as they fell on this and many another distant battle-field as their pale lips froze in death perchance murmured our names. No! their memories must be ever cherished, not in hate, but in love; and as we go from this field let us feel nerved anew for the struggle of life and the development of our glorious county.

While the applause was still going on for General Hooker, General James Longstreet (1821 – 1904) “came quietly on the stand, and after shaking hands with Gens. Sickles and Gordon took a seat near the later.” Longstreet was described as “tall, large-framed, and wearing luxuriant white whiskers.”

General Sickles introduced the venerable war governor of Pennsylvania, Andrew G. Curtin (1817 – 1894), with a few fitting remarks. Curtin had served as governor (1861 – 1867), minister to Russia (1869 – 1872), and a U. S. congressman (1881 – 1887). Governor Curtin “walked feebly to the rail which runs along the edge of the rostrum. His short talk convulsed the crowd with laughter.” However, no one reported the exact words of Governor Curtin or of the speakers who followed him.

General Longstreet then spoke a few short sentences. He was followed by Major General Henry Slocum (1827 – 1894), commander of the Union Twelfth Corps on Culp’s Hill, who addressed the audience for a short time.

The final speaker was General Martin Newton Curtis (1835 – 1910), the former commander of the 142nd New York and who was promoted to brigadier general on January 15, 1865. In 1891, he would be awarded the Medal of Honor for action at Fort Fisher, North Carolina, in January 1865. He was a member of the New York State Assembly (1884 – 1890) and was currently the commander of the New York chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic.

At one point in the proceedings, General Sickles read a telegram from Mrs. George E. Pickett:

When I accepted the suggestions of kind friends that my presence would serve as a link in the chain of unity between the sections broken by civil war I was ready and most willing to make any sacrifice to contribute to perfect union of the survivors of blue and gray upon the field consecrated by the bleeding of the blood of the bravest men ever upon God’s footstool. But knowing that the wings of sweet peace are in unity blended so that no single person can bind them more closely, and the condition of my health admonishing quiet, I tender thanks and God’s blessing instead of my presence.

President Grover Cleveland had also been invited to attend the Grand Reunion, but he concluded that because “of my confining duties here [Washington] and all the circumstances surrounding the subject, I have arrived at the conclusion that I ought not to leave here at the time designated.” The President did feel that the “meeting of the survivors of Gettysburg upon the field where they fought twenty-five years ago cannot fail to teach an impressive lesson and convince all our people that bravery is akin to magnanimity, while it reminds them that the object of war is the attainment of peace.”

The Rev. Dr. Milton Valentine (1825 – 1906), 3rd President of Gettysburg College and currently the chairman of the faculty at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, closed the exercises with a benediction. The “immense crowd broke up and amused itself in strolling over the graves, reading the headstones, and gazing upon the beautiful monuments.” The half circle of graves radiating out from the Soldiers’ National Monument contained the remains of 3,500 Union dead from the battle of Gettysburg. The stones marking the graves had been installed in the summer of 1865. The Minnesota Urn, the oldest monument on the battlefield, had been erected in 1867. The Soldiers’ National Monument had been dedicated in 1869.

Veterans of the 12th New Jersey dedicate their monument, June 30, 1888.

While July 2 was the official day of reunion, good feelings prevailed over the entire time of the anniversary of the battle. General Longstreet, for example, was conspicuously present at several events. On July 1, he was present at the reunion of the Union Army First Corps at Reynolds’ Woods. So many of the Union veterans wanted to shake Longstreet’s hand that the platform on which they were standing collapsed. Fortunately, no one was hurt. No hard feelings were expressed in any of the official or unofficial remarks. If any hard feelings remained no one mentioned them. This was a time to celebrate the sacrifices made on the field by the soldiers of both sides and to celebrate the fact that the veterans again lived in a united country under one flag and under one constitution.

Karlton Smith, Park Ranger
Gettysburg National Military Park

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Gettysburg is Calling all Fourth Graders!

Every-Kid-in-a-park-logoFrom sea to shining sea, our country is home to inspiring landscapes, vibrant waterways, and historic treasures that all Americans can enjoy. The Every Kid in a Park initiative enables every U.S. fourth grader and his or her family to have free access to any federal land or water for an entire year.

The David Wills House at Gettysburg National Military Park and the Eisenhower National Historic Site invite all 4th grade students to visit for free, as part of the new Every Kid in a Park program.  Fourth graders can go to to complete an activity and obtain a free annual entry pass to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including national parks.


We are looking forward to hosting as many of the 4th graders and their families as are able to visit our national parks. We hope these free passes for 4th graders will introduce 4th graders, their classes, and families to our national treasures, places where they can run and play, explore and learn.

022This special program at Gettysburg and Eisenhower parks has been made possible by the Gettysburg Foundation and Gettysburg Tours, Inc. and lasts through August 2016. Fees will still be charged for the film, Cyclorama painting and museum exhibits at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center.

Make Sure You

Stop by the information desk at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center and check out the Junior Ranger booklet and ask about other activities such as “Join the Army!” programs and museum carts. At Eisenhower National Historic Site kids can become a Junior Secret Service Agent.

Spangler farm 2015Don’t miss the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, a massive oil-on-canvas painting and a unique park feature.

Soldier Activities!

Try out the Civil War soldier activity on the NPS Web Rangers website.

Did You Know?

There are more than 130 videos of Park Ranger programs about Gettysburg and other Civil War stories on Gettysburg National Military Park’s YouTube channel.

Additional Resources

Students at GETT April 2015The Details…

To receive their free pass for national parks, 4th graders can visit the Every Kid in a Park website and play a game to access their special Every Kid in a Park pass.  Fourth graders and their families can then use this pass for free entry to national parks and other federal public lands and waters across the country from Sept. 1, 2015 through Aug. 31, 2016.  The website also includes fun and engaging learning activities aligned to educational standards, trip planning tools, safety and packing tips and other important and helpful information for educators and parents.

In addition to providing every 4th grader in America a free entry pass for national parks and federal public lands and waters, 4th grade educators, youth group leaders and their students across the country can also participate in the program through field trips and other learning experiences. The program is an important part of the National Park Service’s centennial celebration in 2016, which encourages everyone to Find Your Park.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 10/8/15

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These Honored Dead: Gettysburg’s Pearl Harbor Connection

Many visitors who come to Gettysburg National Military Park want to see where President Lincoln delivered his 272-word Gettysburg Address, and rightly so. It is one of the most popular speeches ever given in American history. Park rangers and volunteers escort visitors to the iron fence that separates the Soldier’s National Cemetery from Evergreen Cemetery and point to a general location on the hill to show where Lincoln stood when he addressed the crowd of 15,000 people on November 19, 1863. In the process of walking to see “the spot,” however, we pass the graves of over 3,000 Americans who served their country in foreign wars and conflicts. Unlike their Civil War brothers in arms who fell on American soil, these men who were killed in combat died on battlefields in foreign lands. However, there are three young men buried in the Soldier’s National Cemetery that were killed on American soil when the United States was ostensibly at peace with the world. Their deaths, along with the deaths of approximately 2,400 other service men and women, precipitated the United States into a global conflict that would ultimately claim the lives of over 400,000 Americans from 1941-1945. These three men – killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 – are the topic of this week’s installment of the “These Honored Dead” series.


The USS Shaw exploding, December 7th, 1941.

On January 31, 1921, George and Mary Stembrosky welcomed their fourth child and second son, George Joseph, into the world. The family resided in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, a small town in the heart of anthracite coal country. Born in Lithuania in 1890, George Sr. immigrated to the United States in 1902. As an adult, he worked for the Lehigh Navigation Coal Company at Colliery No. 9, as did many of his friends and neighbors, in order to support his family. Working in the mines was a part of life for generations. However, George Jr. was not about to live his life underground mining coal. He had other dreams and aspirations.Stembrosky

While at Coaldale High School, George Jr. was a member of the varsity football and basketball teams. After graduating, he enlisted in the United States Navy on October 16, 1940 in Philadelphia with the rank of Seaman Second Class. George entered military service at a time when America was anxiously following the mounting aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. For the time being, George would not see war. He was officially stationed on the USS Nevada, a battleship that served in World War I and that was transferred to the United States Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor in 1940. On December 1, 1941, after serving in the Navy for over a year, George was promoted to the rank of Seaman First Class. The promotion was short lived.

The Bodecker household was already bustling with six children when Emil and Anna welcomed their seventh child, Regis James, on November 2, 1917. The family lived in BodeckerBeachview, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Emil supported his family as a barber in his own barbershop. However, he died of a heart condition in 1929, leaving the older sons to work in the steel mills to support the family. And then in October of 1938, the family buried a son named Paul Leo Bodecker who had died of multiple sclerosis. Just a few months later at the age of 22, Regis left home and joined the United States Navy on January 20, 1939. It appears that Regis married a woman by the name of Catherine June Nelson and the two of them had a daughter named Marian Ann Bodecker. The family lived together in San Pedro, California where Regis was stationed. On September 18, 1939, he boarded the USSS Helena, a light cruiser (CL-50) that was assigned to the Pacific Fleet and stationed in Pearl Harbor. By the first week of December 1941, he had been promoted to Yeoman First Class.

Eugene Bubb was the first of four children born to John and Grace Bubb on September 11, 1922. His father was an Army veteran from World War I. In July of 1940, Eugene entered the United States Army in his hometown of York, Pennsylvania. He was attached to Battery C, 41st Coastal Artillery at Fort Kamehameha, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The fort was located at the entrance to the Pearl Harbor Channel.

December 7, 1941. Christmas was a little over 2 weeks away. Houses were decorated in tinsel and Christmas lights. American store fronts were advertising the latest and greatest items that would make for a memorable Christmas morning. Songs of peace, joy, and glad tidings were sung throughout the country. Families prepared to celebrate another Christmas with their loved ones. For over 2,000 Americans, Christmas would never come. In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, over 300 Japanese planes attacked the Bubb 1United States naval installation at Pearl Harbor. Carnage and chaos rained from the skies as Japanese planes bombed and torpedoed ships and buildings that comprised the naval base. Seaman First Class George Stembrosky of Coaldale, Pennsylvania was killed in action that morning when the Japanese bombed and torpedoed the USS Nevada. Yeoman First Class Regis James Bodecker sustained third degree burns when the USS Helena was hit by a torpedo, causing numerous fires aboard ship. He was quickly taken to the United States Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor where he succumbed to his injuries later that day. Private Eugene Bubb was killed at Fort Kamehameha; unfortunately, there is little known
information about his service and death.

The war ended for these three young men before it officially began. Over 400,000 Americans would die in the subsequent four years trying to avenge the loss of their brothers in arms who perished at Pearl Harbor. Immediately following the attack, a remember-dec-7th-1941-pearl-harbor-attack-1942propaganda poster was circulated throughout the country that depicted a tattered American flag flying at half-mast in front of a thick cloud of black smoke. At the top of the poster was printed a line taken from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It read, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” George Joseph Stembrosky and Regis James Bodecker, were reinterred in the shadows of where Lincoln uttered theme immortal words on November 7, 1947, while Eugene Bubb was reinterred on May 18, 1949. They rest next to men who died on battlefields such as Guadalcanal, the beaches of Normandy, and the Ardennes Forrest near the border of Germany. Even though these men died 78 years after Lincoln spoke, his words remain a call to action for us the living: “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Ranger Caitlin Kostic, Gettysburg National Military Park

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These Honored Dead: Pvt. Albert Lentz – The First Soldier from Adams County to Die in the Great War

Cantigny training

Soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force drill prior to the battle of Cantigny.

On the evening of March 24, 1921, the residents of Gettysburg anxiously awaited the arrival of a train that was headed west. Nearly sixty years before, they had awaited an incoming train that was carrying President Abraham Lincoln, who was coming to the town to speak at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery. Now, once again, a train was bound for Gettysburg with an important mission that was directly related to the hallowed ground on Cemetery Hill. Unlike Lincoln’s train in 1863, however, this train in March 1921 was a funeral train. It was carrying the remains of the first man from Adams County, Pennsylvania, to die during “the war to end all wars.”

Gburg Times May 4

The Gettysburg Times reported the death of Albert Lentz on May 4, 1918.

Born on October 11, 1892 (his exact birthdate is disputed, but according to census records, he was born in 1892), on a farm west of Gettysburg, Albert Lentz spent his early years in and around the town of Gettysburg. His parents, Israel and Susannah Lentz, moved into the town when Albert was young, living at several locations, one of which was near the building used by Robert E. Lee as his headquarters during the Battle of Gettysburg. Lentz attended public school in Gettysburg, and when he was old enough, he began working in the town, both at the Gettysburg Rolling Mills and the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. In 1910, according to census records, Albert was one of seven children living with Israel and Susannah, the oldest being twenty-two and the youngest being three. In 1914, at the age of twenty-one, Lentz left Gettysburg, setting out for new surroundings in Columbus, Ohio. There, he found employment as a chauffeur. He remained in Columbus until enlisting in the army in 1917, a pivotal year in American history.

That year, the United States emerged on the international stage in a bold fashion, establishing itself among the great world powers by entering into the First World War. While the Great War, as it was then known, had been raging for three years already, President Woodrow Wilson had held the United States out of the fighting thus far, using the phrase “He kept us out of war” as a campaign slogan in the 1916 presidential election. However, German U Boats were threatening the safety of American shipping on the seas of the Atlantic, placing American lives at peril. With the war’s scope growing ever larger, Wilson went to Congress and asked for a Declaration of War. Wilson described the German submarine attacks in the Atlantic as “warfare against mankind.”  The president stated that the war in Europe was being waged “for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience.” In perhaps the most quoted line that Wilson delivered as president, he declared that the war must be waged so that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”  In so doing, Wilson was not espousing the same idea of democracy hailed by Lincoln, that all men are created equal, but rather his own interpretation of Lincoln’s democratic ideal, a government of, by, and for whites. When Congress declared war, all across the land thousands joined the army in preparation for what they imagined would be a grand adventure in Europe.

By 1918, Private Albert Lentz was in France, serving with the Headquarters Company of the 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Force. Lentz’s actions in France are not fully known today, but in all likelihood, he had been in the country and in service against the enemy for at least one month before April 27, 1918, when he was struck and killed immediately by an incoming artillery shell near the French village of Cantigny. Lentz was twenty-five years old at the time of his death. His body was initially buried in a cemetery in France, and several years later, efforts were made to bring his body home, where he was to be buried in the Soldier’s National Cemetery in his hometown of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

On March 24, 1921, the Gettysburg Times ran a front page story discussing the return home of Private Lentz, noting that the American Legion post in town, which was named after Lentz following his death in France, was working to coordinate the funeral for the first soldier from Adams County to have died during the Great War. Initially, plans were to hold the funeral in the cemetery on Sunday, April 3. Because cemetery regulations prohibited funerals on Sundays, a letter was sent asking for special permission to hold the funeral on the Sabbath.

“The body of Albert J. Lentz, the first soldier from this county killed in France and the man after whom our post is named, has arrived in Gettysburg. His funeral will be an unusually large affair. We desire to bury him in the National Cemetery Sunday, April 3, and hereby request your permission which is necessary. Please notify us of your decision immediately.”

Perhaps this request was denied, or perhaps it was another reason entirely, but the funeral was not held on Sunday April 3, but rather on Monday April 4 in the town of Gettysburg.

lentz_photo courtesy American Legion Albert Lentz Post 202

Albert Lentz. Image courtesy of the Albert Lentz Post 202, American Legion.

According to the Gettysburg Times, there were over 3,500 people in attendance at the funeral. The local American Legion post had publicly invited all veterans and citizens of Adams County to come and pay their respects to Private Lentz. The events that day began at the Baltimore Street funeral home of H.B. Bender, where the hearse bearing Lentz’s remains was waiting. The procession then made its way to the town square, where the funeral ceremonies were held. The coffin was placed next to the speaker’s platform, where an opening prayer was delivered, followed by the singing of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

The main oration that day was delivered by Reverend Harry Daniels. The Gettysburg Times recorded what the Reverend said and reproduced his speech the following day. Certainly, the rhetoric of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address had a very strong bearing upon the Reverend. He used the same powerful words in his remarks that day.

“If men are not willing to die for their country, they will soon have a country that is not worth dying for.

Albert J. Lentz was one of those who flung his body between civilization and German deviltry that liberty might not perish. Where did Albert Lentz get the inspiration to support him in the trench life, when wading through Flanders mud, when drenched with rain, when making dangerous raids through No Man’s Land? I think you will agree with me that he got part of it in the public school while singing the national air we have sung tonight:

‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee

Sweet Land of Liberty of Thee I sing

Land Where My Fathers Died

Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride

From Every Mountain Side let Freedom Ring’

I think he got some of it from the fact that here in his home town freedom and liberty were saved to the world. We will lay this body within a short distance of the Bloody Angle, where Rebel and Yankee struggled for supremacy and where the backbone of the Confederacy was broken and the world made safe for freemen.

Albert Lentz is not dead; it is true his body lies here before us, but Albert Lentz was never more alive than now. Though we bury this body, his soul goes marching on, and from the manner of his death, his comrades will take increased devotion to their country. These boys and girls will be inspired with the spirit of Albert Lentz and we will all highly resolve to be more worthy of the government and land for which he died.

To you, his father, I would say, you have not lost a son, but you have given him to posterity. You can cheer your hearts as you look upon these remains by quoting the poet;

Thou art Freedom’s now and Fame’s,

One of the few in mortal names,

That were not born to die.

The birds will sing above his remains, the flowers bloom above him, the grass grow green; these will speak to us of the sweetness of his influence, the fragrance of his life and the immortality of his memory.”

Upon the conclusion of the remarks and events in the town square, Lentz’s casket was placed back into his hearse, and the procession made its way from the square to the cemetery, just as Lincoln had done on November 19, 1863. The procession entered the cemetery from the Baltimore Street entrance, coming to a halt at the site of Private Lentz’s grave. With the crowd gathered, a commitment service was held. At its conclusion, a 21 gun salute was fired and taps was played. As the procession left the cemetery that day, the Gettysburg Citizens Band serenaded the crowd with the sounds of “Onward Christian Soldiers”

Lentz grave

As the remarks given that day by Reverend Daniels suggest, Private Albert Lentz’s life was shaped by his hometown of Gettysburg and the history which had occurred there. From the cradle to his eventual grave on Cemetery Hill, Lentz was surrounded by the legacy of Gettysburg and its lasting impact on history. In the context of his life and death, Private Albert Lentz provides a salient example of the sacrifices which Americans have made throughout the years to answer President Lincoln’s call to carry forward “the great task remaining before us.” Indeed, Private Lentz was born in the shadow of Gettysburg, the battle where, as Reverend Daniels proclaimed, “the world was made safe for freemen.” In 1917, with the United States entering into the First World War, Lentz heeded the words of President Wilson, who linked the causes at stake in 1917 to his own interpretation of Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg in 1863. As Wilson declared, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Because of the Union victory at Gettysburg in 1863 and the “new birth of freedom” which it helped to bring about, the democracy which Lentz fought to support in France in 1918 was the same “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” which Abraham Lincoln had spoken of in Lentz’s hometown two score and fifteen years before.

Ranger Daniel Vermilya, Gettysburg National Military Park

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