National Parks at 99!

Scale model of the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg

Scale model of the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg

On this day 99 years ago, Congress recognized the need for the creation of a federal agency to protect and develop the various parks, military battle memorials, and monuments that were rapidly being developed across the United States. Our system of national parks and monuments would become a model for countries all over the world for the protection of national treasures.  The creation of the national park system has been called “America’s Best Idea.”

As stewards of the National Parks, we’ve been busy serving the public and protecting your public lands.

In 2014, we saw one of the busiest years in Pennsylvania’s 18 national parks with nearly 9 million people enjoying the history and the natural and

Connecting with a new generation at Gettysburg

Connecting with a new generation at Gettysburg

cultural resources of Pennsylvania.  These visits generated more than $395 million in visitor spending.

For next year’s 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, all parks will be working closely with their community partners, local businesses, school, and governments to celebrate another century of serving the American public. We’re reaching out through social media, community outreach and traditional news media.

Why are we doing this?  We’re celebrating!  …asking people to discover their parks because these places matter.  America’s national parks are beautiful, emotional places.

Vans Warp Tour Volunteer Day at Gettysburg

Vans Warp Tour Volunteers with Katie Lawhon at Gettysburg

(When I leave my office at the Museum and Visitor Center at lunchtime to walk on the battlefield, it’s amazing how often visitors stop me to tell me what a great job I have!)

FYP at BBQ_6-24-15_0112 v2

Park staff at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site want you to “Find Your Park”

Places like Gettysburg National Military Park, Flight 93 National Memorial, and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail tell us more about who we are.  They help us understand our times. The Centennial is about celebration, discovery and connections.

99 Ways to Find Your Park – The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s National Parks, have created Find Your Park.com to encourage visitors to discover everything a park can be. The list of 99 Ways to Find Your Park includes a wide range of activities that people can do from historic hikes, to earning a Junior Ranger Badge and writing poetry.  Visitors are encouraged to share their park experience by using #FindYourPark or #EncuentraTuParque on social media.

Primary_FindYourParkLogo_URLWe hope you’ll put Gettysburg on your calendar in 2016 and join us for new programs and our well-loved classic Gettysburg programs.  Come to Gettysburg and Find Your Park.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, August 25, 2015

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

W. Marion McCarthy and the Mystery of the “First Shot”

The First Shot Marker

The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most well documented historical events of all time, complete with soldier’s letters, diaries, memoirs that serve to create literally thousands of books on the subject.  Despite all these resources, occasionally history throws you a curveball; a mystery that can’t be solved.  One of those mysteries surrounds the first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg.

On September 3, 1891 veterans of the 8th Illinois Cavalry gathered at a local Gettysburg hotel in preparation to dedicate their monument on the battlefield where the regiment had been under fire twenty nine years prior.  Sitting on the veranda that morning to enjoy his after breakfast cigar was Thomas B. Kelley, a former member of Co. E.  Soon a carriage arrived in front of the hotel and the occupant asked if this might be where the 8th Illinois was quartered.  Arising from his chair and saluting, Kelley informed the man that he had reached the right spot.

Alighting from the carriage, the man introduced himself as Col. W. Marion McCarthy of the First Texas Legion and inquired if a Lt. Marcellus E. Jones was at the hotel.  Kelley informed McCarthy that Jones was indeed present and quickly went to fetch his old commander.  When Jones arrived, McCarthy opened the conversation with “They tell me you fired the first shot in the Battle of Gettysburg?”  Jones replied in the affirmative.  McCarthy then asked for a description of the target that day.  Jones went on to describe a Confederate officer on a white horse at the head of the column on July 1.  The Confederate then responded, “That man was Col. W. Marion McCarthy, sir, and you came damned near getting him!”  This discovery of an adversary from long ago both surprised and pleased the old lieutenant.

After a few moments of conversation, McCarthy proposed that the two step across the street and have their picture taken as a remembrance of the occasion.  Jones agreed but only if Kelley accompanied them.  “It’s a go!” McCarthy responded and the image was recorded for posterity.

Marcellus jones 2

Lt. Marcellus E. Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry. Jones claimed to have fired the first shot of the battle.

The story of the first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg and the claim of Marcellus Jones is well known, if not entirely agreed upon. Union cavalry arrived at Gettysburg on June 30 and quickly fanned out to the north and west to search for Confederates.  On the morning
of July 1 the picket posts were doubled with two men on each post with a corporal or sergeant in charge.  On the Chambersburg Pike, Pvts. Kelley and James O. Hale with Sgt. Levi Shafer manned Vidette Post No. 1.  Around 6:10 a.m., Kelley and Hale spotted dust clouds about three miles distant coming from the west.  The two soldiers studied the situation for the next thirty to forty-five minutes until Confederate infantry appeared along the Pike.  Already mounted on his horse, Kelley shouted to Hale “If Shafer comes back tell him I’ve gone to alarm the reserves; he’ll know the rest.”  He then galloped the 264 yards back to find Lt. Jones and the 8th Illinois reserve gathered close to the Chambersburg Pike.

Jones had only just returned from the picket posts, having purchased bread and butter for himself and some oats for his horse along the way.  He had just handed his purchases over to his servant when he spied Kelley galloping toward him.  “The Johnnies are coming,” shouted the private.  Jones quickly mounted and headed for the front.  Upon arriving, he wrote a note to the 8th Illinois commander, Major Beveridge, that a heavy column of the enemy was approaching.  Jones soon heard the shrill ring of “boots and saddles” from the 8th Illinois’ main camp and then successively taken up by the other regiments.

By now, Sgt. Shafer had reappeared at the picket post.  Turning to him, Jones said “Lend me your carbine,” and taking aim, fired at a Confederate mounted on a white horse, but missed.  Marcellus Jones had written his name into history as the first Union soldier who fired at the Battle of Gettysburg.  In 1886, Jones and two other veterans returned to the ridge to place a monument to the first shot on the opposite side of the road from where it took place at the Whistler Homestead.  Today, the monument is sought by hardcore enthusiasts of the Gettysburg battlefield.

Jones and McCarthy, the shooter and the intended recipient, of the first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg.

But what of the Confederate veteran that came to the hotel in 1891?  Col. W. Marion McCarthy of the First Texas Legion.  Despite research into his background, he proves to be an enigma.  To begin, the First Texas Legion did not serve in the Army of Northern Virginia.  But, then again, perhaps his unit was recorded incorrectly?  No record exists of a Col. W. Marion McCarthy in Lee’s command, much less the entire Confederate States of America’s armies.  So who was he?  An imposter?  A man bent on making a name for himself that he had the gall to represent someone else?  Or was he telling the truth and was simply a victim of misidentification?

McCarthy (if that was his real name) and his motives are now long lost, another one of the many Gettysburg mysteries that will never be solved. Today, we are only left with a picture and a reason to ponder.

Ranger Matt Atkinson, Gettysburg National Military Park

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Following in Their Footsteps: Covering the Civil War Sesquicentennial

“The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.”
–  Wilmer McLean

From July, 2011 through April, 2015, I walked in the footsteps of history.

I had the rare and incredibly fulfilling opportunity to head up various National Park Service (NPS) social media teams that were charged with covering sesquicentennial events on behalf of the many NPS Civil War parks across the country. One hundred and fifty years to the day, to the hour, to the minute, we were there.

We walked the Cornfield, the Wheatfield, Viniard Field, and the Hornet’s Nest; we helped describe the attacks on the Mule Shoe, Stockade Redan, and the explosion at the Crater. We were there when Jackson stood like a stone wall and when he crossed over the river to rest under the shade of the trees. We stood atop Lookout Mountain for sunrise and Kennesaw Mountain for sunset. We were there for the Gentlemen’s Agreement and when the bells tolled that he belonged to the ages.

We helped chronical the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in ways that were unimaginable just a few years earlier utilizing a medium that is now second nature. We snapped pictures and recorded video of everything that we could in order to bring these once in-a-lifetime (and career) events to the public. We anticipated that our coverage would draw interest from many Civil War enthusiasts across America. We could not have anticipated that the passion for these events would circle the globe. My story, like that of Wilmer McLean, began on the plains of Manassas and would conclude in the village of Appomattox Court House.


“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
–  Yoda

For the most part, parks prepared for their individual anniversaries on their own and in ways that made the most sense for them and their local communities and partners. It was up to me and my teams to cover the events and programs as they came along. By the time we got to 2013, many of the team members had at least a few events under their belts, they knew their roles, and we had our workflow down to a science.

We could upload and share photographs and video content via the park’s social media outlets live and in real time. We could cover an event or program from multiple angles and within just a few hours, have a fully edited and captioned photo album ready to publish; and, depending on staffing, we could create a brand new, incredibly meaningful, fully edited video with music, in less than one day. Through our efforts, we were able to bring these events to a worldwide audience in real time, or at least nearly real time.

But in 2011, as we geared up to cover the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in July of 2011, that wasn’t necessarily the case. The NPS had just granted Manassas National Battlefield Park special authority to launch the four soon-to-be-approved social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube). Although we were excited for these new possibilities we were now forced to deal with learning all four platforms at once. This was a daunting task as the path to social media success, especially during a large scale event such as the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas, was all but unknown at the time.

There was but one example that I could look to. Through internal NPS channels I saw that the staff at Fort Sumter National Monument had also tackled covering their 150th anniversary through the use of social media in April, 2011. As it turned out, their team consisted of only one person. I placed a call to Fort Sumter and my team learned very quickly what we needed to do and, more importantly, what not to do.

Since social media waits for no one, and since we were only going to get one shot at any of these 150th anniversaries, we knew that Yoda’s sage advice would have to become our credo. We would somehow have to find a way to be everywhere at once; there would be no do-overs.


Adrenaline and Protein Bars

The lessons learned from the events at Fort Sumter caused me to make a few last minute changes and additions to the team. The team ultimately consisted of a cast of NPS web, social media, photography, and video All-Stars that, for decades, had run the gauntlet of some of the largest events to be held on, and around, the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C. We had all worked more National Cherry Blossom Festivals, July Fourth Celebrations, Rolling Thunders, and Presidential Inaugurations than we could count. Huge crowds, oppressive heat, and intense political scrutiny were the norm; the First Manassas 150 event would be no different.

Huge crowds and a swarm of press coverage was expected as Manassas is within a literal stones-throw from Washington, D.C. – check. Oppressive heat in the greater Washington, D.C. area in July is the norm – check. The NPS regional office and national office, as well as the Department of the Interior headquarters are all located in the aforementioned District of Columbia; not to mention every other arm of our democracy; which means intense political scrutiny – check.

No pressure. We had it covered.

When the events finally arrived, we were ready to put our plans to the test. The hours were long and the weather was hot; really hot, and very humid. Some days the heat index exceeded 120 degrees. But we were all in agreement, if the soldiers could do it, so could we. At least we had plenty of water, air-conditioning, and there weren’t minie balls whizzing around our heads, so, overall, it wasn’t too bad.

The days started to melt together after a while but once we had a chance to look back at what we had accomplished we realized that we had exceeded our own expectations. We had set a standard. We had successfully built the plane while we were flying it.

We were able to chronical all the programs, create photo albums, tweet updated schedule changes, and craft videos that went above and beyond anything I could have imagined. And the public noticed.

The magic of social media allowed us to interact with the public in brand new ways. We were able to connect with them, read their comments, and provide answers to their questions in real time. They were better informed and we were able to bring multiple programs to the public when they could only attend one program at one time and only be in one place at one time.

Every event that we covered over the next four years, until the Final Campaign that ended in the village of Appomattox Court House, would use the foundation that we built on the plains of Manassas. We continued to ask ourselves what else we could do, how we could do it better, and how could we do it faster. Somehow, over the years, we managed to top ourselves.

I got to see, first hand, how hard the staffs at all of the Civil War parks worked in order to present their events, their history, their stories, and their parks to the visiting public in ways that no one would forget. On more than one occasion, these 150 events served as the swan songs to long and fruitful NPS careers. Like winning the Super Bowl or the World Series, these NPS personnel rode off into the sunset and went to Disney World after seeing their 150 events come to a successful and satisfying conclusion. These events were, for many, a once in a career experience. To that end, I may be the luckiest of all. I got to live that dream twenty-seven times over.

By the end of my four year stint covering these Civil War 150 events, I had worked twenty-seven separate events, in seven states and the District of Columbia; from Manassas to Appomattox, from Antietam to Vicksburg, and everywhere in between. When I think about it now, all I can do is shake my head. Sometimes it feels like a dream; maybe because it was.

In short, it was a blur.

It was an honor and a privilege to have had the chance to work with so many talented, dedicated, and inspiring NPS employees along the way. They are simply the best of the best. The same can also be said about the visitors. I am proudest of all to have had the chance to help bring these events to the visitors; the ones who were able to attend in person and especially the ones who could not.

I wish I could share more pictures and more videos but I’m afraid they won’t all fit within the confines of this blog. Until Ken Burns comes calling, this will have to do. I hope you enjoy them as much we did creating them.

Respectfully,

The man behind the camera

Jason Martz covering the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

Jason Martz covering the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

Staff Note: Jason Martz is now the Visual Information Specialist for Gettysburg National Military Park.

#BOOM

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Accessing Archives- A Summer of Researching the Civil War

As the Archival Research Intern at Gettysburg National Military Park during the summer of 2015, I have had the unique opportunity to conduct research at the National Archives, the Army Heritage and Education Center, Maryland Historical Society, and the Union League of Philadelphia. After such travels, working with original documents and completing approximately one hundred transcriptions, I was asked to reflect on the work I have done this summer.

Ashley Miller, Penn State internBeing able to handle, read, and study original documents is an investigative process. When you first hold an original document, there is an instant of intrigue and awe. You can observe grammatical errors, font size variations, words that were crossed out in favor of others, and the marks left by an author’s flinching hand. These subtleties each tell a story of their own. Who was this person? Who was his/her intended audience and what motives did he/she have in writing? How educated was the person who wrote this? Why are certain phrases scribbled, while the rest of a document may display perfect penmanship? One mark of the pen or misspelled word can spark so many questions. Furthermore, there are emotional aspects attached to the documents. You could be holding a departed soldier’s last letter home or a volunteer’s report on the horrors of the battlefield. Holding these sources, you cannot help but wonder among what conditions the authors were, as they wrote these documents. I have gathered diaries, letters, muster rolls, reports, newspaper articles, invoices, and inquiries about missing soldiers. Nothing inspires more curiosity than an original document.

After gathering documents of interest to my theme, which was the Gettysburg Campaign, I proceeded to transcribe them. Transcribing is important work (and tedious!); errors in transcriptions have caused people to be buried under the wrong name and/or state in cemeteries. For instance, “Mississippi” in hastily written script looked like “Massachusetts” to an untrained eye, which caused a Confederate to be buried in the Massachusetts section of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Transcriptions also allow researchers access to information in easy to read versions.

This summer I have researched countless regiments – Union and Confederate, civilian organizations like the Christian Commission, and people. For each topic, I then established a finding aid to inform the researcher, in one page, what he or she would find in specific folders and boxes. While travelling frequently, I was able to apply much of what I researched. I located where on the battlefield men whose letters I transcribed fought and fell, I followed their footsteps, and I read their stories. An individual account humanizes the people of the past. I found myself relating to certain people after learning about their experiences. These documents, although 152 years old, allowed me to bring their stories to life. That experience came true over the anniversary observance of the Battle of Gettysburg when I had the opportunity to portray Cornelia Hancock, a native of New Jersey who voluntarily came to Gettysburg to nurse wounded Union and Confederate soldiers in the field hospitals after the battle. It was interacting with the public that also me insight into the importance of proper and complete research in the subject.

 Nurse Cornelia Hancock

My living history presentation as Cornelia Hancock during the anniversary. I based my program directly on her letters and memoir.

I look forward to continuing my work in history. A summer of research may sound boring to some, but as a budding historian, it was a dream come true. To be in Gettysburg, living and working on the battlefield, is something most people do not have the pleasure of doing and for that I am grateful. From transcribing to interpretation, I will use everything I have learned from my work at Gettysburg National Military Park during this summer internship.

Ashley Miller, Penn State University
July 2015

Posted in Historical Memory, Interpretive Programs, Working at the Park | 6 Comments

John Martin Steffan, Slain Patriot of the 71st Pennsylvania

John M. Steffan was the commanding officer of Company A, 71st Pennsylvania Infantry. Hailing from Philadelphia, his regiment, along with the 69th, 72nd and 106th Pennsylvania Infantry regiments, formed the famous “Philadelphia Brigade.” He was promoted to Captain in April 1863 and would lead his company into the horrific fighting in which the 71st became engaged on the 2nd and 3rd of July 1863 at Gettysburg.

Steffan, 71st PA

John M. Steffan, 71st PA (Duty Well Done, p.65)

My interest in him originated from a letter, dated July 2nd, 1863, from his brother, Frederick Steffan, found while researching in Philadelphia. Frederick began the letter by apologizing for not having written sooner, as “[he had] been in such a fever of excitement for the last two weeks that [he could] scarcely find time to answer [John’s] ever welcome letters.” Then, Frederick delved into the military issues of the day, stating, “when the news first came that the enemy had invaded [Pennsylvania] the majority of the people thought it was a hoax, in fact a trick of the Government to get men to enlist for six months.” Furthermore, Frederick shared his uncertainty about the new commander of the army: “I doubt whether they have put the right man in [Hooker’s] place…why is it that an untried [general] is given the command when the whole state of [Pennsylvania] is at stake.” Finally, Frederick affectionately ended his letter: “hoping to hear from you soon and that this may reach you in good health and spirits.”[i]

Frederick, however, was too late – John never read these words.

On the same day Frederick’s letter was written, John’s friend, Lewis Rhell of Company F of the 72nd, conveyed a premonition he had to John. While John was awaiting orders, Lewis asked him, “if he had any effects that [he] could keep for [John] till after the battle,” John replied “Lew don’t talk so foolish and make such big calculations. You don’t think I’m going to get killed do you?” Lewis responded, “Well John something tells me you are.”[ii] Just then (at about 6:30 a.m.), the order was given to advance across Taneytown Road to Cemetery Ridge.[iii] John bade Lewis farewell and departed; Lewis, running after him, asked, “could [I] do anything if [you] should fall,” to which John answered, “Nothing Lew, Good bye.”[iv] That was the last time Lewis saw John unscathed.

Cemetery Ridge

Cemetery Ridge, the center of the Union line at Gettysburg. (GNMP)

The 71st Pennsylvania was positioned at the stone wall near “The Angle” on Cemetery Ridge on July 3rd, 1863. Firing had commenced along the lines early that morning. According to Lewis, at about one or two o’clock p.m., John was badly wounded in the chest, perhaps by a piece of shell from an exploded caisson. He laid in the hot sun, choking on smoke for about an hour.[v] John was carried off the field (by whom is unknown) and brought to what Lewis referred to as “Stone Hospital,” the Peter Frey Farmhouse (often referred to as the Biggs House today). Upon hearing that John was hurt, Lewis went to a doctor named Aiken to get an ambulance to recover John’s body and bring him to the Sarah Patterson farm, which was located further behind the lines. According to Lewis, “John’s body could not be fumbled about as he was in so much pain, and there he laid, a large crowd of friends were around him (wounded) and I could only see him by looking in through their legs.” Lewis also saw two doctors dressing John’s wound. After ten minutes, “the storming rain of shells came,” and Lewis and the doctors left to protect themselves behind a stone wall, John still lying wounded on the ground.[vi]

Frey Farm

The Peter Frey farm, where Captain Steffan was carried after being mortally wounded. (Duty Well Done, p.348)

After the Confederate shelling had finished, Lewis went back to check on his friend. There, Lewis “beheld him lying Dead, several were looking on when [Lewis] came up, but soon went away, [John’s] pockets were turned inside out.” Lewis went into the Frey House and inquired who had taken John’s things. The hospital steward had John’s watch, while Doctor Aiken had all other possessions, which were to be given to Colonel Kochersperger. John had 260 dollars on him entering the battle that was never recovered. In a letter to John’s family, Lewis wrote, “if he would of taken my advice, the money would have been saved.”[vii]

Lewis thought John could have been saved too. In the same letter, he states, “I learned from the Steward of the 71st that John was carefully attended to, but this I can hardly believe, If he would have had a good skillful Doctor he might have recovered, and still live with us.” The evening of the third, John was buried. John’s servant obtained a quilt from the Frey house and with Lewis’ help, wrapped John’s body in it, “just as he was, as we could do no better, he had on him pair of pants, Drawers, shirt part of his Coat and Vest, also his socks.”   [viii]

His grave remained in the yard of the Frey house until his remains were recovered by his family and was moved to his current resting place, Mount Peace Cemetery in Philadelphia. John’s brother, Edward of Company B, 121st Pennsylvania Infantry, visited John’s grave shortly after he was laid to rest. In a letter dated July 21st, Edward wrote home to his brother Guss, stating, “the men whom I knew in his [regiment] and Baxter’s, told me that he would be made Major of the [regiment] before long, and they were all eager to see him receive it. But little did I think at that time, that I should stand by his grave on the battle field. I will never forget it as I stood there and read the inscription on the head board through scalding tears.” While at the grave, Edward drew a rough sketch, which he kept as a memento, thus allowing John’s memory to be “fresh and green” in Edwards’s mind.[ix]

John and Edward had opposing views on their service to the country. With one brother dead, and the threat of the other two being drafted, Edward conveyed his last desire for his brothers. He wrote in the same letter to Guss: “There is only one wish I have in reference to the draft, and that is, I do not want to hear of you nor Fred being included in it. I know you both can avoid it and I wish you to do so, for should either of you be drafted I do not know what I would be tempted to do. This war has already cost us misery enough never to be repaid.”[x] John, however, idealistically seemed to be the antithesis of Edward. In July of 1861, John wrote to his brother Guss, affirming, “You need never to fear that I will shrink from my duty which I am called upon to perform. If I were caught in such an act I could never show my face at home.”[xi] John favored conscription, stating in response to Lincoln’s order for 300,000 militiamen in the summer of 1862, “I say if they don’t enlist, draft them and make them go.”[xii] Frederick had to choose between the conflicting ideals and desires of his brothers, as he was drafted in August. He obliged Edward, petitioned, and obtained signatures, stating that he could “never perform the duties of a soldier.”[xiii]

71st PA Monument

Monument to the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry at the Angle. (GNMP)

John Steffan had enlisted in the spring of 1861. He, with the rest of his regiment, fought in most of the principal battles of the war. The 71st Pennsylvania arrived in Gettysburg with 24 officers and 307 enlisted men, suffering 98 casualties in the battle. During its three years of service, the “California Regiment” had a total enrollment of 2300 officers and men and lost about 1800 to disease and battle. For all of the battles the regiment participated in, from Ball’s Bluff in 1861 to Cold Harbor in 1864, the regiment’s greatest fame may be tied to the days it spent at the Angle on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg where a monument to the regiment, dedicated in 1887, stands today as a memorial to the service of these Philadelphia natives on their home soil.

The words “heroism” and “patriotism” are inscribed on the 71st Pennsylvania’s monument, words which John Steffan embodied. Believing in a “strict adherence to duty,” John moved up in the ranks “step by step, all through energy…which will carry any man through wherever he is.”[xiv] His bravery and dedication is evidenced in his letters home. Only 25 years old when he died, he left behind neither wife nor children, but a legacy celebrated by those who knew and loved him.

Steffan plot, Mount Peace

Capt. John Steffan’s grave at Mount Peace Cemetery, Philadelphia. (fold3)

Ashley Miller
Penn State University, Class of 2016

STAFF NOTES: Ashley is an intern at Gettysburg National Military through the auspices of Penn State University and has been assigned research projects throughout her appointment. The park truly appreciates her efforts and hard work, a part of which has resulted in this blog post. Thanks Ashley!

[i] Frederick Steffan to John Steffan, July 2, 1863.(Union League, Philadelphia)
[ii] Lewis Rhell to My Dear Friends, August 15, 1863.(Union League, Philadelphia).
[iii] Gary G. Lash, Duty Well Done: The History of Edward Baker’s California Regiment (71st Pennsylvania), (Baltimore: Butternut & Blue, 2001), p. 331. (Hereafter cited as ‘Lash, Duty Well Done’)
[iv] Lewis Rhell to Dear Friends, August 15, 1863.
[v] Lash, Duty Well Done, p. 338.
[vi] Lewis Rhell to My Dear Friends, August 15, 1863.
[vii] Lewis Rhell to My Dear Friends, August 15, 1863.
[viii] Lewis Rhell to My Dear Friends, August 15, 1863.
[ix] Edward Steffan to Guss Steffan, July 21, 1863.(Union League, Philadelphia).
[x] Edward Steffan to Guss Steffan, July 21, 1863.
[xi] Lash, Duty Well Done, p. 43.
[xii] Lash, Duty Well Done, p. 248.
[xiii] Martin Laudenberger to Leonard Meyer, August 28, 1863.(Union League, Philadelphia).
[xiv] Lash, Duty Well Done, p. 176.

Posted in 71st Pennsylvania Infantry, Army of the Potomac | 2 Comments

Gettysburg Artists-in-Residence Reflect

IMG_3721For the past two weeks we have been privileged with the opportunity to live in the historic Klingel House and immerse ourselves in Gettysburg National Military Park, the Gettysburg community, and the surrounding countryside. With each foggy sunrise, each new poem we write, and each photograph we take, we feel ourselves grow more attached to the landscape, to the people, to the history and realize how difficult it is going to be to leave at the end of July.

SONY DSCThis morning we watched the day break at the Pennsylvania Memorial Monument, picked up a large coffee to go, and watched the sun light the western hillside from Little Round Top. On our way to the top we passed a very large insect with very large pincers resting on a wooden railing. It had lost half its wing in its own type of battle.

Other mornings we have walked the roads among early joggers and taken photographs of frogs who make homes in the wet field puddles and the red-wing blackbirds who like to sit on the fences, the mockingbirds who sing from the highest perches: the shoulders of monument soldiers, the roof of our barn.

Rob and Michelle at their temporary home on the Gettysburg battlefield

Rob and Michelle at their temporary home on the Gettysburg battlefield

As we welcome the mornings, we also welcome the nights. The full moon rising over St. Barbara’s trumpet at the Louisiana monument on Seminary Ridge, the sun turning the golden fields to blood from McPherson’s barn. From the area of town we’ve taken to calling Ghost Row we’ve watched visitors eat ice cream and tour guides carrying lanterns lead them slowly into the night.

From the Farnsworth House beer garden IMG_3797and the deck at O’Rorke’s we’ve watched couples holding hands stroll, excited puppies dangling their tongues out passing car windows. We’ve watch re-enactors dressed in Zouave lick chocolate mint ice cream at Mr G’s and confederate and union soldiers share cigars. Over 4th of July weekend we even had the chance to speak with officers from the USS Gettysburg.

Each day has brought us moments to reflect on the battle and research history with the assistance of the park’s knowledgeable and passionate rangers and its collection of artifacts and books. During the day we each work on our poetry projects. Rob on his series of poems about a soldier named AP; Michelle on a series of poems about women soldiers and women at home far from the fighting. It has been an endless journey of discovery that will influence our art and lives in ways we could not have imagined before our stay. We are blessed to have Gettysburg, which is part of a national history we all share, become part of our own personal history, as well.

 —

On Saturday, July 18, from 11 a.m . to noon,the artists are hosting a free, hour-long creative writing workshop in the tent at Ranger Program Site #2 behind the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.  The workshop introduces the tradition of American creative writing with an emphasis on researching and composing poems and fiction related to the Civil War.  The public is invited, free of charge.  For more information go to:   http://www.nps.gov/gett/learn/news/creative-writing-workshop.htm.

Michele Bonczek Evory and Rob Evory, Gettysburg National Military Park, July 15, 2015

SONY DSCTo inspire, engage and connect with a new generation of artists, visitors and youth, Gettysburg National Military Park, established an “Artists in Residency” program this summer, hosting leading artists on the Gettysburg battlefield for month-long residencies from July through September.  The program was created in cooperation with the non-profit National Parks Arts Foundation with the Gettysburg Foundation.

More information about Michelle Bonczek Evory and Rob Evory can be found at www.thepoetsbillow.org.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Are We Reconciled?

The 152nd anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg came to a conclusion last Friday afternoon after three full days of hikes, walks, and talks. Speaking on behalf of the entire staff, we were overwhelmed with the interest, support, and enthusiasm the thousands of visitors who hiked the battlefield with us brought to Gettysburg National Military Park. It was truly a pleasure and an honor to be on the field one hundred and fifty two years to the day after the battle was fought, with such an interested and dedicated crowd.

The battle anniversary took a slight departure this year from previous formats. Normally our concluding program is the retracing of Pickett’s Charge (Or the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble-Lang-Wilcox Assault for those of you uninterested in brevity) on the afternoon of July 3rd. This year however we were pleased to work with our partners in the Gettysburg Foundation to mark the end of battle anniversary and the start of our Sacred Trust Lecture Series with a special Friday evening panel discussion.

I was fortunate enough to take part in that panel, alongside Drs. Timothy Orr, Keith Harris, and James Marten. The ensuing discussion, moderated by Park Historian John Heiser, turned into one of the highlights of the battle anniversary.

Focused around the central theme of “How veterans told the story of their war,” each panelist had roughly five minutes to discuss some particular aspect or component of that larger question. A fascinating series of presentations ensued which ranged from the limits of reconciliation, the varied and often contradictory memories of the veterans, the Confederate flag, and the best veteran-penned memoirs to emerge from the war. The entire panel discussion was filmed by our partners at the Gettysburg Foundation and will soon be available for viewing on their website. I highly recommend watching it.

As interesting as the individual panelists were the highlight of the evening came, as it often does, from the questions posed by the members of the audience. One in particular provoked a great deal of thought, not only during the panel, but afterwards also.

Are we, as a country, reconciled from the American Civil War? Has reconciliation been accomplished?

I suppose part of the challenge in answering that question resides in its definition. What does it mean to be reconciled? What does it mean to us today and what did it mean to the individuals who experienced the American Civil War firsthand? Does it involve anything more than a begrudging acceptance of the changes brought about by the conclusion of the war? Does it mean forgiving? Does it mean forgetting?

Alongside “reconstruction” and “reunion,” two terms it is often confused with, reconciliation represents the third, and by far most subjective, of the “R” word triumvirate that defined post-war America. By the end of 1865 reunion was a fact. The country had been physically and politically reunited, the Confederacy had been crushed and its armies in the field had been vanquished. Reconstruction was the political, physical, and social act of rebuilding the south and bringing it back into the Union while simultaneously grappling with the new social order that resulted from the abolition of four million enslaved people. Reconciliation though would necessitate the restoration of amicable, if not harmonious, relations between two once warring peoples, including and encompassing those who shouldered a weapon, those who experienced the war on the home front, and those whose freedom was ultimately secured by the conflict.

By the turn of the century many of the veterans of the war seemed to have cautiously embraced the idea of a reconciled country, provided it was a reconciled country that embraced their particular viewpoint on the war. Fairly typical, of the veterans anyways, was the standpoint of Union veteran F. H. Harris who remarked in his speech at the dedication of the 13th New Jersey monument on the Gettysburg battlefield, “When our misguided brethren lately in arms against us say ‘forgive,’ let us, in accordance with the principles of the religion we profess, say, with outstretched hands and cordial greetings, ‘forgiven;’ but let us never forget that treason was treason, and that loyalty was loyalty.”

Many former Confederates were just as eager to bury the hatchet, though they refused to concede the worthiness of their cause. As Gen. Bennett H. Young, commander of the United Confederate Veterans, stated in an oration during the 1913 reunion at Gettysburg, “The Confederate comes here with his heart still loyal to the South and to those who made the four years of the Confederate nation’s life resplendent with heroism, glory, and noblest sacrifice.What we ask for ourselves we freely and cheerfully accord to the other side. You had great soldiers; you had hundreds of thousands of men whose hearts were touched with the truest instincts of patriotism…Build them monuments wherever you will, laud their courage and their virtues as you may, write in unnumbered volumes the story of their achievements, and enshrine in your hearts the sacrifices of the millions who fought and thought as you fought and thought. We only claim the same right as to our dead comrades.”

Ultimately reconciliation would be as difficult to achieve as it would be to quantify, measure, and define.  It would not be achieved through legislation or military conquest. It wasn’t a state, county, or town issue. If it was to be achieved at all it would have to be done on an individual basis. In the end reconciliation was deeply personal, made easier or more difficult depending on the individual in question and their vantage point on the war and the issues at stake. I suppose it remains so today.

One hundred and fifty years following the conclusion of the conflict many of the consequences, meanings, causes, and symbols of the war are still being passionately, eloquently, and occasionally violently debated. No more than a cursory glance at the most recent headlines will testify to the continued volatility of the very same issues that were debated a century and a half ago. In Charleston, South Carolina an alleged gunman who took as his personal symbol the “Confederate battle flag” killed nine innocent church goers. In Memphis, Tennessee city officials have initiated a discussion that could result in the exhumation and removal of the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a city park, while on the Gettysburg battlefield Union and Confederate reenactors symbolically join hands across a rock wall that was once the site of death and carnage.

So, the question remains. Are we reconciled? Is true reconciliation even possible? What does reconciliation even mean in 21st century America?  We’d be interested in hearing what you have to say.

Christopher Gwinn, Gettysburg National Military Park

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

Sergeant Stouch Returns to Gettysburg

Stouch & family 1886

Union veteran George W.H. Stouch with his family at Gettysburg, July 1886. (Gettysburg NMP)

We at Gettysburg National Military Park are fortunate to have so many visitors who come to the park with unique documents and photos handed down through their families. Last week was no exception when a visitor from Texas walked through the door and showed the staff at the information desk the somewhat faded photo of an ancestor and veteran of Gettysburg, who returned in 1886 to have his photograph taken at the exact spot where he and some of his comrades nearly lost their lives in the horrendous fighting on July 2, 1863. What makes the story so unique is the handwritten description on the back, penned by a man who was actually a Gettysburg native and one of those few who fought near his boyhood home.

George Wesley Hancock Stouch was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1842, and moved with family members to Kentucky in the mid-1850’s. Mustered into service in Kentucky on November 30, 1861, Private Stouch was assigned to Company B, 11th United States Infantry and evidently found his niche in army life. Promotions rapidly followed and by January 1863, Stouch was wearing the stripes of sergeant major of the 11th United States Infantry, the highest ranking post for a non-commissioned officer in the regiment. Assigned to the Second Brigade commanded by Col. Sidney Burbank, Second Division under General Romeyn Ayres, in the Fifth Corps, his regiment had seen heavy action with the Army of the Potomac from Second Bull Run to Chancellorsville. By the evening of July 1, 1863, these footsore “Regulars” had marched through Maryland and into Pennsylvania in pursuit of Lee’s invading army, covering hundreds of miles since mid-June and they were probably thankful when the call came for a halt that evening, the bivouac approximately five miles from Gettysburg. The rest was brief; roused at 3:30 AM, the brigade marched toward Gettysburg where they went into a reserve position behind the center of the Union line. The scale of the fighting grew in intensity until 5:00 when the brigade was ordered to move to the field north of Little Round Top where, “we were ordered to advance in a line of battle, passing from the shelter of a wood across an open field, through which ran a morass.” (Report of Major Lancey Floyd-Jones, 11th United Infantry)

Burbank’s brigade reached a stone wall bordering the soon to be infamous Wheatfield, where they lay in line for a half hour before moving forward to relieve other Union troops engaged in the tumultuous fighting. Wheeling to the left, the entire line blazed away at Confederate troops in the woods ahead of them until a heavy column of southerners suddenly appeared on the right flank of the line. With his comrades of the 11th US, Sergeant Stouch could see the entire line was in jeopardy and under orders to withdraw, the regiment began to retreat. Leaving the ridge and into the valley behind, events quickly went from bad to worse when “we became exposed to a cross fire of the enemy, the effect of which was most deadly upon officers and men.” (Report of Major Lancey Floyd-Jones, 11th United Infantry). Unwilling to race away from the danger, most of the Regulars stood their ground or retired slowly, costing each regiment dearly. The Confederate force was overwhelming and raced into the valley after the now scattered soldiers. Among these was Sergeant Stouch who refused to leave a wounded soldier behind.

Twenty three years later, the aging soldier returned to the site where death had stared him in the face, to have his photograph taken at a very special place:

“I was Sergt Major 11th US. Infantry, at Gettysburg and was captured about 5 o’clock p.m. July 2d by ‘Cobb’s Georgia Legion’ of Wofford’s Brigade, McLaws’ Division, Longstreets Corps, at the repulse & retreat of our Brigade, the 2d (Regulars) of the 2d Division, 5th Army Corps. From this position on the crest, near the ‘wheat field’ and in the wood between the wheat-field and ‘Devils Den’, in front of Little Round Top, I was captured while helping to carry to the rear with us Luis Pettee (2d Lt. Lemuel Pettee) of our Regt, who was wounded while in the retreat(.) we were caught at the rock, and ordered by the Rebels to go behind it, to protect ourselves from the fire of our own men on Little Round Top, and those who had reformed at the foot, to resist the charge of the Rebels. With me behind the rock were Lieut Elder (1st Lt. Matthew Elder), Pettee, Sergt Price , Prvts Smith & Cooke all of the 11th Infty. Pettee & Elder, were wounded(.) Elder died from the effects of his wound on the 8th of July. We were prisoners until about 5:30 PM when we were recaptured by Crawford’s Division of ‘Pennsylvania Reserves,’ who drove back the Rebels beyond the wood we had occupied.”

Though about to be retaken by Crawford’s men, the true danger of their predicament was about to be realized: “To the right of us looking from Little Round Top, across a small ravine and on a rocky ledge running perpendicular to Little Round Top, between us and the Division, were a lot of Rebel Sharpshooters behind rocks(.) One of them about 50 yards from us… saw we were about to be recaptured, (and) commenced firing at us. I was sitting where Mamma (the woman in the center of the photo) is standing; on my right Cooke, next to him Smith and on the extreme right Price. Elder’s head resting on my lap(,) he lying on his back, Pettee in the same position with his head on Smith’s lap. The first shot fired at us struck Cooke in the fore-head killing him instantly, the next shot struck Price in the neck inflicting a severe wound, the third struck me in the left wrist, while I was supporting Elder’s head he drinking at the time from a canteen; in an instant after I was hit, we were recaptured and the Rebel Sharpshooters ran back over the rocky ledge towards the rear of Devils Den.”

Grateful to be rescued from their precarious position, Sergeant Stouch and his wounded comrades were taken to a field hospital. “My wound was very severe,” Stouch continued. The ball had struck his wrist and broken bones of the joint. “The surgeons want(ed) to amputate it that night, but I objected and did not have an operation performed until about 5 o’clock PM on the 4th, when they resected about 1 1/4 inch of the radius. It was about fourteen months before it was entirely healed.”

While he convalesced in York, Pennsylvania, Stouch was promoted to 2nd lieutenant and returned to the army the following year assigned to the 3rd United States Infantry. The end of the war was not the end of his military career. Lieutenant Stouch was eventually promoted to captain and then major as the Chief of Commissary and Subsistence for U.S. Volunteers during the Spanish American War. A grateful nation bestowed the rank of lt. colonel at the time of his retirement in 1904, and the old soldier retired to his home near Washington, attending a handful of veteran reunions. Colonel Stouch died in 1908 and is buried with his wife in Arlington National Cemetery.

For his entire career in military service, it had to be that one day at Gettysburg that held so much horror as well as fascination for the old soldier- so important that he revisit the field and that site of painful memories to share with his wife, son and daughter. “This Photo was taken about 4 P.M. the 2d of July 1886,” Stouch finished his descriptive note; “the 23rd Anniversary of the battle.”

Stouch wrote his description for the photo the following month and after 23 years, names of the soldiers who were with him behind that boulder obviously escaped his memory. 2d Lt. Lemuel Pettee of Co. B, 11th US Infantry, the first officer who was being assisted to the rear by Stouch, was severely wounded by a gunshot that shattered his leg “above the ankle”. Despite the injury that should have ended his career, Pettee remained in service, receiving a brevet promotion to Captain in 1865 for gallantry in action at Gettysburg. 1st Lt. Matthew Elder, the young officer cradled in Stouch’s lap, had been shot in the left knee, an injury that proved to be more severe than the glancing blow of the gunshot to his neck while behind the boulder. Elder’s leg was amputated above the knee by surgeons at the Fifth Corps field hospital, where he died on July 25. The other soldiers referred to in the narrative are inconclusive though “Cooke” who sat next to the sergeant major was probably Sgt. Alfred E. Cook, Co. G. Cook was not killed as Stouch recalled, but severely wounded in the left knee, shattered by a shot possibly from the sharpshooter who hit the others. His leg was amputated and though he appeared to rally, Sgt. Cook died August 10 at Camp Letterman. He is buried in the U.S. Regulars Plot, Row D, grave 21, in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Boulder in Valley of Death

The granite boulder where Stouch and his fellow soldiers of the 11th United States Infantry took shelter on July 2, 1863, photographed in June 2015. (Gettysburg NMP)

One of the greatest gifts of working at a historical park like Gettysburg is that so often we rediscover some long-forgotten story about the men who served on this symbolic battlefield, thanks quite often to the humble offerings of a park visitor. Every element of the park tells a story, not only in text and photographs, but in the physical elements that still survive 152 years after. On a warm June day as I stood in the high grass near the boulder by which then-Captain Stouch posed with his family in 1886, another piece of the fascinating puzzle of battle-related history fell into place. Most importantly, the personal story of Stouch and his fellow soldiers in the thick of deadly combat came to life thanks to his scribbled note on the back of an old photo and the cold gray granite boulder that still sits quietly and unnoticed in the “Valley of Death”.

John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park

Thanks to Ashley Miller, Penn State University and summer intern at Gettysburg National Military Park, for her assistance with the transcription of Stouch’s narrative and park volunteer Rob Shoemaker for his assistance with the visitor who brought this to our attention.

 

Posted in Historical Memory, Photography, Veterans | 6 Comments

Join in the Action: Finding Your Park at Gettysburg

Misty morning at Gettysburg NMP2016 is the Centennial of the National Park Service.  Parks are being “Called to Action” to connect with and create the next generations of park visitors Supporters and advocates.

Primary_FindYourParkLogo_URLThe programs center on the theme of Find Your Park – a public awareness and education campaign celebrating the milestone centennial anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016 and setting the stage for its second century of service.

Through “Find Your Park” we are inviting you to see that a national park can be more than a place — it can be a feeling, a state of mind, or a sense of American pride. Beyond vast landscapes, the campaign highlights historical, urban, and cultural parks, as well as the National Park Service programs that protect, preserve and share nature, culture, and history in communities nationwide.

Team Dover volunteer Airmen work to clear and rebuild a 300 yard fence line Oct. 10, 2014, at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pa. More than 100 volunteer Airmen showed up to the event which was organized by the Dover Air Force Base First Sergeants Council. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class William Johnson)

Team Dover volunteer Airmen work to clear and rebuild a 300 yard fence line Oct. 10, 2014, at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pa. More than 100 volunteer Airmen showed up to the event which was organized by the Dover Air Force Base First Sergeants Council. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class William Johnson)

We introduced some of the Gettysburg National Military Park’s Centennial programs in an April blog post.  Since then, momentum has been building and we have several new ideas and programs we are putting together and, thanks to our partners at the Gettysburg Foundation, quite a few more innovative programs and events that we’ll be bringing forward in the coming months.

Guide to Service Learning Projects – We want to enhance volunteerism in the parks. This project would augment the wonderful array of learning opportunities at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site by connecting groups and individuals with volunteer work they can accomplish while they’re here.  Together with the Gettysburg Foundation, the park is creating a guide that matches up the skills and abilities of volunteers with service learning projects in the parks.  This guide will become available in 2016.

IMG_4875

Living history at the George Spangler farm.

Construct trail from Museum and Visitor Center to Power’s Hill and the George Spangler Farm to provide pedestrian and bicycle access to newly restored landscape features at Power’s Hill and to new interpretive venues at the historic George Spangler farm. The Spangler Farm is owned by the Gettysburg Foundation and served as the Union Army’s 11th Corps field hospital with more than 1,900 Union and Confederate wounded. The park has applied for Centennial funding to construct this trail we will find out late in 2015 or in early 2016 if it is selected.

There are so many ways to “Find Your Park” at Gettysburg – whether it is going on a Ranger program with friends and family, or stopping by Little Round Top to watch the sun set, or even just remembering your last visit and the stories of valor and sacrifice at Gettysburg in your own quiet moments of reflection.  To find out what’s happening this summer go to:  http://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm

We’ll provide updates here on many more ideas and programs that are developing.  This summer, whether you live near or far, please go out and Find Your Park.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, June 11, 2015

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Courage on Trial

July 27, 1863 was not a good day for Seraphim Meyer. The Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac, of which Meyer’s 107th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was a part, was that day encamped around the village of New Baltimore, Virginia. Active campaigning having subsided, time allowed for a General Court Martial to convene.

Photograph of Seraphim Meyer

Seraphim Meyer, Colonel of the 107th Ohio at Gettysburg. Image courtesy of Santa Cruz Public Library

Meyer, then approaching his fifth decade and suffering from a bout of illness, appeared before the officers detailed for the court and was arraigned on the charge of “misbehavior in the presence of the enemy”… an offense serious enough to warrant his removal from command, brand him with a mark of shame not easily removed in 19th century America, and theoretically warrant punishment of an even greater severity.

There is nothing particularly unusual about this case. Meyer’s arraignment was one of hundreds of such that occurred during the American Civil War. What is perhaps unique is that the accusations brought against him stemmed from the battle of Gettysburg, a fight not often associated with cowardice on the part of Union officers. Additionally, there is the fact that the 48 year old Colonel was the only federal officer saddled with such a charge as a result of that engagement.

The case, which took the better part of the following two weeks to decide, essentially pitted two men, and two versions of the same event, against one another. On the one side was Col. Meyer, who alleged that no misbehavior or cowardly action ever occurred on the field of battle at Gettysburg. On the contrary, Meyer maintained that he had behaved with the utmost coolness and gallantry, a fact attested to not only by himself but by a number of his subordinate officers as well.

Gen. Adelbert Ames

On the other side of the issue was Brigadier General Adelbert Ames, Col. Meyer’s direct superior. Ames was a professional soldier, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a man widely admired for his abilities as a leader. On July 1st, 1863 Ames led his brigade, numbering a little over 1,300 men, into combat in the fields directly north of Gettysburg. They were soon advanced upon by Confederate infantry and after a brief but ferocious firefight, forced back into what devolved into a chaotic route.  The brigade spent the remainder of the battle occupying a position on Cemetery Hill south of town, and Ames himself was elevated to division command replacing the captured and severely wounded Francis Barlow.

The chaos and confusion of the fighting at Gettysburg was not sufficient enough to distract Gen. Ames from certain failings he had witnessed on the part of Col. Meyer on July 1st. During the fighting north of town Ames noticed that Meyer had the habit of ducking and dodging in a cowardly and agitated manner whenever he heard the sound of a bullet whistle past. On another occasion Ames noted that the Colonel would crouch behind the neck of his horse, seemingly using the animal as a shield to guard him from projectiles coming down range.

In his testimony Ames also alleged that Col. Meyer bungled nearly every order given him, taking far longer to execute the desired movements than any of the other three regiments under his command. This was due in part to the extremely panicked and frantic manner in which Meyer vocalized his orders. Capt. J.M. Brown, one of Ames staff officers, testified that Meyer’s method of relaying commands “…seemed to me more like screaming – the words could not be distinguished.”

When disaster descended on the 11th Corps regiments north of town, and the surviving Union soldiers were forced to retreat towards the safety of Cemetery Hill, Col. Meyer was no-where to be found. At one point Ames and his staff officers witnessed the colors of the 107th Ohio in the hands of the adjutant of the regiment near the Alms House, along with a small contingent of men. Meanwhile, Col. Meyer was sighted near the train station on Carlisle Street, roughly ½ mile away and removed from the most immediate danger.

The monument to the 107th Ohio on East Howard Avenue, near where they were briefly positioned on July 1, 1863.

A host of witnesses for the defense were paraded before the court, most attempting to chip away at the version of events related by Ames and his cronies. For instance, the surgeon of the 107th Ohio stated that Col. Meyer had a severe chest ailment. The crouching on the neck of the horse witnessed by Ames was not an act of cowardice the surgeon explained; rather it alleviated the discomfort caused by his illness. Another man in the 107th testified that the screaming and peculiar manner in which Col. Meyer gave orders had nothing to do with fear or panic, but actually stemmed from Meyer’s own eccentricities. It was simply his way of issuing commands. While it may be comical the soldier admitted, it was not a sign of cowardice.

Meyer and his friends were most adamant in their denial that he had abandoned his command. He was with his men during the entirety of the retreat and precisely followed and executed the orders given to him by Gen. Ames.

In the end, the court agreed with Meyer’s version of events. On August 2nd, 1863 Col. Seraphim Meyer was acquitted. He was duly released from arrest and resumed “his sword and his duties.” Though exonerated, his time with the United States Army was short lived. Wracked by illness he took leave one week after the conclusion of the trial. In November of that year an examining board investigated Meyer. They found him wanting in knowledge of tactics and administrative duties and a result found him unfit to occupy the rank of colonel and to command a regiment, giving a degree of credibility to the testimony of Adelbert Ames. In February of 1864 Meyer resigned his command and returned to civilian life.

When studying the Civil War it is far easier, and far more gratifying, to focus on stories of courage and gallantry than it is to examine moments of cowardice and fear. That being said, nearly every visitor to Gettysburg wonders, if only subconsciously, how they would have reacted had they taken part in the battle? Would the carnage and fear of battle overwhelm the senses or would some hidden and untapped source of strength reveal itself? While everyone would like to think themselves cut from the same bolt as Henry Burgwyn, Rufus Dawes, and Alonzo Cushing, chances are there are more than a few who would play the role of Seraphim Meyer.

The Meyer case also reminds us of the challenge of studying history. Historians having to piece together the events of July 1-3, 1863 often have multiple and entirely contrary perspectives on any one issue or event. Whose version of events on July 1st, 1863 was the more accurate? Was Ames motivated by some form of prejudice against the German born Meyer or was he simply trying to remove from the field an officer whose lack of skill and fortitude would only cost young men their lives? Was Meyer truly afflicted by a chest ailment that made riding difficult? Was his high pitched and panicked tone really just an eccentricity, or was it born in the fear of battle.

The staff of Gettysburg National Military Park invites you to come to the battlefield and explore the story of Seraphim Meyer in a new interpretive program called “Courage on Trial.” Every Saturday throughout the summer you’ll have the chance to retry the case of Col. Meyer, as we recreate his court-martial. Hear the evidence and question the witnesses yourself, before deciding the fate of this Union officer who fought on the fields of Gettysburg. We hope to see you there, every Saturday at 1:00 PM at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.

Christopher Gwinn, Gettysburg National Military Park

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment