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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Gettysburg Behind the Scenes: Buildings and Utilities

At Gettysburg National Military Park, we take care of 135 historic buildings and 1,205 other structures.  In today’s blog we’ll look at some of the outstanding work performed this summer by Dan Mazzotti and the park’s structures preservation branch.

It isn’t an easy task to ensure that these special places are preserved for future generations. Behind the scenes here at Gettysburg these unsung heroes in our maintenance division get the job done.  Here is a look at recent projects:

National Cemetery Benches – These benches consist primarily of a metal (steel) frame and wooden backs and seats. They were in a deteriorated condition and the decision was made to send these out for sand blasting and powder coating with an exterior enamel finish matching the original color. The wood was replaced and then treated with an exterior oil finish.  These 26 benches now proudly sit in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Refurbished benches in the Soldiers' National Cemetery

Refurbished benches in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery

Sherfy Barn – Work included scraping and sanding the entire barn, making major repairs to siding and decorative wooden battens, and building and restoring all wooden louvered window vents, changing the original fabric on these vents from soft pine to a more durable exterior mahogany. We restored old barn doors and built new doors when deterioration was beyond repair. We also replaced all rotted components (siding, fascia, rake boards, etc.) and installed new gutters.

Sherfy Barn

Sherfy Barn

Snyder Farmhouse – Work included scraping and sanding the entire farmhouse. We also repaired/rebuilt window frames and sash, built and installed new exterior doors, frames and thresholds, replaced rotted elements of the board and batten siding and installed a new cedar shingle roof.

A new cedar roof for the Snyder farmhouse

A new cedar roof for the Snyder farmhouse

Hummelbaugh House – We are continuing the process of the interior and exterior work at this historic farmhouse. Interior work has included stabilizing the structural integrity of the building which included replacing cracked and deteriorated floor and ceiling joist, and the repair of deteriorated foundation sills. We then installed a new plaster ceiling which had failed in the main living room, updated all electrical and plumbing components, sanded and refinished all wood floors, and installed a new kitchen floor. Exterior work will consist of installing a new concrete walkway around a portion of the house, removal and replacement of deteriorated siding and window casings, extensive rehab of window sash and a complete exterior painting. We also removed hazardous trees around the farmhouse.

The Hummelbaugh house ceiling before repair. General Barksdale died in this house located along Pleasonton Avenue near Taneytown Road.

The Hummelbaugh house ceiling before repair. General Barksdale died in this house located along Pleasonton Avenue near Taneytown Road.

Reever Farmhouse – We continue the process of completing the interior and exterior work needed on this 1870’s farmhouse. Work on the interior will include a complete painting, the refinishing of the hardwood floors, the installation of new electric heating elements, and a remodeling of the kitchen including cabinets, floor and pantry. Exterior work will include the installation of a new cedar shingle roof, extensive work on window sash, sills and casing, replacement of severely deteriorated siding, rebuilding deteriorated exterior doors, installation of new gutters and downspouts and an exterior painting.

The Reever House along Wets Confederate Avenue, near Millerstown Road.

The Reever House along West Confederate Avenue, near Millerstown Road.

Weikert Farmhouse Roof – We have completed the work of installing a new cedar shingle roof on the farmhouse and summer kitchen, as well as re-attaching the front porch to this stone structure, which had pulled away considerably over the years. We have also repaired deteriorated elements of window sash, window sills and gable end siding on this historic stone structure.

The George Weikert house at United States Avenue and Hancock Avenue.

The George Weikert house at United States Avenue and Hancock Avenue.

Park wide Culverts – The process of repairing/rebuilding these stone and concrete culverts throughout the park has begun. These culverts have been damaged by buses, tractors and automobiles over the decades. There are over 200 in need of repair in the park. Some are in need of minor repairs, but most need complete rebuilding.

Damaged Culvert

Damaged Culvert

Trostle Barn – Work on the interior of this barn included the installation of a new white oak floor. The dimensions of the oak boards were approximately 1” thick with random widths and lengths. We also replaced a rotted sill log along the bank side of this barn and repaired the top portion of the stone foundation wall that carried this sill log.

Replacement flooring for the Trostle barn

White oak boards, one inch thick, make up the new flooring in the Trostle barn

We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some of the work that goes on, day in and day out,”behind the scenes” at Gettysburg National Military Park.  We are fortunate to have some of the best preservation experts in the National Park Service on our park staff, from woodcrafters and carpenters, to masons, plasterers, electricians, plumbers and more!

Thanks to Dan Mazzotti for providing the photos and the information in this blog.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 9/15/15

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Another View of Shelby Foote


It has become almost cliche of late to blog on the subject of Ken Burns and his monumental PBS documentary The Civil War. The rebroadcast of the remastered nine-part series has caused a flurry of activity among online commentators who seem to either malign Burns and his magnum opus for its perceived flaws or praise it unsparingly for spawning a resurgence of interest in the conflict that hadn’t been seen since the Centennial of the 1960’s.

To be perfectly honest, I’m in no position to dispassionately critique the series. In 1991, at the age of eight, my parents presented me with a used VHS copy of the entire production as a Christmas present. Over the course of the next four days I watched it unfold, enraptured by the images and story line along with the expert narration of David McCullough, who I’d still argue is the unsung hero of the series. When I finally reached the end of the last VHS tape I experienced a sadness that to an eight year was akin to losing a Burns and Footefamily member. Subsequent viewings over the course of the next decade reduced the tapes to dust. Fortunately a DVD version has been acquired as a replacement.

Re-watching it twenty five years later has engendered a similar feeling – one that has nothing to do with the enhanced picture quality, which to be honest is lost on me. The
documentary is at once a poignant reminder of my youth and simultaneously an affirmation of everything that I love about my profession. It remains, to me at least, inherently watchable.

The success of the series was due in no small part to the contributions made by the historians, writers, and talking heads that appeared throughout the film. Of these
individuals, none had a greater impact—or more screen time—than the famed Shelby Foote, author of a massive trilogy of the war that is still widely read today. It’s difficult to
imagine the series without Foote. His folksy appeal and southern drawl lent the film a kind of warmth that it would have otherwise lacked. That being said, no aspect of the documentary has been criticized as heavily as Foote’s contributions – and perhaps rightly so. Foote, at least in the Burns series, pays scant attention to the centrality of slavery as a cause of the war and perpetuates a Lost Cause narrative throughout his commentary.

On November 19th, 1993, Foote spoke at the Rostrum in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery for the 130th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. His remarks that day confirmed, and to a degree conflicted, with his contributions in Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Shelby Foote’s Gettysburg Address appears in full below. We invite you to read over his remarks and comment. It is well worth the time.

– C. Gwinn, Gettysburg National Military Park

Shelby Foote
Dedication Day Remarks
November 19, 1993

It is an awesome, indeed a daunting thing to stand here where perhaps the greatest American—in or out of public office, high or low—stood, 130 years ago, and delivered what he later called ‘my little speech.’ His predecessor on the rostrum, the distinguished orator Edward Everett (former governor of Massachusetts, ambassador to England, president of Harvard, successor to Daniel Webster as Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore, and recently a candidate for Vice President on the Constitutional Union ticket, which had carried Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) spoke for two solid hours by the clock. Lincoln, in a black, full skirted suit, a tall silk hat, and white gloves, spoke for two minutes… I hope to hold my time closer to the latter’s—especially since Everett afterwards said to him: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as close to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

I do not hope to achieve his eloquence—no one has. But I intend to emulate his brevity—though even that I cannot quite match.

The President in fact had done something beyond communicating any ‘central idea,’ no matter how noble that idea was and is. He created something more permanent than if his words had merely been cast in bronze or engraved on brass. The speech he read, and in part improvised, on that November day as he stood here, and later in Washington touched up in response to requests for copies, now are [is] recognized as an imperishable page in the highest rank of American prose. Lincoln as a writer is up there with Hawthorne, Twain, James, and all the distinguished men who followed them and him. Sometimes the strength and beauty of his language—as in the King James Bible, from which he learned a good part of his craft—mask and dominate his meaning. The Gettysburg Address is a case in point, particularly in its closing words, in which he declared that if the Northern case fell short of victory, ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ would ‘perish from the earth.’

My great-grandfather, who commanded the Noxubee Cavalry at Shiloh, would have denied fervently that he and his compatriots were out to destroy government of or by or for the people. In fact he saw it as being rather the other way around, and so did those who served under and over him in the Confederate ranks. Yet, such was the force and beauty of Lincoln’s words, that I, along with my fellow students in the public schools of Mississippi, fifty-odd years ago, were required to memorize those and all the other words of that Address in reverence for the man who spoke them, here at Gettysburg, in dedication of the Union dead who found their ‘final resting place’ in the hallowed ground on which we are gathered in observance of this anniversary of that utterance.

(Incidentally, I have been informed that this memorization is no longer universally required in our schools. If so, I am sorry indeed to hear it—for, if so, this is a signal milepost in the decline of American education. For me, it’s hard to imagine a group of young folks milling around without the cadences of the Gettysburg Address pulsing in their young brains.)

But the truth is, Lincoln did not come here (or exercise his craft) to cast aspersions on those who were doing their best to tear the fabric of the Union, even as he spoke. He did not think they were wicked, in the main; he simply thought they were wrong. At ‘four score and seven,’ the nation was in its adolescence, nearly half a century closer to the Revolution than we today are to the Civil War, which he saw as a test as to whether this country could ‘long endure.’ Democracy, as established and practiced here, was still in its experimental stage, suffering as it were from growing pains. If the Union split, secession succeeded, the experiment failed as a model others might decline to follow down the years. The dream, he was saying, would ‘perish,’ and with it what he had earlier called ‘the last, best hope of earth.’

In time, even those who had opposed him most fiercely during the four-year conflict would come to agree in large part with Lincoln’s war-scorched vision. That would be part of what became known as the Great Compromise, whereby Southerners agreed that it was best, all round, that the Union had been preserved, and Northerners agreed—although some with equal reluctance—that the South had fought bravely for a cause it believed was just.

In the light (or shadow) of that Compromise, I suggest that we remember here today that roughly half of the 50,000 casualties on this field were Confederates, many of whom also gave ‘the last full measure of devotion.’ We would do well to remember that they too were Americans—deserving, as well, of our remembrance, our admiration and, if need be, our forgiveness. One man I know would give all three of these, and had even begun to do so before he was martyred, three days after Appomattox. That man was Abraham Lincoln, who spoke here all those hundred and thirty years ago.

I thank you.*


Foote, along with President and First Lady Carter and Park Ranger Bob Prosperi, during a 1978 visit to the Gettysburg battlefield.


* Special thanks to Ranger Daniel Vermilya who transcribed Foote’s remarks.

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“These Honored Dead:” Private Charles Speisberger, Co. D, 140th New York Infantry

The Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is the final resting place for over 7,000 veterans and their family members who have served the United States over the past 152 years. From the Devils Den to the jungles of Guadalcanal, and from the Argonne to the Tet Offensive, the story of the men and women buried in the National Cemetery is also the story of the triumphs and tragedies, the sacrifices and losses of the past century and a half of American history. Today we begin a new series called “These Honored Dead” which will highlight but a few of those who stand eternal vigil on the Gettysburg battlefield.  

Young Charlie Speisberger was “a good boy” and very “affectionately attached to his parents,” or so remembered a Mr. Joseph Hubacheck and a Mr. Anthony Knobel of Rochester, New York, when in early 1868 they testified in support of Theresia Speisberger’s application for a pension. By then, Charlie, Theresia’s youngest son, had been dead for nearly five years and his remains buried well over three hundred miles away from home, in a Soldiers’ National Cemetery, on a prominent hilltop just south of a town called Gettysburg. His life had ended there, near Gettysburg, late on a Thursday afternoon—July 2, 1863—a little less than two miles south of where his remains were later buried, atop the rocky southwestern slope of a piece of high ground owned by a Mr. Ethan Hanaway and known locally then as Sugar Loaf Mountain but which is much more widely known today as Little Round Top. It was there where Speisberger had fallen, struck down and killed fighting under the flag of the United States and in defense of his adopted land.


Pvt. Charles Spiesberger, 140th New York Volunteer Infantry

He was born eighteen-and-a-half years earlier, at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 29, 1844, and well over 4,000 miles away, in Moosham, Upper Austria, the third child and youngest son born to John and Theresia Speisberger. John Speisberger, Charles’s father, was a native of Hausruck, Austria, who had served for fifteen years as a soldier in the 59th Line Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, of the Imperial Austrian National Guard, before being honorably discharged in 1841. Just two years before his discharge, on August 5, 1839, in the village of Geschwandt, the then twenty-eight-year-old John Speisberger had married Theresia Holzinger Schafbanker, who was ten years his senior, a widow whose husband had died in 1838, and who had five young children: Francis (age 14), John (age 13), Matthias (age 11), Theresia (age 8), and Elizabeth (age 1). Theresia Speisberger would give birth to three more children over the next five years: Antonia, born in 1841, Juliana, born in 1843, and Charles, born in late 1844.

Following his discharge from the Austrian army, John Speisberger seems to have had trouble finding steady work to support his large and growing family and thus in April 1852, seeking greater opportunity, he sought and secured permission to emigrate to the United States of America. The Speisberger family arrived three months later, in July 1852, through the port of New York and ultimately settled in the town of Gates—named in honor of Revolutionary War general Horatio Gates—and just outside the growing city of Rochester. Over the next ten years, the older children—Charles’s step-siblings and his sisters—grew to adulthood, got married, and started families of their own, leaving young Charles alone at home with his now rather aged mother—who turned sixty years old in 1861—and his father. John Speisberger had purchased a lot in Gates and there the family lived in a modest house, valued at $800, with just humble furnishings. John Speisberger was able to find employment, though much of it was irregular, working as a general laborer for number of nearby farms. Things became much tougher and economically tighter for the Speisberger family, though, when just a few years after their arrival in Gates, John Speisberger was seriously injured in a work place accident, his right arm broken by a cornstalk cutter. It would prove to be a permanent injury, which made it increasingly more difficult for him to support his family, especially as he got older. This forced young Charles to grow up rather quickly and find work to help support his elderly mother and now infirm, disabled father.

In 1856, at the age of twelve, Charles Speisberger went to work for a Mr. Christian Vogel, who owned a grocery store on Trout Street in Rochester. He initially earned $1.25 a day but it wasn’t long before this hardworking young lad got a raise, to $1.50 per week. Sometimes he would be paid in cash; other times he would be paid in groceries. Charles worked in Vogel’s grocery store for nearly two years before going to work for another grocery store on Main Street in Rochester, owned by a Nathan Stern, who paid Charles $2.00 per week and who sometimes would prepare dinners for him and his family. Charles left the employ of Nathan Stern in 1860 when the now nearly sixteen-year-old went to work at Vincent Auman’s clothing store on Trout Street, where he earned $5.00/week. He would work there for just over a year before finding new employment in Parker Morley’s gas fitting and plumbing business where he worked as a machinist.

Young Charlie Speisberger was forced to grow up at a very young age; he was smart, industrious, hard-working, and entirely devoted to his family. He went to work at the age of twelve and all of the money he would go on to earn over the next few years, whether at the grocery stores, or at Auman’s clothing store, or at Morley’s gas fitting business, he would give to his mother and father.  By the summer of 1862, however—just ten years after the Speisberger family had arrived in the country—the United States was well in the throes of its darkest trial, facing its greatest challenge, as it went to war with itself. The conflict had begun the previous year but Charles, still only sixteen, was much too young to enlist just then. By the summer of 1862, though, he was near enough to the age of eighteen to enlist and on August 26 he volunteered his services, to fight for his adopted land while at the same time continuing to support his family. The bounty payment Charles received upon enlisting, he would turn right over to his mom and dad and they would use that $150.00 to make improvements upon their house, “for blinds, a rain water cistern, and other repairings.” Charles also promised to send $10 of his $13 per month pay back home.

Charles Speisberger was mustered into Federal service on September 13, 1862, as a private in Company D, 140th New York Volunteer Infantry, a regiment recruited largely from Rochester and its surrounding environs. He was listed at having stood 5’8” in height, with a light complexion, gray eyes, and light hair. Speisberger’s regiment was headed by a fiery warrior, twenty-five-year-old Colonel Patrick O’Rorke, who had graduated ranked first from the West Point Class of June 1861. The two had much in common. Like Speisberger, Patrick O’Rorke was born overseas and was brought to the United States very early in his life.  The O’Rorke family settled in Rochester and when his father died in the mid-1850s, young Patrick—just like young Charles Speisberger whose father had been injured—was forced to go to work to help support his family. But then O’Rorke, who was just seven years older than Speisberger, would receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy which allowed him to seek a new career and a calling in the army. The two, however, would ultimately share the very same fate—the same destiny—less than one year later, fighting for the preservation of the United States and all that it promised atop Little Round Top south of Gettysburg.

140th NY mon

The monument to the 140th New York Volunteer Infantry. Speisberger and the others members of the 140th would have advanced down the slope towards the camera.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, the 140th New York—nicknamed the “Rochester Race Horses”—formed part of Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s Third Brigade in General Romeyn Ayres’s Second Division, Fifth Army Corps. The regiment had been under fire before, but were relatively lightly engaged at the Battles of Fredericksburg and again at Chancellorsville, where it sustained 21 casualties. It would be at Gettysburg, on the late afternoon of July 2, where it would receive its first major baptism by fire and participate in its first major clash of arms. It was sometime around 3:30 p.m. when urgent orders arrived for the Fifth Corps to move south from its reserve position near Powers Hill and toward the endangered Union left, held by the army’s Third Corps, which was just about to come under a major attack. Meanwhile, as the Fifth Corps began to move out to the support of Sickles’s Third Corps, the army’s chief engineer, Gouverneur Warren, discovered that the critical high ground of Little Round Top had been left undefended. With Confederate soldiers from Alabama and Texas already stepping off to the attack off to the south and west, threatening to turn the Union left and gain control of the rocky hilltop, Warren desperately sought out any soldiers who could hold and secure the crucial ground. It thus became a race; a race ultimately won by the Union and the Army of the Potomac when Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade, marching at the forefront of the Fifth Corps, swept up the eastern side of Little Round Top and established a hasty line of battle on its southern slope. Just a few minutes later, Vincent’s men came under assault from the Texans and Alabamians who emerged from the trees below and began the ascent up to steep, boulder covered slopes.

As Vincent’s line first came under attack, Warren—who later claimed that he was unaware entirely of the presence of Vincent’s 1,300-man brigade—continued to eagerly seek out units to hold position. Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery arrived soon on the scene. After helping to place Hazlett’s guns, Warren raced down the northern side of Little Round Top, looking for more men. There he just happened to encounter Colonel Patrick O’Rorke, on horseback and at the head of his 140th New York Infantry. The two had known one another quite well and although O’Rorke told Warren that he was awaiting orders from his superior Weed, still, the young Irish American colonel could detect the desperation in Warren’s pleas and agreed to take his regiment to the rocky hilltop. Together Warren and O’Rorke led the 526 men of the 140th New York Infantry up to the summit. Somewhere behind these two officers, a young, eighteen-year-old Charles Speisberger marched ahead, with steady step, closer to the roar and tumult of the escalating battle. One cannot help but wonder what was going through Charles’s mind as he raced through the trees and neared the summit. Were there any thoughts about the innocent days of his childhood spent in Austria? Was he, perhaps, thinking about his days working at the grocery and clothing stores in Rochester? Most likely, if he did have the time to reminiscence as the danger continued to grow near, he thought about his father John—who eleven years earlier had sought out a new life and new opportunity for his family in the United States—and about his mother Theresia. What was she doing at that very moment, on that very same Thursday afternoon, three hundred miles away to the north, in Gates, New York, while he, her youngest son, now followed Warren and O’Rorke to the summit of Ethan Hanaway’s hilltop south of this place called Gettysburg? Of course, we can never know what, if anything, was racing through the young man’s mind. Perhaps it was just the hope and the prayer that he come out of this fight alive; that his life be spared to once more see his family.

But this was not to be. With O’Rorke leading the way, the 140th arrived on Little Round Top just in time to throw back a desperate Confederate assault directed against Vincent’s right flank, held by the 16th Michigan Infantry. As the regiment first entered the fray, O’Rorke was struck down, shot through the neck and killed. And at some point, too—we don’t know precisely when—was Private Charles Speisberger.

Speisberer Grave

The final resting place of Charles Speisberger in the New York plot, Soldiers’ National Cemetery, alongside other members of the 140th New York.

O’Rorke, Speisberger, and the soldiers of the 140th New York had helped to reverse the tide and secure the hillside for the Union, but it came at a high price. Twenty-six of its soldiers were killed, eighty-nine more wounded, and eighteen were listed as missing.  And while the remains of Colonel O’Rorke were later taken back home for burial in Rochester, New York, those of Private Speisberger would remain in Gettysburg, buried by Samuel Weaver’s team of laborers in the new Soldiers’ National Cemetery that was soon after the battle established on Cemetery Hill. And there, they continue to rest, among the thousands of other “honored dead” who gave their lives at Gettysburg so that their nation might live.

Ranger John Hoptak, Gettysburg National Military Park

*All information on Charles Speisberger, his family, and his ancestry from the Pension Application File of Theresia Speissberger (File #WC108221) held at the National Archives. Theresia Speisberger would be granted a pension of $8.00/month commencing in February 1868.

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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 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

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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

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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.


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.


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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

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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.

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