A Hard Road to Travel- Two Perspectives, Part 1

While the three day battle of Gettysburg is certainly the most figurative event in the eastern theater of war during the summer of 1863, the month-long campaign to reach that fateful encounter lasted from early June through mid-July, filled with numerous skirmishes and battles, hardships and heartaches. Arguably, the campaign extended through mid-August as both armies maneuvered through northern Virginia before taking up positions along the Rapidan River.  The campaign that saw the High Water Mark of the Confederacy was an experience the survivors would tell and re-tell through hundreds of letters sent to family and friends; stories, hopes and speculation expressed on paper give the reader insight into the daily routine of soldier life and what they endured on those long lost dusty roads north to the Potomac River and beyond. Here are two of thousands of examples of letters written before and after the battle of Gettysburg, which give us some insight on what these soldiers, North and South, hoped to achieve that summer and their reaction to the Union victory at Gettysburg.

Lt. Colonel Selden Connor, 7th Maine Infantry

Selden Connor- Maine at War

Colonel Selden Connor , 1863 (Maine Historical Society)

Selden Connor was born into a family of means in Fairfield, Maine on January 25, 1839. He attended Tufts College (now university) in Medford, Massachusetts. After graduation in 1859, Connor resided in Vermont where he pursued the study of law. The outbreak of the Civil War abruptly changed his plans, and he volunteered for service as a private in the 1st Vermont Infantry (three-month service) though a chronic sinus condition plagued his brief time with the regiment. Upon hearing that his home state was raising three years’ regiment, he applied to Governor Washburn, Jr. for an officer’s position and was given the rank of lieutenant colonel of the newly formed 7th Maine Volunteer Infantry. Organized at Augusta, the 7th Maine mustered into service August 21, 1861, and left the state two days later, bound for Baltimore, Maryland where it was attached to General Dix’s Division for guard and defensive duties. After six months of army re-organization and administrative adjustments, the 7th was finally assigned to the Third Brigade, Second Division, Sixth Army Corps, and its service under the Greek Cross began.  Colonel Connor excelled during this period, the regiment’s drill and inspections were top notch and the men developed a grudging respect for their commander. By the summer of 1863, the experience of war, its victories and defeats, intensity and tedium had hardened Connor and his regiment to the realities of campaigning and what lay ahead, expressed in his letters to family members throughout June:

Camp of the 7th Me Vols.
Near Fairfax Station Va.
June 17, 1863

My dear sister,

          We are after the “rebs”. Old “Strategy” is abroad. Last night was our first real rest since Friday. We left the Rappahannock last Saturday night and we’ve been traveling ever since as if the “devil” himself had kicked us hardly stopping to eat or sleep. It was the hardest march yet, worse than the retreat from Richmond. Men fell out by scores “played out” by the heat, dust and exertion. Some died in the road by sunstroke. This morning the boys (page 2) are as gay as larks; they have rested and washed themselves and soldierlike in the east of the present moment they forget all past hardships. They are anxious too to get at “Johnny Reb”. I am hearty and tough. The “7th” is “few” but neither “faint” or “fearful”. I heard the boys sing last night on the march-

“Then clear the track you rebs,
“Here comes the Seventh Maine;
“Our Colonel is a fighting man,
“His boys are all the same, etc.”

Complimentary, wasn’t it? Our Corps and the 2d are here; we rest here to day. We shall probably be on the move tomorrow. I hope mother is better with you; you must be (page 3) careful not to let her tire herself handling the “new baby”. Give my love to “John Henry Brooks”*. I think I will send him a pair of brass knuckles to enable him to fight his way through this vale of tears. Tell Katie that Uncle Sel loves her best because he didn’t know the boy. Love to mother and Linda. Let me hear from you often.

 As ever,

[1] Selden Connor Papers, Brown University

(* recently born son of Connor’s sister)

1st Lt. John T. Gay, 4th Georgia Infantry

K, 4th Georgia

Company K, 4th Georgia Infantry, 1861. The LaGrange Light Guards were similarly uniformed and armed. (Library of Congress)

LaGrange, Georgia. Over its thirty-three year history, the seat of Troup County had blossomed into west Georgia’s finest and richest city, a center of commerce, host to several academies and colleges, fine homes and stores, surrounded by sprawling cotton plantations from which members of the “LaGrange Light Guards” were recruited. Monthly drills were a social affair, typically wrapped up with refreshments and social discourse on local events. The Guards’ last drill in LaGrange that warm day in April 1861 was marked by tearful goodbyes as the men boarded a train bound for Augusta where they were destined to be mustered into service as Company B of the 4th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, commanded by the dashing Colonel George Doles. By June 1863, Doles commanded the brigade as it trod northward and across the Potomac River, the advance of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Among the regiment’s junior officers was John T. Gay, who began service as a private in the “LaGrange Light Guards”. Elected 2nd lieutenant in June 1862, Gay was wounded and captured at Sharpsburg that September. Paroled and exchanged in December, Gay recovered in a Petersburg hospital and after a brief furlough returned to the regiment the following winter as a newly minted 1st lieutenant.

The march into Maryland and Pennsylvania was a refreshing relief for Lt. Gay, who had seen so much devastation in Virginia. His letters home, written on scrounged paper and captured envelopes, reflect the same enthusiasm expressed by Colonel Connor, though certainly for different reasons:

Greencastle, Penn
June 23d, 1863

Dear Prudie,

            I have just learned that there would (be) an opportunity of sending a letter to the rear tomorrow, with a probability of getting it mailed; and not withstanding it is almost night, yet I cannot resist the temptation of writing a few lines just to let you know that, although, I have gone back into the Union again, I am alive & well. We have had a long, long tramp and now find ourselves in the dutch settlements lower Pennsylvania. We move forward tomorrow to Chambersburg- cant say (page 2) how much farther we will proceed. We are on a regular raid, gathering up horses, cattle and army stores- have already captured a great many of each, besides over a hundred negroes. All are sent back as soon as captured except such articles as are necessary for the army. The people here are nearly frightened to death. They think we will kill & take & burn every thing as we go. They are, however, happily disappointed in this one thing, as we only appropriate such things as are necessary for the comfort & benefit of the army. The soldiers are not permitted to commit any depredations of any kind. The citizens here are so badly frightened, that they (page 3) stand at their gates, as we pass along the road, with large pails & tubs of water- men & women- and give to the soldiers as they pass along. They even excell our own Southern ladies in waiting upon the soldiers. Anything they have, if you ask for it, you can get. Confederate money is perfectly good with many of them. All this though is done to obtain favor and prevent us from destroying their property. Really they hate us as bitterly as it is possible for mankind to hate. I have no idea how the expedition will turn out or when will return to Va. Before we proceed much further we will probably (page 4) have to meet a tremendous force of Pennsylvania militia. Our officers & men are confident and in high spirits. Our men hold up under the march splendidly. The boys of our company are quite willing. I have just been detailed to act as Quartermaster of the regt. I think I should well like the position most especially as I will have a horse to ride. This, however, is only temporary and I may be sent back to the co. in a few days. Our Quartermaster is with our main wagon train, in the rear & I will act until he comes up again. I haven’t had a letter from you since I left Williamsport. Perhaps I will not have another opportunity to write while I am in this state. (top of page 1) Prudie, I would give anything on earth to be at home to night.  I want to see you very much. I hope you remember me in your prayers. It is night. Love & a kiss to all & may God bless my dear little wife. . J.T.G.[2]

[2] Mary Barnard Nix Collection, University of Georgia

 Coming up in part 2, Connor’s and Gay’s letters home on the eve of the battle of Gettysburg.

John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park

Posted in 4th Georgia Infantry, 6th Army Corps, 7th Maine Infantry, Civilians, Soldier Life | Leave a comment

The Mears Party and the Medal of Honor, Part 2

Tipton view of Valley of Death 1886-88

The “Valley of Death” circa 1884-88. McCandless’ brigade charged across the open ground below Little Round Top to the edge of the Wheatfield. The Althoff Farm buildings in the center of this view were built long after the war, just east of the Weikert house site. (Tipton Photo, GNMP)

The memorable charge of the Pennsylvania Reserves on July 2,1863 was soon history, passed on in soldiers’discussions and newspaper articles. Left out of the printed accounts was the charge of the “Mears Party” that captured over a dozen southerners, a footnote to the success of the Reserves’ rush across the Valley of Death, and with the close of the Gettysburg Campaign, Sergeant George Mears quietly resumed his duties in Company A, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves. Doubtless, the tale of Mears’ courage at Gettysburg was passed among the rank and file but forgotten under the strain of the grueling campaigns in northern Virginia that fall. Sergeant Mears was at his post every day until that fateful November 27, 1863, when his regiment marched onto the battlefield at New Hope Church, Virginia. There a Confederate rifle ball smashed into his left arm near the shoulder, hopelessly destroying the joint and splintering the shoulder bones. Unable to save Mears’ arm, regimental surgeon Charles Powers performed a complicated amputation. The doctor performed a second surgery the following day to remove some of the splintered clavicle and particles of splintered bone that could not be extracted the day before. Powers preserved the shattered remains of Mears’ arm and shoulder bones for study by other surgeons in the US Army Medical Department. (The bones were later transferred to the Army Medical Museum.)

Admitted to the Fairfax Station branch of the First Division General Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, on December 8, Mears’ recovery was slow and difficult.  Transferred from one hospital to another the following year, he eventually arrived at a Philadelphia hospital on October 1, 1864, to be near his home as well as his old regiment, which had just returned to the city that month to be mustered out of service.  The one-armed sergeant mustered out of service the same month as his regiment.

Years passed. In 1881, Mears applied for and received a pension though a clerical error delayed compensation a year or more. By that time he had settled in Rupert, Pennsylvania, married, and become a partner in the Bloomsburg Brick Company. Mears was content with his wartime service to the Union and remained in close contact with comrades who served with him in the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, his brave act at Gettysburg mentioned now and then as a footnote to the battle, notably so among the veterans who visited Gettysburg and rode in carriages to that famous valley in front of the Round Tops. By that time, the land over which the Reserves had made their gallant charge was owned by Samuel Crawford, their former division commander, and appeared very much as it did in 1863.

Plum Run circa 1885

Scene of the charge of the Pennsylvania Reserves as it appeared around 1885. The Round Tops loom in the distance. (William Tipton photo, GNMP)

Fortunately, there was  renewed interest in the story of the Mears Party at Gettysburg  sparked by events in September 1890 when veterans of the “Pennsylvania Reserve Corps” journeyed to Gettysburg to dedicate their regimental monuments. Accompanied by wives and children, the veterans held brief ceremonies at each of the newly installed monuments to McCandless’ and Fisher’s regiments. Of special interest to most was the ongoing development and marking of the battlefield coupled with the many accounts, memoirs and discussions appearing in newspapers across the country. Among the stories retold that day was that of the intrepid sergeant whose bravery and quick thinking on July 2, 1863, had saved numerous lives.

6th PA Reserves

Monument to the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves at Gettysburg, dedicated in 1890. (Tipton, GNMP)

Further recognition was in order. At the annual reunion of the 6th Pennsylvania Veterans Reserve Corps Association in Bloomsburg on August 27, 1896, the discussion centered around the numerous Medals of Honor then being awarded to Union veterans. Among their own group, most believed that George Mears deserved the Medal. Forty members passed a resolution that same day to send a request to the Secretary of War through Congressman Monroe H. Kulp (R- Seventeenth Congressional District, Pennsylvania) to petition for the Medal of Honor to be awarded to George Mears. Congressman Kulp endorsed and forwarded the request to the Secretary on January 29, 1897, complete with affidavits signed by eyewitnesses to the incident and testimony by Mears’ former commander, William Dixon who finished his term of service as lieutenant colonel of the regiment. “Sergeant Mears took five men who volunteered to go with him,” Dixon wrote, “and made a gallant charge, capturing the house and all that were in it… twelve or thirteen prisoners. This was a most hazardous undertaking and I do not believe that there was a braver act performed during the whole battle than this voluntary act in the presence of the enemy’s line.” Dixon concluded that many of the veterans of his regiment “are living today that might have been killed or wounded but for the voluntary act of heroism and the tact and skill displayed in the dangerous undertaking.”

Also included was the personal testimony of Dr. A. B. Jameson, former lieutenant of Company A: “The alacrity with which he (Mears) volunteered to lead a file of men at the colonel’s suggestion, the gallantry and skill displayed in capturing the whole party of sharpshooters, and the successful return to the regiment with twelve or thirteen prisoners of war which by the colonel’s  orders were disarmed and turned over to the provost guard, was an act of bravery which the surviving comrades of his regiment desire to see recognized by a medal of honor.”[i]

Mears, 6th PA Reserves, MOH

George Mears

The Secretary of War approved. George Mears was officially awarded the Medal of Honor on February 16, 1897, and two months later a package from the United States War Department containing his inscribed Medal arrived at his residence.  But there were others in the Mears Party who likewise required recognition. Dixon scrambled with others in the 6th PA Reserves Association to identify who the others were and whether they were still alive. Dixon and Mears remembered Chester Furman, Hart and Roush, all of whom received their Medals that summer.  Unfortunately, no one could positively identify Sergeant Wallace Johnson and Corporal Thaddeus Smith as participants and contact between Smith and the Association had long been lost. Even Mears could not recall the names of those involved: “Thirty-six or seven years is a long time to remember,” he wrote in June 1900. “The squad was so quickly formed, the men not counted or their names taken down and I venture none were then thinking of medals of honor. The thing was done with such a rush, names or the number of men were not thought of and … the squad was disbanded as hurriedly as it was called together each returning to his company and place in line of battle, which was then raging. The thing was so quickly done that some of the men on the left of the Regt. did not know of the incident.”  Three years would pass before the two were positively identified as having been members of the Mears Party. It was the close bond of Reserves’ veterans and Johnson’s willingness to come forward that brought him to the attention of Mears: “Mr. Johnson is an honorable gentleman held in high esteem among his comrades. I am told he claims to have been one of the squad, and I hope all the comrades of the party will be able to establish their claim, all are equally entitled to credit.”[i]

Wallace Johnson, 6th PA Reserves

Wallace Johnson

Wallace Johnson received his Medal on July 30, 1900, and on August 6, wrote to thank Secretary of War G. De Meicklejohn: “I was not thinking of ‘medals of honor’ at the time of my participation in the action at the Battle of Gettysburg for which this medal has been awarded. The consciousness of a duty faithfully and well done, was the only reward anticipated at the time,” Johnson confessed. “I look back upon my war record with, I hope, a pardonable degree of pride. I was with my regiment in its every campaign and battle… was never off duty from sickness, never was severely sick. I never asked for, nor received a furlough, nor leave of absence of any kind… was never away from the regiment for a day, except on account of wounds received in battle (and) have never asked the Gov’t for a pension, nor any recompense whatever. Please accept my sincere thanks for the promptness with which the medal was awarded.” [i]

With medals delivered to five of the party, the identity and location of the sixth member was still in question. Five years after mustering out of service, Thaddeus Smith left Pennsylvania for the west and eventually settled at Port Townsend, Washington. Only a handful of veterans stayed in touch with Smith, who was unaware of the accolades being given members of the Mears Party until a letter from a comrade arrived in his mailbox in 1899, asking “Why is it that all of that party are not so remembered?”   Feeling forgotten and somewhat slighted, Smith responded with questions of his own and finally received an answer from Dr. A.B. Jameson who had also vouched for Mears. Jameson stated he would support Smith’s case.

“Let me first thank you for the interest you have taken,” Smith wrote on January 18, 1900. “I had thought that as I had not received a ‘Medal’ when the rest did that I had been forgotton (sic), but the truth is the boys did not know where I was and I did not appreciate the fact that I have been out of the state since 1869.” The oversight had been a simple one and with feelings soothed, Smith concluded that “sometimes we are a little over sensitive,” while confessing that after 38 years even he was a bit hazy on exactly who had been in the Mears Party that day. Smith’s Medal arrived at his home in Port Townsend on May 13, 1900, the last of the six to be awarded to the valiant group. [ii]

J. Weikert House Site 2018

The site of the John Weikert house, which stood in this field near the edge of the woods. The Mears Party made their dash to the house across this grass-covered meadow. (GNMP)

The log house rushed by Sgt. Mears and his volunteers no longer stands.  After his discharge from service, John Weikert returned to his battle-scarred home and undertook the task of repairing the damage incurred on his small farm. The house was repaired and Weikert even added a frame addition to accommodate his growing family. Unfortunately, the house burned to the ground a year or more after Weikert sold the farm to Francis Althoff in 1876. Althoff abandoned the old house site and constructed a two-story frame house close by. He also added numerous sheds, a summer kitchen, and improved the small barn that still stands today as a physical reminder of the old Weikert farm.

Time was kind to the veterans of the Mears Party. Levi Roush died in 1906 at his home in Newry, Pennsylvania. Thomas Hart, who came from Germany to America as a child and found purpose in serving to preserve the Union, died the following year in Cumberland, Maryland. Chester Furman passed away after a brief illness in Bloomsburg in 1910 and is buried beside his wife and children in Old Rosemont Cemetery. Wallace Johnson, whose Medal of Honor is in the museum collection at Gettysburg National Military Park, died in 1911. George Mears died in 1921 and is also buried in Old Rosemont Cemetery in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. In a somewhat odd twist, Thaddeus Smith, the last of the party to receive the Medal of Honor, was also the last to pass away at Port Townsend in 1933.

John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg NMP

[i] Wallace W. Johnson to Secretary of War G. De Meicklejohn, August 6, 1900, Wallace W. John Medal of Honor fie, NARA.

[ii] Letter of Thaddeus Smith to Dr. A.B. Jameson, January 18, 1900, Thomas Smith Medal of Honor file, NARA

[i] Letter by George W. Mears, June 20, 1900, Wallace Johnson Medal of Honor file, NARA

[i] George W. Mears Medal of Honor file, NARA.

Posted in 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, Historical Memory, Medal of Honor at Gettysburg | 3 Comments

The Mears Party and the Medal of Honor, Part 1

Extraordinary incidents occur in the whirlwind of battle and the Battle of Gettysburg certainly has its share- heroism, cowardice, curiosity, gallantry and even humor. Few incidents are more enthralling than those which earned an individual the cherished Medal of Honor and sixty four Federal soldiers received that honor at Gettysburg. While most of the cases are well known, such as the courage displayed by Lt. Alonzo Cushing on July 3, 1863 (awarded in 2014), the incident that justified the award for six soldiers of the 35th Pennsylvania Infantry/6th Pennsylvania Reserves has been somewhat of a mystery to those who study the battle.

The 6th Pennsylvania Reserves was a battle-experienced regiment in Colonel William McCandless’ First Brigade that also included the 1st, 2nd and 13th Pennsylvania Reserve regiments. Colonel Joseph Fisher’s Second Brigade completed the division of Pennsylvania Reserves which rejoined the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, near Frederick, Maryland, after a brief respite near Washington. Designated as the Third Division of the Fifth Corps, the Pennsylvanians marched northward the next day, eventually crossing the Mason-Dixon Line and into Pennsylvania. Few of the soldiers truly believed they would ever be cast into a battle on their home soil.

After days of hard marching, the Reserves arrived on the battlefield around mid-afternoon of July 2. The toughened soldiers had just sat down to rest and locate a good well, when a staff officer galloped up with orders or them to rush to the southern end of the embattled Union line where the situation was rapidly deteriorating. The Confederate attack was crushing the Union left and every soldier with a musket was needed. Despite some confusion with directions, the Reserves pressed on to the Taneytown Road where they turned southward for some distance before cutting through a trampled meadow and onto the northern slope of Little Round Top overlooking the soon to be named “Valley of Death”. The scene before them was not encouraging. Union troops under attack in the Wheatfield and Devil’s Den were reeling back in disorder, closely pursued by Confederate troops under Brigadier General William Wofford. Joined by General Joseph Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade, the Confederate line swept eastward in a massive charge and stormed into Plum Run valley.  Following their red battle flags, the Confederates sloshed across the swampy plain right up to base of Little Round Top where Captain Frank Gibbs’ Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery had just rolled into position and opened fire. Shell and canister did not appear to be enough to stop the charge as southern bullets whizzed through the battery and over the heads of McCandless’s regiments, arranged close by the battery in a double line of battle. It was at this critical moment when General Samuel Crawford, commanding the division of Reserves, reined in his horse before Colonel McCandless, pointed into the valley, and ordered a charge. Bayonets clanged onto rifle barrels as the order to advance echoed along the line.  McCandless and Crawford led the sweeping charge, scattering the first line of southerners while those who followed hurriedly retraced their steps to the Wheatfield.  Confederate officers attempted to rally their men but the lines melted away as the Pennsylvanians came closer.

Briscoe painting of PA Reserves

The charge of the Pennsylvania Reserves at Gettysburg. This early rendition by Franklin Briscoe looks south into the valley, the smoke-covered Round Tops looming in the distance. (Gettysburg NMP)

Slogging through the morass that was Plum Run, McCandless’ troop halted to return fire on the Confederates who rallied at the stonewall bordering the edge of the Wheatfield. Observing the left of his first line was exposed to a heavy fire from the southwest, Colonel McCandless ordered the 2nd and 13th Reserves from the second line to form on the left of the first, which extended his front some distance to match the southern resistance. The 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, commanded by Lt. Colonel Wellington Ent, was on the right of the first line and with all of their attention focused to the front, no one noticed a group of southerners who took refuge in a log house at the edge of some woods to the right of the regiment. The humble home of John T. Weikert, who was away serving as a soldier in the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry at the time, had been abandoned by Weikert’s wife earlier in the day. Once inside, the unwanted house guests quickly realized they had a perfect view of McCandless’ line and soon enough, bullets began whizzing into the Pennsylvania ranks with what seemed to be unerring accuracy.

In his position just behind the firing line of Company A, Sergeant George W. Mears saw men hit and fall. The sergeant turned just in time to see puffs of rifle smoke coming from the doorway and windows of the house.  Mears immediately went to Captain William Dixon, standing at the lieutenant colonel’s post: “(Mears) reported to me that the enemy was occupying a log house on our immediate right flank and were picking off our officers and men. The regiment was hotly engaged and could not spare a company from the line, but by my verbal orders, Sergeant Mears took five men who volunteered to go with him and made a gallant charge.”[i]

McCandless' Brigade charge 7-2-63

Charge of the Pennsylvania Reserves through the Valley of Death at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. Sgt. Mears’ probable route to attack the log house is shown by an arrow. (map by author)

Sergeant Mears collared Corporal Chester Furman from his own company and was soon joined by Sergeant John W. Hart and Corporal J. W. Roush of Company D. As Mears was explaining the mission, Sergeant Wallace W. Johnson of Company G and Corporal Thaddeus Smith of Company E arrived. The hastily formed “Mears Party” with Sergeant Mears leading, immediately set out for the Weikert house, no more than 80 feet away. The soldiers raced across a pasture of ankle high grass, crawled over a fence and pressed themselves against the rough-hewn log walls. Mears shouted for the Confederates to throw down their arms and surrender before bursting through the door, closely followed by Furman and two others. The small house was full of Confederates; more than a dozen men accompanied by a young sergeant. Shocked at how quickly the tables had turned, the trapped soldiers turned their weapons upside down and filed out the house under the watchful eye of Mears’ fellow soldiers who ordered them to run to the closest regiment, the 6th Reserves, just then preparing to renew the charge to the Wheatfield.  With more urgent business at hand, Captain Dixon ordered the captives to throw down their rifles and accoutrements where they stood. The hapless prisoners were whisked to the rear under guard and the Reserves pushed ahead, scattering the last groups of defiant Confederates who bolted through the trodden wheat. The Pennsylvanians began to give chase when Colonel McCandless was ordered by General Crawford to go no further, but rally his regiments there at the stone wall on the field’s eastern boundary. Here they would remain until late the next day, July 3, when the brigade would advance, clear the Wheatfield and almost annihilate the 15th Georgia Infantry in a running fight through Rose Woods.

July 4 was far from a holiday for the Reserves. Details from McCandless’ brigade gathered over 3,000 discarded rifles and muskets from the battlefield along with countless sets of accoutrements and other government property. Others with shovels and picks buried the dead of both sides. Companies were deployed as skirmishers opposite the Confederate line on Seminary Ridge, dodging the occasional bullet from southern counterparts. Few spoke of the events of the preceding day, but lamented the loss of comrades whom they laid beneath the soil of their native state. It was the final scene of a long and exhausting week for the Reserves.

We should consider what goes through the mind of a soldier and how well one can process a series of events such as those experienced at Gettysburg by these Pennsylvanians- the hard march through Maryland, the race to the Union left, the charge through the Valley of Death, the defiant line reformed to place fire on the mass of retreating Confederates, the dangerous occupation of an exposed position for nearly twenty four hours while tortured by the moans of helpless wounded between the lines. Considering all this in the chaotic chain of events, how could the story of George Mears and his party be remembered? Certainly there were handshakes after the Mears Party had returned with the prisoners and perhaps later that evening after the charge was over. Lieutenant John McWilliams in Company G, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves congratulated Sergeant Johnson “upon getting back with a whole hide” as he rejoined the regiment. The others probably received similar salutations but with the onset of darkness, their close proximity to the enemy, exhaustion and attention to other details, the success of the Mears Party that day soon became little more than a side note to the story of the Pennsylvania Reserves’ charge in the “Valley of Death”.[i]

To be continued.

John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park

[i] Sworn statement of John McWilliams, May 2, 1900, included in “Case of Wallace W. Johnson, Company G, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves Infantry Volunteers, Application for award of medal of honor for gallantry in action at Gettysburg”, Wallace W. Johnson Medal of Honor File, NARA.

[i] William D. Dixon to the Secretary of War, December 22, 1896, included in “Case of George W. Mears, Company A, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, Application for award of medal of honor….” George W Mears Medal of Honor file, NARA.

Posted in 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, Medal of Honor at Gettysburg, Romances of Gettysburg, Veterans | Tagged | Leave a comment

Gettysburg and the Great War

On May 22, 1917, park officials were notified that Gettysburg would be the site of a U.S. Army training camp for infantry. Fully committed to the support of France and Britain in the Great War raging in Europe, the United States War Department had undertaken a rapid mobilization of men and material, so large that about every square inch of Federally-owned property had to be used for the purpose of induction and training. Gettysburg National Military Park was no exception. Established in 1895 under the administration of the United States War Department, the legislation creating the park stated its use as a training ground for National Guard units and the regular United States Army. The sight of khaki uniforms on park grounds and in the borough was not uncommon between 1900 and 1910, but most of the encampments had lasted no more than three or four weeks. This encampment would last much longer as the park’s role changed from commemoration of a great battle to that of a military post.

C-D 58th INF 1917

Companies C & D, 58th United States Infantry at Gettysburg, 1917

The first contingent of the 4th United States Infantry Regiment arrived at Gettysburg National Military Park on June 2 to begin training and re-organization for service overseas with the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F). From the core of this regiment, the 58th and 59th United States Infantry regiments were organized. Throughout June and July, train loads of inductees arrived and settled into the camp routine. Four encampments, one for each battalion, were erected on the historic Codori, Trostle and Spangler Farms, with shops and quartermaster sheds built near the historic Angle, west of Hancock Avenue. Headquarters was located on the Emmitsburg Road on the site of  the 50th Anniversary Great Camp camp headquarters.

Basic training began in earnest that summer, the new men schooled in military etiquette, discipline, equipment and weapons, marching, and a rigorous program of exercise with road marches throughout the park and over back roads of Adams County. Popular at the time were panoramic photographs taken with specially outfitted cameras with gears that allowed the camera to pivot on its tripod. These “wide angle” panoramic images like the one above were typically of cities and mountain ranges though the military found a new use for this format. Panoramic images of company-sized units and even regiments became popular during the Great War period and thousands were produced by enterprising photographers who embraced the new technology and found a high demand for their services.

C-D 58th US Infantry detailDuring the warm summer of 1917, this photo of Companies C & D, 58th United States Infantry was taken at Devil’s Den by an assistant of Gettysburg photographer William Tipton. Recently found in a flea market in the Midwest, its remarkable condition shows the summer uniform worn by these soon to be dubbed “doughboys”, posing with their brand new Model 1903 Rifles. The soldiers in this photo were among those who trained at Gettysburg until November 1917 when the regiments left for Camp Greene, North Carolina. The 58th and 59th Infantry Regiments, both activated at Gettysburg, were designated the 8th Infantry Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division (“Ivy”), which completed its organization that December. The Fourth Infantry Division embarked for France the following April and saw its first action in the offensive at St. Mihiel in September 1918, quickly followed by the Meuse-Argonne campaign and subsequent battles up to the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

What had been the U.S. Infantry Training Camp at Gettysburg National Military Park officially closed in November 1917, only to be reopened the following spring as Camp Colt, training ground of the fledgling United States Army Tank Corps under the command of Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower.  It’s obvious to historians why Camp Colt gets more attention than the infantry training camp, though the story of the latter has come to the fore as we observe the centennial of the First World War, the arrival of the A.E.F. in France and the anniversary of the first American death in that war- Private Joseph William Guyton, 126th U.S. Infantry, 32nd Infantry Division, on May 24, 1918.

As we study the faces in this photograph, we have little doubt that a number of these young Americans were among the 13,000 casualties suffered by the Fourth Infantry Division in the five severe campaigns it was engaged in 100 years ago. Like the stoic and sometimes disturbing images of Union and Confederate soldiers who died on the battlefield of Gettysburg, this photograph, taken so many years after the carnage of that battle, carries the same haunting weight.

-John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park

(A special thanks to Mr. David Finney for sharing this photograph and Mr. John Heckman for his efforts to honor the memory of Private Guyton. )

Posted in Historical Memory, Photography, U.S. Army and Gettysburg, World War I | 4 Comments

Women in Guiding: A 50th Anniversary Celebration

When the first guides licensed by the federal government began giving battlefield tours at Gettysburg National Military Park on October 17, 1915, a basic tour cost $3.

Barbara Schutt, the first woman Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg National Military Park

That year, the controversial silent film about the Civil War and Reconstruction The Birth of Nation premiered. Construction crews laid the first cornerstone of the Lincoln Memorial on his birthday.  Women still could not vote.

In 1968, Madison Square Garden opened.  NASA astronauts became the first humans to see the far side of the moon. On June 12, 32-year-old Gettysburg resident Barbara Schutt became the first woman licensed to give tours on the Gettysburg battlefield. A basic tour now cost $7.

Celebrate 50 years of women in guiding at Gettysburg by attending special battlefield talks, a seminar and activities throughout the year – check the Park’s web site for details www.nps.gov/gett, as well as the Gettysburg Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides’ Facebook page.  

Various criteria had to be met for individuals to become guides over the years.  In 1951, when National Park Service Superintendent J. Walter Coleman introduced the guide exam, he said that “licenses were to be restricted to men.” Nearly two decades later, Park policy relented – and Ms. Schutt, LBG #112, started guiding two days after obtaining her license.

She guided on weekends only and often did as many as seven tours in that two-day stretch – because she acted as secretary for the Adams County Superintendent of Schools on weekdays.  When interviewed for a Gettysburg Times article in July 1968, Ms. Schutt relayed that she received no special consideration or first choice of tours, saying she was “one of the boys.”  The article described her olive-drab uniform of blouse and skirt plus cap as “natty.”

(Eight years later, the uniforms changed to blue and gray.  Photographs of Ms. Schutt and LBG #96 Robert Fidler – a retired teacher with 25 years’ service as a licensed battlefield guide (LBG) – featured them as the first to make the apparel transition.  The Gettysburg Times let its readers know they could see the pair modeling the new uniforms one evening in May 1975 at the Park Visitor Center).

Not only was Ms. Schutt the first female LBG, she was part of the first married couple to guide when her husband O. Frederick Schutt Jr., LBG #117, joined the ranks in 1970. Including the Schutts, seven married couples were licensed to date – and three couples still guide.

Although visitors often asked Ms. Schutt how many guides existed in her early guide career – and how many were women – she did not volunteer that she was the first and only female guide, a statistic that changed within two years when local residents Janet Guise, LBG #104, and Mary Swope, LBG #134, joined the force.

A member of the Adams County Historical Society and president of the Gettysburg Civil War Round Table as well as the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, Ms. Schutt blazed trails for the 49 women who came after her and became guides at Gettysburg.  Fellow guides of longstanding service have described her as a “consummate professional” with colleagues and visitors – and say she served as a role model for women who wanted to become guides.  Ms. Schutt retired from guiding in 1990 as a full-time guide, badge #38 by then, and passed away in late 2017.

Nearly 600 guides have been licensed since 1915, with women making up a little less than 10 percent.  Despite small numbers of this elite force, female LBGs – like their male colleagues – have considerable achievements in their careers before taking the licensing exam:

  • Several have been NPS rangers, supervisors and staff. A few years after Ms. Schutt

    Nora Saum, LBG #5

    became a guide, for example, Supervisory National Park Technician Nora Saum was appointed guide supervisor – a post she held until her NPS retirement in 1980. During her tenure, the requirement for a full oral examination tour of the battlefield was implemented.  Then she became the 17th female guide licensed, relaying the story of Gettysburg to visitors for nearly a decade.

  • Military service is part of the female LBGs background, too. Saum, LBG #5, did a stint in the U.S. Army WAC’s (Womens Army Corps) as a medical services technician during World War II.  On the current force, a female LBG served three years in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence specialist – followed by 27 years in the Navy Reserve, retiring as a senior chief intelligence specialist.
  • The group is highly educated. In addition to intensive study of Gettysburg, most female LBGs have bachelor’s degrees or higher-education studies in diverse fields– including music, music education and music performance; elementary and secondary education; nursing; naval architecture and marine engineering; political science; health and physical education; and library science.  Many have completed post-graduate studies and degrees in special education; reading/language arts; American history; fine arts; educational leadership; and the law.
  • Interest in Gettysburg has deep local roots but strong national draw as well. So although some female LBGs hail and hailed from the Gettysburg area – one even learned to drive on East Cavalry Field! – many called distant states and cities home first, from New York City to Mississippi to Maine to Oklahoma.
  • Occupations range from the expected – teachers, professors and historians – to the unexpected: ship’s captain, flight attendant, chemist, public relations executive.
  • Inspiration to become a guide comes from many quarters. Books, films, other guides, presentations, parents and friends triggered the desire to learn more about Gettysburg and fostered the commitment to become a guide.
  • Many female LBGs have ancestors in the battle; some know a little and some continue to try to find more about their forebears who fought at Gettysburg.
  • Female LBGs are in demand here on the field but also across the nation. They have criss-crossed the country to give presentations to groups in at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and in Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Illinois and California.
  • Several LBGs perform additional work in service to the Park and Gettysburg Foundation. They volunteer, give in-depth programs and lectures, create exhibits, conduct leadership initiatives, organize symposia and serve on advisory boards at Gettysburg and museums in North Carolina and other states.
  • Female guides have significant experience. Of the current 16 female LBGs, five have a quarter-century or more of service. Eight have between 10 and 24 years of service.
  • LBG #14 Debra Novotny has the most years of service – 43. When she was 11 and her

    Apollo 13 Astronaut Jim Lovell and LBG #14 Deb Novotny in 2012

    parents brought her to Gettysburg for a tour with a licensed guide, she declared she had two goals: to become a guide and to teach U.S. history in the Gettysburg School District.  She did both.

  • It sometimes surprises visitors that female LBGs do a wide variety of tours that range from civilians and the battle’s aftermath to staff rides for military groups to weaponry to special tours on groups like Civil War journalists to battle action and tactics on all areas of the battlefield.
  • LBGs are accomplished authors of books, magazine articles, trail guides and monographs.
  • The first and only father-daughter LBGs guide at Gettysburg. The daughter received her license first.
  • Female LBGs fulfill a prominent role in giving tours to notable visitors, including Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell and his family, bestselling author John Grisham, Congressmen, Senators, Governors, media representatives from around the country and world, and celebrities of all stripes.

Christina Moon LBG #235

The tradition of women in guiding at Gettysburg begins its second half-century service in 2018 as resilient and vibrant as ever, with the hope that other women, young ladies and girls consider joining those who charted the path – and who proudly stand with their male colleagues – to preserve and share the story of the American treasure that is Gettysburg.  Gettysburg guides remain the oldest, most experienced and only guides tested and licensed by the federal government and legally authorized to conduct tours of the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Also learn about the women of Gettysburg who endured the battle, tended the wounded, helped bury the dead and played a key role in the community’s recovery through informative posts by female LBGs at the the ALBG Facebook page starting this spring.

 – by Renae MacLachlan, LBG #188

Thanks to the female licensed battlefield guides for providing biographical information and LBG #56 Frederick W. Hawthorne for his invaluable assistance in providing and reviewing historical data and photographs.


A Peculiar Institution: A History of the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, Frederick W. Hawthorne, 1990.

Gettysburg Times, July 24, 1968, p. 5; May 6, 1975, p. 2; October 28, 2017, p. 2

Gettysburg Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides Facebook post, April 28, 2015, post source, Louise Arnold-Friend, LBG #73 and Supervisory Historian (Retired), U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks

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Another Look at the “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter”

Readers of the park’s blog may remember my previous discussions in 2014 regarding “The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter”, the famous photograph of the dead Confederate soldier in Devil’s Den taken by Alexander Gardner and his photographers in July 1863 and my interpretation of the regiment to which the deceased soldier belonged- the 15th Georgia Infantry of “Rock” Benning’s Brigade. I based my analysis on not only the series of photographs taken of this particular body but textural resources including post-war recollections, reports in the Official Records, and photographic studies by experts including Bill Frassanito and Garry Adelman.  Since those posts, I recently revisited the circumstances regarding this series and had the fortune of discussing my premise with a number of individual researchers including Mr. Scott Fink, currently undertaking a study of photography at Gettysburg and with whom I’ve discussed the sharpshooter series specifically. Scott recently offered a hypothesis and further analogy of the individual in these famous images on Facebook and has allowed me to share it with our readers.

Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg

The final scene captured by Gardner’s camera at Devil’s Den, the fallen sharpshooter behind the stone barricade above Devil’s Den.  The photographers carried the body to this location from where they had found him approximately 40 yards downhill from this position. (Library of Congress)

The focus of my previous posts was to try and identify, at minimum, the brigade or regiment to which this young man belonged. Any further attempt to identify him by name is a near impossible task given the lack of photos of soldiers in the units that fought in this area to compare with the subject in the Gardner images, almost non-existent information on the uniform details and comparisons, and few surviving accounts of exactly who fell in that area on July 3, 1863. As I lamented, he had a name, a family, and a profession before winding up as a photographic subject but uncovering an identity to associate with the body is, and will always be, a shot in the dark. (One footnote to this discussion is that I am also aware of claims the body has been previously identified as William Langley of the 1st Texas Infantry, a soldier in the 4th Virginia Infantry, and a “real sharpshooter” who died on that exact spot, crushed by the collapse of the stone barricade, all of which I’ve evaluated and ultimately found to have little merit or could not be historically supported.)

Remarkably, Scott may have uncovered a probable candidate- a Georgian named John Rutherford Ash: “As the topic of the Devil’s Den Sharpshooter is brought up often, I thought I would put in my two cents,” Scott wrote in this January 10 post. “I have noticed that whenever the subject comes up, that the same controversy is discussed about what order the photographs were taken and the role the soldier played in his unit. What is lost here is the tragedy of this iconic photograph. Regardless of where the body was moved to or from, the young soldier lost his life in Devil’s Den. I’m more interested to find out who this soldier was, rather than the movement of the body or whether he was a sharpshooter or not.”

Scott’s mention of the controversy surrounding movement of the body is inconsequential to this discussion, but I will add that I stand by the order of the photographs based on Bill Frassanito’s research, noted as such in my previous posts on this subject and the heart of the matter in that order is how this soldier’s body wound up in the location where Gardner and company found it, near the remains of a small bivouac behind large boulders on the southwest side of the ridge.  Was this lone casualty the result of combat more than a day after the intense fighting had taken place at this site on July 2? I believe so, and Scott explains his hypothesis further:

“In short, the Georgia brigade (Benning’s) occupied both camera locations (in Devils’ Den where the subject was photographed by Gardner) till 7 pm on July 3rd. It is doubtful that any bodies from the fighting of the 2nd would be left unburied throughout the 3rd. (Benning’s) Brigade was the last… to withdraw and they were being surrounded on both sides by McCandless on his left and the US Sharpshooters on his right. In order to get out of this predicament Benning decided to “Pike Out”… called his guidons to post and for his regiments to form up behind them. The area he chose was the exact spot where I believe Gardner discovered the body at the downhill location (where the body was first photographed). By doing that genius maneuver Benning saved a lot of lives and got his brigade out with slight loss.”

(A note about the time of the retreat. General Benning’s report in the Official Records states the withdrawal occurred at 4:30 PM, but he later corrected that to 7 PM, the factual time frame when Hood’s and McLaws’ Divisions of Longstreet’s Corps withdrew to a designated defensive line on Seminary Ridge and its southern extension, Warfield Ridge. )

Though brief, Scott provided a well-constructed analysis of the incident.  It would have natural for Benning and his commanders to take advantage of the reverse slope of Devil’s Den to quickly reform their regiments to begin the withdrawal, but the troops did not get out unscathed.  Both the 2nd and 20th Georgia Infantry regiments reported casualties during this process. Both had been in positions exposed to Union sharpshooters and artillery from which to extricate themselves before the rally to begin the retreat.  Apart from mention of the losses in reports published in the Official Records (Volume 27, Part II), Scott mentioned an account by William Houghton, Company G, 2nd Georgia who testified years later that his regiment “formed up under ‘heavy fire’ where ‘a few went down here and there.’”

Was one of the “few” from Houghton’s regiment who fell on the hillside late on July 3 this soldier, discovered by Gardner and photographed three or four days later? It’s intriguingly possible since the 2nd Georgia had to withdraw to this area from its position in the Devil’s Kitchen and Slaughter Pen, exposed all the while to a number of parting shots from Federal skirmishers and a small group of the 1st US Sharpshooters, detached to the Fifth Corps to counter the activities of Confederate sharpshooters.  The reverse slope of the ridge and specifically the large boulders where the body was first discovered would have provided the soldiers of the 2nd Georgia the cover needed to form ranks prior to racing to the protection of the trees on Warfield Ridge.

Unfortunately, documenting Scott’s proposed location as the first where the regiment formed is a near impossibility given the lack of Confederate testimony regarding the events on July 3 but I tend to agree with Scott’s premise based on the natural features of the landscape at that location which offered brief but necessary protection and quite possibly where some of the “few who went down here and there” had fallen or were hastily carried to by comrades, only to have been forced to leave the dead or dying man behind. And a reminder to reinforce this point; as I described the scene in previous posts, the remains of a small campfire and bivouac near the body when first discovered lends me to believe the soldier fell at that location during the last of its occupation by friendly troops. Though we tend to believe Civil War soldiers were nonchalant about the dead who lay scattered about the battlefield, I think it highly doubtful the men who sat around that small fire could have been so blatantly cold as to not have removed the body or made an attempt to bury him since other casualties had been carried away and buried by comrades overnight of July 2 and during the morning hours of July 3.

Having proposed the area where the 2nd first rallied, Scott then presented an intriguing photographic comparison between the “sharpshooter” and the soldier mentioned earlier in this post:  “Among the dead was John R. Ash from the 2nd Georgia, Co. A. By comparing a photo of John Ash from most likely 10 years earlier the similarities are striking. They share the same nose, mouth, eye brows, chin, hairline and ears.”

Ash-Sharpshooter comparison

Detail of comparison between portrait of John Rutherford Ash, Company A, 2d Georgia Infantry, and the face of the deceased soldier in Devil’s Den. The arrow denotes a detail in the hairline of both. Ash was approximately 13 when the portrait was made and two months shy of his 26th birthday when he was killed at Gettysburg, an age comparable to the dead soldier. (Georgia State Archives, LOC, Scott Fink, 2018)

Born on September 28, 1837, John Rutherford Ash resided in Banks County, Georgia, where he enlisted on July 10, 1861, in the “Banks County Guards”. Assigned to the 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment as Company A, Ash and his comrades were sent to Virginia where the regiment was engaged in all of the Army of Northern Virginia’s campaigns, from Yorktown to Gettysburg during that fateful summer of 1863. Ash was marked as present or accounted for until wounded during the Seven Days battles, but rejoined his regiment in time for the 1863 campaigns. Noted as killed at Gettysburg July 2, 1863 in the Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia, 1861 to 1865, the date of his death is inscribed on a memorial headstone in a Georgia cemetery as July 4, 1863 (See Travis and John Busey, Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg, A Comprehensive Record, Vol. 1, p. 266). Is the difference in dates based on information sent the family from Ash’s comrades versus the official roll of casualties sent to the state’s adjutant general? It would seem so but further research into the family’s records and the possibility of a surviving letter would confirm my suspicion.

Scott also provided additional analysis of a detail in the image: “(T)he soldier seems to have the number ‘2’ and the letter ‘A’ etched into the coating of his haversack. Could this mean the 2nd Georgia (C)ompany A, the unit in which Ash belonged to? Perhaps, but this is still a working theory.”  Likewise, I have looked at the details on the items attached to the soldier and the markings that he propose are difficult to discern given the amount of dirt scuffs and light reflection off the paint of the haversack’s finish, but the figure of a “2” is certainly visible in a blow up and the high resolution image.

detail of haversack

Though difficult to discern, the form of a painted “2” appears on the soldier’s haversack in this detail of the original image. (LOC; Scott Fink, 2018)

It was not uncommon for unit numbers to be painted on knapsacks and haversacks. Though surviving examples are quite rare, especially with a provenance to a Confederate soldier, the practice of marking maybe more widespread than at first believed.

Scott’s research that he willingly presented on his Facebook post is not only intriguing but also offers we historians an opportunity to re-evaluate the events that took place in the evening hours of July 3, 1863 at Devil’s Den. Such is the positive power of the internet and how we can communicate in our study of the past, to uncover and discuss incidents glossed over in reports and recollections as minor details, which are not so minor when it was a matter of life or death and the loss of a loved one whose likeness has appeared in countless books and magazines as an illustration of the Battle of Gettysburg.

I wish to thank Scott for allowing me to share his hypothesis and image comparisons with our readers. “Regardless if I’m correct or not,” Scott wrote on his January 10th post, “please remember that this soldier had a family who lost him in this terrible costly battle.” And in the end, isn’t that why we study these photos again- the young soldier whose family was saddened by the news of his death on a far away battlefield, where his regiment and name were lost in the chaos of battle? Ultimately, we may be getting closer to knowing more about this young Georgian than ever before, not only his regiment but a name as well.

-John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park



Posted in 15th Georgia Infantry, 2nd Georgia Infantry, Aftermath, Battlefield Legends and Lore, Historical Memory, Photography | 15 Comments

Winter Lectures and Battlefield Book Series at Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg in Snow

Winter is a great time to visit and explore Gettysburg National Military Park. On January 6, the park’s winter programs begin. This year Gettysburg National Military Park is offering lectures, a book series, and the popular reading adventures program for children ages 4 to 10 and their families. These free programs run January through March at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.

Gettysburg will continue its popular Winter Lecture Series and Battlefield Book Series. Featuring some of the best National Park Service rangers and historians from across the region, the 11-week Winter Lecture Series of hour-long talks will examine pivotal turning points during the American Civil War era. From the Compromise of 1850, the Battle of Stones River, and the Lincoln – Douglas Debates to the legacy of George Meade, these moments and individuals mark significant epochs in the course of the conflict. The Winter Lecture Series is held at 1:30 p.m. on weekends in the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center from January 6 through March 10, 2017.

Sat. Jan. 6 – Matt Atkinson
After Gettysburg: The Army of Northern Virginia Tries to Regroup

Sun. Jan. 7 –  Daniel Vermilya
The Battle of Shiloh: Conquer or Perish

Sat. Jan. 13 – Troy Harman
Capt. Johnston’s Sunrise Reconnaissance: How Lee and Longstreet Lost the War on July 2, 1863.

Sun. Jan. 14 –  Karlton Smith
USS Monitor: The Ship That Launched a Modern Navy

Sat. Jan. 20  – Jared Frederick, Penn State Altoona
The Unfinished Work: The World Wars at Gettysburg

Sun. Jan. 21 –   Tom Holbrook
If These Things Could Talk: Artifacts in the Collection of Gettysburg National Military Park

Sat. Jan. 27  – Zach Siggins
Breaking the Final Bond: The Presbyterian Church and the Coming of the Civil War

Sun. Jan. 28 – Christopher Gwinn
“A Great Weight at My Heart”: The Army of the Potomac after Gettysburg

Sat. Feb. 3 – Bert Barnett
God Has Granted Us a Happy New Year!” – An Unappreciated Turning Point of 1862: The Battle of Stones River

Sun. Feb. 4 – Angie Atkinson
Cogs in a Different Wheel: Non-combatant Life During the American Civil War

Sat. Feb. 10 – Steve Phan, Civil War Defenses of Washington DC 
Early at the Gates: The Battle of Fort Stevens

Sun. Feb. 11 – John Hoptak
“before the fearful and dangerous leap is taken:” The Fateful Compromise of 1850

Sat. Feb. 17
Daniel Vermilya
The Lincoln – Douglas Debates

Sun. Feb 18
– Karlton Smith and Matt Atkinson
Gettysburg & Vicksburg: “The Confederacy totters to its destruction.”

Sat. Feb. 24   – John Heiser
“The movement was south.” General Grant and the Overland Campaign

Sun. Feb. 25  – Dr. Jennifer Murray, University of Virginia – Wise Campus
“God Knows My Conscious Is Clear”: Constructing George Gordon Meade’s Legacy

Sat. March 3  – Troy Harman
After Gettysburg: Religion, Lee’s Army, and Southern Culture

Sun. March 4 –  Mark Mahosky, Gettysburg NMP Artist in Residence
Mark Mahosky: 30 Years of Drawing the Gettysburg Battlefield

Sat. March 10 – Bert Barnett
Personal Turning Points – Jefferson Davis and George Thomas.


Meeting from 11 a.m. until noon every Saturday from January 6 to March 3 the Gettysburg Battlefield Book Series will examine significant works of history and literature on topics related to the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War. Gettysburg National Military Park invites you to read along over the course of the winter before attending the informal one hour discussions in the Ford Education Center of the park Museum and Visitor Center. Park staff will lead the meetings, providing a brief overview of that week’s topic and discuss the chapters read.

From January 6 to February 3 the Gettysburg Battlefield Book Series will examine our first book, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee through His Private Letters, by Elizabeth Pryor Brown. This landmark biography sheds new light on every aspect of the complex and contradictory general’s life story. From February 10 to March 3, read along as we delve into Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech that Nobody Knows by Dr. Gabor Boritt. Boritt chronicles the crafting of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delving into the context behind America’s most famous speech.

Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters by Elizabeth Brown Pryor
January 6 – February 3

January 6                    Chapter 1-5Reading the Man
January 13                  Chapter 6-10
January 20                  Chapter 11-15
January 27                  Chapter 16-20
February 3                  Chapter 21-26



Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech that Nobody Knows by Gabor Boritt
February 10 – March 3

Gettysburg GospelFebruary 10                Chapter 1-2
February 17                Chapter 3-4
February 24                Chapter 5-6
March 3                 A Conversation with Dr. Gabor Boritt

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Public Historians Wanted! Summer Internships at Gettysburg National Military Park


Are you interested in a career with the National Park Service? Do you enjoy talking to people from across the country and around the world? Would you like to share your interest in history and help others appreciate the stories of this park? Gettysburg National Military Park offers public history internships to motivated, enthusiastic individuals who seek to share their talents and gain valuable experience working at one of America’s iconic historic sites.


We want you to enjoy your internship and be successful. Interns receive over 40 hours of formal training as well as on-the-job training as part of their internship. Training is in subjects such as: researching, informal interpretation; operating visitor facilities, organizing and presenting effective formal interpretive talks, interpretive techniques, and digital interpretive media. A typical internship in the Division of Interpretation consists of three things. Interns serve as front-line representatives of the National Park Service at Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, greeting visitors, providing park information and conducting informal interpretation. This offers experience in meeting and greeting the public, providing information/orientation to the park and area, as well as an understanding of what it is visitors seek in a visit to the park.



Interns are also responsible for researching, preparing and presenting formal interpretive programs and living history demonstrations relating to the Battle of Gettysburg, the American Civil War and the themes evoked by the National Cemetery and President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.


A third project is often assigned that matches the specific talents and goals of the intern. Previous projects have included interpretive writing, transcriptions of archival materials in the park library, working with the park’s Social Media Team, and creating first person living history programs.

Internships are typically offered in the summer months when the park is busiest, and a typical internship lasts 10-12 weeks. Interns work 40 hours each week, and weekend work can be expected. Positions are unpaid, although the park provides free housing and a cost of living stipend. Our interns are in public contact positions and serve as representatives of the National Park Service. Therefore are all interns required to wear a uniform (usually khaki pants and a dark blue shirt). Currently we provide a uniform allowance to cover this cost.


To apply for an internship at Gettysburg National Military Park you should submit a resume, cover letter and reference list by December 31. Your resume should include your name, address, email & telephone number, the names of any colleges or universities attended, and a brief synopsis of your work experience. Your cover letter should address why you want an internship at Gettysburg National Military Park, and how it relates to your career goals. Even more importantly, it should demonstrate your writing skills.

Please email your application materials by sending it to: gett_education@nps.gov

You can also mail your application materials, by Dec. 31, 2017 to:
Internship Program
Attention: Barbara J. Sanders
Gettysburg National Military Park
1195 Baltimore Pike Gettysburg, PA 17325


If you have further questions please contact Education Specialist, Barbara Sanders by phone at 717-338-4422 or by email gett_education@nps.gov

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A Tale of Two Speeches: November 19 and the Meaning of the Civil War



The graves of the unknown Union dead, Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Gettysburg (NPS)

This Sunday marks the 154th anniversary of President Lincoln’s famed Gettysburg Address, delivered at the consecration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery on November 19, 1863. Lincoln’s eloquence gave voice to the sacrifices made by Union soldiers at Gettysburg and his speech stands as a landmark explanation of the war and why it was fought, offering a lens through which to view the entire war and its consequences. Eleven months after he had issued his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln came to Gettysburg to remind the country that the sacrifices of common soldiers were leading to “a new birth of freedom” for the United States.

This year, as many in our nation debate and reevaluate the legacy and meaning of the Civil War, it is also worth noting another speech given on a November 19. Though this one was delivered several years before Lincoln’s famed oration, it also reminds us of what was at stake during the Civil War.

On November 19, 1860, in the midst of a tense debate over secession in the state of Georgia, firebrand politician Henry Benning rose to address the Georgia General Assembly in Milledgeville on the question of whether Georgia should sever its ties to the Union. Just two weeks before, Abraham Lincoln had won the presidency in a bitter and divisive election, bringing the nascent Republican Party to power for the first time in its history. The Republican Party was forged from a coalition of various political groups who all shared the same common principles: opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the western expansion of slavery. In the wake of Lincoln’s election, southern slave owners and politicians feared what it might mean to have a president who had stated his belief that slavery was morally wrong, as Lincoln had on several occasions during the 1850s.

Lincoln’s election intensified an already inflamed atmosphere in the South. As tensions began to boil, Georgia was hearing from those opposed to and in favor of separating from the Union. Benning—who previously had served as an associate justice of the


Henry Benning (NPS)

Georgia Supreme Court — was no stranger to debates over secession. Indeed, in 1850, he was one of many delegates who convened in Nashville to discuss the South’s response if slavery was prohibited from further western expansion, writing at the time, “it is apparent, horribly apparent, that the slavery question rides insolently over every other everywhere… the whole North is becoming ultra anti-slavery and the whole South ultra pro-slavery.” In regards to what the North intended to do on slavery, Benning also made his thoughts clear, writing, “I no more doubt that the North will abolish slavery the very first moment it feels itself able to do it without too much cost, than I doubt my existence.” Benning was a determined advocate of slavery and secession in 1850, and he was again in his remarks on November 19, 1860.In his November 19, 1860 speech, Benning opened by stating what he thought Lincoln’s election meant for the South:

“My first proposition is that the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States means the abolition of slavery, as soon as the party which elected him shall acquire the power to do the deed. … My second proposition is that the North will soon acquire that power, unless something is done to prevent it. I dare say everyone present will agree that this is almost a self-evident proposition.”

Of the potential abolition of slavery, Benning painted a dire portrait for his fellow Georgians:

My third is that abolition would be to the South one of the direst evils of which the mind can conceive. …The cotton States will, at that time, have a large population of slaves, perhaps a larger population of slaves than of whites; but the population of the whites will be respectable. The decree will excite an intense hatred between the whites on one side, and the slaves and the North on the other. Very soon a war between the whites and the blacks will spontaneously break out everywhere. It will be in every town, in every village, in every neighborhood, in every road. It will be a war of man with man – a war of extermination. Quickly the North will intervene, and of course take sides with the party friendly towards them – the blacks. The coalition will exterminate the white race, or expel them from the land, to wander as vagabonds over the face of the earth. …Am I not right then in saying that abolition is one of the direst evils that the mind can imagine? Thus then we have data from which we may announce this position: that abolition, dire evil as it is, is inevitable, unless something is done either to mollify this hostility to slavery on the part of the North, or to prevent the North from acquiring the power to abolish slavery.

By calling abolition a dire evil, and describing it as inevitable with Lincoln in power, Benning was leaving little room for nuance or compromise. According to Benning, the choice was either submit to abolition or act. Benning argued for the latter, urging the following:

It follows that there is not within the Union any remedy by which we can escape abolition, and therefore if we wish for a remedy, a remedy we must seek outside the Union. … I say that a separation from the North would be a complete remedy for the disease – a complete remedy for both diseases, a remedy not merely to prevent abolition, but also to heal the fugitive slave ulcer. … If you were to separate from the North, the power to abolish slavery by the North would be taken away. That is clear. The will to do so would also cease. … I say, then, that whenever the South is separated from the North, and in its stead other questions will spring up which will occupy all their time and attention… If we separate from the North, we could put an end to the alarming process by which the slave population is draining off into the cotton States. The mere act of separation would have that tendency. Fear – the fear that slaves will escape to the North by the under-ground railroad, and otherwise, is the chief cause of the drain. After a separation, stock in the under-ground railroad would cease to pay, and the road would suspend business. … The separation from the North would then be a remedy for all diseases.

Benning urged Georgia to act to preserve slavery, which he believed to be in jeopardy following the election to the presidency of a man who was staunchly opposed to its expansion. Acting otherwise would jeopardize everything the South held dear:

The intent of the Black Republican Party in electing Mr. Lincoln was to make a less perfect union, to establish injustice, and to organize domestic strife. The intent with which he was elected, was, therefore, directly in the teeth of the intent of the Constitution. … Why, then, will you not disregard the objections and adopt that remedy? Is there any other course left to you? If so, what is it? But surely there is none. Why hesitate? the question is between life and death. Well, if these things be so, let us do our duty; and what is our duty? I say, men of Georgia, let us lift up our voices and shout, “Ho! for independence!” Let us follow the examples of our ancestors, and prove ourselves worthy sons of worthy sires!

Benning’s speech was not an appeal to states’ rights, nor was it a discussion of tariff policy. It centered on fear—fear of restrictions of slavery, fear of the underground railroad, fear of racial violence, and fear of abolition itself. It reminds us—just as clearly as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address four years later—of what was at stake in the Civil War, and what the “new birth of freedom” that the war brought about truly meant for the United States. Benning’s arguments, alongside those of others, were clearly persuasive. Two months to the day from Benning’s speech, Georgia officially voted to secede from the Union, adding another state to the growing Confederacy.

Benning would go on to play an even larger role in the approach of the Civil War, traveling to Virginia in February of 1861 and speaking at a secession convention there, coaxing Virginia to break away from the North as well. In so doing, he made clear why Georgia itself had taken the step of secession:

What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery.


The body of a Confederate soldier slain during the fighting near Devils Den and Houcks Ridge. Henry Benning’s command was involved in brutal fighting in this sector of the battlefield. (LOC)

Benning was not content just to speak in favor of secession and slavery; he fought for his beliefs as well. When the war began, Benning became the colonel of the 17th Georgia Infantry. His command saw significant action at Second Manassas and Antietam in 1862, and in the spring of 1863 he received a promotion to the rank of brigadier general, commanding a brigade in General John Bell Hood’s division. At Gettysburg, Benning’s brigade was involved in some of the fiercest combat of the battle around Devil’s Den on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. He later went on to fight at Chickamauga, Wauhatchie, and was wounded at the Wilderness in May 1864. He later rejoined the Army of Northern Virginia, and was one of the last officers to surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. After the war, Benning went home to Georgia and practiced law again, as he had done in his youth. He died in 1875.

Henry Benning and Abraham Lincoln each came to Gettysburg for different reasons in 1863, reasons made clear from their respective speeches given coincidentally enough on November 19, though three years apart. Benning’s speech on November 19, 1860 spoke of seceding in order to preserve slavery and maintain White Supremacy; Lincoln’s speech on November 19, 1863 spoke of preserving a government “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Daniel Vermilya
Gettysburg National Military Park



Addresses Delivered before the Virginia State Convention by Hon. Fulton Anderson, Commissioner from Mississippi; Hon. Henry L. Benning, Commissioner from Georgia; and Hon. John S. Preston, Commissioner from South Carolina; February, 1861. Richmond: Wyatt M. Elliott, 1861.

Freehling, William W. and Craig M. Simpson, eds. Secession Debated: Georgia’s Showdown in 1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Waugh, John C. On the Brink of Civil War: The Compromise of 1850 and How it Changed the Course of American History (Wilmington, DE: SR  Books, 2003).

Ulrich B. Phillips, ed. “The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Howell Cobb,” in Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1911, Vol. 2 (Washington, D.C., 1913).

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Veterans at Gettysburg


Dedication of the 20th Maine Monument, Oct. 3, 1889

In 1889, one of the most noted veterans of the battle of Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the former colonel of the 20th Maine Infantry, returned to the wooded slopes of Little Round Top to speak at the dedication of a monument to his former command. The simple stone monument marked the spot where his New Englanders had fought twenty-six years earlier on July 2, 1863. Chamberlain’s remarks that day have become some of the most quoted of any speech given by a veteran of the battle, and are frequently used to describe the aura and pull that Gettysburg still has on many today. In his speech, he noted,

In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! The shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.

For visitors to Gettysburg in 2017, these remarks represent our efforts of the present to reach back and grasp the importance of the past. For Chamberlain himself, they speak of how and why veterans of the battle, and of the Civil War, were continuously drawn to Gettysburg through the years. From the time the battle came to a conclusion, the landscape at Gettysburg was predominantly shaped, created, and preserved first and foremost by those Union soldiers who fought there. Indeed, as Chamberlain’s quote alludes to, veterans placed monuments and preserved the battlefield specifically with future generations in mind, that we may better understand and appreciate what they did and why they did it.

The earliest preservation efforts at Gettysburg came under the auspices of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, formed in late 1863 and early 1864. Initially spearheaded by David McConaughy and several other prominent local citizens, the GBMA sought to preserve portions of the Gettysburg landscape, deeming it important to the nation. During these early years of preservation, veterans frequently came back to Gettysburg, either for reunions or, by the 1870s, to start marking the field and placing monuments where their regiments had fought. By the end of the 1870s, control of the GBMA had transitioned to the Pennsylvania branch of the Grand Army of the Republic, which was itself an organization comprised of Union veterans. The GAR saw veterans take control of the battlefield, continuing to expand preservation efforts while simultaneously overseeing the placement of memorials and monuments, taking a strict stance on where and how the battlefield could be memorialized. It was during this commemorative era that Chamberlain came back to deliver his address at the dedication of the memorial for the men of the 20th Maine Infantry. He was just one of thousands who came back to mark the fields where they had fought.

In the 1890s a new era began at Gettysburg when the Federal Government took an increased role in the maintenance of the battlefield. While the GBMA had already received Federal funding, an 1893 act of Congress created a three man commission that was charged with marking the battle lines of the armies. Of these commissioners, two of them—Lt. Col. John P. Nicholson and Brig. Gen. William Forney—were veterans of the battle. The third was historian John B. Bachelder. Nicholson was a veteran of the 28th


William Forney served as one of the first commissioners of the battlefield park.

Pennsylvania, and Forney a former member of the 10th Alabama. When Forney died in 1894, he was replaced by Major William Robbins, a veteran of the 4th Alabama Infantry. Around that time, Bachelder was replaced by Major Charles Richardon, a veteran of the 126th New York. By 1895, Congress passed legislation formally creating Gettysburg National Military Park, placing it under the guidance of the War Department. Gettysburg was one of the first five battlefields to be preserved by the War Department, alongside Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Antietam, Shiloh, and Vicksburg. During these years of War Department control, veterans once again were vital to the preservation and expansion of the battlefield.

As time passed, the commissioners oversaw the construction of roads, the placement of monuments, and the management of the park. By 1917, Nicholson was the only remaining commissioner, as the others had passed away. When Nicholson died, Emmor Cope—who decades before had worked on detailed topographical maps for Gettysburg and Antietam, and was himself also a Union veteran—became the first superintendent of the park.


The Smith Granite Company delivering the 1st Massachusetts monument, crated, 1886.  Taken on Emmitsburg Road, looking south.  The barn faintly visible in the background is part of the Rogers farm (demolished by the park in the 1930s).

Veterans shaped the development of Gettysburg in other ways as well. In 1913, for the 50th anniversary of the battle, Gettysburg saw a massive reunion of veterans from both sides, with thousands coming for the events which spanned from the 1st through the 4th of July. Twenty five years later, 1938 saw a much smaller number of veterans come back to Gettysburg, once again, this time to commemorate the battle’s 75th anniversary. During these reunions, the Gettysburg landscape became a place of healing between  Union and Confederate veterans. Many in the North and South saw Gettysburg as a place to come together, embracing a reconciliationist view of the war.

In addition to all of this, it is important to note Civil War veterans were not the only ones who frequented Gettysburg in the 20th century. Indeed, Gettysburg played a large role in the development of new soldiers during the First World War, serving initially as a recruiting station and training ground for several infantry regiments in the fall of 1917. Once the infantrymen left, a new camp was established in early 1918. Camp Colt served as a training ground for the army’s new “Tank Corps”, and it was commanded by Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower. While Eisenhower himself never saw combat in Europe in World War One, he of course went on to become one of the greatest generals in American history.


Camp Colt, Gettysburg PA. The camp served as  training ground for the new “tank corps” of the United States Army. 

In 1954, the veterans of Camp Colt came back to Gettysburg for a reunion of their own, dedicating a marker and planting a tree on the old grounds of Camp Colt, honoring the memory of their time there, and the service of Eisenhower, their former commander. By then, Eisenhower had become the nation’s 34th President. Of course, Eisenhower himself felt a strong pull to return to Gettysburg, buying a farm adjacent to the battlefield in 1950, the only home that he and his wife Mamie ever owned. We can count General Eisenhower as yet another veteran who returned to the battlefield later on, finding that for him, something important remained on these fields as well.

The Gettysburg battlefield was preserved and memorialized by veterans who served their country in its hour of need. From Joshua Chamberlain to the commissioners who oversaw the battlefield, the veterans of Camp Colt to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the National Park we have today reflects their legacy.  With dozens of military veterans who currently work or volunteer for Gettysburg National Military Park and the Gettysburg Foundation, that proud tradition of veterans caring for this battlefield landscape continues on today.


Daniel Vermilya
Gettysburg National Military Park

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