The History of Living History at Gettysburg National Military Park


Gettysburg National Military Park owes a huge debt of gratitude to the countless hours of work performed by our dedicated crew of volunteers. From the Visitor Center to the Cannon Shop, the Education Center to the farthest corners of the battlefield, volunteers are an indispensable part of the inner workings of the National Park at Gettysburg. Black Powder Specialist Thomas Holbrook works with literally thousands of “living history volunteers” every year. These dedicated individuals, many of whom travel hundreds of miles to be here,  help bring to life the material culture and visual history of the battle of Gettysburg for the throngs of visitors who come to these hallowed fields. Below Tom offers an overview of the living history program at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Beginning in the 1970’s, Gettysburg National Military Park has been presenting programs where individuals dress in period attire and interpret some aspect of the American Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg.  At the start, Park Rangers were responsible for the development and implementation of “Living History” programs on the battlefield. Always very popular with our visitors, living history was at the same time very expensive. Staff had to be hired and trained, and reproduction Civil War clothing, equipment, and weapons had to be purchased. By the mid-1980’s as National Park Service budgets started to shrink, living history performed by NPS Interpretive Rangers became more difficult. One solution was to allow volunteers to take over the living history programs at Gettysburg NMP.  Closely monitored by NPS staff, volunteer groups from the Civil War reenacting community were invited to the park on selected weekends. Almost immediately our volunteers had a positive impact with our visitors. “Living History Weekends” became an event and drew large crowds to the battlefield.

In 1988, living history volunteers played a large role in helping the National Park Service in commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Nearly 500 volunteers were invited and participated in our 125th Anniversary programming.

In 1992, due to its popularity, “Living History Weekends” were expanded from  4 to 5 weekends a year to 10 to 12 weekends per year.  The same year we expanded the number of groups to be allowed to perform living history at GNMP.  The NPS staff put these groups GETT_150_Jul2_Union_BS_050through a rigorous selection process and 10 groups were selected.

Since 1992 the volunteer living history program has expanded to include over 1,000 individuals in 68 groups, (military and civilian) coming on over 28 weekends from April 1 to November 1 each year.

In 2013 the National Park Service commemorated the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg with over 500 volunteer living history participants. Interpretive programs and historic weapons firing provided for our visitors important insight into the lives of the soldiers who “gave their last measure of devotion” on the battlefield of Gettysburg in 1863.

Thanks to our volunteers our living history demonstrations are the most popular and well attended interpretive programs offered at GNMP. We invite you to travel to Gettysburg National Military Park in 2015 to see them for yourself.

Thomas Holbrook, Park Ranger


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The Boy Scouts of America at Gettysburg, 1913

Little Round Top

The summit of Little Round Top in 1910, ready to receive visitors in 1913. (Gettysburg NMP)

It was the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg and the celebration planned was unique- a huge gathering of Civil War veterans, at least forty thousand of them! The Pennsylvania Commission that was busy planning the reunion and anniversary events had been tapping every source available to support the event when discussions began that spring as to personal assistance that maybe required for the veterans attending the reunion. Directional signs with police and military personnel directing traffic and pedestrians appeared to be adequate but the problem was the Great Camp. It was massive and despite the named streets and state sections, was confusing. In May, Army officers advised the Commission that a “Camp Information Service, with a staff of guides, was all important because the vast extent of the (Great) Camp and its thousands of tents all exactly alike would appear as an unknown city to the Veteran,” all in their advanced years with ages ranging between 66 and 95.[1] The state police force and army personnel could not be stretched any further, so Colonel Beitler, secretary of the Pennsylvania Commission, turned to a relatively new organization for help- the Boy Scouts of America.

Organized and incorporated in February 1910, the genesis of the Boy Scouts began in England under the guidance of Lt. General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell who recognized the need to engage boys in outdoor exploration, nature, and the same camping and survival skills he had taught while in the British Army. The popularity of the Scouts’ idea spread to America and with Baden-Powell’s support and guidance, a group of American outdoorsmen, illustrators, and youth leaders created this national organization to guide American boys not only in nature and outdoor skills, but to also stress the ideals of public service, Christian beliefs and national honors- “For God and Country”. One of the first national recognitions of the Boy Scouts came in March 1913, when several Boy Scout troops based in Washington, DC, assisted with the presidential inaugural parade of Woodrow Wilson as guides for visitors and assistants for those attending the parade and ceremonies. Taking the advice of an Army Officer, Colonel Lewis Beitler, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Commission, contacted the office of the Boy Scout Commission for Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and on May 22, struck an agreement “For such service, three hundred fifty Boy Scouts were to be selected by the Commissioner and his executive staff, to be from among the larger boys and from within a radius of 150 miles of Gettysburg,” to serve as personal guides and assistants for the veterans in the Great Camp. [2]

Time was short. With the Great Reunion barely six weeks away, the Scout Commission telegraphed troop leaders in York, Lancaster, Carlisle, and Harrisburg to prepare their older scouts, those in their teen years, for duty at Gettysburg. Yet, there simply were not enough Scouts and the Pennsylvania Scout Commission drew from other councils including Washington, Burlington, New Jersey, Hagerstown and Frederick, Maryland. A total of twenty four troops comprising 385 Boy Scouts, arrived at their quarters near the Army headquarters of the Great Camp a week ahead of the Reunion and were immediately put to work assisting the Army Quartermaster in distributing blankets to the tents and Red Cross workers unloading supplies and pitching tents. But their primary purpose was to become familiar with the Great Camp and the location of every state section, how the tents were organized, how to greet and assist the veterans, who to go to in case of a medical emergency; everything right down to the nearest location of the bubbling ice water fountains.

Scouts & veterans

Scouts assisting Civil War veterans with their luggage in the Great Camp. The young men in khaki uniforms were on duty as escorts to the veterans throughout the reunion. (Pennsylvania at Gettysburg)

By June 30, the Scouts were ready! It was early that morning when the first of 34 special trains bearing veterans to the reunion arrived at the railroad siding in the Great camp. Standing in line outside the cars were the US Regulars, dressed in their summer khaki uniforms. Beside each man was a Boy Scout, also dressed smartly in a khaki uniform of military-style coat and trousers with canvas leggings and the broad-brimmed felt campaign hat. The veterans disembarked and between the whoosh of the train’s engines and squealing breaks, shouts of those trying to organize the arrivals, and everyone asking where they were to go was the young voice saying, “Sir, can I help you with your luggage?” “This way to your camp and I’ll be glad to escort you.” “Show me your pass and I’ll take you to your state’s headquarters.”

For the elderly men who struggled to become familiar with their new surroundings, the Boy Scouts proved to be the best guides they could ask for. More than one veteran remarked how delightful it was to be met with such helping hands as those provided by the soldiers and Scouts as they wandered through countless row as of tents under the broiling sun. As soon as one train arrived and unloaded, another was close behind and the Scouts were kept running back to the railroad siding, greeting the new arrivals and showing them to their quarters only then to run as fast as possible back the railroad to repeat the process. The boys must have been exhausted by day’s end, but their contribution was far from over.

For the next four days, the Scouts were everywhere, assisting those in need and directing the lost. Many were in awe of the veterans they encountered, old men who had fought at Gettysburg, served under McClellan at Antietam, marched under Grant’s direction through the Wilderness, fought with Robert E. Lee for four long years all the way to Appomattox Court House. These were the heroes about whom so much had been written and spoken. For scoutmaster E. Urner Goodman, the great Reunion was something to behold and try to understand: “How can I ever forget that experience? Imagine… veterans gathered on that historic site for a week…shaking hands…where fifty years before they had been blazing away at each other.”[3] The Scouts also met national celebrities such as Jack Crawford, a national hero known for his daring as a scout for the Army under General Crook and his oratory and poems about life in the Wild West.

Scouts at play, 1913

Boys will be boys! There was always some time for rough housing while not “on duty” at the Great Camp. (National Archives)

By July 5, the last of the veterans’ trains had departed and the duties of the scouts were complete. The boys’ service had been exemplary and “won the profound appreciation and gratitude of hosts and guests alike.”[4] The sunburned boys in their dirty khakis boarded their own trains and buses to head home, filled with stories and observations of what had been an encounter of old soldiers from another age, those men who had fought the great Civil War and came to Gettysburg not to refight the battle but to unify the nation. For many, it had been a patriotic service to the old vets and they proudly boasted to schoolmates and friends about the summer adventure they had at Gettysburg, representing not only their home town troops but the highest ideals of what would become the Boy Scout “Code of Honor.”

Barely five years later, many of these Scouts would be young men attired in the uniform of the United States Army, and a different term would be applied to “Yanks” and “Rebs” alike as the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) arrived on the battlefields of France; from the Great Camp to the Great War, the old veterans these Scouts admired in 1913 would become the veterans we remember today with the anniversary of World War I.

But the Scouting tradition at Gettysburg did not end in 1913, it was only the beginning. Through numerous anniversaries and special events, the Boy Scouts of America have been there to support the park and provide the visitor with courteous service. Every year, scout troops from all across America and occasionally from overseas as well, visit Gettysburg National Military Park and take part in the Billy Yank/Johnny Reb Hiking Trail, camp at McMillan Woods Youth Campground, and enjoy the history and nature this park has to offer.

New Birth of Freedom Council Camporee, 2013

The New Birth of Freedom Council Camporee on the historic George Spangler Farm at Gettysburg, 2013. (Gettysburg Foundation)

In 2013, Scouts assisted visitors during the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg events and that fall, the “New Birth of Freedom” Council held a camporee on the historic George Spangler Farm. The park has long been the beneficiary of the Boys Scouts thanks to their oath and the Scout Law. In February 2015, the Boy Scouts of America will observe their 105th year and we congratulate them on their longevity and positive achievements that began in 1913 with the aging Civil War veterans at Gettysburg.

-John Heiser
Park Historian & (former) Boy Scout, 1965-1973

[1] Beitler, Lewis E., Editor, Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Report of the Pennsylvania Commission, December 31, 1913, (Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, Harrisburg, PA, 1915), p. 49. Hereafter cited as “Beitler”.

[2] Beitler, p. 50.

[3] “50th Anniversary Gettysburg Reunion”, Order of the Arrow, Boy Scouts of America at Goodman went on to become prominent in the Boy Scouts of America as National Program Director and founder of the Order of the Arrow, the fraternal designation of scouts who exhibit exemplary service and brotherhood in the highest traditions of scouting.

[4] Beitler, p. 51

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Auction Skull is not from the Battle of Gettysburg

Frontal view of cranium taken during the forensic inquiry by the Smithsonian Institution.

Frontal view of cranium taken during the forensic inquiry by the Smithsonian Institution.  Photo by Donald E. Hurlbert.

A detective story that began last June with an attempted auction of a human skull, reportedly from the battle of Gettysburg, now has a new chapter. A scientific study by the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, conducted at the request of Gettysburg National Military Park, has determined the cranium to be more than 700 years old and from the American Southwest.

The planned auction of the skull, and a number of artifacts that were going to be sold with it, was cancelled due to public outcry and the collection was offered as a donation to Gettysburg National Military Park (GETT). The park asked the Gettysburg Foundation to accept the donation on its behalf.

Douglas W. Owsley and a team of forensic anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History recently completed an examination of the skull and determined, in summary:

  • the remains are not those of an American Civil War soldier;
  • the remains are those of an American Indian male, aged 22-25;
  • the remains are likely dated to approximately 1269 – 1299 AD;
  • the remains are likely from the American Southwest; and
  • the remains were not removed from the Josiah Benner farm at Gettysburg.

“When we learned of these remains in June we were immediately interested in their respectful treatment, whether they were from a soldier who died at Gettysburg or not,’ said Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Ed Clark. “This result is not what we expected but we stand by our commitment to be respectful of these remains, fulfill our responsibilities, and find the best course of action for their final resting place.”

Superintendent Clark also expressed his gratitude for the assistance provided by the scientists and staff of the Smithsonian Institution.

The park and the Gettysburg Foundation are determining Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) responsibilities and the appropriate disposition of the remains.

National Park Service special agents and law enforcement rangers from Gettysburg National Military Park conducted an investigation to determine the provenance of the remains.  The investigation continues pending any new information that may come forward.

An examination of the thirteen artifacts that were to be sold with the skull determined that a number were not authentic to the Civil War period, including a Louisiana stamped metal hat or cap plate which was post-war, most likely made for souvenir purposes.

“Our intent has always been to do the right thing with and for the remains,” said Joanne M. Hanley, President of the Gettysburg Foundation. “When the Foundation accepted the skull as a donation, it was the right thing to do to protect it from auction on the open market. We will continue to do the right thing with its future disposition to ensure respect and dignity.”

Background: On June 2, 2014, news stories about the planned auction of the Civil War human remains quickly spread, including comments Gettysburg National Military Park that the sale was disrespectful and “a spectacle.” An unprecedented outcry from concerned citizens–fueled by social media–overwhelmed organizers of the auction, and within six hours the sellers decided to cancel the sale and donate the remains and the artifacts found with them to the Gettysburg Foundation. On the evening of June 2, Joanne Hanley, president of the Gettysburg Foundation, went to Hagerstown, MD, picked up the remains and the artifacts and turned them over to the park for safe keeping.

In 1996 human remains were found at Gettysburg National Military Park after erosion exposed them near a railroad embankment. Scientists from Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History studied those remains as well and determined that they were from the battle of Gettysburg. The remains were interred in a specially designated plot in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg marked, “Unknown Civil War Remains.”

Gettysburg National Military Park is a unit of the National Park System that preserves and protects the resources associated with the Battle of Gettysburg and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and provides an understanding of the events that occurred there within the context of American History. Information is available at

The Gettysburg Foundation is a non-profit educational organization working in partnership with the National Park Service to enhance preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg. The Foundation raised funds for and now operates the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park, which opened in April 2008. In addition to operating the Museum and Visitor Center, the Foundation has a broad preservation mission that includes land, monument and artifact preservation and battlefield rehabilitation—all in support of the National Park Service’s goals at Gettysburg. Information is available at

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant

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Thoughts on Harry Pfanz

On the early afternoon of January 31st, the staff at Gettysburg National Military Park received a jolting bit of news:  one of our own, in a large and treasured sense, had passed.  And while the announcement of the death of Dr. Harold “Harry” Pfanz, while not wholly unexpected, certainly saddened many, it also gave us cause to once again recall the man for some whose very name meant “Gettysburg.”Pfanz

Personally, from my perspective, as an interpretive ranger fairly new to the battlefield at the time, Dr. Pfanz was a quiet, unassuming gentleman; though one already looked upon with quiet reverence given the recognition earned by his first work, Gettysburg: The Second Day.  I was privileged to meet the good Doctor in the early ‘90’s, during his research on his second work, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill.   At that moment, he was on his way up to the library in the old Cyclorama building.  A fine scholar of the old school, he invariably carried a number of long yellow legal pads and pencils with him during these research forays. At one point, he related how he had conducted the research for The Second Day, utilizing this long-hand method.  Unstated, but understood, was that in his day he had accomplished all that without the aid of copiers, and (obviously,) without computers.  Quite an achievement; yet he was not satisfied with just one.

Although Dr. Pfanz (“Harry,” to those of us who saw him,) continued, on an infrequent basis, to make research trips in the years that followed, he spoke to all most fluently through his  collective writing on the Battle of Gettysburg.  In 2001, the final work in “the Pfanz trilogy” appeared – Gettysburg: The First Day.   Following the completion of that third volume, his appearances within the park were rare, yet his name was (and is yet) often heard in discussions as staff discussed elements of his research in debate.

While his landmarks in the field of Gettysburg literature are well-known, his private personality shied him away from sharing many other worthwhile accomplishments.  A seriously wounded artillery officer during the Battle of the Bulge, Pfanz later earned his doctorate at Ohio State, prior to becoming a historian for the Army.  In 1956, at the outset of the “Mission 66” expansion, he accepted a position with the National Park Service at Gettysburg, initially choosing to refight the battle that would come to dominate the majority of his later life.

Assigned to St. Louis, Missouri, between 1966 and 1971, at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, he served as the site superintendent when the site’s iconic Arch was opened there in 1968.  He left St. Louis in 1971, travelling to Washington, D.C.  In 1974 Pfanz became the Chief Historian of the National Park Service, functioning in that role until his retirement in 1981.Pfanz

During the course of his work with the National Park Service, Dr. Pfanz received the Department of the Interior’s Meritorious Service Award, the Special Achievement Award, and its Distinguished Service Award.  Outside the “green and gray,” Harry was actively involved in the affairs of his church, of Phi Alpha Theta (the history honors fraternity) and other organizations.

Harry, however, did not boast any of that.  He was, as we recall, a studious and detailed researcher, quiet and efficient in his way.  Thankfully, his tremendous efforts resulted in landmark works that help us more fully understand the struggle that took place here.  They will remain, but their author has gone.  And I will miss him.

Ranger Bert Barnett

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Jeff Davis, Joseph Gutelius, and the Flag of the 150th Pennsylvania

150th PA

Corpl. Joseph Gutelius

Most visitors to Gettysburg are unaware of the curious connection between Confederate President Jefferson Davis and one of the many Union soldiers killed during the fighting around the small Pennsylvania town.  The story begins on the first day of the battle – July 1st, 1863.  The 150th Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment known for the deer “bucktails” worn in their hats, had fought all day against Confederate troops advancing on Gettysburg along the Chambersburg Pike.  By late afternoon the 150th was forced to withdraw through town, along with the rest of the Union First Corps, to the safety of Cemetery Hill beyond.  According to most accounts, Corporal Joseph Gutelius carried the flag during the withdrawal, which soon turned into a confusing rout in the maze like streets and alleys of Gettysburg. Elements of the 150th Pennsylvania attempted to hold the Confederates at bay, but to no avail. In one of the firefights that punctuated the retreat, Joseph Gutelius was killed, most likely by members from the 14th North Carolina of Ramseur’s brigade. The flag once carried by Gutelius fell in rebel hands.  Confederate Lieutenant Frank M. Harney “with his sharpshooters encountered the 150th Pennsylvania Regt. and took from them their flag with his own hands, in which encounter he was mortally wounded.”  As a dying wish, Harney requested the flag should be “presented in his name to the President.”  Seven weeks later, Davis wrote North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance:

“The wish of the dying hero has been complied with.  The flag is in my possession, and will be treasured by me as an honorable memento of the valor and patriotism and devotion which the soldiers of North Carolina have displayed on many hard fought fields… Such deeds illustrate a people’s history, justify a people’s pride, and sustain a country’s hope.”  


The flag of the 150th PA, captured at Gettysburg, was ultimately given to Confederate President Jefferson C. Davis.

The story does not end there. During the evacuation of Richmond two years later, in the midst of all that chaos, the Davis family packed the flag away in their personal baggage.  Davis proved true to his word, and treasured the memento.

The flag of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry traveled with the Presidential party through North Carolina and the last Confederate cabinet meeting.  The flag then followed Davis through South Carolina and into Georgia, still tucked away in a valise.  On May 10, Union forces captured Davis and his entourage near Irwinville, Georgia.  The blue cavalrymen subsequently ransacked the wagons and, lo and behold, the flag came into their possession.

The flag eventually wove it’s way into the custody of the War Department. In the post-war years, many important Pennsylvanians, including former Secretary of War Simon Cameron, urged the return of the flag to the state.  In 1869, the United States government agreed and the flag came home to Harrisburg.  A flag that took a journey from Gettysburg to the White House of the Confederacy, to Georgia, and finally, back to Pennsylvania now resides less than fifty miles from the grave of its original bearer.

Ranger Matt Atkinson

Guttlieus grave

The final remains of Corp. Joseph Gutelius reside today in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, on the Gettysburg battlefield.

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Samuel P. Bates – “Chronicler of the Pennsylvania Soldier”

In researching individual soldiers of the Civil War, the pre-eminent sources of information that come to mind are state rosters.  Among the more notable efforts are Frederick Phisterer’s work, New York in the War of the Rebellion, compiled in 1890, as well as North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster.  This massive roster project, undertaken from 1961 until the present by the state of North Carolina, was headed initially by Louis H. Manarin and later, in 1970, by Weymouth T. Jordan Jr., and has been periodically updated.  From the Centennial era, other worthy roster projects were launched by Tennessee and Georgia.

Most all other states now have roster listings of some sort, and they all, over time, have proven lacking in one area or another.  Phisterer restricted his listings to units and officers exclusively; Georgia’s rosters, compiled by Lillian Henderson in the 1960’s, contain only the infantry soldiers, with no cavalry or artillery troops.


Samuel P. Bates

It is the variances in these listings, even within the modern records, that make the background, skills and meticulous efforts of one man of particular interest.  Samuel Penniman Bates was a native of Mendon, Massachusetts, yet it is he who Civil War researchers associate with Pennsylvania.  Nowadays, any researcher worth his salt instinctively reaches for Bates’ work when looking for regiment, company, dates of service and anything usual or unusual about the vast majority of Pennsylvanians who served the Union.

Born in 1829, Samuel was educated at the Worcester Academy, and later at Brown University, from which he graduated in 1851.  During his time in school he was remembered for his proficiency in the mathematics and in philosophy.

The following year, he immersed himself in further academic studies, and the writings of Milton and Shakespeare. He settled down in Meadville, Pennsylvania to teach ancient languages at the Academy there and eventually began to expand his lectures into the science and practice of teaching.  His success with these lectures led him to become the Superintendent of the Crawford County (PA) schools.

Meadevill School

North Ward Public School, Meadville, Crawford County, PA

This was more than fortuitous, as Crawford County is an extremely large, and at the time it was among the most influential, as it had an area nearly equal to the entire arable surface of Rhode Island.  Bates’ position gave him the opportunity to communicate with many in the field of education not only in the county, but also across the state. In 1860, he resigned from his second term to accept the office of Deputy State Superintendent of Schools.

He held this position for six years.  It would be during this time that many personal and professional associations were formed, many of which would serve him well in a wholly unplanned venue within a few years.  The arrival of War, and its insatiable desire for young men who might otherwise have been carefree students in happier times, caused an unplanned reduction in many schools.  However his gift for systematic observation and recordation did not escape the critical eye of his superior, Governor Andrew G. Curtin, who would, in 1866, appoint him to the newly-minted role of State Historian.

The Legislature had felt it appropriate to create the role, following the conclusion of hostilities, for the purpose of gathering material and forming complete accounts of the organizations from the state that had engaged in the conflict.

A contemporary account reviews Bates’ efforts –

 “To write of events that transpired ages ago, where the material is ample, is comparatively easy; but to gather up the fragmentary annals of campaigns scarcely finished, and weave from them veritable narratives which shall stand the criticism of men who were a part of the great transactions, is a far more difficult and embarrassing task, and requires for its accomplishment a degree of patience and painstaking, of careful discrimination and wise judgment rarely possessed. For …years he was unceasingly employed…at an expense of nearly a quarter a million dollars, [[to produce] five…volumes of over 1,400 pages each, entitled History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, and [it] forms an enduring monument of the patriotism of the state, and of the research and taste of the author.”

Immediately afterward followed another absorbing project, detailing the Lives of the Governors of Pennsylvania (1873.)  Then came three more works of particular interest to students of the American Civil War:  Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania, (1875) , The History of the Battle of Gettysburg (1878,) and  The Battle of Chancellorsville (1882.)  During these years, Bates also produced a regimental history of the “Roundheads,” the 100th PA, (1878,) as well as a biographical memoir of Col. Oliver Blanchly Knowles, late Col. Of the 21st PA. Cavalry and Brevet Brigadier – General (1878.)

In between writing these works and others on Pennsylvania history, and raising seven children, the active Dr. Bates also found time to be social.  In 1877 he toured Europe, and prepared a series of lectures entitled “Art Centers of Italy, Naples, Rome, Venice, and Florence.” Closer to home, Bates, “Chronicler of the Pennsylvania soldier,” though himself not a Union Army Veteran, accepted an honorary membership in the local Meadville chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, Post 331.  In 1902, when he was laid to rest in Greendale Cemetery in Meadville, his headstone was accorded the traditional “GAR star.”

Bates grave

BATS GAR The final resting place of Samuel P. Bates, Crawford County, PA.

He, like so many others, had humbly performed his work for the Union; yet his efforts had been different.  His detailed volumes had been directed against a different enemy – time; so the people of Pennsylvania and their descendants might long remember, collectively and individually, what their state and its people had helped to achieve.

Bert Barnett, Park Ranger

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Gettysburg at 24 degrees

A path across the fields of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.

A path across the fields of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg National Military Park.

As we enjoy another winter here at Gettysburg National Military Park, the park staff invite you to remember that a winter’s walk on the Gettysburg battlefield offers a terrific opportunity to study topography as well as a time for quiet reflection.

The fields of Longstreet's attack on July 2nd, 1863, with the Bushman farm on the left (red brick) and the Slyder farm in the center (white).

The Bushman farm with Little Round Top in the background, taken from South Confederate Avenue.

Newly built fences, replanted orchards, and long-lost meadows and farm lanes that have been reestablished help visitors see the battlefield the way soldiers did at the time of the fighting in July 1863.

The Witness Tree at Sickles' headquarters, United States Avenue.

The Witness Tree at Sickles’ headquarters marker, United States Avenue.

A Licensed Battlefield Guide gives a tour to a visiting school group.

A Licensed Battlefield Guide gives a tour to a visiting school group.

On Tuesday of this week I took a drive on Gettysburg National Military Park’s tour route, stopping to look around and enjoy some of the incredible views and catching a few pictures of our most hardy park visitors enjoying a visit in spite of the 24 degree temperature.

Reading the names on the Pennsylvania Memorial.

Reading the names on the Pennsylvania Memorial.

Frozen Plum Run, viewed from the Codori Farm Lane.

Frozen Plum Run, viewed from the Trostle farm lane.

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop in for one of our free “Winter Lectures” happening Saturdays and Sunday throughout January, February and

March, at 1:30 p.m. Download the full list of Winter Lectures here.

Also, please be aware that snow storms and freezing rain occasionally cause the closure of some roads and buildings in Gettysburg National Military Park. For updates keep an eye on the park’s Facebook page or call 717 334-1124.


Lots of animal tracks are visible in the snow, like these deer tracks on the Trostle farm lane.

Lots of animal tracks are visible in the snow, like these deer tracks on the Trostle farm lane.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, January 15, 2015





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The Widow and Her Farm

In comparison to other farm houses in rural Adams County in 1863, the home of Lydia Leister was non-descript. The wood frame and clapboarded house was very compact and humble, situated on a small, 9-acre farm that included a log barn, orchard, adequate pasture for her cow and a horse, wheat and oat fields. Near the house was a substantial garden planted with beans, turnips, cucumbers, potatoes, onions and other varieties of vegetables. A spring in the southern pasture offered some of the best drinking water in the county and for a person living the quiet life, its central location on the Taneytown Road near Cemetery Hill and not far from town made for a pleasant if not picturesque life for Leister and her two young children, Hannah, age 8, and Matilda, age 5.

Leister House- Meade's HQ

The Leister Farm House at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Widowed in 1859, Lydia purchased the farm in March 1861 and moved in soon after. The industrious woman went to work and improved the farm with stout fences around the garden and pasture and put in additional wheat and oats, which could be used for barter with grocers in Gettysburg. Her older sons and daughters lived in different places around the county and provided little support to their mother whose self-sufficiency was more than admirable. Despite the hardships and worry over one of her sons in military service, the future looked bright and she could have had no inkling of what was to come when a uniformed Federal officer rode into her front yard just before dusk on July 1, 1863.

The officer was abrupt, telling the widow that she must vacate her home. The armies were getting close and a battle near her farm imminent. For the safety of her and the children, they must go and with haste. The officer seemed determined to get Leister out so she quickly packed a basket with clothing for the children. Starting out the door, she remembered a can of lard she wanted to save and raced back into the house where she placed the can under a cobbler’s bench in the kitchen. There was no time for anything else, and taking her small bundle and two girls by the hand, started southward on the Taneytown Road, already filled with columns of Union infantry spattered with mud and straining under the loads of knapsacks, canteens and weapons as they plodded north. Looking back, the last sight of her land was that same column tramping into her pasture and oat field, lounging against the trunks of her fruit trees.

There was family in Maryland but they were too far away. Where was she to go? Wagons of ordnance now filled the road, pushing her and her two children off to the side. Fortunately, another staff officer saw the widow and rode to her rescue. Placing the youngest child onto his saddle and taking the basket from Lydia, the officer escorted the family to the George Spangler farm, far enough away to provide the widow and her children with a haven from the coming battle. As events turned out, the haven Lydia sought was short lived. The Spangler farm became a massive field hospital for the Eleventh Army Corps and wounded, mangled soldiers filled the barn, outbuildings and house. Union batteries with supporting wagons were massed in the fields around the buildings and those who remained at the farm were in constant danger from mounted couriers racing by, horses pulling cannon and caissons into park, and the flow of ambulances into the farm.

Without warning, artillery shells shrieked over the farm, some smashing into tree and men alike. This was no place for the widow and two young children, so another staff officer escorted the frightened family to the Baltimore Pike where he bade them goodbye with the final warning to head south as fast as possible, away from Gettysburg. Through the mercy of a farm family, the widow and her frightened children were taken in and for the next several days watched as lines of troops, Confederate prisoners, ambulances and wagons flowed up and down the Pike.

After several days of anxiously waiting, Lydia decided to journey home to see what was left of her farm, hoping that her crops, fruit trees, house and barn, and that can of lard had survived. One can only imagine the disappointment and shock that met her gaze as she walked up the Taneytown Road, past devastated farms and freshly dug graves by the roadside to behold her own farm, or what was left of it. Fences were gone- torn down for men and material to pass. The vegetable plants in her garden were trampled. The cow and horse were gone, along with tack and farm implements. The wheat, oats and pasture were trampled and nothing could be done to salvage them. “I owed a little on my land yit,” Lydia recalled in 1865, “and I didn’t get nothing from it. The fences were all tore down… and the rails burnt up. There was seventeen dead horses on my land. They burnt five of ‘em around my best peach tree and killed it; so I han’t no peaches. They broke down all my young apple trees for me. The dead horses spoiled my spring, so I had to have (a) well dug.”

Her house had suffered the worst damage: “One shell came into the house and knocked a bedstead all to pieces for me. The porch was all knocked down. I had seven pieces of meat yit, and all of them was took. All I had when I got back was jest a little bit of flour.” Surprisingly, the can of lard she had hidden survived though not without being tainted by wood pegs from the cobbler’s bench, spilled into the can by the shell that passed through the house. She later saved the lard by heating it and straining out the items that had fallen into the fat.

Leister Farm 1863

The Leister House, photographed by Alexander Gardner on or about July 6, 1863, and how the place looked when the Widow Leister returned a day or so later.  (Library of Congress)

The Widow Leister was a resourceful woman and immediately went to work, repairing her fences and buildings. It would be another two to three years before her new fruit trees would bear apples and peaches and her farm fields would once again produce the wheat she coveted to feed her family and use for trade and barter. Her vegetable garden once again thrived. It wasn’t until long after when she heard how her home had been used by General George Gordon Meade as his headquarters during the battle and that in her humble kitchen had taken place the all-important Council of War on July 2, when the critical decision whether the Army of the Potomac was going to change its battle strategy or, as General Henry Slocum put it, “Stay and fight it out!” was made. Her simple home had witnessed not that momentous event, but also the constant debates, discussions and passing of order after order by Meade and countless Union officers who came and went during those three warm summer days in 1863. It had served as the nerve center for the Army of the Potomac and though nearly ruined beyond repair, had survived to become one of the iconic buildings on the Gettysburg landscape. Did this really matter to Lydia Leister? Probably not. Never compensated for her losses, the widow rebuilt, replanted and recovered her farm, flourishing over the ensuing years with an addition to her house and acquisition of an additional 9 acres.

Leister Farm House

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

Age and infirmity finally caught up with Lydia and in 1888, she sold her farm to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association for $3,000.00. She died at her daughter’s home in Gettysburg on December 29, 1893, her grave marked by a simple stone in Evergreen Cemetery barely a quarter mile away from the land she once owned. Repaired and rehabilitated over the years, the small white house stands near the Taneytown Road where the park tells and retells the story of its use as “Meade’s Headquarters.” But we just cannot resist mentioning in those programs, the brave widow who lost everything only to come back and rebuild her life in that same house on that same land, as much a symbol of the strength of the American spirit as was the stubborn will and determination exhibited by the Union generals who gathered in her kitchen on that fateful evening in July 1863.

-John Heiser
Gettysburg National Military Park

Posted in Battlefield Farms, Civilians, George G. Meade | 8 Comments

A Reason to Visit Gettysburg in the Winter: The 2015 Winter Lecture Series

Winter Lecture FB Promo

“So, what do you guys do in the winter?”

I’ve probably been asked that question a hundred times, and at each of the four different National Parks I’ve worked at. It’s a common misconception that the ranger staff hibernate over the winter, like many of the mammal species that inhabit our more naturally inclined parks, only to emerge when the ground thaws and spring has made its arrival. The truth of the matter is, and this is especially so at Gettysburg, that quite a bit goes on at the park with the arrival of winter weather. Sure, we don’t hike out on the battlefield quite as much, nor will you find us leading tours downtown or on Little Round Top in the middle of sleet or sub-freezing temperatures, but we are busy nevertheless. Take for example our Winter Lecture Series which begins tomorrow.  Every Saturday and Sunday, from January to Mid-March, National Park Rangers, historians, and educators present a free, hour-long lecture on some aspect of the American Civil War or the battle of Gettysburg. Since the inauguration of the sesquicentennial in 2011, we have focused our lectures on events happening that particular anniversary year. This winter we will be taking a look at the conclusion of the American Civil War and the very complicated and contested peace that followed. The final battles, such as those at Sailors Creek and Bentonville will be touched on, as will some of the defining personalities who shaped the war and the events following it. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and David Farragut, are but a few. Issues of reconstruction, race,  and rhetoric will be explored, as will the material culture of 1865.

Click on the image below for a full schedule.

blog winter lecture photo

Tomorrow (Saturday, January 3rd) our lecture series begins with Ranger Matt Atkinson who will examine Robert E. Lee’s final years, from the surrender at Appomattox in 1865, to his death in Lexington, Virginia in 1870. Matt will begin at 1:30 p.m. inside the theater at Continue reading

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Gettysburg – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

First the good: Earlier this month Gettysburg National Military Park was honored when the head of our monument preservation team received a national award for excellence for the care of monuments, cannon, plaques, fences, headstones and signs.

All the monuments and cannon at Gettysburg are commemorative features left behind by the veterans who fought here. The monuments have a story to tell you. We want you to visit Gettysburg to learn more about what happened here and why it still matters today.

Now for the bad and the ugly:  In the last ten years, bad drivers and terrible weather have nearly demolished a number of Gettysburg’s historic monuments. This blog takes a look at seven monuments badly damaged since 2003.  These have all been repaired.

74th Pennsylvania Infantry monument after an SUV hit it in 2003

74th Pennsylvania Infantry monument after an SUV hit it in 2003

Pieces of the broken color bearer on the 74th Pa. before the repairs were completed.

Pieces of the broken color bearer on the 74th Pa. before the repairs were completed.

Mazda vs. the 58th New York Infantry monument, 2004

Mazda vs. the 58th New York Infantry monument, 2004

4th Ohio Infantry marker vs. the pickup truck, 2004.  The zinc marker was damaged beyond repair and entirely replaced in 2006.

4th Ohio Infantry marker vs. the pickup truck, 2004. The zinc marker was damaged beyond repair and entirely replaced in 2006.

Lightning struck the 6th New York Cavalry monument at Gettysburg and nearly blew it apart in in 2007.

Lightning struck the 6th New York Cavalry monument at Gettysburg and nearly blew it apart in 2007.

72nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument toppled by a windstorm in 2013.

72nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument toppled by a windstorm in 2013.

close-up of the 72nd Pa. after a wind storm blew it down just before the 150th anniversary.  Park maintenance reset the monument before sunset the same day it fell.

Close-up of the 72nd Pa. after a wind storm blew it down just before the 150th anniversary. Park maintenance reset the monument before sunset the same day it fell.

121st New York Infantry damaged by a heavy tree limb during Halloween snowstorm 2011.

121st New York Infantry damaged by a heavy tree limb during Halloween snowstorm 2011.

Cannon at Grandy’s Battery smashed by a fallen tree in the same Halloween snowstorm, 2011.

Cannon at Grandy’s Battery smashed by a fallen tree in the same Halloween snowstorm, 2011.

Once again, ALL of these monuments have been repaired.  Gettysburg’s monuments and cannon still have preservation problems though. We need your help. Occasionally, heedless actions by park visitors create concerns. These seemingly minor impacts add up when you think about the park’s more than one million visitors each year and the fact that we have been welcoming visitors since prior to 1895. Three particular actions have a way of making the job of the National Park Service – preserving Gettysburg resources unimpaired for future generations – more difficult.

Col. Patrick O’Rourke on the 140th New York Infantry monument at Little Round Top.

Col. Patrick O’Rourke on the 140th New York Infantry monument at Little Round Top.

Rubbing O’Rourke’s nose – Hand oils and constant rubbing wear away the patina giving it the shiny look, which changes the original commemorative intent of the monument. (Col. Patrick O’Rourke on the 140th New York Infantry monument at Little Round Top.)



Over time the chemical breakdown of the coins could have a negative impact on the stone, staining.

Over time the chemical breakdown of the coins could have a negative impact on the stone, staining.

Coins placed on headstones and monuments –  Over time the chemical breakdown of the coins could have a negative impact on the stone, staining.





Please don't climb on the cannon.

Please don’t climb on the cannon.

Climbing on carriages – Gettysburg’s cast iron cannon carriages are over 100 years old and fragile. They are like your great grandparent. The whole package weighs 2500 pounds+/- (carriages weigh in at 1600+/- and tubes range from 600-1200). You do not want to be near them during a collapse. Climbing on the cannon is dangerous …for lots of reasons.


Please help us by treating these “Silent Sentinels” gently and become our partners in protecting and honoring the monuments to the men who fought Gettysburg.

Finally, a special Happy New Year to all of our “From the Fields of Gettysburg” readers!  Thank you for your interest and support for Gettysburg’s history and preservation!


Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 12/24/14

Posted in Gettysburg cannon, Monuments at Gettysburg, Soldiers' National Cemetery, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 6 Comments