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:

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

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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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Hazardous trees to be removed from Soldiers’ National Cemetery

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This Fraser Fir is one of the trees that will be removed from the Soldiers’ National Cemetery due to safety concerns. It has a hollow trunk and there is a vertical crack that is further weakening the trunk.

Gettysburg National Military Park (NMP) has contracted with Bartlett Tree Experts to remove several trees from the Soldiers’ National Cemetery that have been identified as potentially hazardous. This is one phase in a multi-phase project to ensure that the trees in the National Cemetery are preserved for as many years as possible. The ten trees identified for removal have aged beyond the point where they can be preserved and must be removed to ensure the safety of visitors, staff, cemetery infrastructure such as structures, walls, and fences, adjoining power lines, roads, and vehicular traffic. Work will begin on Monday, October 2, 2017 and will conclude by Friday, October 6, 2017.

The initial assessment and inventory took place in May, 2017. This work included –

  • identifying trees and assigning each a number
  • identifying the trees’ condition, health, and vigor
  • recommending risk evaluations and removals of appropriate trees
  • recommending tree care, soil care and fertilization, structural support, and pest management treatments to promote tree safety, health, appearance, and longevity
  • mapping the trees using GPSr hardware and Geographic Information System (GIS).

The next phase (likely in late November, 2017) will include cabling of branches in several trees, pruning and thinning of canopies, and the repair and installation of lightning protection in several of the larger trees.

Plans to possibly plant new trees in the National Cemetery will be determined at a later date once the park’s Cultural Landscape Report is complete.

Interpretive programs in the National Cemetery will not be affected.

Additionally, the honey locust witness tree, located near the southeast corner of the cemetery, was not part of this study and will continue to be cared for by park staff.

Jason Martz

Gettysburg National Military Park

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The Florida Monument at Gettysburg: The Complicated Legacies of the Civil War

Monuments mean many things to many people. To some, they represent a sacred cause or hallowed ground. To others, reminders of lives lost in past conflicts. To others still, they stand as reminders of past injustices and modern day struggles. All of those meanings can be found in the many monuments of Gettysburg National Military Park, which today is home to over 1,300 monuments, markers, statues, tablets, and plaques commemorating the terrible fighting that took place on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863. It is one of the largest collections of outdoor art and sculpture in the world.

Today, our nation once again finds itself debating the meaning and legacies of the Civil War and questioning the value and messages of monuments to Confederates who fought in that war. Every day at Gettysburg,  National Park Service uses the battlefield and its many monuments to understand and convey those legacies  to visitors from all across the world. In these discussions, it is important to remember that monuments to the past not only reflect the past itself, but they also reflect the times in which they were dedicated. They can serve multiple purposes, reminding us of past battles, of lives lost, and of deeper meanings and struggles, often all at the same time.

One monument particularly illustrative of this is the Florida Monument, which sits along West Confederate Avenue on Seminary Ridge. Florida only had three regiments at Gettysburg—the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Florida, led by Colonel David Lang. On July 2, Lang’s men took part in a massive Confederate assault on Cemetery Ridge, coming close to severing the Federal line. Though Florida had the third fewest soldiers at Gettysburg of any Confederate state, it suffered the highest percentage of loss. 455 of its 740 men were casualties, a 62% casualty rate. Because of the small number of regiments at the battle, Florida’s role at Gettysburg is often forgotten or overlooked.

Fast forward 96 years. In 1959, Florida attorney Paul Danahy was touring the Gettysburg battlefield and taking in the sights. He noticed that, while several Southern states were represented with memorials, Florida was not among them. Upon returning home and doing research on the matter, Danahy discovered that the state had allocated $15,000 in 1907 to place a monument to Florida troops at Chickamauga, but had never taken steps to erect a memorial at Gettysburg. Danahy was not the only one curious over the matter. The same year he visited Gettysburg, the state of Florida started a Civil War Centennial committee, which had among its goals placing a monument to Florida troops at Gettysburg. The committee never moved ahead on the matter, and for several years, it seemed as though the idea had faded.

In April 1963, however,  still impacted by his visit to Gettysburg, Danahy wrote to the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Civil War Centennial Commission, lobbying for a Florida monument to be placed at Gettysburg. At that time, Texas and South Carolina were in the process of placing their own memorials, and Danahy wanted the Florida monument to be approved, finished, and placed that same summer, meaning the entire process had to take place in less than three months.

Having a legislative background in Florida, Danahy worked with several state representatives to have $20,000 dollars designated for a Florida monument at Gettysburg. With help from Florida legislators and from Congress, the National Park Service at Gettysburg approved of the plans, and within a few months, a monument to Florida had been constructed at Gettysburg. Its dedication was set for July 3, 1963, at 5:30 p.m.

1963 was an important year in American history. The Cold War was in full force. In October 1962 the United States had come to the brink of nuclear war with the U.S.S.R.

during the Cuban Missile Crisis. President John F. Kennedy was dealing with threats from communism abroad and racism and social unrest at home. The Civil Rights movement was gaining steam and struggling to make real the promises of freedom and equal citizenship that emerged at the end of the American Civil War, which had gone unfulfilled for a century. That year saw the death of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. Two months before the centennial exercises at Gettysburg, the city of Birmingham, Alabama erupted into rioting and violence after racially motivated bombings had targeted black leaders in the community. Television viewers across the country witnessed as police dogs and fire hoses were unleashed on peaceful demonstrators. These history altering events were occurring simultaneously with the nation’s commemoration of the Civil War centennial. Americans in 1963 could look back to the events of 100 years earlier to see how much, or how little, the country had changed.

Birmingham Riots

Florida was a state deeply impacted by these events. It was caught on the front lines of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and with a large immigrant population, worries over the spread of communism were especially acute. Cold War concerns were mixed in with Florida’s struggle to deal with the social changes being brought by the struggle for Civil Rights. Altogether, Florida and its people had a unique perspective on the changing country in 1963, and the dedication of its memorial at Gettysburg put these tensions and issues on full display.

On July 3, 1963, numerous dignitaries and commissioners from Florida were present to dedicate Gettysburg’s newest monument. Paul Danahy was there to oversee much of the ceremony, introducing speakers and providing his own remarks. Representatives were there from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the National Park Service, the Florida Civil War Centennial Commission, as well as from other former Confederate states. The invocation was given by Father Vincent Crawford, from the Saint Leo Abby in Dade City, Florida. In his remarks, Crawford suggested that the Confederate leaders of 1863 could serve as an inspiration of leadership for the country’s challenges in 1963. Surely, Crawford’s suggestion rang false for those who still sought equal rights 100 years after Gettysburg.

Following the invocation and remarks by Danahy, the dedicatory address was delivered by Congressman Sam Gibbons. A veteran of World War Two, Gibbons was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. On the night of June 5, 1944, he was one of thousands who jumped into Normandy, starting the D-Day invasion of France. Gibbons was a Captain at the time, and performed heroically during the fighting in Normandy. After the war he attended law school, served in Florida politics and went on to serve 17 terms in Congress,


Congressman Sam Gibbon

eventually becoming the Chairman of the Ways and Means committee. According to the New York Times, President Lyndon Johnson once remarked to Gibbons, “You vote Northern and talk Southern,” referring to his ability to balance his conservative district in Florida with the initiatives of the Democratic Party.


Gibbons’s background as an American veteran—speaking on the meaning of a war fought 80 years before his own combat experience—as well as an elected representative from a former Confederate state gave him a unique voice in framing the importance of Gettysburg as the country dealt with the aftermath of the war 100 years after the battle.

“Exactly 100 years ago at this very hour, and at this very place, history recorded the turning point in the bloodiest war that was ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. In this bitter struggle, our nation found a part of the meaning of freedom. We must not lose it now in hate, or in violence, or in dishonor. The burden for the fight for freedom now rests on us who are here. As responsible Americans working for better human relations we abhor the use on our citizens of the snarling police dog, the fire hose, the electrically-charged cattle prodding stick; and on the other hand we find no place in America for the agitating opportunist who for his own monetary or political gain pits one race against another and sometimes we find sadly today urging mob violence. As responsible Americans working for freedom for others throughout this troubled world, it is our duty to practice freedom and equality here in America.

“In our country, freedom and equality will be brought about by understanding honestly practiced; education earnestly pursued; and opportunity freely given without discrimination. Our disagreements can no longer be settled by armed conflict as we settled them here a hundred years ago. Our racial conflicts must be removed from the streets and our differences resolved in the true American way in our courts, in our legislative bodies, and at the ballot box. If we fail—and we will fail if leadership passes to the extremist—then man’s best chance for freedom and equality under law will have been totally eclipsed. Those who died here and on other American battlefields will then have died in vain.

“The effects of the battle that we mark now with this ceremony were largely confined to this country. But such is not the case today; for now America’s racial conflicts have immediate worldwide significance. We cannot hope to win men’s minds in the battle with communism if America becomes a land in which freedom, equality and opportunity are reserved only for the white man. Much progress has been made in human relations in this last 100 years. Let us resolve to preserve that progress and to strengthen it, not wreck it.”

Gibbons’s remarks placed the struggle for freedom of the Civil War in the context of the Cold War and Civil Rights Era as few other speeches at Gettysburg have ever done. While there were elements of the speech that remind us that Gibbons was a congressman from Florida dedicating a monument to Confederates in 1963—referring to racial agitators and extremists taking to the streets—he also spoke in ways that were entirely anathema to the founding principles of the Confederacy, and even to the declaration of secession from his own state of Florida in 1861. When Florida left the Union in early 1861, it did so declaring that threats against the survival and spread of slavery were its primary motivators.

Gibbons, who himself fought to advance freedom and defeat tyranny in Europe in 1944 and 1945, stood upon the hallowed ground of Gettysburg and highlighted the need to ensure freedom and equality for all races at home in order to meet the threat of communism abroad. He mentioned the recent unrest in Birmingham, where police dogs and fire hoses were unleashed on protesters who asked for nothing more than basic equality, reminding us even more of the context in which this monument—as well as those to several other Confederate states—were dedicated. By calling for freedom for blacks and whites alike at Gettysburg 100 years after the war, Gibbons’s speech reminds us that the Florida monument tells a complex story. Yes, Florida was a Confederate state that was dedicated to slavery, but 100 years later, when a monument was erected in its honor, it was done so in part to address the deeper meaning of the war, showing a nation still unsure of itself on matters of race and equality.

In addition to the speeches that day, language on the Florida monument itself it quite interesting. It too attempts to use the examples of the past to strengthen the nation in the present and the future.

Like all Floridians who participated in the Civil War, they fought with courage and devotion for the ideals in which they believed. By their noble example of bravery and endurance, they enable us to meet with confidence any sacrifice which confronts us as Americans.

Here, the complexities of the Florida monument are on full display. It calls for honoring those who, in the past, fought for restricting freedom, while at its dedication, Congressman Sam Gibbons called for securing freedom and expanding civil rights in the face of communist threats. Because of this, the Florida monument is an example of just how complicated the legacies of the Civil War are. The nation has always grappled with remembering its past while trying to improve in the present and the future.


So what lessons can we draw from the story of the Florida monument and its dedication? Perhaps we can learn that all monuments are not created equal or alike, and that they reflect the times in which they were dedicated. Perhaps we can see that these monuments are just as complex as the history they represent. The story of the Florida monument is complicated. It doesn’t represent a clean past, but as Congressman Gibbons’s speech shows, it does provide an example of using the past to inform the present, which perhaps is a lesson we can draw from all monuments to the Civil War.

As far as Paul Danahy was concerned, he saw in the monument an opportunity to emphasize reconciliation and reunion. In a letter to park historian Harry Pfanz several weeks after the monument dedication ceremony, Danahy noted that his inspiration for the monument was drawn, in part, from his own ancestor, who fought for the Union at the battle. “It may be somewhat symbolical of a nation united,” Danahy wrote, “that a descendant of Union men who has been a 15 year resident of Florida should have assisted in finally effecting a tribute from the state of Florida to its soldiers who served at Gettysburg, and, indeed, as the inscription on the monument, which I drafted, states, “to all Floridians participating in the Civil War.”

Just two days before the Florida monument dedication, Gov. William Scranton of Pennsylvania spoke on the 100th anniversary of the battle as well. Scranton noted that, while this nation is not perfect—something we are reminded of by all of the markers and monuments at Gettysburg—the sacrifices and stories of the past are far from fruitless. As Scranton said, “Those who fell on this battlefield have not died in vain because ou nation today is great enough to keep trying.

Ranger Daniel Vermilya,
Gettysburg National Military Park

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Interning at Gettysburg: A Summer on the Battlefield

After earning 142 Junior Ranger badges from National Park Service sites across the country, I looked forward to the day when I would stand on the other side of the desk. For eight weeks this summer, I had that opportunity. As an interpretive intern at Gettysburg National Military Park, I interacted with the public on a daily basis and talked about one of our nation’s most significant events in the place at which it happened.

During my summer in Gettysburg, I was able to learn more about the field of public history through experiencing it firsthand. As an interpretive intern, I interacted with people from around the nation and world, discussing the Civil War at large, and the battle of Gettysburg in particular. Whether I was stationed behind the information desk or out in any of the park’s 6,000 acres, there was always a visitor with a question. Often, the questions were simple: “Where is the bathroom?” or “Do you have a map?” Occasionally, a visitor would ask a challenging question, about a controversial commander on the field, or a specific detail of the battle. I quickly learned that these latter types of questions were usually educational opportunities rather than something to be afraid of.

Informal interactions with the public led to countless enlightening discussions, yet one of the most exciting aspects of being an interpretive intern was going into the field and giving formal programs. While each program has a specific set of objectives that must be explained in some form, there was plenty of space for creativity. My first program, “Four Score and Seven Years Ago: Lincoln and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery” allowed me the opportunity to explore some of Gettysburg’s most fascinating facts.

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Woodrow Wilson and Civil War Memory

Gettysburg has witnessed several important events in American history that extend beyond the scope of the Civil War battle in 1863. Monument dedications, reunions, and speeches commemorating the battle exhibit an evolution of Civil War memory that captures an evolution or change in perspectives of the war, often found in addresses given by presidents.

Handshake 1913

The Blue and the Gray meet during the Great Reunion of 1913.

To observe the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hosted a “Great Reunion” of Union and Confederate veterans at the park. From June 30 to July 4, 1913 approximately 54,000 Union and Confederate veterans from across the United States, camped on the Gettysburg battlefield. Considering the average life expectancy for men in 1900 was 46, these veterans were far older than the typical American- the average age between seventy-two and seventy-three years old. Despite their lofty ages, summer heat did not dampen the enthusiasm and excitement that swept the affair.  The Blue and Gray walked the fields and shook hands over walls they fought over fifty years before. They mingled with celebrities including the only surviving Corps commander of either army, Daniel Sickles. The veterans were also treated to state of the art lodging that boasted modern amenities. The Great Camp featured electric lighting at night, chilled water fountains, and spotlessly clean latrines. Three meals a day were provided for all veterans. Additionally, the largest circus tent in the United States was raised on the field of Pickett’s Charge, serving as the “Great Tent.” The event cost $450,000, and $1,750,000 was allotted for transporting the veterans to Gettysburg by train. (Calculating for inflation, during 2017 the lofty cost of the reunion would reach over 11 million dollars, with more than 43 million allotted for transportation.)

The momentous event in 1913 Gettysburg provides us a snapshot of Civil War memory during the “Progressive Era”. This period spanned from the 1890’s to the 1920’s, and was marked by social and political changes in the United States. Post-war resentment and hostility between the North and the South reached a turning point during this era due, in part, to the Spanish-American War in 1898. During this very brief war, former Union and Confederate soldiers and generals served side by side, fighting for a common cause. This somewhat odd reunification in the military during the War initiated a new narrative of Civil War remembrance. Unity and reconciliation between former Union and Confederate enemies became the theme, overshadowing the loss, anger, and tension of the Reconstruction era.

Changing Civil War memories also aligns with the vast social, economic, and technological changes during the Progressive era. This era witnessed the release of the “Model T,” an affordable car that revolutionized American transportation. President Teddy Roosevelt displayed the strength of America’s Navy to other nations by ordering the strongest warships cruise through international waters in the “Great White Fleet.” Roosevelt’s character became the inspiration for the “Teddy Bear.” The Panama Canal changed international trade, and the Wright Brothers found ways to navigate the sky. Suffragist Movements escalated and reached closer to securing the women’s vote. Industrialization had boomed, bringing along with it increased urbanization. Some of these shifts in American lifestyle brought about negative consequences including poor working conditions and seemingly invincible “Big Businesses.” Muckraker journalists uncovered and brought many of these unsightly practices to mainstream audiences through written publications. Throughout the Progressive era, the US sought to address the challenges that arose with such quick change through an increase of government regulation of industry (the Khan Academy). President Woodrow Wilson initiated and promised much of this change as the third “Progressive President” elected in 1912.

Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson (Wilson Library)

Wilson was not a man to dwell on the past of the United States but preferred, at the height of the Progressive Era, to focus on building the nation’s future. Thus, Wilson initially declined the formal invitation to speak at the Great Reunion in Gettysburg that summer, evidently not seeing the gathering as particularly significant. Wilson was the first Southern-born president elected since the Civil War and his presence alone was symbolic of reunion. Under intense political pressure, the President acquiesced the week before the anniversary encampment began and special arrangements were made to accommodate his arrival and appearance before the veterans.

Wilson’s speech to the veterans on July 4, 1913, captures memory of the Civil War through a Progressive lens. He glossed over the causes or purpose of the war with no reference to the question of slavery or rebellion and rampant mistrust, but focused solely on the unity of former enemies then gathered in Gettysburg, a speech shaped primarily by his Progressive ideals that included his traditional perspective on race in American society. The President remarked that a need to explain the purpose of the Battle of Gettysburg was unnecessary; that Americans should focus on  the fifty years between the battle and the reunion. A period, in his view, of “peace and union and vigor,” “healing,” and “brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten” (Wilson, Address to the Veterans, July 4, 1913). Wilson complimented the nation on its changes and movement forward, expressing that a nation once divided and engaged in brutal fighting was then reunited. The President was even so bold as to claim the war had passed from American memory though the future of the country’s security were insured by its citizens:

Wilson speaks at Gettysburg 7-4-13

President Wilson speaks to veterans and guests in the Great Tent at Gettysburg, July 4, 1913. Members of the press are seated in front of the stage to report on the president’s address. (NARA)

“Have affairs paused? Does the Nation stand still? Is what the fifty years have wrought since those days of battle finished, rounded out and completed? Here is a great people, great with every force that has ever beaten in the lifeblood of mankind. And it is secure. There is no one within its borders, there is no power among the nations of the earth to make it afraid.”

The United States, the President acknowledged, was not entirely finished with its post-Civil War struggles. Like Lincoln, Wilson noted there was more to be accomplished: “I have in my mind another host, whom these set free of civil strife in order that they might work out in days of peace and settled order the life of a great nation. That host is the people themselves, the great and the small without class or difference of kind of race or origin; and undivided in interest, if we have but the vision to guide and direct them and order their lives aright in what we do.”

Yet, during the early 1900s, the issue of equality for all Americans regardless of skin color and religion was far from resolved and while President Wilson’s words were intended to promote freedom and advancement, he quietly condoned the social rule of “separate but equal” and disregarded the struggle for civil equality by African Americans under the laws of Jim Crow.

Slavery, the primary sectional cause of the war, was scarcely mentioned at the Fiftieth Anniversary. Historian David Blight analyzed post-Civil War memory in his book, Race and Reunion, using the Fiftieth Anniversary event in Gettysburg to develop his argument regarding the complex intersection between reconciliation of Northern and Southern veterans, and racial tensions in American society: “At this remarkable moment when Americans looked backward with deepening nostalgia and ahead with modern excitement and fear, Jim Crow, only half-hidden, stalked the dirt paths of the veterans’ tent city at Gettysburg.” (Blight, p. 386). Lynching, segregation, and discrimination were accepted facts of life throughout the United States. There were sixty-four lynchings during the year 1912, fifty-one in 1913. Immigration regulations were strict, eugenic practices were sterilizing minority communities, and the Ku Klux Klan was embraced as a protector of law by many Americans most notably after the release of “The Birth of a Nation” in 1915. Blight also notes that black men were only invited to work the camp at the Fiftieth Anniversary, though his claim is somewhat misleading. Black veterans were not explicitly excluded from the Gettysburg reunion, but their attendance was not accounted for by the Pennsylvania Commission. A black New Jersey veteran who did attend noted there were quarters for the handful of black Union veterans at the camp, but not for the Confederacy and the handful of former slaves who appeared, who had served alongside their masters through the hardships of soldier life.

The theme of the Great Reunion was reunification of the North and the South, the admirable fraternization between former enemies. President Wilson’s speech focused on that ideal, though it certainly was not as powerful as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which continues to echo throughout American history as the ideological explanation for the purpose of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War, that the soldiers who died there did so to uphold American ideals for freedom and equality (Blight).  The Great Reunion captured Civil War memory in transition but did this symbolic reunification provide closure to the war for Americans? For the veterans who attended, yes; yet for American society, the ideals of what a citizen’s full rights should be were still a question left unanswered. Lincoln’s words, repeated in 1913 as they are today, should remind us daily of “the great task remaining before us” that memory can be a grand thing to behold, but the struggle for progress, which President Wilson spoke of,  did not necessarily mean true equality for all Americans but was merely an ideal buried by the laws of “separate but equal” that would dominate race relations for fifty more years.

-Tesia Kempski
Gettysburg National Military Park

Tesia is a summer intern in the Division of Interpretation at Gettysburg, about to begin her junior year at Wake Forest University this fall. During the summer she enjoyed her duties with park rangers at the information desk, assisted rangers with children’s programs and battle walks, and she provided guided tours in the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

David Blight: Race and Reunion, The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001) 356.

John Heiser, Gettysburg NMP: “Sacred Trust Talks 2014”

Khan Academy, “The Progressive Era” at

“Lynchings during 1913” at

Woodrow Wilson: Address to Veterans of the Blue and Gray at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1913, in Lewis Beitler, ed.: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, report of the Pennsylvania Commission, December 31, 1913 (Harrisburg, PA: William Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1915), pp. 174-176.

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“Digging through old papers and such.” A Summer of Research at Gettysburg.

The park has been fortunate to have a friend in Dr. Carol Reardon, who recently retired from her position in the Department of History at Penn State. With her guidance and the assistance others, the Division of Interpretation has sponsored a research internship during the summer months where college students can acquire on the job research and writing skills while searching for what are often elusive resources related to the Battle of Gettysburg and the story of its evolution as a park.

Summer research interns at Gettysburg.

Research interns Arianna Sabatini, Joe Tinsley and Shane Billings with a small example of the material they researched and brought to the park this summer.

For eleven weeks this summer, Shane Billings (Penn State University), Joseph Tinsley (Allegheny College) and Arianna Sabatini (Allegheny College) took hold of their assignments and searched for textural and photographic resources in various depositories including the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society, and Vermont State Archives as well as a handful of historical societies and other libraries. The primary resource material gathered and cataloged by these interns will be used by park rangers and writers to provide factual information and sources for ranger programs, exhibits in the Museum and Visitor Center, and educational outreach programs the park will provide in the next couple of years.

And just how important is this newly gathered information to the mission of the National Park Service at Gettysburg? More than one may realize! The park’s interpretive staff base their ranger programs on historical content from many sources, both primary and secondary sources housed in the library. Finding new documents such as soldier letters, unpublished memoirs and accounts, enhances the general knowledge of our understanding of battle events and adds the human element- the words of the soldier or civilian who witnessed the battle- to the story our rangers pass on to our park visitors. And while the internet and on line resources have provided historians with smoother access to historic materials and archival holdings, the most reliable method is still a visit to the facility to look at the original material first hand. Likewise, the research trips and organizing of research material accomplished by Shane, Arianna and Joe can be applied by them in their studies in the new school year. The experience they have during the summer months is invaluable to them as students and future professionals.

Joe and Shane transcribing textural materials/.

Transcribing letters and back checking the sources ensures accuracy.

A selection of the materials gathered and transcribed by Shane, Joe and Arianna this summer include papers of the honorable Edward Everett, (famous orator who spoke at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery on November 19, 1863), several letters related to Gettysburg written by soldiers after the battle, the medical case book of Dr. Henry Janes, chief surgeon in charge of Camp Letterman General Hospital at Gettysburg, individual Medal of Honor case files for a number of the soldiers given the award for exemplary actions at Gettysburg, and pension records for selected individual soldiers that will be used for ranger programs on Civil War medicine and post-battle treatment of the wounded. Overall, it was a very successful couple of weeks for our research interns and the park.

So, after all this time and with countless books, magazine articles, journal articles, and studies already published on the subject of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg National Cemetery, is there really more to be discovered about this great moment in our history?

Intern research, 2017

Arianna Sabatini (Allegheny College) compares a transcription with the original letter scanned from the collection of the Library of Congress.

We never stop learning. As the old saying goes, “What once was lost is now found,” and though some of the finds this summer may not upset the apple cart of battle history, the textural materials recovered by the research interns adds to the base of knowledge for Gettysburg’s rangers to further enhance the story of this great battle, it’s horrific aftermath, and provide further understanding of the American tragedy that was the Civil War. The National Park Service could not provide this story to our visitors without the hard work of our research interns and we certainly wish them good luck as they return to their college courses this fall, hopefully inspired by their experience this summer. The results of their hard work have certainly inspired us!

-John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park

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