Centennial Volunteer Challenge

Centennial%20VIP%20CoinThe National Park Service’s centennial year is here, and we want to encourage everyone to take part in the celebration! We invite people of all ages to find their park and discover the national parks in their community through volunteerism. Registered volunteers who contribute 201.6 hours of service between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016 can earn a Centennial Volunteer Challenge Coin (CVCC)!

How it Works:


  • Recipient(s) must be registered national park volunteers (youth, adults, groups).
  • CVCCs are issued for service hours served between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016.
  • Awards are issued for volunteer service only.
  • Court-ordered community service does not qualify.
  • Volunteers must track their own hours and provide dates, hours served, and a brief description of the service provided (See attached optional form).
  • Service must be approved and verified by the park or program volunteer manager/coordinator.
  • Volunteers should submit their hours to their supervisor by December 31, 2016.


  • Only hours served during the 12-month period of the centennial year will count towards the award.

  The Award

  • A custom-made, antique bronze coin, featuring a raised image of the NPS volunteer logo on one side and the 2016 NPS centennial logo on the opposite side.
  • In addition to the coin, recipients will receive a congratulatory letter from the Director of the National Park Service.
  • The coin and the letter will be sent by the National Park Service Washington Office directly to the qualifying volunteer.

To find out more about Gettysburg volunteer opportunities go to:  http://www.nps.gov/gett/getinvolved/volunteer.htm

Many thanks to Ernestine White, National Park Service Washington Office, for this article.

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The Bitter, Lingering Taste of “The Last Battle:” Columbus, Georgia, April 16th, 1865, and Its Unseen Aftermath

The 16th of April, 1865, is not a terribly singular date in the history of the American Civil War.  By then, the conflict had pretty much been decided.  Lee had surrendered, Johnston would shortly be on his way to doing so, and President Lincoln had been assassinated by a mad Marylander. Yet, given the failure of cell-phone communications in the Deep South, the war continued to rage there, with all its attendant consequences.  Yet a singular event that occurred on April 16th would consequently flavor the world as we now know it.

Following the disastrous Battle of Nashville in mid-December of 1864, scattered bands of Southern leftovers were determined to protect isolated fragments of a once-possible

James Wilson

James Wilson

Confederate military resistance.  Selma, Alabama and Columbus, Georgia, might yet prove troublesome in the hands of such elements; and were therefore targeted by Union forces.  Proceeding south from Middle Tennessee into northern Alabama in the spring of 1865, 13,000 Federal forces under the command of General James H. Wilson arrived in the former Confederate capitol of Montgomery on April 12th. These easily overwhelmed the no more than token resistance forces remaining before it.  Deep in war-torn Alabama, all were unaware that Richmond had fallen on the 3rd, or that Lee had surrendered on the 9th.  Each side, therefore, continued their planning.

It was thus at Columbus that a comparatively few Confederates, seemingly determined “to die in the last ditch,” fought loyally on, and in doing so, unconsciously participated in the creation of  something far more famed than the  “Last Battle of the War,” a distinction occasionally confused with a violent outburst of gunfire at Palmetto Ranch, Texas nearly a month later.

On May 5th, Jefferson Davis officially dissolved the remnants of the Confederacy during a hasty meeting in Washington, Georgia, prior to his capture and arrest at Irwinton, Georgia on May 10th.  By description, any fighting following this date is more accurately held as “post-war resistance” than battle.  The May 13 clash in Texas falls into that category.   With this established, let us return to Columbus.

Howell Cobb

Howell Cobb

As the Union forces of Major-General James H. Wilson’s Cavalry Corps approached, Confederate General Howell Cobb was already seeing to the defenses of Columbus.  At his command were roughly 3,500 remaining forces – mostly local militia and home guard troops from Georgia and Alabama, to occupy a series of breastworks, earthworks and forts.  Feeling the numerical imbalance, however, Cobb chose to withdraw most of these from the outer defenses, relying more on a concentrated, inner defense, and utilizing the Chattahoochee River itself.  Although the stream provided a measure of vulnerability to an invader when forced to attack bridges, it would not, however, prevent the bombardment of Columbus by Wilson’s men from adjacent high ground, mostly on the Alabama side of the line.  With rumors of approaching Federals, the April 16th morning edition of the Columbus Daily Sun had called for citizens to take prudent measures.

The public is hereby notified of the rapid approach of the enemy, but assured that the city of Columbus will be defended to the last.  Judging from experience it is believed that the city will be shelled. Notice is therefore given to all non-combatants to move away immediately.

Just opposite Columbus, along the western banks of the river, stood the town of Girard,

Emory Upton

Emory Upton

Alabama.   Around 2 p.m. on Easter Sunday, 1865, General Emory Upton’s Fourth Division of Wilson’s force appeared, and peremptorily launched its assault on the southwest side of town.  While not exactly unexpected, the afternoon timing of the attack was unanticipated. Though the towns of Girard and Columbus were bound by four pathways across the river, not all four routes would prove militarily useful, as the Confederates had taken steps to defend themselves.

On the lower, or “wagon” bridge, as it was known, Confederates had removed much of the floor planking of the bridge.  Additionally, turpentine-soaked cotton had been placed along the length of the bridge’s superstructure.  As six companies of the 1st Ohio Cavalry, in column of fours, approached the bridge, a sudden artillery fire emanated from the opposite end of the covered structure, followed shortly thereafter by roaring flames and smoke.  Captain Christopher C. McGehee of the local defense battalion had crawled out onto the still-shaking structure to set it alight.  When the Union cavalrymen saw the bridge burst into flames, they broke off their all-out charge.  The first assault upon Columbus had been repulsed.

In a creative acknowledgement of reality, Brigadier-General Andrew J. Alexander, commander of the Second Brigade of Upton’s forces, reported,

Upon a careful reconnaissance of this position it was deemed impracticable to attack from my front. My command was therefore withdrawn, by direction of the brevet major-general commanding, and took no further part in the capture of Columbus.”

However, the Federals, maneuvering in this region did not proceed light-fistedly.  Additional Union cavalry, having gained a river crossing slightly further north at West Point, Georgia, were already approaching in support.  The focus of the fighting would renew from this new direction around 9:00 p.m. Brigadier-General Edward F. Winslow, commanding the 1st Brigade of the 4th Division, was directed to descend upon the town from the northwest.

Thus, Gen’l. Cobb’s decision to withdraw into such a close defensive ring around the city would come to haunt him.  Abandoned high positions to the east and north, in concert with the evening dark and the earlier loss of Forrest’s cavalry screen outside the area, gave the Union troops freedom to shift and maneuver.  The two spans that crossed the Chattahoochee on the town’s northern side, a railroad bridge and a smaller foot-bridge below it, would be stoutly defended, yet would be overwhelmed by this new determined Federal assault.

Map 2

The primary point of attack as combat resumed was the Brodnax –Franklin Street Bridge (now known more commonly as the 14th Street Bridge.)  A force of Union horsemen pushed forward, winding up momentarily in the rear of the Confederate defenses near the bridge. The Southerners returned this fire, slashing the night with musketry and determined shellfire.  Into the mix, Federals pushed forward, now generating a swirling blend of advancing attackers and desperate defenders.  Although the bridge-way was protected by two artillery pieces, the proximity of friend to foe as they surged backward across the span rendered the chance of a “clean kill” negligible, so the defenders declined to fire, abandoning their positions as the Unionists poured in.

As the fighting across the bridge turned close and intense, its result would have world-changing consequences, however.  In the face of the mounting disorganization, confusion and chaos, the majority of the mostly inexperienced defenders of Columbus hastily fell back into the teeth of the focused and victorious Federal troopers.  At such a critical moment, it was the job of the officers to rally their men to the defense of home and flag.  Fighting mounted in the thickness of this melee, Lt. – Col. John Sith Pemberton of Robinson’s Twelfth Cavalry, Georgia State Guards, found himself painfully wounded by a pistol shot, and the subsequent slash of a Union saber across his torso.  For Pemberton, the pain of these wounds would echo beyond the fall of Columbus, and into the distant future.

By 10:00 p.m., on the evening of April 16th, 1865, the Battle of Columbus was considered to be over.  Statistically, the casualties yielded up by the struggle at Columbus were fairly unimpressive.  General Wilson’s official report read “25 men killed and wounded,” although the differing numbers hint upwards to slightly more (33.)  Not surprisingly, battle accounts of this engagement disagree, with actual losses of both sides at a variance. Detailed losses, reflecting the killed, wounded, and captives, were notably higher, numbering somewhere around 1,200.  Lt. – Col. Pemberton was one of those.  Unlike the other suffering wounded, however, Pemberton’s pre-war education had prepared him, he believed, a way to change his destiny.

John S Pemberton

John S. Pemberton

John S. Pemberton was the nephew of Confederate Lieutenant-General John Clifford Pemberton, by now of Vicksburg infamy.  John C. Pemberton’s brother was James Clifford Pemberton, John’s father.  Born in 1831, in Knoxville, Georgia, (near Macon,) the young John S. had followed a medical career in his youth, and worked to establish a wholesale-retail pharmaceutical business in central-western Georgia.  Locating in Columbus, he spent some time organizing a home-defense unit upon the eruption of the conflict.  He entered the service in May of 1862, yet later tendered his resignation, effective November 8th, 1862.  Perhaps the production of medicines was then deemed a higher priority as a war industry.  Returning to irregular periods of local defense service, he too, now bore the scars of combat.

As a veteran in the post-war era,  suffering the painful effects of his wounds, Pemberton became determined to utilize his working knowledge of pharmaceuticals in order to benefit himself, and the many like him, now forced to fight yet another, more private, war – the war between pain and drug addiction.  All-too closely now, pharmacist Pemberton had experienced the pernicious potentials of addictive pain-killing medicines, especially the morphine and opium-based sorts with which he had been initially treated. Upon returning to his practice in the months following the war, he began to tinker with the possibilities of a variety of opiate-free mixtures.

This took some time, and concoctions such as the “Globe Flower Cough Syrup” and “French Wine Coca,” first sputtered forth from the spouts of Pemberton’s lab.  However, Pemberton zealously attended to the improvement of his products, following the lead of others in his field, specifically one W.H. Bentley, whose use of coca showed great promise.   When a local prohibitionist law took effect in 1886, the wine was removed, leaving the undiluted strength of the other main element to shine through – the stimulant extracted from fresh, healthy coca leaves.  The powers of cocaine were less well-understood in the latter-1800’s, and Pemberton viewed it, perhaps through the lens of some personal denial, as a safe alternative to the well-documented evils of opiates. In a series of business interviews with the Atlanta Journal in March, 1885, Pemberton commented,

I am convinced from actual experiments that coca is the very best substitute for opium…It supplies the place of that drug, and the patient who will use it as a means of a cure, may deliver himself from that pernicious  habit.

At another occasion, Pemberton stated,

I wish it were in my power to substitute the Coca and compel all who are addicted to the use of opium, morphine, alcohol, tobacco,  or other narcotic stimulants to live on the coca plant…It is perfectly wonderful what coca does.


In all fairness, one must pause here to recall that in expressing these sentiments, Pemberton is more than a businessman hawking a product.  He was, at his deepest level, an intelligent man turned addict by circumstance, like thousands of other wounded Civil War veterans.  Given his background and training, however, he thought he had an answer to a serious problem.    But his search failed him, and he remained an addict. Opium continued to be easily available to Pemberton, and there is some indication that he used it, in part to combat the pain of stomach cancer, as well as the old war wounds.  His drug habits continually impaired his judgement.

Although he wished to transfer at least a portion of his “Coca- Kola” (so named at the time for the kola nut) creation to his son Charley, he had also introduced his son to morphine/opium addiction. Now needing to finance his ever-growing habit, Charley instead convinced his father to sell off the vast majority of his holdings, save some dubious naming rights, for a mere $550 (approximately $14,000 in 2016 dollars) shortly before his death in 1888.  The ill-tempered Charley, a suffering addict himself and second-generation rich man, followed his father into the grave a mere six years thereafter in 1894, at the age of forty, reputedly comforted at the moment of his death only by a stick of opium at his side.   The inventor’s widow, now childless, bereft of husband and income, would later die in South Carolina as a pauper, in 1909.

It took a modicum of advertising, but the company’s new owner, Asa G. Candler, and the Woodruff  family that followed him, thoroughly transformed  Pemberton’s  product into the renowned “Coca-Cola” Company” so instantly recognizable throughout the world today, (albeit now bereft both of both wine and cocaine since 1905.)


Since then, it has created its own legacy and legend, both of which it guards very carefully.  Proud to recount the tale of its’ creation by a Georgia pharmacist, it thence trails off into the dust, without accurately recounting the vain hopes of its creator to relieve him from the cruelties of  his combat-inflicted drug addictions that ultimately claimed not only him, but eventually destroyed his family.  In their own way, therefore, those prolific red vending machines are perhaps the most ubiquitous of all Confederate monuments.

Bert Barnett
Gettysburg National Military Park

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Spring Battlefield Foray – A Weekend of Special Hikes and Walks on April 23 & 24, 2016

Hike to Seminary Ridge

On April 23-24, 2016, Gettysburg National Military Park will host their inaugural Spring Battlefield Foray, a special weekend of free hikes and walks that will focus on the organization, tools, and tactics utilized by the two armies that fought at Gettysburg. These hikes will bring together park rangers, historians, and licensed battlefield guides to provide a special and in-depth experience.

The programs will explore the battlefield on foot and provide an intimate view of the Gettysburg landscape and the soldiers of the two armies who fought upon it.
All programs are and open to the public. No registration is necessary. 

“April is a great month to explore the battlefield,” said Toni Dufficy, Chief of Interpretation at Gettysburg National Military Park. “Not only will these programs visit less explored areas of the park, they will also offer something new to students of the battle and the war.”

On Saturday, April 23, special programs include 2 1/2-hour in-depth hikes exploring key episodes and phases of the battle from the perspective of the different branches of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. The hikes involve significant hiking and walking, occasionally over rough terrain. Water, headgear, sun protection, insect repellent and comfortable, sturdy walking shoes are highly recommended.

8:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. – “It was nothing more than a stand-up fight” – Infantry vs. Infantry on July 1st.  From the firefight in Reynolds Woods to the savage combat at the Railroad Cut, the foot soldier dominated the fighting on July 1, 1863 west of Gettysburg. Advantages and disadvantages of terrain, arms of the combatants, and the ability of unit commanders to make quick decisions made the difference in victory or defeat on the field that day. Join Park Historian John Heiser on a 2 ½ hour, in-depth hike examining the tools and tactics of the Union and Confederate regiments involved in the opening clash at Gettysburg. Meet at Reynolds Woods, Auto Tour Stop 1. Park along Reynolds Avenue.

July 1

11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. – “A Spirited Duel” – The Artillery on July 2ndConfederate artillerymen E. P. Alexander wrote of the fighting on July 2 that, “I don’t think there was ever in our war a hotter, harder, sharper artillery afternoon than this.” From Warfield Ridge to the Trostle Farm, follow Park Ranger Matt Atkinson as he explores the various Union and Confederate batteries that dueled for supremacy on the bloodiest day of the battle of Gettysburg. Meet at the Peach Orchard. Park on Sickles Avenue. Do not park on Wheatfield Road.

Kostic  (17)

3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Clash of Cavalry – The Battle at East Cavalry Field. After two days of stubborn fighting, the Battle of Gettysburg began anew during the early morning hours of July 3, 1863. Though the fighting at Culp’s Hill and Pickett’s Charge is more famous, the pitched cavalry battle fought three miles east of town represents a compelling chapter in the Gettysburg story. Join Park Ranger Tom Holbrook and explore the fields, farms, and crossroads where cavalrymen once crossed sabers. Meet at the parking lot on Confederate Cavalry Avenue.  Park along Confederate Cavalry Avenue.


Sunday, April 24, the Foray offers “Hiking the Union Fishhook,” a Special Program from 8:55 a.m. to 4:55 p.m.  In better understanding the numerous battles within the Battle of Gettysburg, it becomes clear that the various fights were interconnected and walking from place to place is the best way, bar none, to grasp this. Led by Licensed Battlefield Guides Tim Smith and Garry Adelman, this rigorous hike will cover the Union fishhook as it was generally positioned on July 2 and 3, 1863.  Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield and Cemetery Ridge is the goal by lunchtime with Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, Spangler’s Spring  and more rounding out the day. This hike not only entails eight miles of walking up, down, around and along hills and ridges, but requires a relatively fast pace. Water, headgear, sun protection, insect repellent and comfortable, sturdy walking shoes and a packed lunch are highly recommended. The hike will begin and end at the flagpole at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. All participants should park in parking Lot 3 of the Museum and Visitor Center.

Garry and Tim

For more about the book series, the park’s Winter Lecture Series, Ranger programs, and other events go to www.nps.gov/gett.

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Exercising the First Amendment at Gettysburg

IMG_6338The Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Private J.W. Culp Camp, and Scott Hancock, got permits today, March 5, 2016, to exercise their first amendment rights at Gettysburg National Military Park. The events took place at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial.

The permits were requested under the first amendment of the United States Constitution which grants all citizens the rights to freedom IMG_6300of speech.  As custodians of land owned by the American people, the National Park Service has a responsibility to make that land available for exercising those rights.  The Code of Federal Regulations (36 CFR 2.51), the Director’s Orders on Special Park Use and the Management Policies of the National Park Service all provide clear guidance on First Amendment activities in the parks.

IMG_6364The National Park Service mission in preserving and protecting the historic resources at Gettysburg includes making them available to all Americans, even those whose views are contrary to the majority of the American public.

National parks host hundreds of first amendment activities each year, the majority of which take place in our nation’s capital.  Some, like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, reflect the prevailing mood of the American people, while others deliver a more controversial message whose validity is ultimately judged by the American people. The one constant of all of these assemblies is the professionalism of National Park Service and its staff in administering these activities.

IMG_6361Gettysburg National Military Park staff staffed the event to ensure the safety of everyone involved and to protect park resources and visitors.

Katie Lawhon, management Assistant, March 5, 2016

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Gettysburg’s Operational Update, Spring 2016

March 3 blog 1 of 4

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These Honored Dead: Samuel Fitzinger, 106th Pennsylvania


Nat. Cem

No visit to Gettysburg National Military Park is complete without stopping at the Soldier’s National Cemetery, arguably the most important location on the battlefield. Many travel to the quiet location upon Cemetery Hill to look upon the graves of the fallen and see the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famed Gettysburg Address.While generations have looked to Lincoln’s rhetoric to define the meaning of the Civil War, we must never forget that Lincoln’s speech was the result of the sacrifice of thousands upon the fields of Gettysburg in July 1863.

The sacrifices which were made at Gettysburg were not just those of soldiers. Mothers, fathers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters sacrificed as well by giving up their loved ones to the cause of the Union. Lincoln proclaimed that, while the world would one day forget the words spoken at the cemetery dedication (an unlikely occurrence, given the lasting fame of the Gettysburg Address), it could never forget what the soldiers did at Gettysburg. What they did here meant that thousands across the country received letters such as this one, posted below.

Corporal Samuel Fitzinger was a member of Company B, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. On July 2, 1863, as the Confederate brigade of Ambrose Ransom Wright launched an attack on the Union center on Cemetery Ridge late in the day, the 106th Pennsylvania was one of the Union regiments tasked with repulsing the Southern charge. On the same fields made famous the following day by Pickett’s Charge, Pennsylvanians clashed with

Monument to the 106th PA

Relief on the monument of the 106th PA showing their advance toward the Codori Farm.

Georgians late in the day of July 2nd. As the Southern tide began to break, the men of the 106th Pennsylvania surged forward from the stonewall along Cemetery Ridge, making their way toward the Codori farm, where a number of Wright’s Georgians were taking refuge. It was here, on the fields near the Codori barn, where Corporal Fitzinger was killed in action. His body was buried near the barn, which by the time the battle was through, had seen some of the most ferocious combat in all of American history.

Several weeks after the battle, once the pace of campaigning had slowed sufficiently, Captain James Lynch of Company B wrote this letter to Margaret Fitzinger, Samuel’s mother.

106th Pa Vols.

July 27, 1863

Mrs. Margaret Fitzinger,


I take advantage of the first opportunity which offers itself to send you the only relic found upon the body of your deceased son, Samuel [the relic was Samuel’s Testament]. He died a soldier’s death while bravely fighting on Pennsylvania soil in defence of the glorious institutions which our fathers won for us by their blood. He was a good and faithful soldier and any mother might well be proud of such a son. His body was buried where he fell in a field near a barn which was burnt during the engagement and immediately in front of the position held by the 2nd Corps on Granite Ridge [Cemetery Ridge]. His grave is marked by a head board with name and Company on it. He fell on the 2nd during an attack by my company on the barn which was then filled with Rebels. While sympathizing with you in your bereavement I cannot but reflect that he died as I would wish to fall, with his face to the enemy and his last moments were rendered happy by the knowledge that he had done his full share in the accomplishment of a Glorious Victory.

If I can be of any service to you, do not hesitate to command me.

Very Truly Yours,

James Lynch, Captain, Company B, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteers

P.S. I send the testament and this letter by Samuel Reynolds one of his comrades who can probably give you any further information you may desire.

Dan at the codori farm

The author, with the Codori Farm in the background.

For Margaret Fitzinger, the loss of her son was devastating. Her husband, John Fitzinger, had passed away before the Civil War, meaning that she was entirely reliant upon Samuel for her support. Margaret married John in 1837 when she was just 16, and it does not appear that she received any education, as the documents in her pension file have a simple “x” for her mark in lieu of a signature. Samuel worked and lived in Philadelphia, and every Saturday night he brought home his weekly earnings from his job and gave them to his mother, whom he cared for. When he enlisted in the army, he did the same with his monthly pay. Thus, Samuel’s death on Cemetery Ridge meant that now Margaret had lost her husband and her son, and no longer had any means of supporting herself. In March of 1864, she was awarded a mother’s pension of 8 dollars a month, commencing from the date of her son’s death in July 1863 and continuing for the rest of her life. Margaret was in her early forties when Samuel died at Gettysburg; it is unknown how long she lived while mourning the loss of her son upon the battlefield. While Samuel was initially buried on the Codori farm, his remains were later reinterred in the Soldier’s National Cemetery. Today, Samuel rests in the Pennsylvania Section, Row F, Grave 51.

It must be remembered that, without grieving mothers receiving letters such as this, the “new birth of freedom” at Gettysburg would not have been possible.

Ranger Dan Vermilya
Gettysburg National Military Park

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The Other Gettysburg Addresses: Presidential Orations at Gettysburg – Part 3

This week we continue with the final installment of our three part series on presidential orations at Gettysburg, focusing on the final two American presidents to offer substantive remarks on the battlefield.  

Lyndon B. Johnson

Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke from the rostrum on Memorial Day, 1963. Little could he know that less than six months later events would thrust him into the presidency. It was the centennial of the Civil War, but how the centennial was observed depended on who you were and where you lived. For some the centennial provided additional support and motivation for “massive resistance” to desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement. For others, the centennial was a reminder that “the new birth of freedom” that Lincoln had spoken of was still not a reality for all Americans.


Lyndon B. Johnson, Spring 1963. Image Courtesy of the The New York Times

Martin Luther King had written his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” the previous month. Three weeks before Johnson spoke at Gettysburg, a stunned nation watched on television, as one thousand Civil Rights demonstrators, many of them still in high school, were attacked with fire hoses and police dogs, as they attempted to march to the city hall in Birmingham, Alabama. Throughout the South, but sometimes in northern cities as well, there were protests and counter-protests. Some ended peacefully; many others did not.

At the same time, the planet was facing the peril of nuclear annihilation and the Cold War had divided the nations of the world into compacts and treaty states of NATO, the Warsaw Pact, or the Third World. How could America stand up as a symbol for freedom, liberty, and justice around the world when so many were being denied freedom, liberty, and justice at home?

This was the atmosphere that shaped Johnson’s words when he spoke in the Cemetery.

January 1, 1963 had been the 100th anniversary of the formal Emancipation Proclamation. Johnson would link his words to both that earlier document and the Gettysburg Address. Jamie Thorton would later write, if “Abraham Lincoln spoke of physically freeing Black Americans, Johnson spoke of freeing their souls.” [i]

Johnson spoke to his audience that “we, the living, have not forgotten—and the world will never forget—the deeds or the words of Gettysburg. We honor them now…” At the same time, “we are called to honor our own words…with resolution in the deeds we must perform to preserve peace and the hope of freedom.” [ii]

As we maintain the vigil of peace, we must remember that justice is a vigil too—a vigil we must keep in our own streets and schools and the lives of all our people—so that those who died here on their native soil shall not have died in vain.”

One hundred years ago, the slave was freed. One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin. The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him—we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil— When we reply to the Negro by asking, ‘Patience.’

Unless we are willing to yield up our destiny of greatness among civilizations of history, Americans—white and Negro together—must be about the business of resolving the challenge that confronts us now.

Our nation found its soul of honor on these fields of Gettysburg one hundred years ago. We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate.”

Johnson went on to say that we are a nation of laws and that Americans fail when they use violence, rather than the law to gain justice.

“If it is empty to ask Negro or white for patience, it is not empty—it is merely  honest—to ask perseverance…The answers will only be wrought by our perseverance together. It is deceit to promise more as it would be cowardice to demand less.

The Negro say, ‘Now.’ Others say, ‘Never.’ The voice of responsible Americans—the voice of those who died here and the great man that spoke here—their voices say, ‘Together.’ There is no other way.”

 The audio recording of the entirety of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Gettysburg speech is available here, thanks to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. 

Dwight Eisenhower

            For the 100th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, President John F. Kennedy had been invited to speak at Gettysburg. Unfortunately, Kennedy needed to mend some political fences in Texas. I’ve often wondered how history would have changed had he not gone to Dallas or if perhaps Gettysburg might have been the site of a second national tragedy. This is something we will never know.

The organizers needed to find a substitute. Vice-President Johnson had delivered a powerful, moving message in May, but he was also in Dallas with the President. Fortunately, there was a local cattleman and farmer who was available to take the President’s place.


Eisenhower at Gettysburg.

In 1950, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower bought a farm at the edge of the Gettysburg battlefield. It was the first and last home they would buy. In 1952, Eisenhower was elected to the first of two terms as the nation’s 34th President. In 1961, Eisenhower left the Oval Office and returned home to Gettysburg. In addition to being a former President, Eisenhower had also been the Supreme Commander of all Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. It had been the forces under his command that had freed Occupied Europe from the control of Nazi Germany. He had been the first Supreme Commander of NATO as the specter of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and nuclear annihilation threatened the peace after the war. Some of the soldiers that had served under Eisenhower’s command were now buried in the National Cemetery. Eisenhower’s fame and stature among the citizens of the U.S. and the entire world made him the right choice to speak from the Rostrum.

Standing near where Lincoln spoke, Eisenhower said that it was, “here we sense his (Lincoln’s) deep dedication to freedom, (and) our own dedication takes added strength. Lincoln had faith that the ancient drums of Gettysburg…would one day beat in unison, to summon a people, happily united in peace…” [iii]

Like Lincoln, Eisenhower spoke about the past, the present, and the future. As Vice-President Johnson did a few months earlier, Eisenhower reminded us that our work was not finished, and “because of human frailty, it will always be unfinished.”

“Where we see the serenity in which time has invested this hallowed ground, Lincoln saw the scarred earth and felt the press of personal grief. Yet he lifted his eyes to the future, the future is our present. He foresaw a New Birth of Freedom…

We read Lincoln’s sentiments, we ponder his words—the beauty of the sentiments enthralls us; the majesty of his words holds us spellbound—but we have not paid to his message its just tribute until we ourselves live it…

 True to democracy’s basic principle that all are created equal and endowed by The Creator with priceless human rights, the good citizen now, as always before, is called upon to defend the rights of others as he does his own; to subordinate self to the country’s good; to refuse to take the easy way today that we might invite disaster tomorrow; to accept the truth that the work still to be done awaits his doing.”

Eisenhower reminds us that Lincoln looked to the future:

 “…Lincoln still asks of each of us, as clearly as he did of those who heard his words a century ago, to give increased devotion to the cause for which soldiers in all our wars have given the last full measure of devotion. Our answer, the only worthy one we can render to the memory of the great emancipator, is ever to defend, protect, and pass on unblemished, to the coming generations the heritage—the trust—that Abraham Lincoln, and all the ghostly legions of the past, with unflinching faith in their God, have bequeathed us- a nation free, with liberty, dignity, and justice for all.”

Eisenhower was the last president to speak from the rostrum of the Soldiers’National Cemetery. Other presidents have visited Gettysburg since Eisenhower spoke in 1963, but today they are low key events, usually not publicized until after the President has left the area. Security concerns may no longer allow the President to speak from the rostrum where several of his (or maybe someday her) predecessors spoke. That would be unfortunate. While they could never match Lincoln’s eloquence, (though Hoover, Johnson, and Eisenhower came close), their messages had much to tell us about who we were and who we are. They should not be forgotten.

Ranger John Nicholas
Gettysburg National Military Park


[i] Thorton, Jamie: “President Lyndon Johnson: Stepping Up to the Battlefield.” (online) https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-207553698/vice-presiedent-johnson-stepping-up-to-the-battlefield. (subscription required)

[ii] Lyndon B. Johnson: “Remarks of Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, Memorial Day, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania May 30, 1963.” LBJ Presidential Library (online). http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu./johnson/archives.hom/speeches.hom/630530/.asp

[iii] “The Lost Presidential Speech made at the Gettysburg Address Anniversary.” Constitution Daily (online). Posted Nov. 19, 2014.  http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2014/11/the-lost-presidential-speech-made-at-the-gettysburg-address-anniversary.

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Down Memory Lane at Gettysburg

Primary.NPSCentennialLogo.FullColorOn February 11, 1895, federal legislation created Gettysburg National Military Park.  Yes, the park was created before there even was a “National Park Service”(created 21 years later in 1916).  In fact one of the reasons I think the Gettysburg battlefield boasts so many monuments and markers is that, as the generation of Civil war veterans passed into their golden years and thought long and hard about how the battle and the war would be remembered, they wanted monuments to tell the story through the ages.  They never could have imagined the concept of a National Park Ranger, whose primary job is to tell the story of the Battle of Gettysburg!

A few years ago Kathy Georg Harrison, a former historian of Gettysburg National Military Park, shared these historic photos and detailed captions with me for a project we were working on.  One further note: it may be useful here to note the administrators of the Gettysburg battlefield through different eras. They are: the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA) 1864-1895; Gettysburg National Park Commission 1893-1922; U.S. War Department 1922-1933; and the National Park Service 1933-present.

Let’s celebrate the establishment of Gettysburg National Military Park 121 years today by taking this pictorial walk down memory lane…

The Battle-Taneytown Road at Meade's Headquarters 1863Taneytown Road at Meade’s Headquarters – This is a portion of an Alexander Gardner photograph taken a few days after the battle, looking from a point south of the Leister house in the direction of Cemetery Hill.  The orchard is visible at the left of the picture.  The dead horses probably belonged to Meade’s staff and men in the Signal Corps that were killed during the cannonade on July 3.  Sidenote: The widow Leister, who lived in what became Meade’s headquarters, had lots of the dead horses piled up on her property, to keep until they rotted so she could use their bones as fertilizer.

The Battle-PowersHill and Cemetery Hill 1863Powers Hill and Cemetery Hill – This is part of an Edwin Forbes painting based on drawings he made here during the battle.  Forbes was travelling with the Union army as a reporter/illustrator.  This painting depicts ambulances on the Granite School Road, reserves sitting on the hill to the south of the road and Union forces marching to the battlefield along the Baltimore Pike.  The lower slope of Powers Hill appears in the middle ground and Cemetery Hill appears in the distance above it.  When we removed nonhistoric trees from Powers Hill in 2012, we retained a grove of trees at the base of Powers Hill  just as depicted in this painting.  FYI—the grove was Meade’s Headquarters after he was forced out of the Leister House until sometime late on the 4th of July when he moved closer to Cemetery Hill.

Gettysburg Address--Soldiers' National Cemetery c. 1890Soldiers’ National Cemetery c. 1890 – This is a view towards the Soldiers’ National Monument from one of the original internal drives through the Civil War interment sections.  On the right of the photo are the curbing headstones of the Maine section; on the left is one of the large sections of the unknown dead with their marble posts.  Much foliage in this photograph belongs to planting that was added by the War Department after they acquired and incorporated the cemetery into administration by the Quartermaster General (1872).  This planting within the burial section undermined the design intent of the William Saunders plan.  The heads of the Norway Maple tree allee of the original Saunders design appears at the extreme left of the photo.

Notice the cannon carriage near the monument. A number of carriages were placed in the national cemetery at varying locations near the Soldiers’ National Monument and near the Reynolds statue to signify the military presence but not as site-specific markers. The storage building (the current maintenance building in the cemetery) was constructed to house these carriages during the winter. Cannon carriages became standard components of the newly created national cemetery system. Once the Gettysburg National Park Commission placed artillery position markers in the cemetery these movable carriages were moved there.

Monumentation--First Style of GBMA monumentationFirst Style of Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA) Monumentation –  GBMA contracted for the painting of wooden signboards to mark the positions of the various units of the Union army, started during the 1870s.  This one, to the 150th PA, was located along Hancock Avenue.  The view is in the direction of Taneytown Road near the Biggs House.  Today, a small granite monument to the 150th PA marks this same spot.

Monumentation--Commemoration of Battery positions c.1880Commemoration of Battery Positions c. 1880  – Cannon from the Civil War era, condemned by the War Department, were donated to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association by Act of Congress for the battlefield.  Most of the artillery sent to Gettysburg did not reflect the type or caliber of the guns used there in 1863 but were mounted anyway to designate artillery positions on property owned by the Association.  This photo shows mounted guns on East Cemetery Hill.  The ones in the foreground, mounted on blocks of rustic granite, were the first commemorative devices to monument the battlefield—similar structures were erected on the summit of Little Round Top.  These particular guns are in the lunettes of Stewart’s Battery B 4th U.S. Artillery.  The ones in the lunettes in the background are mounted on wooden carriages, several of which were purchased by the Association to replace the granite mounts.  The wooden carriages proved to be too expensive and were short-lived which led to the park Commission deciding to purchase iron carriages.  Click here for more about early cannon carriages at Gettysburg.

Monumentation--Model of Penna. MonumentModel of Pennsylvania Monument – This photograph shows the winning design entry in 1908 for the Pennsylvania State monument, erected and dedicated in 1910.  The design was made by architect W. Liance Cottrell, with help from Samuel Murray who sculpted the relief panels and the statue of Victory.  This monument brought to a climax the money expended, the size to which these structures had attained, and the desire to personally acknowledge every soldier who performed his duty at Gettysburg.  We had come a long way from the painted handboards.

The Commission--Paving Gutters, United States Ave.Paving Gutters United States Avenue – One of the first tasks assigned to the Commission was the opening of avenues along the Union and Confederate positions and inventing a systematic way to visit and understand the battlefield.  Although the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association had an avenue system, it was rutted, bumpy, poorly graded, hardly maintained and existed only on the Union side of battlefields.  The Commission laid out avenues that were the envy of urban areas all along the east coast; engineers and supervisors of towns and cities visited the park solely for the purpose of finding a way to mimic the perfection and beauty of the park’s avenue system.  This photograph shows one of the improvements to one of the first avenues laid out by the Commission—United States Avenue.  The avenue had been graded and constructed along the Telford system and was enclosed with a pipe rail fence.  Later, to improve drainage many of the avenues had stone gutters laid on their edges.  This photograph shows two park employees—the highest paid were the pavers—systematically putting the puzzle together and laying them.  You can see from the photograph that the Commission was very light-handed when it came to development.  The route of the gutters was hand dug and limited only to the exact dimensions where the gutter would be installed.  The man with the horse owned the horse, which was rented from the owner.  The horse would be paid, the man who apparently just stood around when not hauling and dumping, was not paid.  Who knows how much bran and oats that horse went out and bought on the way home from work!  The house in the background is the Trostle House.  The large tree to the right of the house and just inside the pipe fence is the “Sickles Headquarters Tree” that still stands there today.

All credit is due to Kathy Georg Harrison, retired historian at Gettysburg National Military Park, for this blog post, originally prepared as a power point presentation.  Any errors are likely the result of my editing. Also, thanks to Winona Peterson, the park’s Cultural Resource Program Manager for her assistance on this post. On this, the 121st birthday of Gettysburg National Military Park, I am honored to share some of this amazing history with each of you.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 2/11/2016


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The Other Gettysburg Addresses: Presidential Orations at Gettysburg Part II

From Abraham Lincoln to Dwight Eisenhower, Gettysburg has long been associated with the American presidency. Since 1863 numerous sitting presidents have journeyed to Gettysburg, and following in Lincoln’s footsteps, have offered speeches and orations that are a reflection of how different generations, and presidents, have remembered and reflected the American Civil War.  This is part two of a three part series focusing on presidential speeches and orations at Gettysburg. Part I covered Rutherford Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge.

Herbert Hoover

After Calvin Coolidge’s dull speech of Memorial Day 1928, President Herbert Hoover would give a truly great oration filled with wonderful metaphors, imagery, and eloquence. The Great Depression had already begun, (though its worst years had not hit the U.S. yet), when Herbert Hoover spoke from the rostrum in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Hoover’s address would not just be heard by listeners and reporters in the cemetery, but was broadcast over national radio networks. The entire nation has the opportunity to listen along as the President and Gettysburg community observed Memorial Day in 1930.

Hoover Gettysburg Times June 2 1930

The Gettysburg Times devoted a portion of their June 2, 1930 edition to Hoover’s visit.

Hoover pointed out that “most of those who bore the burdens of the Civil War have joined their comrades who sleep beneath the mounds” in national cemeteries. “The time must come all too soon when these living ties of our generation with the historic past will have passed on. Then we shall have only cherished memories to remind us of those men who heroically died and those women who bravely suffered for great ideals, or who lived on to consummate the reunion of our country, to give stability to its Government, and peace to its people.”[1]

“Every American’s thought of this great battlefield of Gettysburg flashes with the instant vision of the lonely figure of Lincoln, whose immortal words dominate this scene. No monument has been or can be erected here so noble as that simple enduring address which has become part of this place. Greater than the tribute of granite or bronze remains that memorable message to the American people. That appeal for the unity of our people and the perpetuation of the fundamentals of democracy is as vital today in our national thinking as it was when Lincoln spoke. Behind him were 70 years of national experience that had passed between himself and Washington. His words from their span of the past rang with courage and assurance for the future. Though no President has been so beset, though no time in our history has been so dark, though never have strong men been so affected with doubts, yet in the midst of all that turmoil he found the strength to lift his head above the clouds and proclaim that vision which passing years have so fully confirmed.”

Hoover would go on to say that while Americans were facing a new day with new, very ominous problems that seemed to have no solutions, they could take comfort in following Lincoln’s example of courage and faith.

“In the weaving of our destiny, the pattern may change, yet the woof and warp
of our weaving must be inspired by those inspired ideals of unity, of ordered liberty, of equality of opportunity, of popular government, and of peace to which this Nation was dedicated…The weaving of freedom is and always will be a struggle of law against lawlessness, of individual liberty against domination, of unity against sectionalism, of truth against demagoguery, of peace against fear and conflict. In the forming of this pattern, the abuse of politics often muddies the stream of constructive thought and dams back the flow of well-considered action.”

“In the solution of the problem of our times we have some new lamps to guide us. The light of science has revealed to us a new understanding of forces and a myriad of instruments of physical ease and comfort to add to the joy of life. The growth of communications, of education, of the press, have made possible a new unity of thought and purpose. But the light that guides our souls remains the same as that whereby our fathers were led. It is the store of knowledge, the great inspirations of men’s souls, the ideals which they carry forward, that have lifted the Nation to ever greater heights.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Roosevelt spoke twice at Gettysburg. The more well-known visit was in 1938 for the 75th anniversary observance of the battle, the last reunion of the veterans of the Blue and Gray. That reunion also played host to the dedication of the Eternal Peace Light Memorial on Oak Hill.  Forgotten today is his visit four years earlier in 1934 and his Memorial Day speech in the National Cemetery.

Hitler had become chancellor of Germany a year earlier; Japan was already in Manchuria; and Mussolini would attack Ethiopia the following year, but Americans were in the worst years of the Depression and overseas problems were not yet on Roosevelt’s mind.

FDR’s 1934 speech focused on reconciliation not just between north and south, but of the entire American people as the nation attempted to dig its way out of the Depression. He almost ignored Gettysburg and the battle there, as if he was trying to distance himself from Lincoln, though he would ultimately circle back  in the last sentence of his remarks.

In his closing remarks Roosevelt linked the Gettysburg battlefield to Valley Forge, Valley Forge to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and finally Philadelphia to George Washington’s inauguration and

Roosevelt 1934

The Gettysburg Times reported an estimated 100,000 people were on hand to hear Roosevelt’s 1934 speech.

presidency. He told his audience that Washington recognized “the strength of local and State and sectional prejudices and how strong they might grow to be, and how they might take from the national Government some of the loyalty the citizens owed to it”.[2] Washington toured the different parts of the new country in 1789-91 in order to help foster a sense of sense of national unity. He had hoped that national highways and canals would be “aids not to sectional, but to national development.” When the country was within “driving distance” (Roosevelt’s words) of the thirteen states that had been possible, but as the nation expanded, the transportation and communications of the day could not keep up.

Following up on his theme of continental transportation and communications, Roosevelt had a very different, and novel reason for the cause of the Civil War. He told his audience that when the railroads came, they were developed for local and sectional use. With the nation’s boundaries extending sea-to-sea, the country had become several “self-contained territories” with limited ties and connections to each other. “People were not thinking in terms of national transportation or national communication…The tragedy of the Nation was that the people did not know one another because they had not the necessary means of visiting one another.”

Mindful that there were Civil War veterans in the audience, Roosevelt linked them with the current generation, “Since those days, two subsequent wars, both with foreign Nations, have measurably allayed and softened the ancient passions. It has been left to us of this generation to see the healing made permanent.”

With the Depression dominating American life in the 1930s, Roosevelt proclaimed a new reconciliation, not of the North and South, but of the farm and the city. He told his listeners:

“We are all brothers now, brothers in a new understanding. The grain farmer of the West and in the fertile fields of Pennsylvania do not set themselves up for preference if we seek at the same time cotton farmers of the South; nor do the tobacco growers complain of discrimination if, at the same time, we help the cattle men of the plains and mountains.”

“In our planning to lift industry to normal prosperity, the farmer upholds our efforts. And as we seek to give the farmers of the United States a long-sought equality, the city worker understands and helps. All of us, among all States, share in whatever good comes to the average man. We know that we all have a stake–a partnership in this Government of this, our country.”

“Today we have the means of knowing each other—means that have at last sounded the doom of sectionalism…”

“Here at Gettysburg, here in the presence of the spirits of those who fell on this ground, we
give renewed that the passions of war are moldering in the tombs of Time and the purposes of
the peace are flowing today in the hearts of a united people.”

John Nicholas, Gettysburg National Military Park

[1] Herbert Hoover: “Memorial Day Address at Gettysburg Battlefield.” May 30, 1930. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=22214

[2] Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Address at Gettysburg.”, May 30, 1934. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14685

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The Other Gettysburg Addresses – Presidential Orations at Gettysburg

photo meld 2

Every orator who speaks at Gettysburg lives in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln’s 272 word address. Those brave enough to mount the podium on Dedication Day, or during any other of the numerous occasions for speechifying that the battlefield presents, usually begin their effort by begrudgingly acknowledging the impossibility of supplanting Lincoln’s “few appropriate remarks.” Words less ambitious and prose less soaring spare the speaker from any unflattering comparison with Lincoln.

Throughout the past century and half, the challenge of following Lincoln has been confronted by a number of illustrious and not-so-illustrious American Presidents. Each has offered unique remarks  that are illustrative of the man  and the time in which it was spoken. While most fall short of the high bar set by Lincoln, they comprise an interesting chapter in the history of Gettysburg, as well as the presidency. Today we begin a new series, penned by Ranger John Nicholas, that will examine the  “other Gettysburg Addresses.”  

Every year, thousands, perhaps a million visitors walk through the Taneytown Road gates of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Almost always, the first question visitors  ask as soon as they walk through the gates is: Where was Abraham Lincoln? It’s a fair question; the Gettysburg Address is one of the most well-known and well-loved speeches in any language in world history. Who wouldn’t want to know where those words were first spoken by the man who spoke them? The first structure a visitor sees as they come through the gates is the Speakers’ Rostrum. They will think, “That has to be the spot where Lincoln stood!”  I often see people, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups (often school kids) climb the rostrum to stand where they believe President Lincoln spoke his immortal words. They sometimes recite the Gettysburg Address with as much dignity and solemnity as they can muster and try to imagine what it would have been like to stand there on November 19th, 1863. The rostrum is a great place to give a speech and every November 19th speeches will be made from there; but President Lincoln wasn’t there.


The Rostrum in the Soldier’ National Cemetery. The site is often confused as the location where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. In reality it was constructed in 1879 and stands some distance from the actual site. 

Abraham Lincoln never spoke from the rostrum. He couldn’t have; it wasn’t constructed until 1879, fourteen years after his death. But while Lincoln didn’t speak from the rostrum, there have been six other presidents who did speak from that spot: Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  One future president, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, also spoke from the rostrum. Six of the seven presidents spoke on Memorial Day, then observed on May 30th. The event known today as Dedication Day, the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address on November 19th, did not become a tradition until 1938.

It takes a great deal of self-confidence to be the President of the United States, but I’m sure any successor to the 16th President would be intimidated to have to follow Abraham Lincoln and his words on the very ground where he spoke them. He’s a hard act to follow. What could they say that would add but not detract from what Lincoln spoke on Cemetery Hill on November 19, 1863?

I’ve often said that Lincoln’s words are about the past, the present, and the future. What path would these succeeding presidents follow? What would these presidents say about the past, their present, and the future? Would they merely reflect on Lincoln and Gettysburg in 1863 or would they try to get past the Address quickly so as not to invite comparison? Would they apply Lincoln’s words to their own times and the trials and the world in which they lived? Would their words provide inspiration for the future?

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president after Lincoln to speak in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Hayes spoke from a wooden platform constructed on the same spot where the current rostrum is located. (As mentioned earlier the current rostrum was not built until 1879.) Hayes was a Civil War veteran, (though he was not at the Battle of Gettysburg).  He was also the president who ordered the removal federal troops from the former Confederate states, which effectively ended Reconstruction, so I had hoped that he would provide a veteran’s insight on the war and its aftermath. It was not to be.


Rutherford B. Hayes

Hayes said nothing about his own experience or events that had happened during or after the war or the war’s effect on Americans. He did remind his listeners that Lincoln and those who responded to his call to suppress the rebellion, “gave their lives for the Union, liberty, and for a stable, constitutional government.” Hayes hoped that contemplating the National Cemetery and the landscape of the battlefield would allow Americans to better appreciate their country and its institutions and help them be better prepared for the duties which had been bequeathed to them by the soldiers buried in the cemetery.[1]

Hayes followed Lincoln’s example in the brevity of his remarks. His entire speech is a single paragraph, nine sentences long. If the Associated Press reporter’s short- hand transcription of the words of Lincoln’s speech is accurate, then Lincoln spoke a total of 269 words on November 19, 1863. On May 30, 1878, President Hayes spoke only 253 words, but the last 44 words are the last sentence from Lincoln’s address. Only 209 words belong to President Hayes.[2]

Theodore Roosevelt

The assassination of President William McKinley ended the life of the last Civil War veteran to be elected to the Oval Office. The vice-president who succeeded him as president, Theodore Roosevelt, spoke from the rostrum in 1904.

Evening Sun, May 30, 1912

Two presidents prepare their respective Gettysburg remarks. The Evening Sun, May 30, 1912

A new century with a new, vital, young president, Roosevelt was forty-three years old when he spoke at Gettysburg. The United States had emerged as a player on the world stage, millions of immigrants were flocking to its shores, the economy was booming, and the nation was bursting with energy. In the years after the Civil War, Pragmatism, a distinctly American philosophy, had been conceptualized by Charles S. Pierce, William James, and John Dewey. Roosevelt, with his emphasis on practical idealism and living “a strenuous life”, was the very embodiment of that philosophy.

Roosevelt ascribed those same ideals to the soldiers who fought at Gettysburg:

“The Civil War was a great war of righteousness; a war waged for the noblest ideals, but waged also in thoroughgoing, practical fashion. That is why you won then because you had the ideals, because you had the lift of soul in you, and because also you had the right stuff in you to make those ideals count in actual life. You had to have the ideals, but if you had not been able to march and shoot you could not put them into practice… this victorious war of ours meant the triumph of both liberty and order, the triumph of orderly liberty, the bestowal of civil rights upon the freed slaves, and at the same time the stern insistence on the supremacy of the national law throughout the length and breadth of the land.”

Roosevelt reminded his listeners that the soldiers who won at Gettysburg and the soldiers who fought to the end of the war “made their countrymen forever their debtors, (and) have left us far more even than the memories of the war itself… (And) the lessons they taught us are lessons as applicable in our everyday lives now as in rare times of great stress.”   

Roosevelt goes on to tell us what those lessons were:

       “The men who went into the army had to submit to discipline, had to submit to restraint through the government of the leaders they had chosen, as the price of winning. So we, the people, can preserve our liberty and our greatness in time of peace only by ourselves exercising the virtues of honesty, of self-restraint, and of fair dealing between man and man.”[3]

Some in the audience that day would learn first-hand the lessons the President spoke of at Gettysburg. Americans were already involved in a guerrilla war in the Philippines. In 1906, U.S. Marines would be deployed to Cuba. The following year, “the Great White Fleet”, a newly expanded and modernized United States Navy would begin a world tour to demonstrate America’s growing military power. In 1916, the U.S. Army would be chasing Poncho Villa in Mexico. By that point, World War I had already begun in Europe. Four million Americans would serve in “The War to End All Wars”. Some of those Americans would be buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery. 

Calvin Coolidge

It was the “Roaring Twenties”. The Great War was over, and unlike in Europe, it had left few scars on the United States. But while the war did not touch U.S. soil, Americans would experience new challenges and once again make a break from the past. More and more citizens were leaving the farms for towns and cities. Railroads and  automobiles were allowing Americans to move north, south, east, and west.

Change always produces some turmoil, and newspapers were filled with stories of the Teapot Dome Scandal, the Red Scare, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and widespread lynching in the South. Beginning in 1915, the Ku Klux Klan, which had almost disappeared after 1872, was resurrected and by 1924 had 2 million members.[4] Gangsters like John Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, and Al Capone made front page news.

In 1920, women won the right to vote and began to have a great effect on the economy as businesses began to direct their advertising towards those most responsible for household purchases. The first “teenagers” were coined to designate them as a group distinct from children and adults. For better or worse, the radio, phonograph, and motion pictures were creating a distinctly American popular culture. The automobile was providing young people with greater mobility and a way for them to date out of their parents’ eyesight. Women were wearing “flapper” dresses and shorter hairstyles and


Calvin Coolidge

swooning to Rudolph Valentino and Douglass Fairbanks. Young couples were listening to jazz, (critics claimed the music was satanic and led to sex crimes), dancing the Charleston, and, (despite Prohibition), drinking bootleg whiskey and bathtub gin. It was all very shocking to older generations of Americans.

Calvin Coolidge was the president. Today Coolidge is remembered as a man of few words. That was not true on Memorial Day, 1928 when he spoke from the rostrum. At 3,115 words, Coolidge’s remarks were the longest presidential address given in the National Cemetery, (at least so far).

Coolidge noted that Gettysburg is “one of the great historic battle grounds on this continent. In the magnitude of its importance it compares with the Plains of Abraham, with Saratoga, and with Yorktown… (and is associated with) one of the greatest addresses ever delivered by one of the greatest men ever in the world, Abraham Lincoln.”[5] Coolidge mentioned that U.S. Treasury had thus far paid out between six and seven billion dollars in Civil War pensions and at the time of Coolidge’s remarks was still paying out $200,000,000 annually to veterans, widows, and orphans and another $560 million to veterans of the World War.

After briefly acknowledging both wars and war veterans, the President quickly pivoted away from this topic and gave what was essentially a State of the Union Address. Although he said the United States would not entirely retreat from the world back into isolationism, it’s clear that Coolidge wanted to return to the days before the Great War and all of its upheavals. He promised that the U.S. would keep its Army and Navy small to show our neighbors that we were no threat to peace. Coolidge stated that America’s world-wide interests were in maintaining that peace and he spent the majority of his speech expounding on those hopes, and what the U.S. and other nations needed to do to keep and maintain it.

The most interesting part of the President’s speech was focused on the issue of crime. Coolidge believed that the reasons for the increase in crime was due to a loosening of moral standards in American society. “If the people are careless and indifferent, if they look with complacency on crime and assume a sentimental attitude towards criminals, little reform can be hoped for…good government can only be secured by eternal vigilance…” While Prohibition didn’t ban the manufacture and consumption of alcohol, (merely its sale and importation), laws were widely flaunted and organized crime was thriving as a result of it.

In some places the law was barely enforced, while several states and many counties went beyond the limits of the 18th Amendment and banned alcohol completely. Towards the end of his remarks Coolidge stated that it was his opinion that legislatures, (he implied state legislatures but he could also have been speaking of Congress here), were exceeding their constitutional authority. He said “such action is a larceny of power.”

Coolidge’s speech was dull and uninspiring. Overall, despite America’s crime problem, he painted a picture of happy, peaceful, and contented Americans with a prosperous industry, agriculture, commerce, and good credit, not realizing that the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression was just around the corner.


John Nicholas
Gettysburg National Military Park

[1] Rutherford B. Hayes: “Memorial Day Speech, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania May 30, 1878,” Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center (online). http://www.rbhayes.org/hayes/content/files/RBHSpeeches/presidentialspeeches326.htm

[2] Johnson, Martin P., Writing the Gettysburg Address. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press. 2013  pp. 201-209

[3] Theodore Roosevelt: “Memorial Day Speech, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania May 30, 1904,” The Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt (online) Complete Speeches.


[4] The Southern Poverty Law Center. “The Ku Klux Klan: A History of Racism and Violence” 6th edition Montgomery, AL 2011 www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/Ku-Klux-Klan-A-History-of-Racism.pdf

[5] Calvin Coolidge: “Address at Gettysburg Battlefield,” May 30, 1928. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=458




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