Feb/March 2013 Emmitsburg News Journal
July 1st, 2013, will mark the day 150 years ago that the Battle of Gettysburg started. The Battle of Gettysburg was an important battle in the American Civil War, and is one of the major turning points of the American Civil War. Since 150 years to the day the battle started, it’s hard to imagine what it was like during those three days in July. But yet, after the Civil War, veterans from both the blue and the gray would return to this Civil War battlefield. Reflections of days gone by, talks about the hard times and soldier life, and seeing old friends from other units that fought together. And yes, those same reenactments that many thousands of people will go see are rooted when those veterans returned to Gettysburg.
Gettysburg was an important battle, so much so, that within a month after the battle plans were created to preserve the battlefield. This is when Attorney David McConaughy created the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. On April 30, 1864, the GBMA became the official preservation organization of the battlefield when Pennsylvania legislation gave its approval for a memorial landscape at Gettysburg. The GBMA then created the guidelines for the placements of all memorials, monuments, and markers that would eventually be erected upon the battlefield.
As the war came to a close, the first unofficial reunion took place in 1865, when members of the 50th Pennsylvania Infantry encamped on Culp’s Hill for the Soldiers’ National Monument cornerstone ceremony. Four years later, Attorney McConaughy, organized the first veteran’s reunion at Gettysburg. In 1878, the Grand Army of the Republic held their encampment at Gettysburg which featured several activities including hayrides, sack races, band concerts, balloon ascensions, picnics, and dances. This was also the year that the first memorials were placed on the ground. The first, marking the area where General Strong Vincent was mortally wounded, and the second marked the spot where Colonel Fred Taylor fell. A year later, the survivors of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry erected the first regimental monument.
During the latter part of the 1800’s more monuments were erected upon the Gettysburg Battlefield by Union units that fought there. By 1882, the GBMA had exhausted their preservation funds, as 280 acres had been preserved. During the same year, several ex-Confederate officers were invited to Gettysburg to share information on troop positions. In 1885, as preservation continued, President Grover Cleveland attended the First Corps reunion, and was given a battlefield tour after his visit to the GettysburgNationalCemetery.
In 1886, twenty-three years after the Battle of Gettysburg, survivors of Confederate General George Pickett’s Division attended the reunion. During this important part of Gettysburg history, Union veterans were marking out positions and needed help with those they fought against. The New York Times wrote: “Now they are come together as friends and as citizens of a common country, having no resentments and cherishing no animosities.”
In 1887, the US Congress appropriated funding to use to mark out various US Regulars. Since the GBMA’s charter was limited to the Union positions, no real efforts were made to include the Army of Northern Virginia and their role there.
By July of 1888, the Quarter-Centenary of the Battle of Gettysburg had arrived. Twenty-five years had gone by since the battle. Almost twenty-five years of healing between the veteran soldiers of the blue and grey. This commemoration also included several monuments being erected upon the battlefield. During this commemoration, there were enough veterans to recreate Pickett’s Charge. The Confederate veterans actually rode in carriages across the field until they came to the stone wall, where they shook hands with those formerly of the Union army.
In 1889, the GBMA petitioned members of Congress to authorize land purchases where the Confederate army was located during the three day battle. This petition also included marking the Confederate positions where those divisions, brigades and regiments fought. In 1892, plans were approved to convert Meade’s headquarters into a museum featuring artifacts from the battle.
The year of 1893 brought several threats to the preservation of the Gettysburg Battlefield, and because of this the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission was created. By 1895, legislation establishing the GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark had become Federal law. This law also provided the Park Commission with complete control of the battlefield. The lands owned by the GBMA were transferred over to the Park Commission. A major threat to the battlefield had been the electric trolley. The plans were to run a line deep into the battlefield which included Devil’s Den. The Circuit Court favored the trolley company. However, the case was overturned in 1896, by the Supreme Court when the GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark was enacted by law a year earlier suggesting that preservation was part of their responsibilities for its creation.
An actual park was underway, complete with roadways, and itinerary tablets to mark various positions of both the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The War Department renewed their effort to preserve and mark Confederate battle lines. It was now important for the veterans of both armies who fought at Gettysburg to come together if Gettysburg was going to be part of their legacy.
In 1895, several tour guides were making a living on by providing tourists guided tours of the battlefield. By 1913, several complaints were issued by the public. As a result, the War Department began to regulate tour guides. Only those who were licensed would be permitted to give tours charging a fee. Soon a roster was issued for 100 licensed guides. In 1928, regulations for a guide uniform were approved, as well as business cards to be given to the public.
The year 1913, marked the 50th Commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg. From July 1st through July 4th, thousands of Civil War veterans embarked on the town of Gettysburg. On June 28th, the New York Herald wrote: “Today fifty thousand veterans of the great War are moving on to take peaceful possession of the field where the ardor of youth they strove in such deadly conflict. No better evidence of healing of the nation’s wounds could be offered than the spectacle of men of the Grand Army and of the Confederacy striking hands on the spot where they made history.“
During the Commemoration, many governors and veteran organizations spoke. Many activities were planned, and a recreation of the Pickett’s Charge was reenacted by 120 veterans of Pickett’s Division, and 180 veterans from the Philadelphia Brigade. The Confederate veterans charged over 100 feet of ground to the wall and shook hands with the Union veterans. The US military, boy scouts, and Red Cross were on hand to aide those ageing veterans. Wool blankets were handed out and over 650,000 meals were served.
On July 4th, President Woodrow Wilson spoke at the Gettysburg reunion. In his address, he said: “How complete the union has become and how dear to all of us, how unquestioned, how benign and majestic, as State after State has been added to this, our great family of free men! How handsome the vigor, the maturity, the might of the great Nation we love with undivided hearts; how full of large and confident promise that a life will be wrought out that will crown its strength with gracious justice and with a happy welfare that will touch all alike with deep contentment! We are debtors to those fifty crowned years; they have made us heirs to a mighty heritage.”
Fifty years had passed since the battle and during the early 1900’s, these veterans who fought against each other during the three day battle were now part of a whole Union. They were not viewed as anything but Americans. As the Fiftieth Commemoration came to a close, preservation efforts of the Gettysburg Battlefield continued.
In 1922, the third remaining commissioner of the Park Commission had passed away and with that, the first superintendent’s position was born with Emmor B. Cope holding that title until his death in 1927. Cope was also the last remaining commissioner of the Park Commission.
1916 marked the year when the National Park Service was created. As early as 1923, attempts were made to have land owned by the war department transferred to the National Park Service. Those attempts had failed. It wasn’t until 1933, when the GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark was transferred over to the Department of Interior and administered by the National Park Service. This transfer occurred when President Theodore Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6166 which allowed the transfer of NationalCemeteries and BattlefieldParks to the National Park Service.
As Gettysburg became a tourist attraction, it was important for people to learn about what happened there. As a result, education and interpretation became a vital asset. In 1931, Verne Chatelain was appointed as the head of the historical division within the National Park Service. As the National Park Service was expanding, this was also during another lapse in America’s Depression.
When the National Park Service took over Gettysburg, the park had several maintenance issues that needed attention. During his first review from October 1933 to September 1934, Superintendent James R. McConaghie explained that the Gettysburg Battlefield had operational activities in the form of Administration, Protection, Maintenance, Repairs and Alterations. For example, over twenty-two miles of roads had to be maintained and repaired. This review also had the total number of positions that were needed in order to run the park. Such as mowing, thirty-nine miles worth of fences, and the care of markers and cannon that dot the landscape at Gettysburg, and add to the numbers of visitors to the battlefield.
In 1933 alone, more than 45,000 people came to Gettysburg, as reported by the tour guides. On top of that more than 11,000 buses and cars came to Gettysburg where a tour guide gave a tour. For actual stats on the number of visits, it was estimated that almost 200,000 people came to Gettysburg. This number was down compared to 1929, when over 700,000 people came. The drop was due to the Great Depression. Because of the cost of maintenance, preservation, and staff, the GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark relied upon the New Deal. The Civilian Conservation Corps came to Gettysburg to help with park maintenance. Also historical interpreters were on hand to tell the story of Gettysburg.
In 1938, seventy-five years had passed since the days of the battle. The attendance wasn’t near what it was twenty-five years earlier. There were about 8,000 Civil War veterans that were still living. Out of that number only 1,359 Union soldiers and 486 Confederate soldiers attended the reunion. Out of those numbers, twenty-five of those veterans actually fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. President Franklin Roosevelt came to Gettysburg and dedicated the Peace Light Memorial.
As the GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark entered into the 1940’s, a war was erupting in Europe. As the United States entered into World War Two against Japan and Germany, raw materials and scrap metal were needed for the war efforts in Europe and the Pacific. Gettysburg was called upon, since its resources included many metals that were used on the monuments, fences, cannon, tablets, as well as scrap metal. However, Gettysburg was spared when the war ended in 1945.
During the 1940’s brochures of the battlefield were made and handed out to the public. The National Park Service purchased the famous Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama painting, which measures 377 feet in circumference and is 42 feet high. By 1956, GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark began to prepare for the fiftieth Anniversary of the National Park Service, which would occur in 1966. This preparation called for the resurfacing of roads, the mending of fences, and fixing farms and houses that sat on the battlefield.
However, 1961 would mark a very important year, the 100th Commemoration or Centennial of the American Civil War. The reason I wanted to provide my readers with the history of the GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark was because it went hand in hand with those Veteran Reunions. It was because of those veterans and a few people who realized the impact that Gettysburg had, or was going to have, as time moved forward into history.
To me, the Centennial is where the modern Gettysburg experience that we see today comes from. This is when you really start seeing reenacting units forming. This practice, although new, does have its roots planted in the 1950’s with the North South Skirmish Association (N-SSA). Although not considered reenactors, these guys would purchase ready made clothing made from cotton twill or wool from a modern times catalog.
During this time period, if one wanted to reenact, your choices of uniforms were very limited. There were enough original Union uniform items that were, at the time, still considered as surplus, or you could order from a Vanhorn catalog for uniform parts. As mentioned above, items from the Sears catalog were often worn. If you wanted to progress and be authentic, you had to research the items and try to make them by hand in your home. The availability of material/cloth made it difficult to make authentic Civil War reproductions. Some guys wore original Union surplus such as greatcoats, forage caps, leather accouterments and shoes. As the Centennial gained popularity, many Civil War collectors were born and soon started purchasing uniforms which drove up the prices of the surplus.
The reenactments during the 1960’s were not exactly like the ones you would see today. Mass mobs of guys, National Guardsmen and some NSSA members would recreate battle scenes. Some of my colleagues who participated in some of the reenactments remember hearing the sudden burst of the M-14 rifle by the National Guardsmen, and seeing Confederate reenactors wearing clothing from the Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog.
By 1963, there were no living veterans of the American Civil War. With it being such a huge event in American history, commemoration was needed. This is where a new Gettysburg event would unfold and set the standards for what we see today with regards to the reenactments. By the end of the Gettysburg reenactment, the National Park Service put a stop to reenactments being conducted on government owned land due to the trash that was left behind.
By the end of the Centennial, Civil War reenacting had gained in popularity, and it continues to this day. As time went on, for those who wanted more authentically made uniforms, they researched the original pieces that were left out there. As research has gotten better and information made more publicly available, the uniforms gradually got better. Even then, the authentically made cloth didn’t become mass produced until the 1980’s. Almost twenty years after the first reenactment, museum quality clothing would be made with the authentic material. One gentleman in particular, Charlie Childs was the front runner in cloth, uniforms and pattern making. I have met Charlie a few times and even to this day, he is considered the best of the best and he continues to making items to this day.
Today, reenactors can go to Gettysburg and buy uniforms off the rack. Whether you are a mainstream reenactor or an authentic campaigner, people like Charlie Childs, Jim Warehiem, Les Jensen, Fred Gaede, Dave Jurgella, Ross Kimmel, and Tim Sheads all contributed their research to the hobby. These guys were the ones who set the standard for uniforms in which the second and third generation of sutlers would follow. Not to mention, people like Dirty Billy who mass produced kepis and head gear, and Nick Duvall who has completed many hours of leather research. The whole entire uniform of a reenactor would look and feel as it was the real thing.
Beitler, Lewis E., Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, December, 1913
Hanc, John., How We’ve Commemorated the Civil War, Take a look back at how Americans have remembered the civil war during significant anniversaries of the past. Smithsonian.com, April 11, 2011
Kimmel, Ross M., The Centennial Memoirs of Ross Kimmel, 2000, Jonah World! Website http://www.wesclark.com/jw/kimmel.html
Large, George. The Battle of Gettysburg, The Official History by the GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark Commission, Burd Street Press, 1999
Spooner, Amelia J., “Our Country’s Common Ground”: The Gettysburg Battlefield As Historical Document, Thesis in American History, April 12, 2010
Unrau, Harland D., Administrative History, GettysburgNationalMilitaryPark and NationalCemetery, 1991
I would like to thank Ross Kimmel, Dave Jurgella, Robb Hodge and many other pards that I have talked and participated with in the world of reenacting. These guys are the ones who sat the standards of authenticity that is often overlooked.