Of all the things I expected to grace my dining room table, a photo album with captions retelling an eye-witness account of the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion wasn’t one of them. It’s here on loan from one of my neighbors.

Graphic for A Story Told in Captions The 1913 Gettysburg ReunionOne evening a few weeks ago, one of my neighbors inclined her head at another neighbor. “Did she show you what she found?”

“No. What?” I was already hooked, even though I had no idea what they were talking about.

“I’ll lug it over tomorrow,” the second neighbor promised.

Postcard album with photos from 1913 Gettysburg Reunion“It” turns out to be a beautiful art-deco book, filled with falling out pages of personal photographs and post cards. Each leaf holds two images.

Each leaf is a treasure.

A Glimpse into Gettysburg 50 Years after the Civil War

The beginning of the book chronicles, via photographs and a few purchased postcards, the “Great Peace Reunion of 1913 in Gettysburg. Unfamiliar with the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion, I had to look up the context of my storyteller’s experience.

The 1913 Gettysburg Reunion was the brain child of General H.S. Huidekoper, a Philadelphian veteran. He suggested it to Pennsylvania Governor Edwin S. Stuart, who gave it his full support. Stuart’s successor,  John K. Tener,  took over the planning in 1911 and it was Tener who was honored on the Gettysburg parade grounds.

The “Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg Committee” aided by the U.S. War Department, made ready for 100,000 visitors to “descend on the town of 4,500 between July 1 (Veteran’s Day) to July 4, 1913.” [2]

A story in Captions

A little research reveals that our witness(es) certainly got her/his/their eyes full. Over 5000 tents were set up over 280 acres, organized by state. In “Gettysburg at 50: The Great Reunion of 1913,” Scott Allen writes, “Public exercises were held July 1-4 in a giant tent, equipped with 13,000 chairs, inside the camp.”

Our storyteller captioned the following photo as the “Peace Camp.”

Camps erected at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

 

 

However, she or he starts out the album with a blurry photo.
Photo of General Sickles at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

The caption reads: “General Sickles, only surviving General of the Civil war—attending the Peace Reunion at  Gettysburg. The General lost a leg in battle. 1913. July 2 – [obscured].

If you look closely.  An X marks the spot of General Sickles.

Despite the blurriness, an excitement pervades the album. The photographer—or captionist—was excited about his or her (or their) chance to witness history.

Using a handwriting analysis methodology commonly known as posting on Facebook and asking your friends’ opinions, I am now convinced that some of the captions were written by a female, others by a male. Whoever they were, the captioned words brought history in focus 104 years later. I wanted to know what they experienced. Luckily, the Library of Congress’ Bain collection had a better-quality image of General Sickles that day.

LOC Bains collection of General Sickles at the Gettysburg ReunionPerhaps not the exact moment represented in the album, but it gives us a pretty good idea of what the visitors would have seen on July 2, 1913 . [1]

The rest of the photos of the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion continue the story in sharper focus, photographically speaking.  Here we see Pennsylvania Governor Tener and his wife on July 3rd and some “Johnny Rebs” at mess.

Tener and his wife at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

Johnny Rebs at Mess during 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

 

The Heat

While our witnesses wandered the grounds of the battlefields and watched pageantry in the tents, they were sweltering with heat.

July 1 1913 front page of Pittsburgh Press

Headlines of the July 1, 1913 Pittsburgh Press announce “Merciless Heat Mars Veterans’ Big Reunion.” A real concern, considering the age of the veterans.

However, many old soldiers enjoyed the day, despite the heat, according to the Pittsburgh Press’ Charles H. Gillespie of the Pittsburgh Press.  He wrote the following in his column on July 1, 1913 (page 3):

All day long yesterday, the reunited veterans of the north and the south had enjoyed themselves almost with the abandon of children. Every one [sic] was laughing, calling cheerily to passing friend or stranger, cutting capers and playing pranks, just like boys on a vacation long looked forward to…

Our storyteller also inserted professional postcards in her album, some of which appear to have been collected later. But it was the firsthand photographs that intrigued me most.

Confederate Avenue, 1913 Gettyburg Reunion

 

 

Photograh of depot at 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

 

 

Veterans leaving train depot 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

 

 

 

We see a couple of views of the Nation Cemetery;

Cemetery Hill at 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

 

National cemetery at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

and the battlefields.

Confederate battery taken at 1913 Getttysburg Reunion

Photo of Bloody Angle from 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

 

An undated professional postcard, echoed the sentiments that emanate from the captions: “The old battlefield is beyond description and needs to be seen to be appreciated. (Signed Sid)”

Another Eyewitness to the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

Resources refer to the reunion as the “50th Anniversary” or “the Great Reunion.”  Our witness(es), however, calls it a “Peace Reunion.”

Perhaps they saw what others reported. That the men who had gone off to war as mere boys  had returned to be “united in brotherly love and affection” in their old age. [3]  To bury hatchets.  Indeed, on page 3 of its July 1st edition, the Pittsburgh Press reported a “Spirit of Brotherly Love.”

Mere words can do no justice to the atmosphere of joyous, loving brotherhood that pervades the camp. “Brother” is the common form of greeting or addressing. Old Yanks vie with grizzled Johnny Rebs in displaying the friendly feelings they hold for one another. …

“Where are you from, brother?”

“I’m from Alabama; and you brother?”

“I’m from Pennsylvania… “

Everyone seemed anxious to find his own particular, pet enemy, who he at some time had had a warm encounter with and perhaps barely escaped killing, or being killed by him.

Perhaps most telling was the quote from I.N. Roberts, of Stuartville, Missouri.

I met a Yank here a little while ago who declared he recognized me as the Reb who had shot at him three times during the fight here…I apologized to him for my poor marksmanship.

Perhaps our storytellers witnessed such exchanges as they made the following photographs.

Photo of a johnny reb sharpshooter at Gettysburg Reunion

Photograph of a union veteran in uniform at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion

Hope and Reconciliation

As I stare at these images from the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion and contemplate those four days in July, I’m struck by the hope of reconciliation. A conflict put to bed; grudges dropped.

We genealogists often argue that we shouldn’t judge our ancestors, or any “characters” of the past by our 21st century values. That we must try to understand them in light of their own historical context.

I wonder then, if the reverse is true.

How would the attendees of the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion—people  who had direct memory of blood-washed fields and missing limbs—judge our progress in reconciling the rifts that tore the country apart in the middle of the 19th century.

Your Turn:

The 1913 Gettysburg Reunion GraphicWhat’s in your closet?  Are there stories told by captions in ancient photo albums? Do you also have a family account of the Gettysburg Reunion or any American conflict? Are you telling those stories? How are you sharing them?

 

[1] Image created by Bain News Service, titled “Cheering Sickles,” Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print.

[2] Scott Allen, “Gettysburg at 50: The Great Reunion of 1913,” Mental Floss, July 3, 2013, http://mentalfloss.com/article/28128/gettysburg-great-reunion-1913.

[3] “Yesterdays (sic) Heroes Reunite during the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg,” Getttsyburg.com, accessed November 14, 2017, http://www.gettysburg.com/livinghistory/pastpics/1913/191302.htm

 

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