After numerous smaller Gettysburg reunions, including the 1906 Philadelphia Brigade/Pickett’s Division reunion during which Brig. Gen. Armistead’s captured sword was returned to the South, in April 1908 General Henry S. Huidekoper of Philadelphia suggested a 1913 50th anniversary reunion to Pennsylvania Governor Edwin Sydney Stuart.
On September 8, 1908, the Gettysburg National Park Commission met with Gettysburg borough officials about the event, Governor Stuart conducted a sub-committee meeting on October 25, and addressed the General Assembly in January 1909.
On May 13, 1909, the Pennsylvania Assembly created the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg Commission, and the commission’s “first tentative programme” of October 13, 1910 included a “Peace Jubilee” with a planned noon July 3rd placement of the cornerstone for a “Great Peace Memorial”.
An August 26, 1912, US Congress bill appropriated $150,000 and directed the War Department to establish a memorial, but funding was not approved and the “Peace Jubilee” plans were removed from the anniversary schedule. The War Department settled upon providing a “Camp” for veteran attendees.
The Gettysburg National Park Commission began the painting of avenue fencing, gun carriages, iron tablets, pyramids, and shells and by February 1, 1913, water wells were being drilled for the July memorial encampment.
On April 13, 1913, the Pennsylvania commission completed its own the Pennsylvania State Memorial and also mailed out 40,000 veteran invitations.
All honorably discharged veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans were invited
A total of Thirty-Three contributing states provided a total of $1,033,000 for the reunion ($450,000 from Pennsylvania alone).
There was even an obscure request from a few Missouri veterans regarding the availability near Gettysburg of “a few good widows or old maids … good housekeepers and not too young” to go west after the reunion (the “kind-hearted mayor”, J. A. Holtzworth, agreed to forward photos to the veterans in the “Cupid … operations”)!
Various commemorative tokens and programs were developed for attendees, including 3 types of Pennsylvania badges (“PRESS”, “GUEST”, “SCOUT”), a commemorative medal, and a souvenir program of poems by the attending “Veteran Scout”, Jack Crawford.
The Pennsylvania Railroad Company also added “a telephone line between Gettysburg and Hanover along the Western Maryland Railway, over which the Pennsy [would] operate a large number of trains during the battle anniversary”.
By June 26th, local hotels in Hanover, Chambersburg, Hagerstown, and “the Blue Ridge section [were] filling rapidly”.
On the Chambersburg-Gettysburg turnpike and the Gettysburg-Petersburg turnpike, tolls ended in time for the reunion when on June 27th, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the 1911 Sproul Roads Act, by which the Commonwealth acquired private toll roads.
The day before the reunion, June 28th, President Woodrow Wilson notified the Pennsylvania commission he would attend the reunion for a “very limited period”.
The War Department’s Great Camp (also known as the Gettysburg Encampment, Anniversary Camp, or Veterans Camp) provided tents and support facilities for the Civil War veterans and extended from both sides of Long Lane on the north to within 500 yards of the Bliss House.
The Great Camp included the Great Tent “with its thirteen thousand chairs”; the veterans’ tents; quarters for 1,466 War Department soldiers (including camp commander Gen. Liggitt) and 2,179 mess personnel; 385 camp Boy Scouts from Washington; and other camp personnel for a total of 57,198 “persons quartered and subsisted in the Great Camp”.
The camp had a temporary U. S. Post Office; 90 Pennsylvania Health Department latrines throughout the camp with a seating capacity of 3,476; and near the Great Tent, an Emergency Station and 2 Comfort Houses of the health dept, which also supplied the Great Tent water fountains.
The Pennsylvania commission also set up a temporary morgue in the camp. A special platform on the Round Top Branch was built for veterans to disembark from steamtrains directly into the camp.
After the state health department’s Chief Engineer had estimated Gettysburg (pop. 4,500) would be inundated with over 100,000 people, the borough agreed to the Commissioner of Health’s request for his department to take over medical and sanitation efforts in the area from June 25-July 25.
The department set up a field hospital at the Kurtz property facing Brickyard Lane on the north foot of East Cemetery Hill, as well as 6 Comfort Stations in the borough.
The American Red Cross Society, along with 72 additional Boy Scouts operated fourteen 7 ft x 7 ft Relief Stations for first aid and rest on the battlefield park roads, and the Tuberculosis Dispensary in Gettysburg was also used as a Relief Station.
Attached to the Great Camp were a battery of the Third United States Field Artillery and several companies of Regular Infantry. Companies A-D (14 officers & 285 men) of the Fifteenth United States Cavalry arrived on June 26th for guarding the battlefield and camped west of Seminary Ridge on the Hagerstown Rd, while a “model Camp” for a Pennsylvania cavalry squadron was on the “College Athletic Field” adjoining the Commission’s Headquarters.
A total of 527 people were quartered at both the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg & the Pennsylvania College (became “Gettysburg College” in 1921), including the Pennsylvania Gettysburg Commission, 4 troops of Pennsylvania State Police, and in tents, Governor Tener’s staff.
Additional nearby encampments included the leased Newspaper Row (“Meadeboro”) with 155 journalists north of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, an encampment of 30 Boy Scouts near Cashtown west of Gettysburg for traveler services on the Chambersburg-Gettysburg Pike, and Philadelphia and Baltimore salvation army encamped in Stonesifer’s Grove at Biglerville, Pennsylvania.
The Great Camp opened for supper on June 29, 1913 with Pennsylvania veterans from the state reunion that adjourned on June 28 and other early veterans (2 Confederate vets of Culp’s Hill had arrived on June 26th).
The 21,000 arrivals on June 29th (instead of the 6,000 expected by Capt McCaskey of the Quartermasters Corps) resulted in initial shortages (some veterans left without staying).
After the 1912 base of the Virginia Monument was dedicated on June 30th, official reunion events began on July 1, Veteran’s Day.
Military Day included an address recommending a stronger military (“we ought to build two battleships for every one laid down by Japan”), a reading of the Gettysburg Address, and a Seminary Ridge review of the VA division by their governor. At night, an impromptu Union raid on the Confederate side of the Great Camp resulted in joint parades and camp fires following the “charge”.
Civic/Governors’ Day had 65 unit reunions, the Wells statue dedication, and a Webb/Pickett flag ceremony at the Bloody Angle on the hour of Pickett’s Charge.
In the Great Tent from 4:30-6 P.M. was the New York Veterans’ Celebration, which included a speech by Colonel Andrew Cowan in which he again called for a Gettysburg peace memorial. The fireworks by the Pain Fireworks Display Company at 9 p.m. included “gigantic set pieces covering the entire face and crest of Little Round Top”.
On National Day, the Pennsylvania State Memorial with 8 statues installed in April were dedicated, and President Woodrow Wilson arrived at 11 a.m. in a special train car, traveled through the borough, and entered the Great Tent through 2 rows of Boy Scouts. Wilson addressed the audience in the Big Tent about national unity and departed the camp after the National Anthem that followed (attendees similarly returned to their quarters). The subsequent Tribute to Our Heroic Dead with “a silent, solemn, sacred five minutes at ‘Attention’ by” people throughout the Gettysburg area, e.g., at the “College Hotel” & “Seminary Hotel”. The Tribute began with a bugle salute over the camp while the Gettysburg bells tolled noon in the distance, followed by the remaining minutes of silence punctuated by periodic artillery firing from the distance. From 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7,147 automobiles (at least 1 from each state) used the national park roads.
The gathering ended up totally 53,407 veterans (including 8,750 Confederate veterans) and became the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion.
Veterans from 46 of the 48 states at the time attended.
As quoted by the Chief Surgeon; “Never before in the world’s history (had) so great a number of men so advanced in years been assembled under field conditions.”
Departures included 12,000 veterans on July 2 and about the same number on July 3, and dismantling of the Great Camp began immediately after the July 4 Tribute. The hospital closed on July 5, and the last veteran left on July 8.
Despite concerns “that there might be unpleasant differences, at least, between the blue and gray” (as after England’s War of the Roses and the French Revolution), the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.
President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit:
“We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”
To commemorate the 1913 Gettysburg reunion, a colonial portico was opened in May 1914 at the Seminary’s Old Dorm (only the concrete base remains), and the 1938 Eternal Light Peace Memorial was erected on Oak Ridge, north of Gettysburg.
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