Saturday, July 5 started off with Ranger John Heiser and “The Great Reunion of 1913.” John started off by telling us that the Spanish-American War actually reunited the country. Former confederates served with former union soldiers against a common enemy, and afterward the US became an international power. The 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was approaching, and Pennsylvania sought Federal assistance for a reunion in Gettysburg in commemoration. There had been a small reunion among the Philadelphia Brigade Association and the Pickett’s Division Association with the veterans sponsored by their individual states. In 1910, Congress authorized the erection of a peace memorial on the battlefield. It was wanted by both the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans. There was friction in the initial meetings. The UCV representative gave a speech loaded with lost cause nonsense and this wasn’t appreciated by the Union veterans who resented historical lies. The planning got beyond that, though, and in April of 1913 invitations went out. Each state had a quota. New York, with a quota of 10,000, sent 16,000 veterans to the reunion. By may the total number of veterans attending had grown to 40,000 and they had to expand the reunion. The final total was over 54,000 veterans. The Federal Government provided supplementary funding, troops, and support. Many veterans were pleased with the accommodations. The great camp was a huge tent city with almost 4500 tents, 8 men to a tent. The camp had electric lights, plenty of water, and ice water fountains. It also had clean, sanitary latrines. The first veterans arrived on June 30. They got off the train, fell into formation, and marched to their tents and were issued their supplies. It was a festive atmosphere. They were given three hot meals a day and each company street had its own mess tent. The only real conflict was over the display of the confederate flag. To the Union veterans, it was a flag of treason. A compromise was reached, however. The last surviving corps commander of each side, Dan Sickles of all people, was in attendance. There was generally an air of friendliness, though there was one brawl in town when a son of a confederate veteran bad-mouthed Lincoln, causing a veteran of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves to rap him with a cane. The son pulled a knife on the old veteran. There was a big brawl and the son was arrested. Amazingly enough for a government project, it came in under budget. The budget was $450,000 and the actual cost was $415,00.23. John’s presentation was really well done and enjoyable.
Next up was Edward Ayers speaking on “Gettysburg, the Aftermath.” Farmers at Gettysburg saw the work of a lifetime evaporate because the soldiers were hungry and ate everything. In a letter to his wife, Lee wrote that he is trying to show the North that Abraham Lincoln can’t protect them. The battle doesn’t end with Pickett’s Charge. During the retreat, John Imboden has to guard the trains back to Virginia. He has to salvage what he can from the campaign. The wagon train in the retreat was 17 miles long. By daybreak on July 5 they were strung out through Franklin County. Some Greencastle residents attacked wagons to slow them down. Rains swelled the Potomac River, making it 10 feet higher than normal. Imboden basically took over the town of Williamsport. They had 10,000 animals, 2100 men, 20-odd pieces of field artillery, and thousands of prisoners to cross, and they only had two small boats with a wire across the river that snapped several times. It took 16 hours for them to cross the Potomac. Meade’s men arrived at Williamsport just as the last boat crossed the Potomac. Lee was at Falling Waters with the bulk of the army and no bridge. He built a 9-mile-long defensive line while his engineers built a pontoon bridge. This was another excellent presentation with information we normally don’t look at when studying the battle.
The next presenter was Wayne Motts of the National Civil War Museum giving a presentation called “Fighting the Civil War: Treasures from the National Civil War Museum from 1864.” I took this opportunity to get some lunch, but the video is available.
Next on the schedule was Marc Leepson discussing “Desperate Engagement” from his book of the same name, about the Battle of Monocacy. I have to say I was not impressed. It’s a bad sign when the speaker starts out by saying he only knows about what happened in a certain limited time period in a certain limited area. He had a few lapses during the presentation as well. In one, he said that Hunter fled into West Virginia once Jubal Early arrived in Lynchburg. While that’s true, the problem with his statement is that he left out a great deal about Early’s deception of Hunter, making Hunter believe Early had far more troops than he did. He claimed Lincoln never micromanaged his generals. That would come as a surprise to his generals. He claimed Shiloh was Halleck’s last field command. Halleck wasn’t present at Shiloh, so it wasn’t his command. Frankly, if someone is so fuzzy on details like that, I have to wonder how good they are with details of the battle or with trying to put the battle into the context of the war. That leads me to think the Benjamin Franklin Cooling’s book on Monocacy would probably be a better choice.
Richard McMurry got things back on track with his presentation on “Atlanta 1864: The Campaign That Re-elected Lincoln.” By 1865, he told us, the Union Army that had been in Cairo and St. Louis in 1861 was in Raleigh, North Carolina. In response to that, Lee detached a corps to send south, weakening his line and allowing Grant to break it. In 1863 the Union had opened the Mississippi and moved the line between North and South from the Ohio River to the Tennessee River. By 1864 the Union armies were poised for ultimate victory. Richard gave a quick overview of the Atlanta Campaign and how John Bell Hood reversed Joseph E. Johnston’s policies and seized the initiative. He told us the plans Hood made were often brilliant plans, but the execution was flawed, from William Bate, a division commander under Hardee, turning the wrong way at the Battle of Peachtree Creek to Stephen D. Lee’s unauthorized attack at Ezra Church. This was an excellent presentation, even if Richard is a bit too much of a Western Theater partisan.
Then we had a real treat. My former professor, James I. Robertson Jr., gave an outstanding presentation on “The Untold Civil War” from his book of the same name. This was yet another masterful presentation that really has to be seen.
Next was Kevin Levin reprising his presentation of the Crater in Memory. I’ve written about this presentation previously, and here is an opportunity to view it.
After Kevin, David Coffey made a presentation on “Phil Sheridan, His Lieutenants, and the Campaigns of 1864.” He said that Sheridan was the decisive element in achieving Union victory in the Eastern Theater. Among the decisive moves he listed were Lincoln appointing Grant as General-in-Chief of Union Armies, Grant appointing Sherman as commander of the Department of the Mississippi, and Grant appointing Sheridan as commander of the Department of the Shenandoah. Sheridan had inherited a fine instrument in the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He had George A. Custer and Wesley Merritt, men who matched his own drive and could carry out his plans. Sheridan became a national hero at Cedar Creek in October, 1864 and played a pivotal role in the closing stages of the war. Sheridan’s influence dominated the American military establishment for forty years. He was almost always successful and cultivated a wealth of military talent. Sheridan wasn’t a great cavalry commander, though he did intend to use it as a semiautonomous force. Sheridan truly excelled as an independent semiautonomous army commander. He used his cavalry as a main battle component in that role. Sheridan in fact changed the way the war was fought. This was another excellent presentation with great information.
The final presentation was George Meade in 1864 by Ranger Chris Gwinn. Since I saw this presentation during the Winter Lecture Series I took the opportunity to leave early, but because Chris always does an outstanding job, here is the video.