The Great Reunion of 1913 wasn’t the first joint Blue-Gray Reunion held at Gettysburg, nor would it be the last. In a future post we’ll look at the 1938 Reunion on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. In this one, I’ll briefly mention the three earlier ones I uncovered in my research.
1. The Philadelphia Brigade and Pickett’s Division – July 2, 3, and 4, 1887.
Twenty-four years after the Battle of Gettysburg, survivors of Pickett’s Division came together in early July with those from the Philadelphia Brigade…one of the opposing Union Army forces that defended “The Angle” on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863 against the forces of Pickett’s Charge. A controversy erupted before that reunion when some of the Philadelphia Brigade veterans thought it would be a conciliatory gesture to return several of Pickett’s Division’s battle flags that had been left behind at the Angle (also known as the Bloody Angle) when their color-bearers had been killed during the attack. One problem though: these flags were by then in the custody of the War Department and when the Philadelphia Brigade wrote to the War Department to request the release of these flags for their return to the ex-Confederates, “the suggestion raised a mighty protest from Hon. Lucius Fairchild, at that time Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, and Hon. Jos. B. Foraker, then Governor of Ohio, who threatened to invade Washington with the National Guard of Ohio, if necessary, to prevent such a ‘sacrilege.’ ” (From Reunion of The Blue and Gray – Philadelphia Brigade and Pickett’s Division – by John W. Frazier of the Philadelphia Brigade Association.)
Fortunately, as time passed cooler heads prevailed with regards to battle flags, swords, and other artifacts related to either side at Gettysburg and other Civil War battles, and exchanges became commonplace.
This reunion at Gettysburg in 1887 is claimed to be “the first reunion of the Blue and the Gray…that took place upon any battlefield of the War of the Rebellion” and was attended by more than 300 ex-Confederates and “more than that number of survivors of the Philadelphia Brigade.” (also from John W. Frazier’s official report)
2. The 25th Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg – July 1, 2, and 3, 1888.
Unlike the reunion the previous year, the one held in 1888 on the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was open to more than just the veterans of Pickett’s Division and the Philadelphia Brigade. As far as I can tell, about 2,000 veterans from both sides came together. A New York Times headline on July 1, 1888 declared:
IT’S AGAIN A TENTED FIELD
SICKLES AND LONGSTREET AT GETTYSBURG
THE TWO OLD-TIME ENEMIES MEET FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE GREAT FIGHT OF THE REBELLION
Whereas the Confederate James Longstreet would pass away before the 1913 Great Reunion, Union General Daniel Sickles – who lost his right leg at Gettysburg – was still alive and attended the Great Reunion, though he died less than a year later in May, 1914.
(Daniel Sickles is one very interesting and controversial character – we’ll take a look at Sickles in a future blog entry. But here’s a preview: in 1859 he shot and killed the District of Columbia’s District Attorney when he found out that man was having an affair with his [Sickles’] wife. The man Sickles killed: Philip Barton Key II. Mr. Key’s father: Francis Scott Key. Yes, that Francis Scott Key!)
3. The Philadelphia Brigade and Pickett’s Division (once again) – September 15, 16, and 17, 1906.
The Philadelphia Brigade Association and the survivors of Pickett’s Division came together again at Gettysburg seven years before the Great Reunion, though this time in September of that year, not in July on the anniversary of the famous battle. Many speeches were given, and the sentiment seemed to be that since so many years had passed since the epic battle back in 1863, this might be the “last hurrah” for the Blue and Gray at Gettysburg.
But then, as we know, less than seven years later the Great Reunion eclipsed not only these three prior gatherings but all Civil War reunions that had ever been held.