The United States Army (circa 1913) and the Great Reunion

The United States Army, under the direction of the War Department and the Secretary of War, played a significant role in the planning and execution of the Great Reunion. Previous posts in this blog have talked about the roles of the Medical Corps; then-second Lieutenant George S. Patton; and Army cooks. For this post, however, I want to simply propose a topic for consideration:

Imagine that you were a U.S. Army soldier back in 1913. The Spanish-American War was now a decade and a half in the past, and World War I wouldn’t begin for another year (and the United States’ involvement for another couple of years longer). So significant military action was something relatively unknown to most soldiers of the day.

Now imagine that you are assigned to participate in some form or another at the Great Reunion…and you find yourself mingling with more than 50,000 of your predecessors (regardless of which side of the Civil War each had fought on). Most of these old Yankees and Confederates had gone through some of the most horrific combat experiences known to man at the time, not only at Gettysburg but Antietam, the Wilderness, and hundreds of other locations. Think of the awe, the reverence – and even the somewhat surreal feeling these active duty soldiers must have had when talking with these very old, often frail veterans who five decades earlier had engaged in mortal combat.

The picture below, reproduced from the official report from the Great Reunion, tells the tale of these two very different generations of soldiers coming together:

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 10.26.36 AM

(Source: Report of the Pennsylvania Commission on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, December 31, 1913; between Pages 182 and 183)

The caption from the page in the proceedings may be a touch too small to easily read but in case you can’t make it out, it states “Mine had a ramrod” – indicating the “history lesson” given by these old veterans to their successors.

Of course, if the Great Reunion had occurred a few years later after World War I, the shared combat experiences of those from the Civil War era and those who had endured trench warfare and horrific forest combat in Europe would likely have taken those discussions in a different direction, one of shared survival of the horrors of war. But you never know: many of the soldiers who were at Gettysburg in 1913 for the Great Reunion no doubt served in Europe during World War I, and perhaps some of the tales and lessons invoked by the aging Civil War veterans helped their successors in some small way during their war.

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