Leading up to the Great Reunion, there had been some speculation about what might happen if a soldier – either northern or southern – encountered someone from the other side with whom he had been engaged in hand-to-hand combat; perhaps to the point of a serious wound or even a lost limb. Several such stories surfaced out of the Great Reunion. In this first post about that topic we will look at an encounter involving the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission himself, Colonel James Schoonmaker: the Pittsburgh industrial titan and Medal of Honor recipient.
On the first page of the July 2nd, 1913 edition of the Gettysburg Times, a story ran under the headline of MISSED HIS SHOT with the subheading of “Colonel Schoonmaker Meets Man Who Tried to Kill Him.” (How’s that for an attention-grabber?) The story noted that “when Colonel J. H. Schoonmaker was walking through the camp he was accosted by Orlando Douglass, a Confederate veteran from North Carolina” and that Mister Douglas said he remembered the Colonel “because he had taken a close shot at him on the field at Gettysburg and had missed.”
Skeptical? In the heat of battle a Confederate infantryman recognized enough about someone at whom he had shot to know that years later that man was the Chairman of all the Great Reunion’s activities…not to mention a famed Pittsburgh tycoon?
Well, the article went on to say that Mister Douglass was captured and taken to a Union Army prison by a detachment under Schoonmaker’s command, and that was when he first recognized Schoonmaker as the man whom he had tried to shoot. Then, supposedly Orlando Douglas recognized Schoonmaker again on the encampment grounds the first day (or perhaps before the first official day) of the Great Reunion and then “accosted” him to say something along the lines of “Hey, I tried to kill you fifty years ago!”
In Part I of my novel Gettysburg, 1913: A Novel of the Great Reunion, I have one of my characters, Edgar Sullivan of Arizona, muse to his brother Johnny while they are on the train headed to the Great Reunion about one of the fellow passengers, a Confederate veteran:
“…suppose this Hodges feller was one of the Rebs we ran up against on July the first. And suppose at one point there he had me in his gunsights, and fired a shot at me but missed. It just don’t feel right makin’ pleasantries with someone who might well have killed me and just pretending that it didn’t happen.”
To which Johnny Sullivan replies to his brother:
“Yeah, I get it, but ain’t that the whole point of this thing? That once and for all we and the Rebs who are still alive all these years later put all of this behind us? It don’t matter who tried to kill who, or who shot who, or anything like that. Hell, I’m willing to bet that somewhere on those grounds there’s gonna be one of us or one of them who lost a leg or an arm, and he’s gonna be talking with someone from the other side and by golly, they’re going to figure out that it was that other feller who done that.”
And with that particular sentiment, stay tuned for Part II of “Former Enemies Meet Again: The Personal Touch.”