(Author’s note: getting ready for next week’s “real-time blogging” with many posts each day, I’m doing a “bonus” double-posting for today.)
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may or may not have noticed the quotations in the top right; along the bottom; and middle right. For this post, I want to specifically call your attention to these, because to me each one says something very significant about the Great Reunion.
(Edited to add: if you are reading this blog on a cell phone with the mobile layout, you most likely can only see a single “soundbite” quotation at the very top of the page, so you need to switch to “Full Site” mode to see each of the quotations to which I’m referring.)
Two of the ones at the bottom – those from James Schoonmaker and John K. Tener, both from the opening ceremonies on July 1, 1913 – tell the story of how the Great Reunion was perceived a century ago: an event unlike any ever before in the history of the world. The Great Reunion was front-page news all across the country. Take a look at almost any newspaper from any American city from the last few days of June through the first days of July, 1913, and you’ll see many stories about what was taking place at Gettysburg. Editorials those same days heavily focused on the gathering at Gettysburg, and particularly upon the spirit of reconciliation.
The quotation at the top of the blog page, from Colonel A.E. Bradley, the U.S. Army’s Chief Surgeon, is from the end of his official report months later and with that single sentence, paints the picture of thousands of sleeping tents, each one filled with old veterans for days on end. It wasn’t just the more than 50,000 veterans converging on Gettysburg for the Great Reunion, but rather how they lived, ate, and slept while there: “in field conditions” and also under such brutal heat and humidity that it was an absolute miracle that only nine men passed away during the days of the encampment. And to add to Colonel Bradley’s sentiment, not only “never before in the world’s history” but also “never since in the world’s history” has such a large gathering of aging veterans from both sides of a long-ago war, living in those conditions, taken place.
The rightmost quote at the bottom of the page is one that jumped out at me from the transcript of speeches in the official Pennsylvania report on the Great Reunion. On Day 2 – July 2, 1913 – the speeches were different than those of the first day, and Sergeant John C. Scarborough of North Carolina represented the “common” Confederate Veteran among the speakers. His semi-humorous, semi-poignant “icebreaker” about not being glad to have been at Gettysburg the first time (meaning the Battle of Gettysburg itself, of course) but being glad to be present now struck me as emblematic of the mindset of probably every other Gettysburg veteran who attended the Great Reunion.
Finally, my most recent addition to the blog’s quotations – about two months ago, I believe – is the one on the right side (tucked in among the widgets) from the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) Commander, Bennett Young. Young’s words were, to me, the absolutely perfect sentiment to capture the spirit of the Great Reunion as a whole as well as that first day’s gathering of tens of thousands inside the Great Tent as that day’s ceremonies proceeded.
Bennett Young’s words I reproduced actually followed another poignant, mournful passage from his speech that equally captured the spirit of the occasion. Since “soundbite” space is limited I elected not to include that passage but in the recently published Part II of my novel Gettysburg, 1913: A Novel of the Great Reunion, I did exactly that and in fact inserted my own “editorial commentary” for how I’m certain the Confederate veterans in particular, but Union veterans as well, reacted to Young’s words:
“The terrors of this battle defy the brush of the artist or the words of oratory. Only those who participated in the struggle can conceive what horrors hovered about this spot, now forever historic in the world’s annals. A few of the men who fought here fifty years ago are with us today. More than eight of every ten men on both sides are now sleeping the sleep of death. Some of the rifles that did execution then are here, but the men who bore the arms are well nigh all gone. Some of the cannon, that thundered then are here; but the cannoneers who loaded, trained, and fired them have, most of them, passed from human scenes and have gone to be with the immortals. Some of the banners that on the days of the battle guided those who fought, now torn and tattered, are still held aloft.”
Sobs could be heard coming from many of those in the audience as General Young transported the men back in time to those three days of bitter conflict, while also reminding them of their own mortality with his words.
“Then we looked on war with complacency. The lessons so greatly magnified in this valley and on these mountain tops on those baleful days will never be forgotten, though succeeding generations turn from its tragic and distressing scenes with horror. Time is not only a great vindicator, but it is also a great pacificator. Those who fought then now meet as friends. They grasp each other’s hands; they look kindly face to face. War’s animosities are forgotten; the noise of battle is hushed. Peace waves its wand over these bloodstained hills and cries out to war: ‘Be still.’”
The truth is that there are dozens more “soundbite” quotations from participants, newspaper articles, editorials, and other sources that are also memorable. Space surrounding a blog page is limited though, so I had to make the tough choices to include the ones I felt the strongest about. Others I used in epigraphs for Parts I and II of the novel, and Part III will contain still more. Regardless, the words you see on the perimeter of this blog do a fantastic job of telling the story of the Great Reunion through “soundbites.”