Wednesday, October 2, 2013

'Killing the Southerners with kindness'

Veterans pose at the 25th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in 1888. In the front row are some of the major
figures of the battle. From left, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine; Gen. Dan Butterfield, Meade's
chief of staff at the battle (but not for much longer); Confederate Gen. James Longstreet; Dan Sickles commander of
the 3rd Corps; and Gen. Joseph B. Carr, whose troops fought gallantly in the Peach Orchard on July 2, 1863.  
The Confederate survivors of Gettysburg who returned in 1888 for the 25th anniversary of the battle became objects of curiosity. They were few in number compared with the thousands of Union veterans who returned to Gettysburg by wagon or carriage or on foot.

The Yankees are “killing the Southerners with kindness,” the New York Times reported. All the Union men wanted in return were souvenirs. Virginian John E. Sonnet, for one, gave away every badge and ribbon on his uniform to Pennsylvania veterans gathered on Cemetery Hill.

One southerner in particular was the center of attention. This was James B. Longstreet, “Old Pete,” whose corps had attacked the Union left on July 2, 1863. Longstreet was on a lifelong mission to rescue his reputation in the South. He had been skeptical of the plan to invade Pennsylvania and critical of Pickett’s Charge. Worse from the perspective of many southerners, after the war he had often spoken of his objections to Robert E. Lee’s plans and actions.

From his arrival at Gettysburg on June 30, 1888, Longstreet seldom had a moment to himself. He was tall and white-haired with long side-whiskers. The military bearing with which he carried himself belied his frailty. At one point the men with him begged him to sit down, and Longstreet slumped into a chair with a sigh.

Shortly after checking into the Gettysburg Springs Hotel, Longstreet joined in conversation with three Union men – Gens. Lucius Fairchild and John C. Robinson and Gov. James A. Beaver of Pennsylvania. Fairchild had been colonel of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry at Gettysburg and had lost his left arm from a wound on July 1, 1863. Robinson, a New Yorker and a division commander at Gettysburg, had later lost a leg at Spotsylvania. Beaver’s 148th Pennsylvania Infantry had fought without him in the Wheatfield in the brigade of Col. Edward E. Cross of New Hampshire. At the time Beaver was recovering from wounds suffered at Chancellorsville. Later he lost a leg at Cold Harbor. He got around on crutches.

Henry Ware Lawton was a 19-year-old captain
in the 30th Indiana when this photo was taken.
Fairchild had fought with the Iron Brigade in John Reynolds’s Grove. Monuments to these Wisconsin men were ready, and Longstreet joined Fairchild for their dedication. Near the memorials they chatted with an officer from an artillery brigade that Reynolds had once commanded. Longstreet also met Capt. Henry Ware Lawton, a Cavalry officer who, two years before, had led the expedition that captured Geronimo in Arizona.

During the dedication John C. Spooner, a Wisconsin senator, read his speech from pink slips of paper. The Milwaukee Daily Journal lauded his “glowing tribute,” but the New York Times reporter sniffed: “The matter was good, but would have given more satisfaction had there not been so much of it.” Fairchild followed with briefer and more personal remarks, moving the Wisconsin men to tears.

At 1 p.m., Longstreet met Dan Sickles, general of the 3rd Union Corps, which Longstreet had attacked on July 2, 1863. Like Longstreet, Sickles had a reputation to burnish. He had been criticized for, at best, willfully misreading his orders when he moved his corps forward on the afternoon of the battle. His line was too long and thin and disconnected from the rest of the Army of the Potomac. Only timely reconnaissance, reinforcements, fierce resistance and luck prevented Longstreet’s forces from crushing Sickles’s corps and gaining the Union rear.

Now the Union veterans wondered what would happen when the two foes met for the first time since the battle. Longstreet saw Sickles enter the dining room, stood and thrust out his right hand. Sickles grasped the hand, and Longstreet put his other arm around Sickles’s shoulder. They talked for half an hour.

A Union veteran in the crowd blurted out that the battle “might not have ended 25 years ago as it did, had your advice been taken once or twice.” Longstreet seized the opportunity: “It might have ended differently, Sah, if my advice had been taken on the first day or the third.” His questioner asked if Longstreet had opposed Pickett’s Charge. “Yes, Sah,” Longstreet answered.

He told the crowd he expected not more than 300 former Confederate soldiers would come to the reunion, but he did not think Gen. Jubal Early would be among them. Early, he said, might worry about the reception he would receive from the people of Chambersburg. After all, Early’s men had burned the place.

John F. Chase moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., after the war
and held several jobs. He promoted land sales in Gulfport,
then known as Veterans City. He died at 70 or 71 in 1914.
All eyes suddenly turned to a Union veteran standing nearby. His name was John F. Chase. He had been with the 5th Maine Artillery at Gettysburg, but his renown predated even his astonishing Gettysburg experience.

In Our War, I tell the story of Napoleon B.Perkins, a man from Chase’s artillery regiment who was badly wounded at Chancellorsville. Chase escaped the battlefield but later returned to the fray to carry his wounded lieutenant, Edmund Kirby, to safety. Kirby soon died, but not before recommending Chase for the Congressional Medal of Honor. On Feb. 7, 1888, just a few months before the Gettysburg reunion, Chase finally received his medal.

Most likely, what later happened at Gettysburg had bolstered Chase’s case for the medal. On July 3, his battery was firing on Confederate infantry from Cemetery Hill when an enemy shell struck near him. The explosion severed his right arm and destroyed his left eye, and shrapnel riddled his body. Two days later, he was piled onto the dead wagon, but the driver heard him moan and gave him water. He emerged from the hospital after several months and went home to Augusta.

At the reunion Chase handed out pamphlets to anyone who wanted one. On them was an engraving showing his upper body with the stump of his left arm and the 48 wounds he had suffered from shell fragments. A New York Times reporter asked if he thought he was the most wounded man of the war. Chase said he hoped so, as he wasn’t certain a man could endure more wounds and survive.

John B. Bachelder (right) knew every foot of the Gettysburg battlefield.
After dinner Longstreet rode across the battlefield with two New Hampshire men, former governor Frederick Smyth and Col. John B. Bachelder. Smyth had come to Gettysburg a few days after the battle to try to find and care for wounded men from his state. Bachelder, a native of Gilmanton, an artist and a mapmaker, had made a years-long study of Union positions at Gettysburg. He was also instrumental in the placement of monuments. Bachelder, the Times reported, “has spent so much time on the field that he naturally knows every foot of it.”

Bachelder had reserved time for a July 2 tour with Longstreet, but he raised his questions with the general during the June 30 drive with Smyth. One place the men stopped was the Bloody Angle at the stone that reads: “Brig.-Gen. Lewis A. Armistead, C.S.A., fell here, July 3, 1863.” This is known as the High-Water Mark of the Confederacy. On July 3, Armistead laid his hand on a Union cannon there and said, “Gentlemen, this gun is ours.” He was shot dead moments later.

On July 2, 1888, a Miss Sadie Creasey decorated Longstreet with a red rose and a miniature American flag. On the button of his frock coat hung a miniature canteen with Gen. Philip Sheridan’s bust on it. Longstreet drove with Union Gen. Henry Slocum to Culp’s Hill for the dedication of New York monuments, and the two toured the battlefield afterward.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Union line, Sickles presided at the ceremonies for his old New York brigade only to have the platform buckle as he spoke. “It’s not easy to frighten what’s left of the Excelsior Brigade,” he said. He hoped more notice would be given if the platform again “proposed to find its level.”

The crux of his speech was a defense of his actions on July 2, and he had chosen a pliant audience to make his case. As always, he said that given a chance to relive that day, he would order the same advance. History, he said, would sustain his view that the 3rd Corps had borne the brunt of the battle on its truly decisive second day. The veterans cheered and shouted, “We know it!” Sickles told them: “I know you without uniform or sign. I know you by the grasp of your hand. I know by your faces that you love me as I love you.” Cheers erupted, and a Zouave drum corps “made the peach trees tremble” to the tune of “Rally Round the Flag.”

Sickles spoke again at the National Ceremony, the main venue of day. There he defined the war's meaning after a quarter century, but he first addressed the veterans of both armies.

“Now the combatants of 1863 come together again on your old field of battle, to unite in pledges of devotion to one Constitution, one Union, and one flag,” Sickles said. “To-day there are no victors, no vanquished. As Americans we may all claim a common share in the glories of this battlefield. . . .

John B. Gordon welcomed North-South reunion.
“The conflict of 1861-5 was a war of institutions and systems and policies. It was a revolution, ranking in importance with the French Revolution of the eighteenth century and with the English revolution of the seventeenth, universal in its beneficent influence upon the destinies of this country, and ineffaceable in the footprints it made in the path of our national progress. . . .

“And now that time and thought, common sense and common interest have softened all the animosities of war, we may bury them forever, while we cherish and perpetuate as Americans the immortal heritage of honor belonging to the Republic that became imperishable when it became free.

“The war of 1861-5 was our heroic age.”

Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon’s took up Sickles’s theme of bygones-be-bygones and applied it to the field where the veterans met. Despite the fierceness of the battle, he said, Gettysburg should now be “a Mecca for the North which so grandly defended it, a Mecca for the South which so bravely and persistently stormed it. We join you in setting apart this land as an enduring monument of peace, brotherhood and perpetual union.”

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