Healing a Broken Nation: Civil War Veterans Show the Way
Updated: May 21
I recently read, with great interest, an article about the 50th Gettysburg Reunion held in 1913. As I read the piece, I could not help but be struck by the contrasting attitudes then, compared to now, when it comes to remembering the War Between the States. Yes, I realize that at that time in our nation, reconciliation was considered to be more important than other issues. I also realize that former slaves and their descendants were, for the most part, left out. That is a tragedy for which we still suffer. But that should not prevent us from observing the positive aspect of reconciliation--and learning from it. The piece was written by Ian Harvey for the Vintage News. I'll provide a link to the piece at the end of this post.
Students of the WBTS will know that Gettysburg resulted in the highest casualty count of the war. We also know it is considered by many to be the "high water mark" of the Confederacy--Pickett's Charge. The aftermath left veterans on both sides embittered. This all makes the 50th anniversary reunion that more remarkable. Harvey pointed out several fascinating facts about the reunion:
The camp for the veterans was 280 acres.
Up to 5000 tents were erected arranged by state.
There were approximately 54,000 veterans encamped during the reunion.
2000 cooks provided food.
Two men purchased a hatchet at a local hardware store and symbolically buried it on the battlefield.
Harvey also recounted how two veterans - one Union and one Confederate, providentially met and the old Rebel described his experience of being shot and then tended to by a Union soldier. The Union soldier then described the same incident from his perspective. They were the same two men. Another fact that illustrates this spirit of reconciliation and healing prevalent at the time is that the organizer of the reunion was a former Union General who'd lost an arm during the war.
As I read the piece and reflected on how our nation reconciled after such a bitter and costly conflict, I could not help but wonder if anything like that would be possible today. As much as I hate to admit it, it seems quite doubtful. Carry on. Read: Burying the Civil War Hatchet - The Great Gettysburg Reunion of 1913