Battle of Gettysburg Reenactments Are Placed on Hold

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Here is a taste of Priscilla Liguori‘s article at ABC 27 News (Harrisburg):

The future of Gettysburg battle reenactments is uncertain. The committee that has put together the event for 25 years says it isn’t happening next year.

Organizers say they’re putting a pause on the reenactments as they reevaluate and decide what to do next.

“Due to logistical issues and costs, they needed to postpone next year’s programming and hopefully it’ll be back over the next couple of years,” said Jason Martz, of Gettysburg National Military Park.

The event isn’t put on by the park but by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee.

Organizers took to Facebook to make the announcement and sent us a statement saying, in part, “doing non-five-year events which are much smaller, increasingly varied visitor interests, a decreasing reenactor base, the risks of totally outdoor weather-related events, and a staff that has done this for 25 years are all factors in the decision.” 

Read the entire article here.

Pennsylvania History: The Final Exam!

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The 1838 burning of Pennsylvania Hall, a meeting place for abolitionists

For the past decade I have been teaching a course on Pennsylvania History at Messiah College. The class meets several requirements.  Some history majors take it for a 300-level American history elective.  Other history majors take it as part of their concentration in public history.  Non-history majors take the course to fulfill their general education pluralism requirement.

I have to make this course work for all of these students.  For the public history students, we do a lot of work on the relationship between “history,” “heritage,” and “memory.”  We also feature some training in oral history. Each student is required to do an oral history project in which they interview and interpret someone who can shed light on a particular moment in Pennsylvania history.  As a pluralism course, Pennsylvania History must address questions of religion, race, ethnicity, and social class in some meaningful way.

This year, I split the class into four units:

After several tries, I think I have finally found a pedagogical formula that works.   The students take their two-hour final exam on Friday.  Here are the questions they are preparing:

In preparation for the exam, please prepare an answer to one of the following questions:

QUESTION #1

In each of our four units this semester, we spend considerable time talking about the idea of race and race relations in Pennsylvania History. How do issues related to race play out in the following periods and places in state history:

  • Early 19th-century Philadelphia
  • The Pennsylvania frontier in the 1750s and 1760s.
  • The way the Civil War has been interpreted at Gettysburg
  • The City Beautiful movement in Harrisburg
QUESTION #2
We often use the past to advance particular agendas in the present. Consider this
statement in the following contexts:
  • The Centennial celebration in Philadelphia (1876)
  • The Paxton Boys Riots
  • Gettysburg as a “sacred” site
  • The portrayal of Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward by reformers affiliated with the City Beautiful movement.

Good luck! Or as I like to say to my Calvinist students: “May God providential give you the grade you deserve on this exam.”

Lincoln Impersonators Unite!

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On Saturday, during a visit to Gettysburg with my Pennsylvania history class, I met Abraham Lincoln.   It was actually George Buss, a former teacher who has been impersonating Lincoln for over thirty years.

I though about George today when I read Olivia Waxman’s Time article about a gathering of Lincoln impersonators.  Here is a taste:

For Lincoln impersonators like Tom Wright, the work is serious business.

“When you’ve got this outfit on, you’ve got to be proper, and make sure you don’t do anything that would take away from Abraham Lincoln,” says Wright, a 71-year-old from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Indeed, when it comes to historical second skins, the attitude is as important as the accoutrements. “To me, this guy was important to the country because he saved the Union,” says Wright. He and his wife, Sue Wright, recently joined dozens of other faux-Lincolns for the 25th annual Association of Lincoln Presenters, a conference of reenactors, amateur historians, and other Honest Abe enthusiasts held April 11-14 at the Amicalola State Falls Lodge in Dawsonville, Georgia.

There were 22 Abrahams, 12 Mary Todds, one Robert Todd, one Jefferson Davis, and even one George Perkins Marsh (Lincoln’s ambassador to Italy) present at the event, which began in 1990. The Abrahams, of course, always steal the show.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder if George was there.

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A Saturday Morning in Gettysburg

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We got to hang our with Abe! 

It is a beautiful today in south-central Pennsylvania–a perfect day to spend some time on the Gettysburg battlefield.  This morning we took ten students from my Pennsylvania history class to Gettysburg.  We have been reading Jim Weeks’s book Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine and exploring the way the battlefield has evolved since July 4, 1863.  I have given a lot tours of Gettysburg focused on military history, but until today I had never done a Gettysburg “memory” tour.

We have been focusing on how Gettysburg became a shrine of American civil religion–a destination for patriotic pilgrims.  We arrived at 7:30am for “devotions” at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.  I read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and stressed the religious nature of the speech.  We talked about what Lincoln meant by the use of words such as “consecrate,” “hallow,” “devotion,”  and “new birth.”  We discussed the blood sacrifice necessary to the consecration of such sacred ground.  And, since I teach at a Christian college, we talked about the difference between civil religion and Christian faith.

After our devotion in civil religion we headed to the Visitor Center.  Most of the students ended up in the bookstore.  Some of them bought souvenirs to remember their pilgrimage to this sacred site of American nationalism.  Others noted the way this sacred site is connected with the marketplace.  We even got our pictures taken with Lincoln, the great prophet of U.S. civil religion.

We spent the rest of the tour on these topics: race and the 1913 and 1938 reunions of Gettysburg veterans, with an assist from David Blight (at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial); the meaning of the Robert E. Lee statue (on Confederate Avenue); the Eisenhower Farm and Gettysburg as a Cold War site; the tension between battlefield authenticity and environmental concerns; the influence of popular culture (Jeff Schaara and Ted Turner) on the battlefield (at the monument to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top); and the role of Daniel Sickles in promoting the bill that brought the battlefield under control of the U.S. War Department.

Here are some pics:

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Students at the Lincoln Gettysburg Address memorial after “devotions” at the Gettysburg National Cemetery

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The “Ike” section of the Gettysburg Visitor Center store

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Anyone want to be buy me a Christmas present?  🙂

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Speaking of Abe… (photo by Joy Fea)

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Messiah College Pennsylvania History students at the Pennsylvania monument (Photo by Joy Fea)

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The “loyal women” of HIST 345: Pennsylvania History

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I was an official Gettysburg tour guide for the day!

Out of the Zoo: “Gettysburg”

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My first visit to Gettysburg

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. This week she writes about a recent trip to Gettysburg.  Enjoy! –JF

When I first heard about Messiah in the spring of my junior year, I was thrilled to find out that Gettysburg National Military Park is about a thirty minute drive from campus. The first time I visited Gettysburg was in early February last year; my Dad and I had traveled to Pennsylvania so I could interview for Messiah’s honors program and stay overnight on campus. We flew into Baltimore on a Wednesday and anticipated a full morning exploring Gettysburg the next day before he dropped me off at Messiah that evening.

Little did we know, Central Pennsylvania had just been hit by a bout of freezing rain, and most of Gettysburg was not open to the public. What we could see, though, was stunning. Icicles dripped from Confederate and Union soldiers immortalized in bronze–they hung lazily from the brims of their hats and pointed earthward from their outstretched arms. Simple objects like cannons, zig-zag fences, and tree trunks were made all the more beautiful from a thin layer of glistening ice. Even though we couldn’t see most of the battlefield, visiting it that day was still an incredible experience. It almost seemed as if time itself was frozen.

Gettysburg with the Fraazas

My second visit to Gettysburg

It took a little over a year for me to get back to Gettysburg after my first visit. This time I went with my boyfriend Nolan and his family, who all came to see me at school on their way south from Michigan for spring break. The weather was beautiful, and the park was a lot busier (and much more accessible) than it had been when I toured it with my Dad. First we walked through the museum, took a break for lunch, and then made our way through all sixteen stops on the driving tour through the battlefield–stopping to look at monuments, climb up a couple observation towers, and clamber around the massive boulders tumbling down from Little Round Top. We finished the day with a solemn walk through the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and got to see the very spot from which Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I’ve visited my fair share of National Parks and historic sites throughout life, but Gettysburg still manages to stand out among them. While still visually grand like the rest, with its impressive monuments and picturesque overlooks, Pennsylvania’s notorious Civil War battlefield is beautiful in a different way. Namely, because today in the United States we live in a time when discord seems to drown out even the simplest conversations. In the midst of all the noise, Gettysburg reminds us that we aren’t as different as we fear.

As I’ve grown up and studied history, I’ve learned that there are a scarce few things that all Americans agree on. Nonetheless, I do think most of us can agree that the Civil War remains a part of our narrative that we never want to see replayed. Walking through Gettysburg reminds us of this; it’s a place where, at least for a brief moment, we can all look back, set aside our differences, sit in the middle of one of our nation’s greatest tragedies, and grieve.

“Sometimes Unity Kills”

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Plaque at Unity Park, Gettysburg

Scott Hancock, a professor of history and African American studies at Gettysburg College, reflects on “unity” in the wake of the Civil War, “unity” as memorialized at the newest designated space on the Gettysburg battlefield, and “unity” in the age of Trump.

Here is a taste of his piece at Philly.com:

The Unity Park monument mourns the “many young people from both the North and the South who sacrificed and endured so much for our country.” However, those who sacrificed and endured for the Confederacy did not do it for “our country” but for their country — a country that wrote into its constitution that there could be no “law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves” and that slavery “shall be recognized and protected by Congress.”

Those who sacrificed and endured for the Union did so to end the Confederacy. A sign in Unity Park describes how a Confederate officer told 12-year-old Union musician Johnny Clem to surrender, but Clem wasn’t interested in “unity.” He shot the officer, and was promoted to sergeant. Apparently, young Johnny Clem knew that some differences aren’t trivial.

Lies that try to cover serious differences under the banner of unity mean somebody will get kicked to the curb. When this country pushed for unity after the Civil War, putting differences aside meant putting “problems” aside. And the problems were people: black people. Unity meant ignoring those white Southerners who lynched 4,000 people, burned Black Tulsa to the ground, robbed and murdered the black residents of Rosewood, and enshrined 100 years of racial terrorism across the South. Today, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions says stemming violent crime is a priority, using a one-year increase in crime to justify policies that produced decades of high incarceration rates, while ignoring decreases in crime in 22 of the last 26 years, we had better pay attention.

Read the entire piece here.

Pickett’s Charge: History and Memory

The Fourth of July holiday is a time for historians to take to twitter! Since Saturday AM we have been wrestling historically with the question “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”  Get a tweet every 30 minutes at #ChristianAmerica?

Yoni Appelbaum, the Washington Bureau Chief at The Atlantic, has turned to twitter to offer some perspective on the 154th anniversary of the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg and its signature moment: “Pickett’s Charge.” Here are his tweets:

Check out our interview with Yoni in Episode 3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Another Battle at Gettysburg?

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Next weekend marks the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  It looks like Gettysburg will once again be a battleground, but this time the “war” is a cultural one, focused on modern debates about free speech, the Trump presidency, and Confederate monuments.

Read Dustin Levy’s piece at the York Daily Record.  Here is a taste:

The Gettysburg National Military Park has issued three special use permits for first amendment activities on July 1, according to a Thursday news release.

“As custodians of land owned by the American people, the National Park Service has a responsibility to make that land available for exercising those rights,” Bill Justice, acting park superintendent, said in the release.

“As with any First Amendment activities, Gettysburg National Military Park’s objectives are to provide for public safety, minimize impacts on historic resources of this park, and afford visitors an enjoyable experience.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry and Real 3% Risen will gather north of Meade’s Headquarters near 160 Taneytown Road from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The park expects 250 to 500 participants with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and 500 to 1,500 participants with Real 3% Risen, a Facebook group dedicated to protecting American freedoms.

Ski Bischof, of Allentown, helped organize the events with a Facebook event called “Support America and Her History.” Together, they are joining up with the other groups to form a united front against a group that might be there to protest against President Trump and/or the Confederate flag, according to the Facebook event page.

A third group, Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans, consisting of about 20 people, is planning to march in formation from the North Carolina Memorial to the Virginia Memorial, with small ceremonies along the way, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The events came about, in part, because of unsubstantiated reports of an activist group coming to the battlefield on July 1. The allegations of this group’s intended activities have spread on social media the past couple weeks, infuriating many.

Read the entire article here.

Settling for Zachary Taylor

Last month the “Hall of Presidents,” a wax museum of American presidents in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, went out of business and auctioned-off everything in the museum.  I live about thirty miles from Gettysburg and I was tempted to drive down for the auction. I thought I might be able to land a life-size wax POTUS for my Messiah College office.  When I told my 15-year-old daughter about my plans she thought it was a little creepy.

Sadly I had a schedule conflict that day and could not go.  But I am glad that Late Night with Stephen Colbert was there:

The Author’s Corner with Steve Longenecker

Steve Longenecker is Professor of American History at Bridgewater College. This interview is based on his new book, Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North (Fordham University Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Gettysburg Religion?

SL: I noticed that a map of the election of 1856 depicted a stark divide between the northern North, which voted for Fremont, and the southern North, which went for Buchanan. It looked like a straight latitude line through the middle of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and I determined that a border North must have existed as a counterpoint to the border South. The border North went on my list of questions to investigate.

Years later I began the project at Gettysburg. I was on sabbatical and just for fun spent a few days investigating Dunkers/Church of the Brethren (my faith tradition) who lived on the battlefield. I found a great story and was hooked.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Gettysburg Religion

SL: The religion of Gettysburg and the surrounding region, the Border North, reveals much about larger American society and about how trends in the Border North mirrored national developments. In many ways, the Border North belonged to the future and signaled a coming pattern for modern American.

JF: Why do we need to read Gettysburg Religion

SL: I believe in my thesis and intend to contribute to scholarship, but mostly I hope that people read the book for fun. Gettysburg Religion has interesting detail and a new perspective on one of America’s most famous small towns. Gettysburg, for example, was surprisingly diverse with African Americans, Catholics, Dunkers, Scottish Dissenters, and recent immigrants in addition to the mainline fellowships. Additionally, the Border North was on the edge of bondage—Gettysburg was only seven miles from slave territory—and the region had surprisingly complex race relations. Gettysburg Religion also resurrects small town religion, including peculiarities that make human behavior so fascinating and congregational life, which was sometimes inspiring and other times irrational. The book, then, is unique not just for its point about the Border North but also for bringing back to life average persons in the small-town mid-nineteenth century.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 

SL: I committed to teaching history when I was in the fourth grade. I realized that I really loved history and that it came easily for me, and teaching felt like the natural path to pursue this talent.

JF: What is your next project? 

SL: I am examining the religion of Confederate chaplains after the war. Chaplains are legendary for their very public advocacy of the Lost Cause, but their personal faith and congregational life are less well-known. I have found that sometimes the religion of Lost Cause chaplains was more complex and more progressive than the simplistic, very conservative public faith they espoused as celebrants of the Cause of Lee and Jackson. Although the project is too new to speak definitively about the organization of the book, at this point the doctrine of the two kingdoms comes to mind: some chaplains (but not all) had one set of beliefs in God’s kingdom and another in the worldly kingdom. The project will interpret the Lost Cause as communal balm to justify the devastating cost and mistake of the Civil War rather than civil religion or a romantic, anti-modernist rant.
JF: Thanks Steve, sounds good!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

Gettysburg’s "Copse of Trees"

We were talking about Gettysburg the other day in my Pennsylvania History course and I found myself referencing the infamous “copse of trees.”  Any Civil War buff knows what I mean by this phrase.  The copse was the focal point of Pettegrew and Pickett’s famous charge on July 3, 1863, the last day of the battle.  The trees are located within a short stone wall known as “The Angle” in an area of the battlefield often referred to as the “High Water Mark.”

In the middle of my lecture I stopped and referenced Keith Harris’s recent blog post “Is There Any Other ‘Copse’ of Trees?”  Good question.  None of my students had ever heard of the word “copse” being used in another context.  Here is a taste of Harris’s post at his really interesting blog “Keith Harris History“:
But why copse? Why not “patch” or “grove” or “thicket” or something like that? It seems that the word was selected for this particular growth of trees by historian/artist John B. Bachelder back in 1870 – in a book detailing a painting on the repulse of Longstreet’s Assault (at least that is the earliest reference that I am aware of). And the name stuck. As the Battle of Gettysburg ascended higher and higher again into American lore and legend, the copse became The Copse of mythic proportions.
So by my estimation, this little stand of trees has ruined the word for any other copses out there. That is all well and good, I suppose. I mean, no one really uses the word any more to refer to other trees…so what’s the trouble with having only one copse? Maybe other small groves of trees should go by the term “coppice.” It’s almost the same and such a reference won’t confuse any Civil War enthusiasts who happen to be nearby.


Gettysburg: Memory, Market, Shrine

It is Gettysburg week in my Pennsylvania History course.  I am devoting class on Tuesday and Thursday to the story and commemoration of the battle.  I spent a good chunk of the day yesterday with Jim Weeks’s Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and An American Shrine.  I can’t say enough good things about this book.  Weeks was a Pennsylvania historian who left us too early.  (He passed away in 2005).

Weeks makes five major arguments about post-1863 Gettysburg:

1.  Gettysburg did not become a “shrine by popular will.”  It was promoted that way.

2.  Gettysburg was never at odds with the marketplace.

3.  African Americans have “ignored Gettysburg” because they had never been part of the commemoration

4.  The idea that some features of Gettysburg (avenues and monuments) “transcended” the marketplace while others (observation towers and trolleys) “desacralized” the site is not true.

5.  The present-era at Gettysburg, defined by “heritage” and “authenticity,” is merely “the latest in a series of transformations driven by cultural, economic, and social change….”

Gettysburg Religion

Steve Longenecker’s new book, Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North, just came across my desk today.  Fordham University Press did a really nice job with the dust jacket and it comes with endorsements from Ed Ayers, Ruth Doan, and Steve Woodworth.

I have been waiting for someone to write a religious history of Gettysburg and I know Steve has been working on this project for several years.  I smell a speaking gig at the new Seminary Ridge Museum.

Here is a taste from the jacket blurb.

In the borderland between freedom and slavery, Gettysburg remains among the most legendary Civil War landmarks. A century and a half after the great battle, Cemetery Hill, the Seminary and its ridge, and the Peach Orchard remain powerful memories for their embodiment of the small-town North and their ability to touch themes vital to nineteenth-century religion. During this period, three patterns became particularly prominent: refinement, diversity, and war. In Gettysburg Religion, author Steve Longenecker explores the religious history of antebellum and Civil War era Gettysburg, shedding light on the remarkable diversity of American religion and the intricate ways it interacted with the broader culture. Longenecker argues that Gettysburg religion revealed much about larger American society and about how trends in the Border North mirrored national developments. In many ways, Gettysburg and its surrounding Border North religion belonged to the future and signaled a coming pattern for modern America.

Weekend in Gettysburg and Lancaster

I started off the weekend in Gettysburg where I visited the brand new (July 2013) Seminary Ridge Museum.  This is a must stop the next time you are in Gettysburg.  The museum, which is located on the campus of the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg, is housed in a building that played a pivotal role on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg and served as a hospital in the months following the battle.  The museum has three floors, covering the first day of the battle, the care of the wounded in the Seminary hospital, and the role of religion and slavery in antebellum America.  I am currently writing a more extensive review of this museum.  Stay tuned.

Seminary Ridge Museum
Has nothing to do with the Battle of Gettysburg, but I couldn’t pass this pic up.  It is a Lutheran seminary after all

General John Buford’s View from the cupola on the morning of July, 1, 1863

A better view from the cupola

On Saturday I was in Lancaster, PA.  My daughter was playing in the MLK Kickoff Classic, one of the largest volleyball events on the East coast.  During breaks from the games, while Allyson bonded with her teammates, I wandered around historic Lancaster.  Last December I participated in a conference on the Conestoga Indian massacre of 1763, but I did not get a chance to make it to the Fulton Opera House, the site of the jail in which the Paxton Boys killed several Indians who were being kept there under the protection of the government.  Here are few pics I snapped at the site:

Site of the second phase of the Conestoga Massacre–December 1763

On Monday, we were still playing volleyball.  Our site was moved to Thaddeus Stevens School of Technology in Lancaster.  Not much early American history here (the school was founded in 1905), but there was a cool statue of Thaddeus Stevens.

JFK at Gettsyburg

It has been a very full week for history buffs.  This week we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I thus found Diana Loski’s piece at The Gettysburg Experience particularly relevant reading on this Saturday morning.  She describes John Kennedy’s visit to Gettysburg in March 1963.  Here is a taste:

…Since Caroline was not as interested as her parents; and, in the days before seat belts and car seats were required, she grew restless during the drive. She was soon relegated to ride in the other car. The President and First Lady drove on, with their guide, down Seminary Ridge, and disembarked at the North Carolina Memorial near the site where many Confederates stepped off for Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863. The monument was one of Sheads’ favorites, and JFK took a moment to read the inscription on the block behind Gutzon Borglum’s magnificent sculpture. He commented to his guide that he hadn’t known that one in four of all who fell at Gettysburg was a North Carolinian.

The First Couple took a few moments to gaze across the mile-wide field of Pickett’s Charge, then returned to the convertible to continue on their tour. They also got out to take a closer look at the Virginia Memorial, also on Seminary Ridge, and took a long look at the statue of Robert E. Lee atop Traveller – on the spot where the general watched the famous charge at Gettysburg.

The Kennedys drove to Little Round Top, through Devil’s Den, and stopped at the Wheatfield – where the Irish Brigade had fought. Sheads showed the President where his ancestor’s regiment, the 28th Massachusetts, had placed their monument at the Stony Hill area. On the monument are the words “Faugh a Ballaugh!” the motto of the famed Irish Brigade. Sheads had recently learned the meaning of the Gaelic phrase and, ever the teacher, he asked the President if he knew the meaning of the words. “Sure I do,” Kennedy replied. “It means ‘Clear the Way’.” It is not known if Colonel Sheads told the President, but fighting against the Irish Brigade in the area was a Confederate colonel from South Carolina with the same surname. He was John Doby Kennedy from South Carolina, a colonel in General Kershaw’s brigade at Gettysburg. He survived the war, and, like the President, made a name for himself in politics.

My Hometown Paper Retracts Its 1863 Editorial on the Gettysburg Address

In case you have not heard, the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News, known in 1863 as the Patriot & Union, did not like Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  In light of tomorrow’s 150th anniversary of the address, the newspaper has decided to retract its editorial.  Here is the editorial:

A Voice from the Dead We have read the oration of Mr. Everett. We have read the little speechesof President Lincoln, as reported for and published in his party press, and we have read the remarks of the Hon. Secretary of State, Wm. H. Seward,all delivered on the occasion of dedicating the National Cemetery, a plot ofground set apart for the burial of the dead who fell at Gettysburg in thememorable strife which occurred there between the forces of the FederalGovernment and the troops of the Confederacy of seceded States.To say of Mr. Everett’s oration that it rose to the height which the occasiondemanded, or to say of the President’s remarks that they fell below ourexpectations, would be alike false. Neither the orator nor the jestersurprised or deceived us. Whatever may be Mr. Everett’s failings he doesnot lack sense – whatever may be the President’s virtues, he does notpossess sense. Mr. Everett failed as an orator, because the occasion was amockery, and he knew it, and the President succeeded, because he actednaturally, without sense and without constraint, in a panorama which wasgotten up more for his benefit and the benefit of his party than for the gloryof the nation and the honor of the dead. We can readily conceive that the thousands who went there went asmourners, to view the burial place of their dead, to consecrate, so far ashuman agency could, the ground in which the slain heroes of the nation,standing in relationship to them of fathers, husbands, brothers, orconnected by even remoter ties of marriage or consanguinity, were to beinterred. To them the occasion was solemn; with them the motive washonest, earnest and honorable. But how was it with the chief actors in thepageant, who had no dead buried, or to be buried there; from none of whoseloins had sprung a solitary hero, living or dead, of this war which was begotten of their fanaticism and has been ruled by their whims?They stood there, upon that ground, not with hearts stricken with grief orelated by ideas of true glory, but coldly calculating the political advantages which might be derived from the solemn ceremonies of the dedication. We will not include in this category of heartless men the orator of the day; but evidently he was paralyzed by the knowledge that he was surrounded by unfeeling, mercenary men, ready to sacrifice their country and theliberties of their countrymen for the base purpose of retaining power and

accumulating wealth. Hi oration was therefore cold, insipid, unworthy theoccasion and the man. We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and thatthey shall be no more repeated or thought of.But the Secretary of State is a man of note. He it was who first fulminatedthe doctrine of the irrepressible conflict; and on the battle field and burialground of Gettysburg he did not hesitate to re-open the bleeding wound,and proclaim anew the fearful doctrine that we are fighting all these bloody battles, which have drenched our land in gore, to upset the Constitution,emancipate the negro and bind the white man in the chains of despotism.On that ground which should have been sacred from the pollution ofpolitics, even the highest magnate in the land, next to the Presidenthimself, did not hesitate to proclaim the political policy and fixed purposeof the administration; a policy which if adhered to will require more groundthan Gettysburg to hold our dead, and which must end in the ruin of thenation. The dead of Gettysburg will speak from their tombs; they will raisetheir voices against this great wickedness and implore our rulers todiscard from their councils the folly which is destroying us, and return tothe wise doctrines of the Fathers, to the pleadings of Christianity, to thecompromises of the Constitution, which can alone save us. Let our rulershearken to the dead, if they will not to the living – for from every tomb which covers a dead soldier, if they listen attentively they will hear asolemn sound invoking them to renounce partisanship for patriotism, andto save the country from the misery and desolation which, under theirpresent policy, is inevitable.

A Civil Religion Vacation

Gettysburg: Hallowed ground?

Over at The Christian Century, Lutheran pastor Benjamin Dueholm describes his “civil religion vacation” to some of America’s most “sacred” places–the Statue of Liberty, Gettysburg, and Hyde Park.  Here is a taste of his reflection on the trip:

Christians have always had a complicated relationship with nations and with the whole project of peace and prosperity. St. Augustine, whose biography I happened to be reading at the time, understood the peace of the Roman Empire as ultimately false when measured against the peace of the City of God. People in my line of work have always struggled to re­mind our patriotic faithful that the nation, however great, is not to be worshiped. We have imagined that Christian­ity embodies something both below the nation, in the poor and marginal who have always been left out of the great stories, and above the nation in virtues and hopes that civil religion cannot produce or explain.

Lincoln would later be reasonably accused of making the nation into a sort of church. Augustine’s earth was hallowed by the martyrs, while Lincoln’s ground was consecrated by the soldiers who strove for a new birth of freedom.

And yet the bone-deep longings and halfway triumphs of our own bloody national history are not lightly transcended, as one might move from Billy Joel to Chopin. The breaking of chains, literal and figurative, is an event full of religious meaning—as both Old and New Testa­ment in­sist. The wall-sized painting of Washington crossing the Delaware—“Whoa,” my son said when we came into its gallery at the Met—is grandiose and inaccurate in the manner of any icon. Which is to say that it is trying to express a truth that goes deeper than appearances.

In taking this trip with my family, I was trying to escape briefly my own hallowed piece of earth and my own high-minded vocation. Instead we found ourselves on ground littered with relics, hallowed with a liberal mixture of blood—and alive with all the memory and meaning we could bear.

A Battlefield Guide Reflects on the 150th Anniversary Celebration at Gettysburg

Garry Adelman is an author, licensed battlefield guide, and Director of History Education at the Civil War Trust.  It sounds like he was pretty busy last week commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  He reflects on the experience at Civil War Memory.  Here is a taste:

I thought that the July 3rd Commemorative March would be cool and had hoped that it would include the requisite 12,000 people. It did. The NPS estimates that some 15,000 were on Seminary Ridge with even more on Cemetery Ridge. As the March started, I was atop the Pennsylvania Memorial with about 100 others. I narrated what happened historically as it was happening in front of us. This was wildly cool. I have told the story of Pickett’s Charge countless times and have done my best to paint the picture, to bring it to life. Obviously, seeing that many people crossing that field was exceedingly instructive.  I was struck at the impossibility of capturing the March with my cameras. It was simply too big.  Even from atop Gettysburg’s largest monument, I could not see the whole thing and I found no single place where I could. I have not seen a single photo, even panoramic, that encapsulates the breadth. It was also incredible how small the individual people were as they crossed. The mob looked large but the individuals were much smaller than I had expected.

As the March continued, I moved toward the Angle to the occasional cannon blast and Rebel Yell. As the “troops” arrived, they stretched from the Bryan farm to the U.S. Regulars Monument. Again, hard to take in, harder to explain. You simply had to be there. The “opposing” forces remained separated as a bugler played Taps. Then another. As the next one started, I started shooting a video as I walked, hand on heart, southward, capturing the last seven buglers. I am not aware that anyone else walked along for this many, let alone shot a video of it.  The personal meaning bestowed by the successive performances as some 30,000 people stood in silence caught me completely off guard. It was awesome, and for perhaps the first time, I am using this word literally. Check out the video here, if you care to.

Gettysburg vs. Gettysburg

Jesse Smith, writing at The Smart Set, discusses the historic tensions between the town of Gettysburg and Gettysburg National Military Park.  Smith respects the attempts to keep the battlefield “sacred ground,” but also enjoys the kitsch of the town.  She writes: “any town with a Victorian photography studio, Civil War wax museum, multiple ghost tours, a fireworks superstore, and the General Pickett’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet is a town worth exploring.”

Indeed it is.  While I can fully understand the need to restore the battlefield to its original 1863 state, Gettysburg also provides a wonderful laboratory for exploring the relationship between historical memory and consumerism.  Whenever I give a tour of the battlefield I take my students to General Pickett’s Buffet for lunch and offer them a short lecture (usually in the parking lot) of how it is hard to separate commercialism from these so-called “sacred sites.”

The best book on these issues is Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine.

Here is a taste of Smith’s excellent piece:

Gettysburg the Park has been trying to kick the kitsch factor of Gettysburg the town long before it developed a new master plan in 1999. In 1959, Kenneth and Thelma Dick opened a children’s amusement park named Fantasyland Storybook Park one mile south of Gettysburg’s downtown and close to the site of General Meade’s headquarters. Fantasyland offered attractions based on fairy tales, plus puppet theaters, live animal shows, and Indian “attacks.” The site boasted that presidents’ children and grandchildren made repeated visits; it described itself as “truly a ‘must’ for discerning families.”

The Park Service disagreed. It would decide what discerning families truly must see and experience at Gettysburg. In 1974, it bought Fantasyland but allowed the Dicks to continue operating the site. Fantasyland finally closed in 1980. The Park Service also allowed the Dicks to stay in the house they owned there. Thelma did until last year, when she died at 93 . Then the Park Service demolished the house.