75th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg
Last night the Chicago Cubs erased a 108-year championship drought in the 10th inning of game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland. This effectively passed the torch of longest active championship droughts from the 1908 Chicago Cubs to the 1948 Cleveland Indians.
Just 5 years after the Cubs last World title, there was a gathering of Civil War veterans at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 50th Anniversary of the battle. There was consternation as to what may transpire when the some 53,000 veterans of the war – now aged men – from 46 states came together to mark the occasion. However, according to the event’s Wikipedia page: “the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”
Twenty-five years later, there was one final reunion in 1938 for the 75th Anniversary of the battle. My dad was a 7-year old boy. I let that sink in from time to time; that my father was a little boy at a time civil war veterans – however few – still carried with them a time when the fate of this country was less than secure.
The ensuing 25-years reduced the number of gathered civil war veterans from 53,000 to about 2000. In 1913 there were about 8000 Confederate soldiers in attendance now there was an estimated 8000 total living veterans of the war – only about 70 gathered had actually fought at the battle of Gettysburg.
The veterans average age was 94 and they began arriving June 29 in 12 special Pullman trains. Not on veteran died en route to the gathering, but two or three died before the celebration closed and five more passed away making their way home. It was apparently important for them to be there, at that place, one last time.
And this gets me to my point: it’s important to us as human beings to share experiences with others, it’s important to us to have goals and to have a meaning beyond ourselves. It was somehow spiritually important to these men 50-years after fighting each other to come together and recognize the nation that remained. It was important to share this common bond with others, even those who were on the opposite side of the conflict, and it was more important to share it than it was to have been on the victorious side. It was more important to come together than to be “right.” 2000 veterans of 8000 still living – that’s a commitment beyond oneself. 90-year old men coming together for closure and for the historic record. Above all, the healing for the good of the county – just one more time. For me, this event stands for the proposition that despite differences, despite having faced each other in anger, several times over the course of that 75 year period, these men gathered together to reflect on their service to their respective armies, and to bond together as brothers once again. Time sometimes does heal old wounds, but the desire has to be there – as it was here.
It’s important to take those steps while you can. By the end of August 1956, 7-champions after the Cleveland Indians had last won the World Series, the last of the civil war veterans had passed on: the last verifiable Confederate, Pleasant Crump, passed away on the last day of 1951, and the last surviving Union soldier Albert Woolson passed away August 2, 1956.