The next great reunion took place in the North. Two years after the first great reunion of blue and gray in 1911, they met again in Gettysburg two years later for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. A President also attended this reunion. Pres. Wilson came and spoke. He challenged the veterans Union and Confederate, to be symbols of peace, not relics of war. But, the highlight was the re-enactment of Picket’s charge. Video of that reunion is available here on youtube. The Southerners, 50 years older, gave the famous Rebel yell and ambled up Cemetery Ridge, while their former Union adversaries waited. As the aged veterans approached the wall, the Union veterans burst forth and hugged the Confederates.
A Hug at the Bloody Angle
At the Bloody Angle, one Confederate told how he had been shot in a particular spot. “The place is right here. I was shot right where I stand now. I would have died if it hadn’t been for a Union soldier who saved my life. I’ve often wished I could see him but I never saw him after that day.”
A Union veteran turned quickly around. “That’s funny,” he said, “I was at the Bloody Angle too, and there was a Rebel there who was pretty badly hurt. I gave him a drink of water, and then I took upon my back and carried him out of the line of fire to the field hospital.”
“My God!” cried the Rebel, “Let me look at you.” He stared into his face and grabbed him by the shoulders. “You are the man!” They hugged and traded names. The Rebel was A.C. Smith of Virginia and the Union soldier was Albert N. Hamilton of Pennsylvania.
Some 50,000 veterans gathered that Summer in the heat of Gettysburg. The youngest was 61 years old. The oldest said he was 112. The celebration lasted three days. Veterans camped on the battlefield. Army engineers tramped across the field to set up a camp spot on the site of Pickett’s charge. More than 500 lamps lit the field at night. There were 2,000 cooks, and 175 open-air kitchens. They set up 32 water fountains.
Boy scouts escorted the weak and infirm. Nine of the old veterans died during the celebration. News arrived of veterans who died elsewhere. During the festivities, Gov. Louis B. Hanna of North Dakota told the story of one Confederate veteran who passed away in a Northern state. Former Union soldiers, now in the Grand Army of the Republic, the fraternal organization formed by former Union soldiers, buried the Confederate at a GAR cemetery. At the grave side, the GAR commander said:
“We cannot understand why this man fought for the Stars and Bars while we fought for the Star and Stripes. But it is enough to know that each man fought for the right. And now, in the spirit of charity and fraternity, we lay him to rest, the Gray beside the Blue.”
The encampment came to a close. The peace and goodwill was shattered in the dining room of the Gettysburg Hotel, on the town square, when seven men were stabbed when a Union veteran heard unkind words about the martyred Lincoln. The fight started suddenly and ended quickly. Knives were pulled and bottles were thrown. The organizers agreed that if there was to be another great reunion, the saloons must be closed.
Richard A. Serrano, Last of the Blue and Gray (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books 2013) (reprint), pp. 17-21