|Longstreet and his former Union adversaries in Gettysburg.|
(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
Longstreet, "his big broad-chested body ... straight and strong," was joined in the Pennsylvania town by an estimated 30,000 Union veterans and some of the more notable officers of the Civil War: Northerners Fitz-John Porter, Henry Slocum, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Francis Barlow, Daniel Butterfield and Hiram Berdan and Southerners Wade Hampton and John B. Gordon, among others. (Only about 300 Confederate veterans were able to attend.)
"There are so many Generals and other chieftains here," a New York newspaper reported, "that a catalogue of them would be as long as Homer's list of ships. Each is a hero to a set." In addition to the old soldiers, most in their 50s, thousands of others jammed the town that, much like in 1863, was ill-equipped to handle so many people.
|Longstreet's 1888 visit to Gettysburg|
was covered extensively by newspapers.
"It is estimated that fifty thousand people slept in Gettysburg last night," the New York Evening World reported on July 3, 1888, perhaps exaggerating only slightly. "Such crowds have not been seen here since the battle was fought."
Many Union monuments were dedicated, and veterans trod ground they had fought on 25 years earlier. Reunion events, including a special mass for Irish Brigade veterans in the Catholic church in Gettysburg, were held, and old soldiers eagerly searched fields and woods for war relics.
A New Jersey veteran attending the dedication of a monument for his regiment claimed he found in a rock crevice the cartridge box he had hidden there during a retreat in July 1863. Two bullets remained in the bent and rusty relic, which the veteran proudly took home. A Wisconsin soldier scoured Little Round Top for the artillery shell that cost him an arm. He expected to find it, he told a New York reporter, who was highly skeptical. Veterans from both sides were cordial with each other, although Union men reportedly groused that some of their former enemies wore lapel pins adorned with a Rebel flag.
Widely covered in the press, the reunion drew mixed reviews.
"Yesterday and to-day the scenes and the excitement in this lively borough and its classic surroundings were of a character so exciting, so crushing in numbers of people, so crashing in brass band music and withal so delightful in weather conditions," a Harrisburg, Pa., newspaper gushed, "as to impart a charm to what would otherwise have been unbearable."
But New York newspapers were especially critical. "The want of a head," the Evening World bluntly noted, "has seriously interfered with the success of the reunion," while the New York Sun published a scathing critique:
"Gettysburg is a beautiful place, but most of the people are mighty queer. They were scared so by the three days' fight that they hid in cellars while the battle was going on. Ask a sarcastic visitor what the people do for a living and he will answer: 'Nothing. They live on people who come here. They sell pretended relics and poor photographs. They take boarders during celebration days, and thus they get revenue which seems to satisfy them.'
"There is much truth in this. The town is indeed a poor place for the accommodation of such crowds of visitors as come here. There is not a really good hotel in the village. You cannot buy a New York newspaper at any price. Few Philadelphia papers are received. Carriages are needed to go from point to point, for the battlefield covers an area of twenty-five miles, and the people take full advantage of the crowds and gouge everyone who hires a buggy or a hack. The extortion is worse than that practiced by the St. Louis hotel people during the Democratic Convention. And yet, in spite of all these unpleasant things, the people come, for the sentiment which attracts is more powerful than the feeling of disgust created at the meanness of the people of the place."
|Veterans with family members at the dedication of the 121st Pennsylvania monument |
at Gettysburg on July 4, 1888 -- one of many such gatherings in late June
and early July that year on the battlefield. (William Tipton photo)
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.
On June 30, the day of his arrival by train in Pennsylvania, Longstreet had a lengthy private conversation at the Springs Hotel, about a mile from town, with 68-year-old Daniel Sickles -- the first time the former enemies had met. As commander of the III Corps at Gettysburg, the controversial Sickles lost his right leg to Rebel artillery on July 2, 1863. While the old foes dined at the hotel, others in the room gawked and "let their dinner go almost untouched."
As a group of New York veterans marched through Gettysburg one morning, they noticed Sickles and "Old Pete" in a carriage behind them. "This was a meeting of blue and gray worth recording," a Philadelphia reporter noted, "and as they passed along the street that led to Seminary Hill and Seminary Ridge the enthusiasm of the crowd who recognized them was something beyond description."
With Sickles and other former Union big-wigs, Longstreet visited the notable sites -- the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devil's Den, Little Round Top and others. Little had changed, the old general observed, since his soldiers had made desperate assaults on the Round Tops on July 2, 1863, and, a day later, at the "Bloody Angle" during Pickett's Charge. "A great mistake," said Longstreet, who mulled battle strategy and tactics as he toured the field.
When Longstreet began a tour of Gettysburg on horseback with Butterfield, Berdan and others, a "great crowd" gave the group "three ringing cheers." After they reached the summit of Little Round Top, word quickly traveled of Longstreet's presence there. Union veterans gathered nearby for a monument dedication rushed toward their former adversary. "Boys, here's Longstreet," said Sickles as he sat at the foot of a tree, "and he meets us once more on Round Top." Three rousing cheers from the crowd of about 100 "went surging through the shimmering air to the plain below."
|In a cropped enlargement of the William Tipton image below, Longstreet stands next to|
former Union general Henry W. Slocum.
|Union veterans and Longstreet on July 3, 1888.|
(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
After Longstreet took his place on the stand, a former Federal officer shouted, "Comrades, you see on this platform one of the hardest hitters whoever fought against us. I propose we give three times three for General Longstreet, one of the best Union men now in the country." The crowd erupted, surging toward the stand and "showering God bless you's on him." After Longstreet had taken his place on the platform, it collapsed, falling several feet, but no one was seriously hurt.
|"Comrades, you see on this platform one|
of the hardest hitters whoever
fought against us,"
Joshua Chamberlain said
of James Longstreet.
In his speech, Longstreet, who was persuaded by Gettysburg-based battlefield photographer William Tipton to pose during his visit, called the third day at Gettysburg the greatest battle ever fought. "But now," he said, "the times have changed. Twenty-five years have softened the usages of war, and our meetings now are for more congenial purposes. The ladies are among us with their bright smiles. God bless them, and grant that they may dispel the delusions which may come between the North and the South, and prepare the way even as the bride is prepared for the bridegroom's coming, strewing their paths with flowers of everlasting peace."
The next day, Lee's "Old Pete" received a telegram from the widow of General George Pickett, who had died nearly 13 years earlier. "Your friend and comrade has gone to join the heroic column of American soldiers in the land o' the leal," Sallie Pickett wrote, "but his widow and son greet you from afar upon the field which consecrated the blending of blood of brave men."
At the Grand Reunion on July 2 in the national cemetery, Longstreet shared the rostrum with Sickles, Gordon, Barlow and other notables from the war and spoke briefly before a crowd estimated at 5,000 people. "The actors," the New York Times reported, "were the very men who defended the ridge on whose slopes the cemetery lies against the repeated assaults led by the very men 25 years ago this very day who joined them here now in pledges of friendship, loyalty to a common flag and unity of devotion to a common country. All -- place, scene, and the living figures of the men themselves -- were inspiring."
Also that day, Longstreet attended the dedication of the monument for the 95th Pennsylvania, "Gosline's Zouaves," one of several such events he attended during his Gettysburg visit. When he saw the regiment's ragged battle flag, pierced by 81 holes, he cried and "tenderly raised the tattered folds and pressed them to his lips."
"Every G.A.R. man," a Northern veteran wrote, "has a kindly word for General Longstreet."
Postscript: On the trip back to his home in Georgia, the train carrying Longstreet derailed near Orange Courthouse, Va., leaving a scene that, according to a reporter, "no pen or tongue" could describe. Longstreet escaped unscathed, but many were injured and eight passengers were killed. Among the dead was a Confederate veteran from New Orleans, who had lost a leg at Gettysburg in 1863. He, too, was on his way back home from the great reunion.
|Longstreet appears in a cropped enlargement of the William Tipton image below.|
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-- Harrisburg (Pa.) Independent, July 2, 1888.
-- Harrisburg (Pa.) Telegraph, July 5, 1888.
-- New York Evening World, July 3, 1888.
-- New York Sun, July 1, 1888.
-- New York Times, July 2 and 3, 1888.
-- New York Tribune, July 4, 1888.
-- Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3, 1888.
-- Philadelphia Times, July 3 and 5, 1888.
-- Staunton (Va.) Spectator, July 18, 1888.
-- The Times Picayune (New Orleans), July 3, 9 and 13, 1888.