Monday, July 27, 2020

'Intolerable slobber': At Gettysburg, vets fume about Rebel flag

Sporting massive white whiskers, Confederate General James Longstreet poses with his former
 adversaries at the 1888 Gettysburg Grand Reunion. Photo: William Tipton.
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In July 1888, generals James Longstreet and John B. Gordon joined roughly 300 other Confederate veterans and thousands of their former enemies in Gettysburg for a reunion on the battle's 25th anniversary. Most newspaper accounts of the Grand Reunion offered a rosy picture of the massive July 1-3 event, organized by the Society of the Army of the Potomac.

“The meeting of the survivors of the armies of Meade and Lee on the field of Gettysburg,” a Pennsylvania newspaper proclaimed, “is the greatest occasion of the kind known in our history, if not in the annals of nations.”

"The Yankees were killing the Southerners with kindness," wrote the New York Times, adding, "It was a pity every soldier of the old South could not be at Gettysburg to-day to witness the royal welcome extended to ancient foes."

But not all Federal veterans bought into the reunion lovefest notion. In impromptu speeches at a morning campfire gathering on the battlefield, Union veterans John Gobin and John Taylor offered scathing criticism of Confederate veterans at the reunion who had the audacity to wear badges adorned with a Rebel flag — and of the event in general.

"That was a flag of treason and rebellion in 1861," Gobin fumed, "and it is the flag of treason and rebellion in 1888."

Gobin, who did not fight at Gettysburg, served as an officer in the 11th and 47th Pennsylania during the war. In 1888, he was a general in the Pennsylvania National Guard and active in the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans' organization.

In his campfire address, Gobin said he was tired of hearing about Pickett's Charge, the subject of many speeches throughout the three-day reunion. Why some of the Confederates simply charged across a field and surrendered weaponless, with their hands up, he scoffed. Gobin said nearly every division in the Army of the Potomac showed more distinguished valor at Gettysburg.

A war-time image of John Gobin, who served as an officer
 in the 11th and 47th Pennsylvania.
(Courtesy Nicholas Picerno)
"I want it distinctly understood now and for all time," the 51-year-old veteran continued, "that at these reunions it should be remembered and put forth that the men who wore the blue and fought on this field were lastingly and eternally right and the men who wore the gray were lastingly and eternally wrong."

His audience hollered its approval.

"The General said that the Grand Army of the Republic and the men who wore the blue were disposed to display all kindly feeling and extend the hand of friendship and of assistance to their late antagonists," the Reading (Pa.) Times wrote of the reunion, "but this 'gush' and glorification of a rebel was not elevating in its effects on the youths of the country."

Concluded the newspaper about Gobin's speech: ""Right, every time, General. Brave words fitly spoken."

Taylor, who fought at Gettysburg, also blasted "glorification" of his former enemies. As an officer in the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves, he was captured at the Wilderness in 1864 and spent 10 months as a prisoner. In 1888, he was quartermaster general of the Grand Army of the Republic.

John Taylor (Library of Congress)
"I want no part or lot in this intolerable slobber and gush," the 48-year-old veteran said at the campfire, "and if I did take part in these reunions with men who are wearing rebel badges, I would be untrue to the comrades of my old company who fell on this field and some of whom are now resting in this beautiful cemetery."

Word of the Pennsylvania veterans' disdain soon filtered south. "Lurid" and "sulphurous," the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph called Gobin's oratory. "The people of the South will not be disturbed by these words of bitterness," the newspaper wrote. "They do not come from men who represent any respectable element at the North. If Gobin and Taylor want to keep up the war feeling they and their little gang can do so."

Nearly eight years later, though, it remained clear how Gobin felt about the vanquished Confederacy.

"Lee intended that Gettysburg should be his Austerlitz," he said in an address in Gettysburg for the dedication of a monument to George Meade, "but it was his Waterloo, and more than that, the Waterloo of human slavery in the greatest country on earth."

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  • Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, July 7, 1888.
  • New York Times, July 3, 1888.
  • Philadelphia Times, July 5, 1888June 6, 1896.
  • Reading (Pa.) Times, July 6, 1888.
  • The Union Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., July 6, 1888.


  1. Real good read John, thanks for bringing this out, don't hear much about the disapproval of the South at the reunions, just glorification of the events. Thanks again.

  2. Thanks, Doug: These reunions are fascinating for so many reasons.

  3. I would love to write a lesson plan for teachers to use, using the primary source newspaper articles. Does anyone have links to the articles?

    1. Send me your email address and I'd be happy to pass along? John Banks

  4. I was always surprised and how these reunions were conveyed as so friendly after such a bitter war so it's of interest to see this side of it. Thanks.

  5. And He will judge between the nations and will render decisions for many people; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares. Isaiah 2:4

  6. At the 1887 reunion, the Society of the Army of the Potomac had passed a resolution to include the former Confederates at the 1888 reunion. A post on the blog of the Gettysburg National Military Park describes the intent :

    'The resolutions also stipulated that the survivors of the Army of Northern Virginia be invited. The intention was that the survivors of these once opposing armies "might on that occasion record in friendship and fraternity the sentiments of good-will, loyalty, and patriotism which now unite all in sincere devotion to the country."'

    [ ]

  7. Animosity appears to have diminished by the time the 50th anniversary occurred. Of all the rants appearing on social media, the one comment made by a legislator yesterday (Jan.6) was noteworthy: Those who planted the rebel battle flag on the Capitol accomplished what Lee & the ANV failed to do.

    1. Tragically, yes. There has always been much focus on reconciliation between veterans from the US and CSA, but little about the failure of Reconstruction to reconcile the CSA to the basic rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of newly emancipated enslaved.

    2. Amen! The Newspapers for the most part supported the Federal Narrative that was desired. Very Similar to the modern news of today. The old New York Tribune editor's deal with Lincoln for example.

  8. If they hated them so dang much, maybe they should have let them go?

    1. Anonymous9:45 AM

      “The American government had set out to fight the slave states in 1861, not to end slavery, but to retain the enormous national territory and market and resources.” - Howard Zinn

  9. Traitors? If so, why did ten postwar presidents from Grant to Wilson appoint former Confederates to the highest United States federal government positions? Former Confederates became US Supreme Court justices (4), US Attorneys General (2), US Navy Secretaries (2), US Solicitor Generals (2), US Army generals in the Spanish-American War (8), and US ambassadors and consuls (31)?

    1. Because they once again swore loyalty to the Union.

  10. Unreconstructed it.