The Great Gettysburg Reunion of 1913

Former enemies shake hands at the 1913 Reunion. Photo in the public domain as it was published before 1924. It is an inspiring photo that makes me wonder about whether we could get over our animosities for the common good.

I found fascinating this idea of a  novel about a reunion of soldiers – Yankee and Rebel – 50 years after the Battle of Gettysburg. And Gettysburg, 1913, A Novel of the Great Reunion, Part I, was available for just 99 cents digitally.

It was only the first part of three, but still I was intrigued by this reunion of aging soldiers who had lived through a battle in which 50,000 soldiers from both sides died or were injured. That number is slightly less than the population of the city in which I live, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Maybe it is because our family doesn’t have reunions, other than weddings and funerals and very rare other visits that I am so fascinated. But author Alan Simon also had a great comment that puts into perspective the work I do as a personal history.

A novel of the 150th reunion of the Battle of GettysburgIn the novel – and this is not a plot spoiler – Doctor Samuel Chambers is in charge of the field hospitals for the tens of thousands of veterans who came to the reunion. Organizers were very concerned about these men of advanced ages – reportedly from age 61 to 100+ – who would be exposed to severe heat and live in tents with limited facilities. They worried that hundreds might die.

One such man in the novel was overcome by heat, but was treated by a nurse and Chambers. Angus Findley turned out to be  the aide-de-camp (second in command) of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, who had been criticized by General Robert E. Lee for being late getting to Gettysburg. The following words struck me as powerful:

“[Doctor] Samuel thought to himself more than once that he was listening to history personified … a feeling that he would experience again and again in the days ahead now that tens of thousands of Civil War veterans had arrived and the Great Reunion was about to formally get underway tomorrow.”

A portion of the tent city at the 1913 reunion in Gettysburg. Photo in the public domain.

Imagine being able to speak to someone who actually was there at the major events in U.S. or even world history. We would learn so much more than dates and names of battles. We would learn what it was really like for ordinary people.  And that would be powerful. It is also what the Veterans History Project is all about.

But it also is the essence of any interview I do as a personal historian. You don’t have to be a general or even a soldier to be affected by war or other events. You could be someone who produced materials for the war effort or lived daily in fear your loved one would be injured or die.

Simon did what I do as a personal historian. I fill in the backstory of client memories with research. He brought interesting characters into his novels – with research behind them. They include military names in this country like future general Douglas MacArthur and Ulysses S. Grant III (the grandson of the General and President), who were classmates and rivals in the West Point Class of 1903.  And young George Patton, the future general, is mentioned in the book’s first part. Patton actually attended it, according to Simon’s research.

I have only read the first part – the second will be out at the holidays – and I assume the third will be available next July when it will be the 100th  anniversary since that reunion and the 150th since that battle. I can’t wait. Historic fiction can put us in times we will never experience personally.

If you want to see what these proud veterans were like at the reunion in 1913, there is a clip on YouTube that shows them.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt7qvuHSg6U

I’m looking forward to Part II of Simon’s serial. Learn more about it at www.alansimonbooks.com or on Amazon.