Friday, January 26, 2024

Booknotes: The World Will Never See the Like

New Arrival:

The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913 John L. Hopkins (Savas Beatie, 2024).

From the description: "The 1913 Gettysburg reunion is a story of 53,000 old comrades and former foes reunited, and of the tension, even half a century later, between competing narratives of reconciliation and remembrance. For seven days the old soldiers lived under canvas in stifling heat on a 280-acre encampment run by the U.S. Army. They swapped stories, debated still-simmering controversies about the battle, and fed tall tales to gullible reporters. On July 3, the aging survivors of Pickett’s Division and the Philadelphia Brigade shook hands across the wall on Cemetery Ridge in the reunion’s climactic photo op." That famous image has been reproduced in countless publications.

In addition to the tens of thousands of common soldiers, famous faces also made it to the reunion. More from the description: "Some of the battle’s leading personalities attended, including Union III Corps commander Dan Sickles, who at 92 was still eager to explain to anyone who would listen the indispensable role he claimed to have played in the Union victory. Also present was Helen Dortch Longstreet, the widow of Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, who devoted her life and considerable energies to defending the reputation of her general. Both wrote articles from the reunion that were syndicated in newspapers across the country. There was even a cameo appearance by a young and as-yet unknown cavalry officer named George S. Patton Jr."

John Hopkins's The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913 contains much in the way of "detail from the letters, diaries, and published accounts of Union and Confederate veterans, the extensive archival records of the reunion’s organizers, and the daily stories filed by the scores of reporters who covered it." Using those sources, Hopkins tells the story of "this extraordinary event’s genesis and planning, the obstacles overcome on the way to making it a reality, its place in the larger narrative of sectional reunion and reconciliation, and the individual stories of the veterans who attended."

Preceded by Thomas Flagel's 2019 study War, Memory, and the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion, this is the second book to examine this topic in recent years, both appearing to be of roughly similar depth if not focus. According to a footnote in the preface, Flagel's study appeared just as Hopkins was finishing his own manuscript, so I don't know if this one will directly engage any of Flagel's main themes. In particular, I'm thinking of Flagel's arguments regarding the primary motivation of the veteran participants and that author's determination that expressions of communal introspection were more commonly found at the reunion than were outward expressions of national reconciliation and the like.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this note on the publication of my book.

    I read and enjoyed Professor Flagel's book but did not attempt to respond directly to his central thesis that "the prime motives for veterans to attend did not include national reconciliation, nor did the Great Reunion produce a general sense of a reunified country."

    My goal was simply to tell as full and detailed a story of the reunion as possible, and so my research focus was a bit broader and turned up things that were outside Professor Flagel's area of primary interest, including conflicts between the reunion's organizers and the people of Gettysburg; tensions over whether Confederates would be permitted to carry their old battle flags; what role, if any, black Union veterans would play at the event; and the veterans' disappointment at failing to secure Congressional funding for the "permanent Peace Monument," which they had hoped would be the centerpiece of the reunion. I also found concrete evidence, including two photographs in the Pennsylvania state archives in Harrisburg, that at least several dozen African American veterans attended the reunion, 16 of whom I was able to identify by name.

    Through it all, I tried to convey the color, humor, and pathos of the event, from individual reunions to the chaotic scene at the reenactment of Pickett’s Charge that preceded the famous photo of veterans shaking hands across the wall.

    My book now sits beside Professor Flagel’s on my bookshelf. I think they are complementary and I hope others will agree.

    John L. Hopkins


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