Off to the Great Reunion: Gettysburg 1913



It was a sunny Monday morning on June 30, 1913, and a group of 21 men from Sussex County eagerly gathered in Main Street next to the park in Newton. These men were veterans of the Union Army, having bravely fought in the Civil War, and they were about to embark on a special trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Their mission was to attend the Great Reunion, a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic three-day battle that turned the tide of the war in favor of the Union.


Before setting off, the veterans assembled in their meeting room on Spring Street and then marched up to the county park to be captured in a photograph. This picture would serve as a cherished memento of their journey once they returned home. Led by Benjamin F. Herrick, they then made their way across town to the railroad yards, where they boarded the Lackawanna Railroad train at 9:12 in the morning.

Their train journey took them to Easton, Pennsylvania, where they transferred to a Central Railroad of New Jersey train bound for Gettysburg. Finally, at six o’clock in the evening, they arrived in Gettysburg and were warmly greeted by a multitude of fellow Yankee and Confederate veterans.

Among the group of travelers were esteemed individuals such as Dr. Thomas Pooley, Martin R. Kintner, and John N. Calvin, along with many others who had bravely served their country during the war. These men proudly wore the lapel badges and pins of the Grand Army of the Republic, a national organization representing the interests of Union veterans and the abolition of slavery. Some even sported official hats of the organization.

The photograph taken by Newton photographer Joseph Bailey Jr. captured the majority of the remaining Civil War veterans from Sussex County. These men, already in their late 60s or middle 70s, were embarking on a journey that would undoubtedly bring back memories of camaraderie, hardship, and the horrors of war. They were members of various posts, including Captain Walker Post No. 98 from Branchville, Captain George V. Griggs Post No. 111 of Newton, and Captain A. A. Haines Post No. 116 of Sussex. The Park Block Building can be seen in the background of the photo, serving as a reminder of the town they were leaving behind.

The planning for the Great Reunion had been in progress for two years under the guidance of Pennsylvania Governor Edwin S. Stuart. His successor, John K. Tener, took over the detailed planning, including sending invitations to all known Civil War veterans. The 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg Commission requested that states allocate funds for veterans’ travel to and from Gettysburg, primarily by rail.

The War Department also played a role in preparing Gettysburg for the anticipated 100,000 visitors, half of whom were non-veterans. The town, with only 4,500 residents, would host the official celebration from July 1 to 4.

The Great Camp, which opened on June 29, became the temporary home for the veterans. The first meal of the reunion was served that evening, and approximately 25,000 veterans had already arrived, including Major General Daniel E. Sickles, the sole surviving corps commander from either side. The camp covered 280 acres of farmland and boasted over 5,000 tents organized by state, each equipped with hand basins and water buckets. Wells had been installed in preparation, ensuring an adequate water supply for the veterans’ village. A staggering total of 53,407 veterans would eventually reside in the camp during the reunion.

To ensure a smooth reunion, the War Department assigned 124 officers and 1,342 enlisted men. Additionally, there were approximately 150 newspapermen and 2,170 cooks on-site. Veterans had to present proper credentials, such as a copy of their honorable discharge, to receive food and shelter in the camp. Non-veterans were mostly housed at Gettysburg College.

The weather during the initial days of the reunion proved challenging for men of their age. With temperatures reaching triple digits, 744 veterans were admitted to camp hospitals, with 319 suffering from heat exhaustion. Sadly, nine veterans lost their lives during the reunion. Considering their advanced age and the long distances traveled, the relatively low number of casualties was somewhat surprising.

Over the seven days of the reunion, an astonishing 688,000 meals were served. The camp was stocked with over 155,000 pounds of meat, nearly 15,000 pounds of fowl, 7,000 cans of fish, 25,000 dozen eggs, 6 tons of butter, and more than 400 gallons of pickles, among other supplies. As a souvenir, each veteran received a mess kit consisting of a fork, a knife, two spoons, a tin cup, and two plates. They were responsible for bringing their own towels and personal items.

The highlight of the reunion was President Woodrow Wilson’s address to the veterans. Initially, he had declined to attend, but he ultimately changed his mind, recognizing the significance of his presence. On July 4, at 11 o’clock in the morning, President Wilson delivered a speech that captured the spirit of the Great Reunion. He emphasized the unity of the veterans, once enemies but now friends, and praised their valor. After the National Anthem played, President Wilson left to return to the capital. The camp then began the process of winding down and sending the veterans back home, including those from Sussex County.

This trip to Gettysburg was a momentous occasion for these aging veterans. As they embarked on this journey, they carried with them the memories of their service, the bonds forged on the battlefield, and the sacrifices they made for their country. The Great Reunion allowed them to come together once again, to honor their shared history, and to commemorate the turning point of the Civil War.

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