Tuesday, June 18, 2019

2019 Gettysburg College Civil War Institute

My sincere apologies for the lack of posts the past week. I was quite busy tying up loose ends at work at the end of last week before spending the weekend and first of this week in Gettysburg and visiting family in the area.

Last year was my first time attending the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute conference. I was so impressed with the whole operation that I made it a priority to attend again. And this year, I brought a colleague. I believe this year's edition was just as satisfying, if not more so, than last year's. Great sessions, great tours, great food, great people, and excellent conversations were in abundance; so what's not to like?

The Friday afternoon and evening sessions' highlight was the interview of Gary Gallagher by his former student Peter Carmichael. Lots of personal stories, laughs, and honest academic and public history challenges and experiences were shared.

Saturday's full day of sessions were all top-notch, too. However, Amy Murrell Taylor's talk about her recent book and research on Civil War refugee camps was particularly amazing. Peter Carmichael's talk on the letters of Hooiser soldier David Beem and his wife Mahala was also impressive. The "Artifacts of the Civil War" panel emphasized the importance that soldiers and their families placed on the relics of the conflict, and prompted me to purchase the book War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era, edited by Joan Cashin.

That evening, tours about different aspects of the Gettysburg battlefield were offered to the over 300 conference attendees. I had the great good fortune to land on my first-choice tour of "Honor, Cowardice, and Lore on Oak Ridge: Iverson's July 1 Attack."

This tour was led by Gettysburg College Civil War Institute's Assistant Director Ashley Whitehead Luskey. Ashley provided a thorough tour that not only vividly described the tactical movements of the Gen. Iverson's assault, but also shared a number of primary source document quotes from both soldiers in Iverson's brigade and their Union soldier counterparts. These accounts added an extra dimension to the learning experience that helped remind us that the regimental blocks on our battle maps were in fact people struggling with life and death situations on that July 1 afternoon.

One of the regiments opposing Iverson's North Carolina Brigade was the 88th Pennsylvania Infantry. I've read quite about the 88th due to a collection of letters at work by one of its members, so it was especially gratifying to get to see their Gettysburg monument up close and personal.

On Sunday, I took a brief early morning break from the conference and did a little bit of battlefield exploring. As many times as I've been to Gettysburg, I had not spent much time at East Cemetery Hill or Culp's Hill. I tried to remedy that a little.

The Evergreen Cemetery gatekeeper's house (above) looks much like it did during those July 1863 days of combat. The only significant change is the porched addition to the right.

Across the road, an equestrian statue honors Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock. Known often as "Hancock the Superb," the Army of the Potomac's II Corps commander was wounded on the third day's fighting.

Not too far from Hancock's statue is that of Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard. This Maine native's XI Corps suffered rough handling at both Chancellorsville and during Gettysburg's first day of fighting, but Howard help stabilize the army's defensive line at Cemetery Hill. Howard would go on to have better fortune in the western theater as part of Sherman's force as they marched to Atlanta and through Georgia.

On my way from Cemetery Hill to Culp's Hill, I encountered this little fellow crossing the road. I stopped the car to make sure no one hit him as he ambled across and I made a quick joke about that "goggle-eyed snapping turtle" Maj. Gen. George Meade, who received command of the Army of the Potomac on the eve of the Gettysburg fight.

On Culp's Hill the statue of Gen. George Sears Greene stands pointing. Greene's impressive defense of this significant topographical location on July 2 proved to be a key to ultimately winning the battle.

On the way down Culp's Hill a great vista shows the difficult terrain that Louisiana and North Carolina troops encountered in their assaults on East Cemetery Hill. The Evergreen Cemetery gatekeepers hours is seen in the center distance.

Standing near the base of Culp's Hill is the equestrian statue of XII Corps commander Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum. During the "council of war" called by Meade on the evening of July 2, Slocum advised to "stay and fight it out."

Returning the conference sessions, I had the pleasure of taking in excellent talks by Ed Ayers, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, and James Broomall. However, I especially enjoyed Stephen Berry's "Private Voices: The Corpus of American Civil War Letters." In it, Berry focused largely on his digital project which examines letters of soldiers with literacy limitations. Some of the letters used in the talk were written by the soldiers' barely literate comrades, and others by soldiers who themselves struggled to write properly. However, these challenges did not stop them from wanting to communicate with friends and family, who were often separated great distances by the conflict. This online repository and its search capabilities is a welcomed feature for scholars and casual learners alike.

After spending some time with my wife's family on Sunday evening, Monday, and Tuesday morning, we came back through Gettysburg. I saw the above historical marker for onetime Gettysburg resident Thaddeus Stevens and had to have a picture.

For me, no trip to Gettysburg is complete without a stop by the 26th North Carolina monument near Willoughby Run. It was likely near here that my ancestor, Pvt. Hardy Estep's, life was lost on July 1, 1863. Despite all the enjoyment that I experienced at the conference, and with friends and family, a moment here always reminds me of the high costs of the conflict and why we need to learn from it.

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