The Trip of the Wheeling Delegation – Incidents by the Way – Travelling Under Difficulties – Arrival at Gettysburg – Visit to the Battle Fields – Everett’s Oration – Ceremonies and Incidents of the Dedication.
(Special Correspondence of the Intelligencer.)
November 24, 1863
The Trip of the Wheeling Delegation – Incidents by the Way – Travelling Under Difficulties – Arrival at Gettysburg – Visit to the Battle Fields – Everett’s Oration – Ceremonies and Incidents of the Dedication.
(Special Correspondence of the Intelligencer.)
GETTYSBURG, November 19, 1863.
By the time this letter appears in print you will have read the address of the Hon. Edward Everett, delivered here to-day, and likewise the accompanying ceremonies. – He left copies of his oration in Boston to be forwarded in time to reach the New York and Philadelphia papers to-day, and it will appear in them to-morrow. It was well that Mr. Everett took this precaution, for it would have been impossible for any reporter to have done his written speech justice. He did not have it perfectly committed, and once or twice had to go back a little and bring up the thread of his discourse. And, then, in such a studied and ornate production, no reporter less learned than the orator himself could appropriately and accurately mark his pauses and his quotations. Mr. Everett is not a speaker to be reported, but to be printed from, he, himself, furnishing the copy.
But to being at the beginning – some days ago Gov. Boreman received an invitation, such as had been extended to the Governors of all the loyal States, to visit Gettysburg as the guest of Gov. Curtin. – In common with most of them, he excepted it, and accordingly on Tuesday last he left Wheeling for the consecrated ground on the eleven o’clock Pittsburgh train, accompanied by Gen. Kramer, Gen. Ruffner, Mr. Samuel Laughlin and your reporter. Dr. Logan and Mr. C. D. Hubbard left in the evening train and overtook us all at Harrisburg. We had no special incident by the way on the journey from Wheeling to Harrisburg, if I may except a miserable supper at Altoona, which we, being hungry, full appreciated, especially after having dined at the excellently kept Station at Wellsville. They say the lease of the present proprietor of the Pennsylvania road’s fine capacious hotel at Altoona, is nearly expired, and that the company have refused to re-lease to him, and that, therefore, he has dispensed with his aforetime exertions to keep a good house. May the lease hasten out.
We got to Harrisburg at half past two in the morning. Stopped at Herr’s hotel in mistake for Jones’, and went to bed about three to sleep until eight, which most of us did. In the morning we met with Gov. Pierpont, Gov. Tod, Gov. Morton, Governor-elect John Brough, and their accompanying friends. The arrangement had been made that we were all to start at one in the afternoon on a special, or, as it was called, “Governor’s train,” to Gettysburg via the Northern Central and the Western Maryland railroads, the former running South fifty miles South as far as Hanover junction, and connecting there with the latter running West twenty six miles to Gettysburg. For several hours we busied ourselves running about Harrisonburg – visiting Gov. Curtin at his chamber in the Capitol building and seeing there with him General Stoneman, the famous raider and now chief of the cavalry bureau at Washington, and many other notable civil and military personages. We clambered up on top of the capitol round about as it stretched up and down the noble but un-navigable Susquehanna and sloped off north and south into the Cumberland Valley, the land of Canaan which the rebel army so much desired to hold and possess, and which they so considerably despoiled. The Capitol was used this last summer as a barracks for the militia and consequently has been a great deal abused and defaced. It was now undergoing repairs. Elegant carpets and other trimmings were being put in the two rooms of the legislature. Those accustomed to such rooms would hardly like to come down to the common quarters which our two houses occupy in the Linsley Institute. Be States as well as people must commence life as best they can. In Gov. Curtain’s reception room you see hung all round the walls portraits of all the Governors and the early, and some of the later, distinguished men of Pennsylvania. I think the state must have had a better class of men in the time gone by than it has had lately, judging by the faces and heads we saw. A peculiarity, striking, noticeable, was the German cast of nearly all those faces and heads, showing that if the “Dutch had ruled Holland” they has also done the same thing in Pennsylvania. – Gov. Curtain’s face and head will not be a bad one to add to the list when his time shall come, for he really has a very taking appearance. He has the credit of being a man of great energy – of a kindly disposition, altogether sociable and approachable, but otherwise not notable. His great exertions in behalf of the Pennsylvania soldiers, in connection with the Pennsylvania raids, saved him from defeat this last time. Otherwise his reputed connection with the shoddyists would have submerged him.
We were told to be at the cars at precisely one P.M., and accordingly we had dinner a little after twelve and then repaired to the depot, walking like a set of gray-backs with our carpet sacks in our hands. On arriving at the depot we were told to walk up the track about a quarter of a mile and there get in and secure our seats if we wanted to make sure of them. This we did and found plenty of room, and also plenty of time to wait. The governors and their respective attendants came struggling slowly in, including the Hon. Simon Cameron, who took a seat near our mess, placing his body in one seat and his feet in another, pulling his hat down over his eyes, putting his gold headed cane to his lips and seemingly relapsing into a condition of profound meditation over the affairs of the Middletown bank, and his late righteous defeat for the U. S. Senate. The Ex-Secretary of War and Ex-Minister to Russia seems to be just now out of a vocation. He has nothing now to exercise his peculiar talents upon unless it be the running arrangements of the Northern Central Railroad of which he is chief owner, it being probably the meanest road to travel over in the United States, unless it is the Gettysburg branch. The Hon. Simon had the credit, when he was Secretary of War, of bringing the Eastern troops round by Harrisburg in order to have them pass over this Northern Central and so enlarge its dividends. Whether he did or did not, it is his misfortune to have had such a lifelong reputation as to incline people easily to believe such a report. While the distinguished gentleman is not exactly an ordinary looking person he is far from extraordinary. His eyes are small, the lids closely blinked together, especially when he talks or smiles, the face is narrow and the nose long and sharp, the whole indication being speculative, superficial and crafty.
The train, as I told you, was to start at one P.M. It started some minutes after three. And such a start as it did make. We stopped for nearly half an hour after crossing the river. Then we stopped off and on for several moments three or four times within twenty miles until we got to a station called Goldsboro, where we stopped upwards of an hour. The reason assigned was the bursting of one of the water supply pipes of the engine. Our misfortune was the good fortune of all those who sold cakes and apples at Goldsboro. They never did such a trade before I venture. “Fairchild’s brigade band,” which was on board with us, here got off and discoursed some very rare and very sweet music, playing among other things one of the dirges that had been composed for the dedication ceremonies.
It was nearly six o’clock, and almost dark, when we left Goldsboro, and as yet we were only twenty miles on our way. The air commenced to grow very cool and everybody began to wish for fire. But there was no fire and nothing to make one with. Then, as it grew darker, everybody asked why there were no lamps lit. But there were no lamps in order, neither were there any candles. Then everybody began to wish for supper, especially for some hot coffee, but there was no prospect for supper that night. Then there was a general buttoning up of overcoats and drawing up of shawls and much disparaging animadversion on the arrangements for getting to Gettysburg. However, there were no ladies on board and a general circulation of cigars and black bottles began to develop itself. Governor Boreman being a temperate man and his company having been chosen for their eminent sobriety, could not, of course, find either revenge or compensation in this last named movement. I am not prepared to say, however, that their rigid virtue did not relax a little under the increasing chilliness of the night. About eight o’clock some enterprising member of the Indiana delegation went out at one of the places where we were all the time stopping and got a tallow dip and stuck it in the lamp at the back end of the car, where it burned greasy and ghastly, barely sufficing to make the darkness visible. In this way we journeyed on to Hanover Junction, which we reached about nine o’clock. After waiting for some moments a large train came up from Baltimore, and immediately on its stopping a grand pell-mell rush of women and men was made into our cars, despite of the fact that it was a specially chartered train, filled with dead heads. The salutation of one lady on coming into the door, as she pushed and struggled through the crown, was, “What a nasty, dirty place!” alluding perhaps to the smell of tobacco smoke, which by this time was about as dense as a heavy fog. – Several of the ladies, however, ventured to take seats beside the smokers, including the one alluded to, but they were not destined to keep them long. Colonel Joseph Wright, one of Governor Curtin’s aids, came through the cars, proclaiming as he came a general ejectment of all new comers. The lady before alluded rose up in quite a resentful mood and denounced the decree of banishment as “real shabby,” and saying so went out. By and by our train started again and went, if possible, slower than ever. The tallow dip had burned out and we had only the moon and the cigars to light us on our way. Had it not been for the music that was in a chap with Governor Peirpont, from Alexandria, everybody would have subsided into a sort of sullen doze. Sometimes he talked Irish, other times English, and, not unfrequently, Dutch, and was full of anecdote and clownish wit, all of which together kept the car awake and compelled people to laugh. In this way we lingered out the balance of the journey, and finally, to the relief of everybody, reached Gettysburg at midnight.
Before coming into the town, and while the whistle was blowing, nearly everybody had been peering through the windows out into the moonlight and the midnight, as if to see something made memorable by the great battle. But there was nothing save a rolling country to be seen. As soon as the cares stopped we were all off with our carpet sacks. We found large crowds around the depot who told us, in response to our inquiries, that there was no place in the town to sleep; that all the houses were full to over flowing. However we chartered a boy and told him to pilot us from house to house until we found lodging. – Gov. Boreman and one or two of our company were taken by Rev. Mr. Barnitz, of Wheeling, who met them, to good quarters, while the balance of us set out with our boy to hunt a place. As we passed through the square, or centre of the town, we found a large crowd of people surrounding a Baltimore Glee Club who were serenading “Old Abe” at the house where he was stopping, and we halted and listened to them singing “We are Coming Father Abraham Three Hundred Thousand More.” The performance was very attractive, tired and hungry as we were. In the meantime the boy who had us in charge, had sent off a comrade to a certain house where he had been told we could get in. His comrade not coming back to report within half an hours, we moved on with our carpet bags, and finally brought up at the house referred to. One boy told our tale of distress in such a plaintiff way that the good lady, who was a widow, although she had very cramped quarters agreed that she would try and see what she could do. And so we went in. We found much better accommodations than we expected. Between a bed on the floor and a bed on a bed stead we were well provided for. There was a young soldier in the widow’s parlor when we went in, who was sitting up with her daughter, “a nice young woman” – who lighted us up stairs to bed where we fell to questioning him about the battle of Gettysburg. It is strange how little anybody does know, or can know, of a battle who fights in it. I have observed this about all soldiers. He could only tell us of one incident of the great fight, although a unusually intelligent youth, and that was the charge made on Hancock’s division on the 3d day of the battle by Longstreet’s corps. Then, too, a soldier, I noticed, does not appreciate a civilian’s curiosity, and especially his greenness about a battle in which he (the soldier) has participated. The thing has become mechanical with him, and all the freshness of peaceful pursuits with all its inexperience have passed away from his sympathies.
Being naturally anxious to see all that could be seen in one day we got up early next morning, had our breakfast at seven, and turned out to gather up our company and go off over the different parts of the battlefield. We met two of them who had taken the start of us and had already been out to the lines occupied by the rebels on the north side of the town, near the Seminary and College, of which you have read so much. Of course, the point of peculiar interest to us and everybody was the Cemetery grounds, on one part of which had occurred the memorable hand to hand fighting between the Louisiana Tigers and a portion of the 11th corps. It is, impossible for me, or anyone else, by writing, to give you a corrct idea of the topography of the battlefield. Nothing but a diagram will do that. I can only tell you that the Cemetery lies about half a mile south of the town of Gettysburg, on the top of a gradual ascent from the town, and is part of a ridge that runs back in a southern direction towards South Mountain. The brow of this ridge was our left flank. Our right flank ran at a zigzag, partly in a southern, then in a western, and then in a northern direction, the whole forming a horse-shoe, the mouth of which was protected by the South Mountain. The position seemed to us impregnable, as, indeed, it had proved to be. What especially contributed to make it so was the fact that any portion of the field could be reinforced very promptly, say within half an hour, the several corps not being anywhere more than a mile and a quarter apart, and the most of them being still nearer. They could move, too, from one point to another without becoming Mountaid. The position seemed to us impregnable, as, indeed, it had proved to be . What especially contributed to make it so was the fact that any portion of the field could be reinforced very promptly, say within half an hour, the several corps not being anywhere more than a mile and a quarter apart, and the most of them being still nearer. They could move, too, from one point to another without becoming exposed to the enemy’s fire, the surface enclosed within the horse-shoe being convex. The deadly fighting of the great struggles of the 2d and 3d days of July occurred at four points, first near the gate of the cemetery which was the apex of the horse shoe, where the Louisiana Tigers endeavored to storm our batteries and where Steinwhr’s and Schurz’s brigades fought them hand to hand; next, at the extreme left heel of the horse-shoe at two places, one called Sherfy’s peach orchard and the other Little Round Top Mountain, where Anderson’s and McLaw’s divisions of the rebel army, numbering about 26,000, overwhelmed Sickles’ division, and where at the critical juncture Sykes’ regulars saved the fortunes of the day; next, at a point on our right centre called Spangler’s Spring, where, by means of a gap formed by Rock creek, Ewell’s corps attempted to destroy Slocum’s corps in detail, and turn our whole position; next, and lastly, at a point on our left centre where Longstreet’s corps was ordered to make a last desperate attempt to pierce our lines and on which upwards of one hundred and fifty rebel cannon converged their fire.
I do not intend to try to describe to you either the plan of battle or the incidents of it was they have been told to us here. That would occupy all your columns and more, too.
After examining the grounds at the Cemetery, including the plan of the part of it recently bought by they State of Pennsylvania, amounting to seventeen acres, in which our dead are now being re-buried, we walked over to the scene of the last grand struggle where, as I have before said, the rebels converged a cross fire on us from more than 150 guns, and charged us with the whole strength of their right wing. The havoc here is said to have been dreadful. Our batteries played on the attack with grape and cannister at the close range of 800 yards, and two divisions of our infantry, securely posted behind a stonewall, played on it with minnie balls at less than 500 yards. It is said that whole companies of the rebels in the attack on this point were literally blown off their feet and blown to atoms. The firing must have been incredible. As we passed along the side of the stone wall next to the enemy we found it all spotted over with the peculiar blue marks made by bullets on stone. We also picked up as many bullets as we cared to carry away.
Near Spangler’s Spring, the scene of one of the other great struggles, we saw a sight that was terrible, even at this late day, to look upon, viz: the dead buried in heaps, or in trenches as it is termed, as many as twenty-one rebels being put in a single trench and covered with a little earth. Every tree in this wood seemed to have borne a conspicuous part in the struggle, although the woods are dense. They were literally riddled. Trees a foot thick had been torn off by the crashing cannon balls. Their branches had been torn to shreds by the showers of deadly missiles. It was down by this Spring that we drove Ewell’s corps like sheep out of our lines, cutting them down by hundreds on their retreat.
This letter is already much too long, and yet I have not said a word about the oration. To the thousands who had come, like ourselves, from a distance to Gettysburg, the absorbing feature of interest was the battle field, and not the ceremonies of day. Hence we were comparatively indifferent about taking the place assigned us in the grand procession that moved at ten o’clock from the centre of the town up to the cemetery We did, however, retrace our reluctant steps and met it about half way, in order to secure our seats on the platform where we could hear Mr. Everett. We stopped and waited until we had seen the President and those of his Cabinet who were with him pass, preceded as they were by Major Generals Schenck, Couch, Stahl and their Staffs, and the Chief Marshalls, and then we dropped into the Governor’s train. This let us into the enclosure formed by the bayonets of the military around the platform and secured us our seats.
Of the oration I do not propose to speak in a descriptive way; it speaks for itself. I had heard Mr. Everett before, and consequently did not expect anything more than the recital of a very elegant and very elaborate and very strong production, such as he always writes. The oratory of the effort was nothing at all, leaving out the firm and clear enunciation of the words. But the oration itself was grand, and not less striking was its logic than its rhetoric. – There was a scene to look upon and remember immediately around us. The Rev. Mr. Stockton Chaplain of the U. S. Senate, opened the exercises with a prayer not less elaborate and even more ornate and eloquent than the oration. One or two parts of it were very beautiful and impressive, and over the acres of people who listened there was at times not the noise of a whisper. One had need to see the old man to fully appreciate his prayer. His hair Is as white as snow – thin and long, and combed straight down – and his face is as sallow and bloodless as it will ever be in death. His voice trembled all the way through and he looked the very picture of a man who had consecrated his life to holiness. We could but notice the group that sat behind him, the centre of which was the President of the United States. On his left were three Cabinet ministers – Messrs. Seward, Usher and Blair. On his right and in his rear were Governors Curtin, Seymour, Tod, Brough, Morton, Bradford, Peirpont, Parker, Boreman, Ex Gov. Dennison, Hon. Simon Cameron, Major Generals Schenck, Stahl, Doubleday, Couch, Brigadier General Gibbon and Provost Marshal General Fry. Just to the right and front of the President sat Mrs. Commander Henry A. Wise, daughter of Mr. Everett, a beautiful and accomplished woman. On the platform was the representative of the loyalty and courage of the Republic, surrounded by genius, military daring and civic distinction. On the Banks of the platform stood some two thousand ladies. Beyond them were lines of bright bayonets, glistening sabres, grim cannon and splendid uniforms. Still farther down the slope of the hill were many thousand citizens, while mingling with the imposing mass were regalia-adorned marshals on their steeds. Every head was uncovered, every lip was silent and every face wore a grave and reverent aspect as eloquence and piety were lowly breathed out by the Christian Embassador. The wind was still, the banners drooped, the flags were scarcely unfurled while the prayer proceeded. In a grand and stern circle around the scene stretched the blue hills. Round Top with its forest covering, Little Round Top with its ragged blood-stained rooks seemed half veiled in Indian summer haze; while the sky, as if in sympathy with the consecration, was tinged with grey, through which the blue of the more distant heaven faintly shone. It was a scene to be engraved on the heart and brain for eternity, and no spectator standing on that honored soil can ever efface it from his memory.
The most reverential persons I noticed in the whole throng on the platform during the prayer, were the President and Mr. Everett. Mr. Everett’s oration occupied two hours lacking five minutes. It was a great effort, and will go to history as probably the most reliable compilation concerning the group of events which center in the great battles of Gettysburg that has so far been furnished. The whole ceremony preceding and succeeding its delivery was unique. The dirge that followed, chanted by four rare voices, and accompanied with music that seemed ethereal, was calculated to make a deep impression, and did contribute to give great effect to the short but pointed words of the President. My time is so far spent that I cannot give you any more particulars concerning the incidents of the day. We got off at ten at night over the same road we came, and with no better accommodations. For my part I was sorry to bid good bye to Gettysburg, and would been glad to have remained another day to have gone over every acre of the greatest battle field of modern times.
November 23, 1863
In our opinion there have been few happier things said in this war than the following remarks of the President of the United States, at the close of Mr. Everett’s oration at Gettysburg last Thursday. Like all he says, they are remarkable for their terseness, point and honest-hearted sense:
“Fourscore and seven years ago our father brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [Applause.] Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our powers to add or detract. [Applause.] The world will little not nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. [Applause.] It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on. [Applause.] It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain [applause.]; that the nation shall have, under God, a new birth of freedom; and that governments of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [Long continued applause.]
The chanting of the following solemn dirge for the brave dead who lay before and all around the President, just previous to his remarks, gave what he said an impressive meaning:
‘Tis holy ground –
This spot spot where, in their graves,
We place our Country’s braves,
Who fell in Freedom’s holy cause
Fighting for Liberties and Laws –
Let tears abound.
Here let them rest –
And Summer’s heat and Winter’s cold,
Shall glow and freeze above this mould –
A thousand years shall pass away –
A Nation still shall mourn this clay,
Which now is blest.
Here, where they fell,
Oft shall the widow’s tear be shed,
Oft shall fond parents mourn their dead,
The orphan here shall kneel and weep,
And maidens, where their lovers sleep,
Their woes shall tell.
Great God in Heaven!
Shall all this sacred blook be shed –
Shall we thus mourn our glorious dead,
Oh, shall the end be wrath and woe,
The knell of Freedom’s overthrow –
A Country riven!
It will not be!
We ____ glorious Power
To aid us in our darkest hour.
This be our prayer – “Father! save
A people’s Freedom from its grave –
All praise to thee!”
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: November 1863