The Pennsylvania veterans who opposed
Gettysburg’s first Confederate monument
by Codie Eash
23 October 2019 in www.penncivilwar.com
On September 11 and 12, 1889, an estimated 50,000 visitors and veterans descended upon Gettysburg to dedicate no fewer than 53 memorials to Pennsylvania units that fought on their home state’s soil there 26 years earlier in July 1863.
At this festival—officially titled Pennsylvania Day and sponsored by the Commonwealth—Capt. Harry Wilson of the 81st Pennsylvania Infantry spoke for many in his monument dedication oration when he encouraged his audience to “rejoice at last, for the old Keystone State speaks to-day and her praises are carved in solid granite.”
In hindsight, the Pittsburg Dispatch informed its readership that over the course of 48 hours, “the streets wore an animated appearance, as thousands of veterans pushed their way along, stopping now and then to greet some old comrade and exchange reminiscences of the dark days.” (The Dispatch opted not to use the “h” in “Pittsburgh” even before the United States Board on Geographic Names officially stripped it for 20 years, starting in 1891.) Locally, Adams County’s weekly Republican newspaper, the Star and Sentinel, noted that notwithstanding “horrible” weather, the reunion and festival marked “the greatest days Gettysburg has ever seen since the contending armies made the field historic.”
Most attendees agreed with these generally positive assessments and counted the Pennsylvania Day festivities among their most rewarding post-Civil War experiences. However, despite the gratification of reuniting with old comrades and consecrating military markers, one realization deeply troubled many of these aging warriors: Three years earlier, veterans of the First Maryland Battalion (renamed the Second Maryland Infantry) dedicated a monument on Culp’s Hill—the first memorial erected by Confederate veterans on the Gettysburg battlefield.
In a speech that coincided with that monument’s dedication on November 19, 1886 (the 23rd anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address), one of the Marylanders’ wartime commanders, Bradley T. Johnson, threatened to violently resurrect the Confederacy if veterans were continually treated as “rebels and traitors.” (After all, he reasoned, Confederates were able to “retain our swords” at their surrenders in 1865.) Now, in “our demonstration” at the dedication of a monument at Gettysburg, the rebellion’s most famous battlefield, “We can show that we have power; and power always compels respect,” Johnson shrewdly determined.
Almost immediately, the marker was the subject of criticism by locals like former abolitionist David Buehler, who, as a board member for the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, felt that the Marylanders were simply trying “to magnify, as something grand & heroic,” their contribution to the battle. In voicing their “most preposterous & absurd claims,” it was evident to Buehler that “the aim of the Maryland Regiment...in the erection of their monument was not so much to mark their position, as to glorify their achievements on this field,” which “induced me to call a halt on the proposition to open up the field to the erection of Confederate monuments.”
By the summer and autumn of 1889, many Union veterans joined forces in opposing the existence of such a tribute to their former foes at Gettysburg, then widely viewed as exclusively a loyal United States soldiers’ memorial park.
Some Pennsylvanians utilized their September 1889 reunion as a means by which to speak out against Rebel battlefield ornamentation at Gettysburg and elsewhere. “The government...should have swept from its soil the first monument to rebellion, with the warning that the placing of the second would be known as treason...,” boasted Thomas E. Merchant of the 84th Pennsylvania on September 11. “No monument to treason should have been permitted a place on this or [any] other field, and being here should be returned to the donors, not to be erected elsewhere.”
A little more than one month later, on October 22, Post 88 of the Grand Army of the Republic (based in Allegheny City, part of Pittsburgh today) filed a petition that claimed the Maryland monument commemorates “the disloyal deeds of said rebel regiment” and likely created an “example” that makes “treason honorable.” On October 24, the Pittsburg Dispatch called the monument a “Disloyal Perpetuation” and published Post 88’s appeal in its entirety under the headline, “REBEL MONUMENTS OFFENSIVE.”
This G.A.R. chapter, named for fallen Pennsylvania veteran Abe Patterson, was self-avowedly “composed of men who gave their best service in defense of the flag,...many of whom shed their blood on the battlefield of Gettysburg.” As such, the Pittsburghers resolved that they “desire to enter their solemn protest against this sacrilege and most emphatically denounce any such intrusion upon sacred soil; and ask that the Gettysburg Battlefield [Memorial] Association...cause the said rebel monument to be removed, and express orders given that no more of that nature be erected.”
Specifically, Post 88 called upon “our worthy Governor and comrade, Hon. James A. Beaver,” who was himself a Gettysburg veteran of the 148th Pennsylvania, to take action. “I read the resolutions...and they show the right spirit...,” Beaver responded two days later. “I am strongly in favor of the government making appropriations to erect markers on the positions occupied by the Confederate commands, as a matter of history.” But, the governor clarified, “I am and always will be opposed to any rebel organization erecting its own monuments.”
Soon thereafter, multiple G.A.R. posts across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions endorsed the Patterson chapter’s policy and likewise petitioned for the monument’s removal. (Remarkably, one of the strongest supportive testimonials came from Baltimore, Maryland.) Unsurprisingly, on the other hand, reconciliation-minded individuals, political and social conservatives, former Confederates, and Southern sympathizers opposed the suggestion. Likewise, the Post received other insults to its members’ manliness and soldierly attributes.
In the weeks and months that followed, newspapers across America extensively covered this national war of words. In turn, Post 88 doubled down via the press. “As soldiers and citizens we have no apologies to make for calling words by their proper names, ‘traitor’ a traitor and ‘rebel’ a rebel...,” a Patterson resolution stated in the October 31 edition of the Pittsburg Dispatch. “We reiterate that we are opposed to the erection of monuments by the great or small upon the battlefields of Gettysburg or any other place that will in the slightest degree make glorious the deeds of those who trampled under foot the national ensign. We believe in making treason odious.”
Meanwhile, scores of veterans mailed letters to the Gettysburg Government Historian, John Bachelder, representing views from all points on the spectrum. In the process, J.L. Shook, adjutant general of the Patterson Post, further explained his G.A.R. chapter’s stance. “We are heartily in favor of marking the Rebel lines but we want the Government to do that work[,] not Rebels,” Shook told Bachelder on November 5. “You know that they do not care for history[. W]hen they erect their monuments it is to honor their dead and vaunt their Rebellious acts. We don’t propose to have that.”
The Patterson protest was eventually unsuccessful, and the Marylanders’ monument still stands. Nevertheless, the Pittsburghers’ vocal resolutions caused many people in the late-19th century to consider the ramifications of a Confederate memorial at a traditionally Union park, at a time when the propriety of Rebel monuments was very much up in the air. Ultimately, only four more memorials were ever personally dedicated by Confederate veterans on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Now, 130 years after the events of 1889, the records left behind by the G.A.R. Post 88 incident provide ample evidence that the origins of ongoing modern debates over Civil War memory were unleashed—and undecided—by the wartime generation itself.
 Harry Wilson, “Dedication of Monument, 81st Regiment Infantry,” Sept. 12, 1889, in Pennsylvania at Gettysburg: Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Mark the Positions of the Pennsylvania Commands Engaged in the Battle (Harrisburg, PA: E.K. Meyers, 1893), vol. 1, 411; “GRANITE LASTS And So Do the Memories of the Battlefield of Gettysburg,” Pittsburg Dispatch (Pittsburgh, PA), Sept. 12, 1889, 1; “PENNSYLVANIA DAY,” Star and Sentinel (Gettysburg, PA), Sept. 17, 1889, 3.
 Bradley T. Johnson, “The Maryland Confederate Monument at Gettysburg,” Nov. 16, 1886, in Southern Historical Society Papers (Richmond, VA: Wm. Ellis Jones, 1886), vol. 14, January to December 1886, 429, 430, 435.
 D.A. Buehler to Col. J. Bachelder, “Letter of David A. Buehler,” Dec. 13, 1886, in The Bachelder Papers: Gettysburg in Their Own Words, edited by David L. and Audrey J. Ladd (Dayton, OH: Morningside House, Inc., 1995), vol. 3, 1460, 1461.
 Thomas E. Merchant, “Dedication of Monument, 84th Regiment Infantry,” Sept. 11, 1889, in Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, vol. 1, 471, 472.
 “REBEL MONUMENTS OFFENSIVE,” Pittsburg Dispatch, Oct. 24, 1889, 6.
 “REBEL MONUMENTS OFFENSIVE,” Pittsburg Dispatch, Oct. 24, 1889, 6; “MONUMENTS AT GETTYSBURG,” Rock Island Daily Argus (Rock Island, IL), Oct. 26, 1889, 2.
 “Opposing the Rebel Monument,” Pittsburg Dispatch, Nov. 21, 1889, 2; “Some More Nonsense,” Lancaster Intelligencer (Lancaster, PA), Oct. 30, 1889, 2. For a plethora of sentiments regarding the Patterson Post and the 1880s and 1890s debate over Confederate monuments at Gettysburg, see Bachelder Papers, vol. 3.
 “BY THEIR PROPER NAMES,” Pittsburg Dispatch, Oct. 31, 1889, 2.
 J.L. Shook to Bachelder, “Letter of J.L. Shook,” Nov. 5, 1889, in Bachelder Papers, vol. 3, 1668.