Maj. Meicajar Weiss, of Beaver Brook, NY, was the oldest to attend. He listed his age as 112. Youngest was Col. J.L. Clem, 61. (Photo credit: Unknown)
Gen. Dan Sickles, who lost a leg at Gettysburg, arrived in a wheelchair. (Photo credit: Unknown) Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison with veterans from the North and South. (Photo credit: Unknown) Former enemies trade stories in camp. (Photo credit: Unknown) Pittsburgh Press coverage of the event.

July 1, 1913: Former enemies come together at Gettysburg

The white-haired men came together with the enthusiasm of young boys on a vacation, according to an account in The Pittsburgh Press. They laughed with giddy abandon, flung their arms around each other and made silly jokes.

But as the sun began to set, the men remembered they were old. They remembered how, as young men, they had tried to kill each other on the very ground on which they stood now. They remembered the dying and the suffering, the courage and cowardice. The men then grew somber and talked in whispered tones.

A century ago this week, veterans who’d fought in the greatest battle ever waged on this continent gathered to commemorate the event’s 50th anniversary. Thousands of old soldiers descended on Gettysburg. At first, they overwhelmed the small town and the government’s efforts to care for them. Stooped men exhausted by long train journeys hobbled from camp to camp, looking for places to rest, only to discover all tents were occupied. Many could find nothing to eat. The heat was merciless. During the gathering, nine died from heat exhaustion and heart ailments.

But these were men accustomed to hardship. They’d survived the battle, the war and the half century that had passed since then. Now in their final years of life, they were determined to see this thing through. They knew it would be the last great gathering of those with memories of the horrors unleashed in places such as Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill and the Wheatfield.

Over the next few days, these former enemies tottered arm-in-arm over the fighting ground, pointing out the locations of regiments and brigades, sharing stories and memories. “Brother,” they called each other. Blue and gray.

In time, death would take them all. But they would leave behind proof that men once charged with destroying each other could, years later, achieve not just forgiveness, but something close to grace.

Learn more about the Gettysburg battle in a PG special interactive presentation.

(Top picture: Survivors of Pickett’s Charge reenact the event)

— Steve Mellon

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