In the summer of 1938, seventy-five years after fighting the bloodiest battle in American history, nearly two thousand Civil War veterans gathered on the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Averaging 94 years-of-age, these veterans of the Blue and Gray came from every corner of the United States – from Maine to California.
Nearly 80 of these veterans came from Missouri, from major cities like St. Louis and Kansas City to small farming towns, such as Bogard and Higbee. Many more, like N.B. Harless of Texas, lived elsewhere, but fought in Missouri Units. Harless was a veteran of the 9th Missouri Cavalry (CS) and fought through Price’s 1864 Missouri Campaign. Knowing they would pass away in the next few years, many of these veterans believed the 1938 Gettysburg Reunion was their final chance to meet fellow veterans, possibly see their comrades, and share their own forgotten stories from the war – the war in the Trans-Mississippi west.
Confirmed Missouri Veterans at the Reunion
Agee, John: Bogard, Missouri – 6th Missouri State Militia Cavalry
Barton, John W.: Higginsville, Missouri (lived in the Confederate Soldiers’ Home at Higginsville)- Barrett’s Company, Missouri Light Artillery
Budd, Joseph D.: Kansas City, Missouri – 2nd Missouri Cavalry
Dale, George: California, Missouri – 40th Missouri Infantry
Davis, Andrew J.: Bethany, Missouri – 11th Missouri State Militia Cavalry
Garrison, John: Christian County, Missouri – 18th Missouri Infantry
Hahn, John: Mine La Mott, Missouri – 5th Missouri Infantry
Harless, N.B.: Houston, Texas – 9th Missouri Cavalry
Harper, David: Montgomery City, Missouri – 13th USCT Heavy Artillery or 121st USCT
Henderson, James J.: Kansas City, Missouri – 26th Missouri Infantry
Johnson, George W.: Kansas City, Missouri – 18th USCT
Linville, William Franklin: Mill Grove, Missouri – 35th Missouri Infantry
Manary, James M.: Niangua, Missouri – 8th Missouri Cavalry
Meek, Benjamin F.: Maysville, Missouri – Gentry County Missouri Home Guard
Miles, William: Greene County, Missouri – 2nd Missouri Cavalry or 3rd Missouri Cavalry
Moreau, August: Creve Couer, Missouri – 3rd Missouri Infantry
Reser, Washington F.: Preston, Missouri – 14th Missouri Cavalry
Smith, George W.: Kirksville, Missouri – 15th Missouri Cavalry or 2nd Missouri Infantry
Snider, Francis Marion: Campbell, Missouri – Fremont’s Body Guard
Stevenson, Lemuel D.: Kansas City, Missouri – Farris’s Battery, Missouri Light Artillery
Thomas, Stephen: Braymer, Missouri – 2nd Missouri Cavalry, 14th Missouri Home Guard
The veterans listed above are those confirmed to have served in Missouri state units who also attended the 1938 Reunion in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Additionally, there are two African American soldiers who were either enslaved or free living in Missouri and enlisted in the United States Colored Troops units. What is so unique about the 1938 Reunion and these Missouri veterans is that none of them were at Gettysburg, yet – nearly at the end of their lives – they still made a journey of roughly a thousand miles to attend.
Both the Grand Army of the Republic and United Confederate Veterans advertised the reunion as “The Final Reunion of the Blue and Gray.” It was the opportunity for the United States War Department to emphasize unity, reconciliation, reunion, and strength amongst all states, particularly due to the rising threats of communism and fascism in Europe, as well as the country was struggling during the Great Depression. During the dedication of the Eternal Peace Light Memorial on Oak Hill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about the need for union, democracy, and free society:
“Here in our land we give thanks that, avoiding war, we seek our ends through the peaceful processes of popular government under the Constitution. It is another conflict, a conflict as fundamental as Lincoln’s, fought not with glint of steel, but with appeals to reason and justice on a thousand fronts—seeking to save for our common country opportunity and security for citizens in a free society.”
Beyond the political symbolism of the 1938 Reunion, the veterans saw the reunion as a chance to meet fellow veterans, honor their fallen comrades, and make friends of their former enemies (some veterans had no intention of befriending the Yankees or Rebs at the encampment, however). Many of the local newspapers featured stories of the veterans who attended – or were attending – the reunion. Though I could not confirm if they were veterans of Missouri units, two Civil War veterans from Chillicothe, Missouri told their stories to The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune newspaper just days after arriving home:
How did Missouri veterans – none of whom fought at Gettysburg – view the battle’s prominence in the memory of the war, especially when they are commemorating the battle’s 75th anniversary? Their war in Missouri and the Trans-Mississippi was drastically different than the conventional-style warfare seen at Gettysburg and other Eastern battles. With men like Joseph Budd or William Miles who served in Merrill’s Horse, a counter-insurgency cavalry unit that fought Quantrill and Anderson, was reconciliation on their minds? We know many of the attending, and non-attending, veterans refused to reconcile or unite with their former enemies, so what about the Missouri troops that witnessed the very “personal” war in their home state? What was their take on reconciliation?
As historian M. Keith Harris notes in his study of commemoration, Across the Bloody Chasm, “veterans remembered the war primarily through commemorations,” like the 1938 Reunion. Though the public saw reunion and reconcilitation among all veterans at Gettysburg, they failed to see that the war for most of the veterans had vivid images of their personal war and a hatred of the enemy – “bloody shirt-waving Yankees and unreconstructed Rebels alike.”
For many Missouri veterans, the 1938 Gettysburg Reunion was their last reunion with their living comrades. Former Missouri Confederate artillerist John W. Barton died less than two years after the reunion at the age of 97 in Hannibal. Joseph Budd of Kansas City passed away from heart failure and bronchitis nearly two years to the day of the reunion. Only a handful of G.A.R. and U.C.V. annual reunions took place after the 1938 Reunion at Gettysburg, and none were in Missouri. For countless veterans, like the ones here from Missouri, it was their last time to be with their fellow Yankees or Rebels. Though the Reunion at Gettysburg was a commemoration of Gettysburg and a celebration of unity, the unreconstructed Confederates, patriotic Federals, and freedom-fighting African American Union veterans found ways of remembering their personal war, even if it was far from the battlefields at Gettysburg.
“Civil War Reunions and Reminiscences.” Online Exhibit. Gettysburg College Special Collections. Gettysburg, PA. Accessed July 24, 2018.
Harris, M. Keith. Across the Bloody Chasm: The Culture of Commemoration Among Civil War Veterans. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2014.
Pennsylvania at Gettysburg: The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA: Paul L. Roy, 1939.