Following the Civil War, veterans began gathering at reunions to renew old friendships with those they shared a common bond. The largest of these events made headline news around the world and took place in 1913 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
General H. S. Huidekoper, a Gettysburg Veteran of the 150th PA., was the man behind the idea of making it a gathering of both Northern and Southern Veterans on the 50th Anniversary of the battle. The state of Pennsylvania, acting as host, set aside $400,000 to finance the encampment, while the Federal Government added $195,000 and the volunteer services of 1,500 officers and enlisted men. Veteran groups throughout the nation worked for five years preceding the event to make it the greatest of its kind.
As aging Veterans began arriving on June 29, new friendships were born and old wounds healed. The youngest Veteran, Col. John C. Clem (known as the Shiloh drummer boy), was 62 years old, while the oldest Veteran was 112 years of age. Of the 55,000 in attendance, representing the half million living Confederate and Union Veterans, 22,103 hailed from Pennsylvania, of whom 303 were Confederate. The smallest delegation came from New Mexico; one and he was a Union Veteran.
In a vast sea of over 5,000 tents, covering 280 acres in the middle of the battlefield, stood the distinguished guests who had come to give speeches and presentations. General Daniel Sickles, representing the III Corps at Gettysburg where he lost his leg, was the only corps commander present. On behalf of the battle leaders were the daughter of General Meade and the grandchildren of Generals Longstreet, A. P. Hill and Pickett.
During the weeklong event, the men ate well - being served 688,000 meals by two thousand cooks and helpers. Amazingly and considering the age and health of the Veterans, along with the hot, sultry weather, there were only nine Veterans who did not survive the week - well below the normal mortality rate for that day. Perhaps it was the exhilaration of the joining of old friends, reliving days of their youth, hearing the infamous Rebel Yell resound across the battlefield, or reenacting Pickett's charge to have the Stars and Bars meet the trefoil of Hancock's II Corps once more that had lengthened their lives.
On the fourth of July at high noon, a great silence fell over the battlefield, as the church bells began to toll. Buglers of the blue and gray prepared to play the mournful tune of Taps one last time. The guns of Gettysburg shook the ground, signaling the end of the weeklong event. And though many eloquent speeches were given, none expressed what these Veterans took away from this experience better than a scene witnessed at the train station:
"Nearly all of the men had said their good-byes and headed for home. On the station platform a former Union soldier from Oregon and a Louisiana Confederate were taking leave of each other. They shook hands and embraced, but neither seemed able to find the words to express his feelings. Then an idea seemed to strike both men at once. In a simple act, which seemed to say everything they felt the pair took off their uniforms and exchanged them. The Yankee went home in Rebel gray, the Confederate in Union blue."
The above quote is an excerpt from "Gettysburg: The 50th Anniversary Encampment," by Abbott M. Gibney, Civil War Times Illustrated, October 1970.