Sunday, June 30, 2013

Returning to the Hellhole


This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Often described as the turning point of the Civil War, it was there that Union forces halted the Confederate invasion of the North in 1863. The ferocious three-day fight produced the largest number of casualties of any battle in the war—over 46,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing.

“It was only in July 1887—a full generation after the end of the Civil War—that the anniversary of the battle received national attention for the first time,” recounts political scientist Scott Sagan. “Reunited in southern Pennsylvania with their former Union foes, Confederate veterans walked once again across the field of Pickett’s Charge and shook hands with the Northerners along the old stone wall on Cemetery Ridge.”

108th N.Y. Volunteer Regiment at the Devil's Den, Gettysburg (1888)

The following year in 1888, many old soldiers returned to the battlefield to observe the twenty-fifth anniversary, including a small contingent from New York who belonged to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. In preparation for their excursion, this group of well-healed veterans had menus printed in advance for a special dinner at the site. Some of the dishes below are named after members of this delegation, while others, such as quartier de bœuf à la mode “Général du Jour,” refer to shared experiences and inside jokes. As shown on the menu, they dubbed their bivouac in Gettysburg the “Hotel des Bons Vivants” in Enfer, which is French for hellhole. 

The largest battle of the Civil War evolved into a symbol of reconciliation, attracting thousands each year during the first week of July. The final grand reunion of the Blue and Gray was held in 1938, marking the seventy-fifth anniversary. Of the estimated 8,000 veterans who were still living, about 1,800 made the journey to Gettysburg, including only twenty-five men who had actually participated in the battle.

50th Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg (1913)

1 comment:

Deana Sidney said...

Goodness Henry, what a remarkable document!! Something that sort of presses a bit beyond black humor into bad taste. The dishes were strange indeed.

I think what I found most remarkable was that so many men were alive to celebrate the 75th anniversary. After the hell of the war they were from some pretty tough stock.