Visiting Gettysburg today, you can tour the battlefield on foot, on a bike, by horseback, in a car, in a bus (dramatized in stereo!), or even on a segway. You can guide yourself, follow the auto tour, hire a Licensed Battlefield Guide, or utilize one of many guide books. In the late nineteenth century, many tourists looking for a tour guide with expertise turned to Captain James T. Long. But what exactly did Long teach them?
A review of Long's published guidebooks reveals a great deal about the way the battle was interpreted in the late nineteenth century. It also reveals Long's own biases. For instance, we can easily place Long into the Hooker / Butterfield / Sickles camp. Over the years Long had several interactions with at least Butterfield and Sickles, and it appears that he fully bought into their version of events. In his 1890 publication, Gettysburg: How the Battle was Fought, Long argued that Hooker resigned his command "for good and just reasons," and continued on to state that Hooker understood the need for reinforcements from Harper's Ferry because he knew by an actual count of scouts at the Potomac River fords that Lee's army outnumbered his.
In a later edition of his guidebook, The 16th Decisive Battle of the World, Long took a firm stand on the Sickles controversy:
Those who study the history of the battle and visit the field and view the topography of the ground agree that under the existing circumstances Gen. Sickles did the only thing that could have been done to keep Gen. Longstreet from seizing Little Round Top.... Gen. Sickles with his Third Corps, and the support he received, afterward succeeded in holding the two corps of the enemy in check, until the evening, when our Fifth and Sixth Corps reached the field.Long even claimed that General Warren was sent to Little Round Top "at the request of Gen. Sickles."
To learn about this battle, Long lacked many of the resources that modern historians have today. In 1884, while many soldiers were beginning to publish their recollections, many diaries, letters and other first-hand accounts written during the war remained in private hands. The Official Records were being compiled and printed, but few historians had set their sites on a full and thorough accounting of the battle and the campaign. On the other hand, Long had advantages we can only dream of. First, as a veteran, Long had seen and experienced Civil War combat. Secondly, through his guiding business Long had access to many veterans of the battle, including rank and file soldiers and high ranking officers. It is through his interactions with these individuals on the battlefield that Long likely built a significant amount of his understanding of the battle. Yet as the U.S. Postal Service recently learned, basing history on oral tradition has its difficulties, even when using eye-witness testimony.
One of the challenges Long and other early historians faced was sorting out the chronology of events, particularly during the second day of battle. Long's guidebooks contain a timeline for the afternoon of July 2nd that few scholars today would recognize. He informs his readers that Longstreet's assault began at the Peach Orchard, and he places the charge of Willard's New Yorkers and the advance of Lockwood's brigade ahead of the assault of Caldwell's Division in the Wheatfield. He puts all of this ahead of the actions on Little Round Top and in Devil's Den. Perhaps Long's chronology simply flowed well with the layout of his tour, but it is more likely that he had confused events unintentionally. Veteran recollections likely focused primarily on their own personal experiences in the battle, and he would have been left to his own devices to place various events on a timeline that made sense.
Long's reputation as one of the best guide in town can be understood by noting some of those tourists who secured his services. Perhaps Long's most illustrious and well informed tour group arrived in October of 1890. On October 14th, a special train arrived in town carrying Prince Philippe, the Count of Paris - a veteran of the Army of the Potomac, a one-time claimant of the French throne, and a man who had completed multiple volumes on the history of the Civil War. Accompanying the Count were a significant portion of the top brass of the Army of the Potomac. Generals Newton, Sickles, Wright, Butterfield, and Orlando Smith arrived with the Count, while a later train brought to town Generals Doubleday, Slocum, Howard, and Gregg. The next morning, at promptly 8 a.m., a procession of carriages set out from Captain Long's stables. The Count sat in the first carriage, driven by Captain Long - who acted as the party's guide. The other generals took turns rotating into the Count's carriage as they went over the battlefield. Several newspaper accounts described this excursion in detail. The party toured the first day's field in the morning, returned to town for breakfast, and then visited in order the National Cemetery, East Cemetery Hill, Culp's Hill, the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Little Round Top, the Angle, Meade's Headquarters, and the East Cavalry Field. Along the way, the high command of the Army of the Potomac related their experiences to the Count, while Long filled in with his narrative between their reminiscences. To be picked by this group as a guide demonstrated Long's credibility, though at times the Captain was put into his place by this knowledgeable party. One corespondent along for the ride related an interesting story:
When the Gettysburg guide, Capt. Long, who sat on the driver's seat of the count's carriage, started on the tour, he began to point out the old landmarks just as he is accustomed to do with all strangers. This went on for some time, the count responding, "Yes," "Yes," as the objects were mentioned. Finally the royal sightseer turned spokesman himself, and on approaching a house, or farm, or creek, would name it accurately, and the captain, who is full of his story, relapsed into silence until called upon, which was usually by others of the party.Long remained one of the preeminent battlefield guides right up through his death in 1911. Four years later, the art of guiding became professionalized with the formation of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides.