Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Fight it out with Facts Instead of Bullets"

The 111th New York monument at the Brian Barn. Photo taken by author on June 30, 2013.
Today I take a bit of a break from my series on French's Pets and return to Gettysburg. I've always had a fascination with the period of monumentation on the Gettysburg battlefield, and some of the placement controversies that arose during that time. The most famous of these postwar battles centered on the placement of the 72nd Pennsylvania monument at the stone wall of the angle, a case that went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. While this controversy has received a great deal of attention over the years, others of similar nature cropped up in the 1880s and 1890s. Flipping through the Bachelder Papers last week, I discovered a controversy that I had never run across before.

On May 27th, 1890, members of the New Jersey Monument Commission met upon the Gettysburg Battlefield to inspect the state's monuments and their surroundings. When the group approached the monument to the 12th New Jersey, located along the stone wall west of Hancock Avenue and south of the Abraham Brian farm, they discovered that something was amiss. There at the wall, between the 12th New Jersey monument and its right flank marker, excavations had begun on the foundation for a new monument. The Commission's reaction, and the controversy that followed, reveals the importance that Gettysburg veterans placed on the monuments on the field. In their minds, the memorials not only honored sacrifice, but also served as a permanent record of their deeds, written in stone for all time. These monuments would become the irrefutable evidence that visitors to the field would use to make sense of events. With such a mindset, even short distances became flash points between veteran organizations when it came to monument placement.

This particular controversy surrounded a new monument commissioned by the veterans of the 111th New York Infantry. In the battle, both the 111th and the 12th New Jersey served in Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays' third division of the Second Corps, though in separate brigades. The disagreement centered on each regiment's respective role during the repulse of Pickett's Charge on the afternoon of July 3rd. The 2nd brigade (including the 12th NJ) held a position along the stonewall between the angle and Abraham Brian's barn. The 3rd brigade (including the 111th), began the day in support of the 2nd, resting in an orchard just to to the east of the Brian house. According to guidelines established in 1887 by the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, regiments were required to place their monuments on their "line of battle" where they entered the fight. The 12th contended that the New Yorkers had spent the entirety of Pickett's Charge in a line to their rear, and had only rushed forward at the end of the conflict. Meanwhile the 111th contended that they had moved forward to the stone wall by the Brian barn at the beginning of the rebel cannonade, and had held that position during the entirety of the charge. The difference in opinion could be measured in a few yards - to place a monument on the east side of Hancock Avenue, or on the west - but those yards meant a great deal to both sides.

A modern satellite view of northern Cemetery Ridge taken from google maps.

The opening salvo in the affair came on May 28th, 1890, the day after the New Jersey Monument Commission first beheld the proposed location of the 111th's monument. On that day, the commission sought out Charles H. Buehler, Vice President of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, as well as secretary Calvin Hamilton, to complain about the 111th's monument. Among the commissioners was Edward L. Stratton, who had commanded Company F of the 12th New Jersey during the battle. That evening, Stratton and his fellow commissioners sat down at the Eagle Hotel on Chambersburg Street and wrote out a formal protest to Buehler. Work on the new monument came to a temporary halt.

Within a few days, the New Jersey commissioners began to rally support among the veterans of the 12th New Jersey to fight the monument location, and the letter writing began. On May 31, Capt. William E. Potter, the President of the 12th's Reunion Society, took pen in hand to write to the Adjutant General of New Jersey:
No one desires to disparage the services of the 111th New York. But it is capable of the clearest proof that whatever firing they did upon that eventful day was done in rear of, and over the heads of the line of the 12th New Jersey Volunteers which completely filled up the space between the barn spoken of, and the right flank of the 1st Delaware Vols.
Another veteran, First Sergeant Joseph Burroughs of Company A, 12th New Jersey, took up the cause with a pair of letters to GBMA officials on June 4th -  one to John Bachelder, and the other to Edward McPherson. Pointing to the previously erected monuments of the the 3rd brigade, (the 39th, 125th and 126th New York), he noted that "the other regiments of that brigade have placed their monuments on their (the second) line, and we cannot see the justice of the action of the 111th." Henry F. Chew, another veteran who commanded a company of the 12th during the battle, also wrote on the 4th. " The members of our regiment are very indignant over the matter," he explained to Bachelder, "and have directed me to proceed to Gettysburg as soon as possible and see what can be done." He would arrive a week later.

Letters continued to pour in, and on June 10th, the Adjutant General of New Jersey, William Stryker, joined the fray at the direction of Governor Leon Abbett, pressing the GBMA to deal with the situation. The swift involvement of the government reflects the political power of veteran organizations in the late 19th century. The outpouring of indignation caused a quick reaction within the GBMA. On the 11th, Buehler wrote to Bachelder, and seemingly laid the blame, and the task of finding a solution at the historian's feet:
I am surprised that the Directors of the Memorial Association, with the experience of the 72d Pa. in their hands, should allow the 111th New York to usurp the position of the 12th New Jersey; and that in direct contradiction to the rule of the association more often alluded to than any other. I hope to hear that this flagrant breach of our rules has been stopped.
For his part, Bachelder also came down on the side of the side of the 12th. The 111th was in a reserve brigade, he wrote to Buehler, "the position of this command should be marked on the East side of Hancock Ave. on a line with the 39th, 125th, and 126th N.Y. of the same brigade."

With the outrage of New Jersey veterans, the pressure of the New Jersey government, and the endorsement of John Bachelder and Charles Buehler, the matter perhaps seemed settled. But in Auburn, New York, Clinton D. MacDougall--commander of the 111th at Gettysburg--was organizing his response.On June 25th, Captain Aaron P. Seeley of the 111th wrote to MacDougall to offer his assistance:
Our percentage of loss at Gettysburg was only exceeded by two other Union Regiments, and the survivors will never forget, where they stood and where their comrades fell, and should it become necessary for the old fellows to go down, and fight it out with facts instead of bullets. Give us the long roll and we are at your heels as of yore.
The battle had been joined. In my next post I will look at the 111th's response and the ultimate resolution. To be continued.

Source Note: The correspondence cited in this post comes from The Bachelder Papers: Gettysburg in Their Own Words, Volumen III, transcribed, edited and annotated by David L. and Audrey J. Ladd, and published by Morningside Press in 1995.

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