35th Gettysburg Reunion, 1898

“The Civil War,” wrote novelist Robert Penn Warren in 1961, “is our only ‘felt’ history–history lived in the national imagination.”

50th Gettysburg Reunion

This photo has always fascinated me. It was taken in July of 1913 at the 50th reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg, and shows men from each side shaking hands over “the Angle” in the low stone wall that had been the target of Pickett’s Charge. 50,000 veterans attended the reunion that year, and roughly 2,000 (with an average age of 94) would attend the 75th reunion in 1938. Though obviously a contrived publicity shot, I find it nonetheless quite moving viewed through the lens of 100 years of history.

Roanoke Island

With my brother on Roanoke Island. Photo by Ed Aycock

I grew up going to living history sites, including Civil War reenactments. The idea of veterans attending such events, posing for photos, and participating in reenactments fascinates me.

I came across the following set of photos in a folder in the library. They are from an 1898 photo album, and on the back one of them says “Gettysburg, July 02.” Though veterans were surely in attendance at the 35th reunion, these photos show young spectators and reenactors. But for the formality of the spectators and the Belle Epoque hats, they resemble the events I attended in the 1990s. The t-shirt in the first image, in particular, makes them seem strikingly modern.

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