Gettysburg and the Centennial… that begins in a couple of days

Posted on June 29, 2013 by

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You didn’t read that wrong.

Picture of the veteran camps, 1913.

Picture of the veteran camps, 1913.

People, I think, just tend to forget. The Sesqui overshadows the fact that this coming week is also the Centennial for the tremendous reunion that took place in 1913. There’s nothing wrong with that… it’s just the way it is.

I’ll be heading out on Monday morning with two objectives… being on the field where family members fought, in 1863, AND being on the field where family members sought something else in 1913 AND 1938.

I first read about it about eight years ago. Luray, Virginia’s newspaper often carried information about the veterans, but this was particularly big news. Many in the local camp of United Confederate Veterans wanted to go to the 50th anniversary events in Gettysburg. Some could pay their own way, but others were in need of assistance. The community came together to pull funds for the train tickets to and from… and many a former Page County Confederate attended, along with the 53,000 plus other veterans. Confederate numbers were light, however. I think I’ve seen an estimate of around 8,750. Not near as many who had worn the blue.

Nonetheless, my great-great grandfather was among the former boys in gray… he was there… but… he hadn’t been there!(?) I know that sounds odd, but Siram W. Offenbacker… at least from what service records reveal… was not a Confederate soldier until May 1864, so he wasn’t really a veteran of Gettysburg. Strange to say, the newspaper shows him as a veteran of the 33rd Virginia Infantry. I can’t quite explain that. Siram isn’t in the rosters of the 33rd. He was in Thomas Keyser’s Boy Company (reserves) in Page County, in early 1864, and in the first week of May, was among those boys taken into the regular army (62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry, under the third Confederate conscription act. Whether he was a willing conscript or not… I can’t say. Actually, I see something more important than all of that.

Map of the camp sites for the 1913 reunion

Map of the camp sites for the 1913 reunion

Why did he want to go to the reunion, and why was he among so few former Confederates who attended?

What was he hoping to achieve?

Was it simple or was it complicated?

Did he go simply out of curiosity, and because he was (even though he had not fought at Gettysburg) a veteran? Did he just want to take part of this big event, from the perspective of a veteran?

Or, did he seek to reconcile something within himself? Was he looking forward to seeing Union veterans, talking with them, and shaking their hands? It seemed, after all… inevitable that at some point it would happen.

Whatever the reason, I get the sense that the Confederates who went were comfortable with the thought of just being in such an environment. If any had existed before, I think, for the most, animosity wasn’t there… that most who went did so because they were able… not just physically or financially, but mentally.

I’ll be giving this some thought as I walk across the grounds where the veterans camped.

I’ll also be sure to reflect on a much smaller reunion, in 1938, when a cousin… a Southern Unionist… attended as a former member of the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Like Offenbacker, Andrew Jackson Foltz was a Page County resident when he enlisted, and it wasn’t until 1864 that he donned the coat of his chosen side. So, he too, was not an actual veteran of the battle. Yet, in 1938, of the 2,000 veterans present, only 25 had actually been present in 1863. I suspect different motivations for Foltz. Perhaps it was opportunity, and perhaps it was just the thought that he was among those last few who had served in that war. He will be in my thoughts as I walk the grounds around the Peace Memorial, which was dedicated at that event.

I have no accounts from either Offenbacker or Foltz, of what they experienced in 1913 and 1938, respectively. For that matter… sadly… the pages of Luray’s newspaper, which documented the experience of local Confederate veterans, in 1913, is missing. The record is lost. When I look through the photographs of either reunion, where there are no names attached to the veterans present, I often wonder of one of them might be a relative… perhaps my great-great grandfather.

A picture of an unnamed Confederate veteran at the 1913 reunion.

A picture of an unnamed Confederate veteran at the 1913 reunion.

For me, on this 150th… it’s going to be an interesting three days… and I’m glad to be going.

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