Elgin veterans attended 1913 Gettysburg reunion
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Elgin Union veterans pose in a 1908 picture. In 1913, eight local veterans attended a reunion at Gettysburg.
Courtesy of Jerry Turnquist
"I can't wait for the time to come. I want to be on the way," said Elginite Fred Kohn about his upcoming trip to the 50th anniversary of the Civil War Battle at Gettysburg in July 1913.
The feelings of the 80-year-old Kohn were shared by eight other Elgin veterans of the historic battle who also planned to attend the reunion marking the turning point of the war, according to newspaper reports.
From June 29 to July 6, the Elgin men joined more than 50,000 Union and Confederates who converged on the small town of Gettysburg, Pa., for the reunion.
"They were entertained royally," said the Elgin newspapers. Instead of hotels, however, the veterans slept in tents on the battlefield — the former Union soldiers in one area and the Confederates in another.
"The field was beautiful," said Kohn of the event. The camps were laid out in streets and veterans from every state were there. Tents were numbered so that attendees could find old comrades.
Elgin veterans said they went back and forth across the railroad tracks to visit the Confederates.
"It was great to meet those fellows again. They are all good fellows," said Kohn. "They all said they were glad the war came out as it did."
The Elgin veterans — most of whom moved to the city after the war — also said they spent time visiting historic spots in the area. They said they were able to recognize the places they had fought during the war. Many of the monuments there were "very handsome," one said.
The men recalled stories of the battle. They told of fingers being shot off, bullets grazing faces, and the overall horror of the conflict.
"I never hated the other fellow," said one Elgin veteran whose tentmate was killed. "I was overcome with a desire to get even, and I suppose the other fellow was too," he added.
Another Elgin veteran told how he liked to have some fun by raising a hat on a stick and watched it being shot off by Confederate fire.
The Elgin veterans said their trip to Gettysburg contrasted greatly with the time many of them left for the war in the 1860s. The men were "just as eager to go then, but it was a different sort of eagerness," said one veteran.
"There were lumps in a number of throats, but they were caused by far different emotions."
They received parting embraces from weeping mothers, sweethearts, and handshakes from fathers knowing full well many of them would never return.
The reunion included a re-enactment of "Pickett's Charge." But instead of gunfire, the Confederates advanced toward the Union soldiers shaking hands and "crying or applauding according to their emotions," said one Elgin veteran.
History books report that nearly 8,000 died and more than 28,000 were wounded in the epic three-day battle. In November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address, dedicating the battlefield as a national cemetery.
Speaking at the 1913 reunion, President Woodrow Wilson told the crowd, "We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten."
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