Traveling to Gettysburg: Pt. 2

In our last installment in this series, Traveling to Gettysburg: Pt. 1, a veteran of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Chester H. Durfee, traveled back to Gettysburg for the 50th Anniversary of the battle in June and July 1913. We last left Mr. Durfee after a several day journey by train and his arrival to “the city of Tents on the old Gettysburg battlefield.” In today’s installment we will explore the anniversary of the battle and reunion of the blue and gray through his eyes.

An image of the encampment for the 1913 Gettysburg battle anniversary and reunion of the blue and gray. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Chester recalled that after arriving to Gettysburg they were formed up by company and marched toward their tents “amid cheers that was most deafening. Escorted by the Regulars & Boy Scouts.” After a short march from the train station, the veterans of the 1st Minnesota that had accompanied Durfee to the reunion, arrived to their assigned tents across from the Minnesota Headquarters. The tents, the veterans home for the anniversary, were well stocked; “8 fine cots, 2 lanterns, 2 candles, 2 pair double blankets, 2 wash pans….” As Durfee and his companions settled in after midnight, he noted, “So thus ends our journey from Minneapolis Minnesota to Gettysburg, Pa.”

July 1, 1913

“The old boys were all up bright and early…got our breakfast which consisted of bread & butter, mashed potatoes, beefstake, maple sauce, sugar & coffee. We went down to the mess at first where we were issued a tin cup, tin plate, kife & fork, & two spoons….” Following breakfast, Durfee and two other veterans of the regiment headed in to the town of Gettysburg itself. He recalled how “beautifully decorated” the town, shops, and sidewalks were. The number of people that were in town for the occasion also surprised Durfee. “The side walks were thronged with people,” Durfee wrote. Among those that were in the busy town were “quite a good many Confederates….” After taking photos with several prominent Confederate officers that they had met, Durfee and his group visited what today is a busy tourist attraction. “After this we visited the Jennie Wade building, where she was killed while making a loaf of biscuit for the Union soldiers.”

Following their time in town, the several Minnesota veterans with Durfee headed out to the battlefield. Their tour was far from chronological by the battle, or even focused exclusively on where they had fought. One has to wonder how these veterans in their late 60s and 70s were getting around the rugged terrain. Durfee does not say whether the vets were on foot or moving around by carriage or horseback. One thing he mentions, however, is that he took pictures at each one of these locations (It would be awesome if they still existed somewhere!). Their first stop was the High Water Mark and the 1st Minnesota Monument. While in the area they stopped at the “Hancock monument where he was wounded on July 3.” Durfee also sought out “the boulder where I was wounded at the Picket’s CHarge on July 3.”

After spending time along Cemetery Ridge and where the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry had fought on July 2 and July 3, Durfee’s party moved northward along the Union line of battle fifty years earlier. The veterans of the 1st Minnesota that tromped the battlefield with Durfee moved next to the base of East Cemetery Hill to “Mencheys Spring” where they “took a drink & rested….” After regaining their energy and quenching their thirst, Durfee talks about going over “to the Large Monument.” He does not specifically identify the monument by name or place, but notes that the field where his unit made the charge on July 2, 1863 could be seen. After taking a picture of the monument in question, Durfee relates the monument almost fifty years earlier, “We charged down into these woods with 262 men & in ten minutes we had done what we ad been ordered to do & all but 47 was left on the ground killed our wounded, among them was our brace Old Col Wm Colville. 215, of our dear comrades did not return with us.”

The remainder of the 50th anniversary of the first day of the battle of Gettysburg was spent by Durfee and the several comrades that had joined him walking the ground of their July 2 charge. Sitting down to write about that moment five decades earlier and the scene in front of him fifty years later, he noted the physical changes to the landscape. “During the fifty years since the young timber has grown up [into] quite large trees, & the under brush is now quite thick, but we were able to locate our line & place of attack.” A powerful moment for a survivor of that day in early July 1863.

Continue to follow Chester Durfee during his time at the Gettysburg reunion…

4 Responses to Traveling to Gettysburg: Pt. 2

  1. Could the “Large Monument” be the Pennsylvania Monument? Although not completely finished in July 1913, it would still have been very large.

    1. It certainly could be. There are several large monuments in the area that would have been there in 1913 when he visited. The US Regulars Monument, the Pennsylvania Memorial, and even the monument to the 1st Minnesota. He notes that he could see the woods that they charged through from the monument and all three of those offer that vantage point, even if he was only standing on the pedestal of the 1st Minnesota monument or the steps of the US Regulars monument.

  2. Thank you for posting these reminiscences. Chester Durfee was my great grandmother’s stepfather. My father remembered Chester fondly as “Grandpa Durfee” although Dad was not certain how he was related. Dad remembers that Chester was missing a thumb as a result of the Gettysburg battle. Chester’s war service profoundly affected his life.

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