Traveling to Gettysburg: Pt. 3

Over the last two parts in this series we have followed a veteran of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Chester Dufree, on a trip to Gettysburg for the 1913 reunion and anniversary of the battle. At a time when all of us are stuck in our homes and longing for travel, it has been an opportunity to see this moment through his eyes and words, touching on themes and subjects such as reunification, reconciliation, and a veteran’s memories of combat fifty years earlier. In Traveling to Gettysburg: Pt. 1, we explored the long journey from Minnesota to Gettysburg. Part two provided us with a look at Chester’s activities during the first day of the battle anniversary, July 1, 1913. Today we will explore Chester and his comrades movements on the second and third of July 1913.

“We spent the day [July 2] mostly in the Confederate Camp and [on] Confederate Ave.,” Chester began his daily accounting of his visit. Of priority to him and his fellow veterans of the 1st Minnesota was seeking out those that they had fought against on these same fields fifty years earlier. Although academic scholarship in the past two decades has interpreted many of the events at the 1913 reunion at Gettysburg as staged or forced moments of reconciliation between former enemies (see the numerous pieces done about the famous “handshake across the wall” image), it was anything but for the survivors of July 2 & 3, 1863. “We met several Confederates that we had [met] face to face in that charge of July 2nd & 3rd 1863. it was indeed a meeting far different than the one of fifty years ago.”

Chester spends a majority of the rest of his accounting of July 2, 1913 identifying by name, rank, and unit the numerous Confederate veterans that he met that day. He listed the aforementioned information on those that he took pictures with “on Confederate ave along side the Battery of Whitworths [sic] guns.” He made sure he also “…took a picture of all the boys present at Gettysburg belonging to Co. K. 1st Minnes at the rail fences near [our] companys tent.” After eating some watermelon, and feeding the leftovers to the pigs that were near camp, the vets of the 1st Minnesota turned in for the evening.

A picture Chester Durfee described being taken on July 3, 1913. Durfee is in the back row, second from the left. Alonzo Pickle, also mentioned in this post is also in the back row, first on the left. (Image Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

The following day, July 3, 1913, “We all went down to Gettysburg & took in the sights,” Chester wrote of the morning. Following their time in town, the members of the Minnesota contingent went back out to the battlefield, walking mostly the fighting of July 2, 1863. Their free time that day was limited, however, “as we were requested to meet at our large monument at 2. P.M.” Soon after rallying at the monument, the current governor of Minnesota addressed the veterans in attendance, which according to Chester, was “one of the most eloquent speeches ever delivered to the Old 1st Minnesota Veterans.” Several more speeches were made by dignitaries associated with the state and her sons that had served during the war before pictures of the moment were taken. Chester recorded in his written record of July 3, 1913 that one picture was taken of “all the Survivors of the Old 1st Minn. and one Survivors of [missing text] 47. that came out of the Charge of July 2nd 1863.” That image resides today at the Minnesota Historical Society.

The long days of travel to Gettysburg at the end of June 1913 and two days of activities in the heat and humidity of south central Pennsylvania in July had greatly fatigued the aging veterans. Following the ceremony at the 1st Minnesota Monument on July 3 and the many pictures taken afterward, “we all returned to camp pretty well tired out,” Durfee wrote. Not wanting to sleep away their final hours at Gettysburg despite their fatigue, “We spent the rest of the afternoon in our quarters reliving the days & scenes of fifty years ago. ”

It was now the morning of July 4, 1913. Independence Day. Orders came through the tents of the Minnesota delegation of veterans to pack their belongings and be ready to march to the trains that would ultimately carry them back to Minnesota. Chester and fellow 1st Minnesota veteran Alonzo Pickle decided to “make another trip over the battlefield,” before it was time to board. Their final walks across the battlefield that they had fought on fifty years earlier, as well their journey home, will be in the final installment of this series. I hope you will join me.

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