Art, Civil War, Gettysburg, Museums

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part III.

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Gettysburg Longstreet Monument Sculptor Gary Casteel and Alan E. Hunter.

 

Original publish date:  June 22, 2018

Any student of history knows that Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War. Up until 2:00 pm on July 3rd 1863, when General James Longstreet ordered General George Pickett out of the woods along Seminary Ridge, the South still had a chance. Pickett’s charge would fail miserably and less than 2 years later, the war for Southern independence was over. But the battle to restore both men’s reputations had just begun. As detailed in parts I and II of this series, that battle was waged by the General’s widows and would last well into the 20th century.

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Longstreet and his former Union adversaries in Gettysburg.
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Enlargement of the William Tipton image. Civil War commanders (from left)
Joshua Chamberlain, Daniel Butterfield, James Longstreet and one-legged Dan Sickles
 pose in Gettysburg on July 3, 1888. Sickles lost his leg at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

After the General died in 1904, his widow Helen Dortch Longstreet, known as the “Fighting Lady,” spent the next half century fulfilling a promise made to her husband that “in the future, so long as I shall live, whenever your war record is attacked, I will make answer.” In 1939, as the founder of the Longstreet Memorial Association, she arranged to have a statue of her late husband placed at Gettysburg. The proposed Longstreet memorial would be created by sculptor Paul Manship and a scale model of the statue was unveiled at the site dedication event in July, 1941. The sample statue featured General Longstreet on a horse (with one foot up) urging his men forward with a wave of his hat held in his outstretched arm. At 12 feet high and 12 feet wide, it was placed atop a base of red marble and would be surrounded by stone seats for viewing.

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1940 Paul Manship model of James Longstreet Memorial at Gettysburg: never placed.

However, after a photo of the proposed statue was published in a local newspaper, the National Park Service wrote a letter to Mrs. Longstreet voicing a concern: “There is one feature that has caused considerable local comment and one I feel to be of sufficient importance to be called to your attention…The position of the horses’ feet in each of the existing equestrian statues now in the park tell a story. This fact is widely known and has become one of the items of which the visiting public likes to check. 1. Both feet of the ground: Rider died in action. 2. One foot off the ground: Rider wounded in action. 3. All four feet on the ground: Rider unscathed. As far as I have been able to determine this uniformity of position is but a happenstance. However, it is true within the park.”

 

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

Mrs Longstreet replied: “This will thank you warmly for your constructive criticism of the model of the proposed equestrian statue of General Longstreet for the Gettysburg field. I am forwarding it to Mr. Manship, the sculptor, who will, I am sure, will appreciate it as sincerely as I do. I know it is Mr. Manship’s intention to make the Longstreet Memorial the noblest on the Gettysburg battlefield and to correspond in every respect with the magnificent memorials already there.” And that is where the question remained until December 7. 1941. The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed everything and put the brakes on the Longstreet memorial plans at Gettysburg.

 

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Helen Dortch Longstreet (center) at the original site set aside by the National Park Service for the Longstreet Memorial, October 27, 1939. Park Superintendent James R. McConaghie (left of Mrs. Longstreet) and sculptor Paul Manship (right of Mrs. Longstreet). Little Round Top can be seen behind them.

With the coming of World War II, raising funds to build the Longstreet monument seemed pointless in the face of homefront shortages and War Bond fund raising rallies to fight the Axis. After the war, interest for Civil War monuments evaporated. Although Mrs. Longstreet’s efforts to raise funds for her husband’s monument continued, her health declined rapidly. By the mid-1950s, Mrs. Longstreet developed “mental problems” and in 1957 she was placed in Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. She remained institutionalized there until her death on May 3, 1862. Three years later the Soldiers and Sailors of the Confederacy monument would instead be placed on the original ground selected for the Longstreet memorial.

 

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Helen Longstreet (left) with actress Mary Pickford and UCV Commander Julius F. Howell at the Gettysburg groundbreaking ceremony for the Longstreet equestrian statue on July 2, 1941. National Park Service Dr. J. Walter Coleman is at the left.

The Longstreet memorial remained forgotten for the next 30 years until pop culture and history collided to rekindle the legend of General James Longstreet. Ken Burns 1990 PBS documentary miniseries on the Civil War changed everything. Suddenly the Civil War was brought to the forefront like never before. Then came the 1993 movie Gettysburg which detailed the complicated men and ideals of this highly misunderstood period of American history. One of those most affected by the tarnished legend of Longstreet was a Sanford, North Carolina state forestry service heavy-equipment operator named Robert C. Thomas.
Thomas was moved to action after reading a 1990 book, “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History”, written by Dr. William Garrett Piston, editor of North and South magazine and Professor at Southwest Missouri State University . Thomas shared the book with fellow Civil War enthusiasts and together they decided that Longstreet’s time was overdue. In June 1991, Robert & Joe Thomas, along with Ray King, Bill Bates and Sion Harrington formed the Longstreet Memorial Fund Committee. This band of dedicated activists began selling mugs, T-shirts, tote bags, pens and cross-stitch portraits of the general at re-enactments across the country to raise funds for a proper monument to honor General James Longstreet. Gettysburg sculptor Gary Casteel was enlisted to craft a monument for placement in Pitzer Woods on Confederate Avenue on the battlefield.

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The former Hall of Presidents & First Ladies Museum-Now Gary Casteel’s Studio.

As fate would have it, during a late April trip to Gettysburg, I happened across the studio of Mr. Casteel. My habit is to wander the battlefield on early fog wrapped mornings before the tour buses role in while my wife Rhonda sleeps in. Last year, the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies wax museum was closed and all of the figures were sold off. The 363 lots sold in a January 2017 auction for a total of $217,409. If you’re interested, as am I, the average cost of a wax president was $3,088 while the average cost of a wax first lady figure was $437 proving that the wage gap transcends the pages of time. The top three highest-selling presidents were Abraham Lincoln ($9,350); Teddy Roosevelt ($8,800); Ulysses S. Grant ($6,820). Mary Todd Lincoln sold for $990 while Rosalynn Carter hammered down at a mere $247.50.
While relaxing atop my sunny perch on the Hancock equestrian monument base (across from the Evergreen cemetery gatehouse) I noticed that the old wax museum had undergone a facelift. So I wandered over to take a peek at the new digs and quite happily stumbled across the studio of none other than Gary Casteel, the sculptor of the Longstreet monument. i could hardly contain my excitement. I had heard stories about that monument for years since it’s 1998 installment and unveiling and immediately altered my travel plans in hopes of meeting this accomplished artist. It was well worth the wait.
Rhonda and I ventured over to the studio (at 789 Baltimore St. in Gettysburg) and much to my amazement, we were greeted by the artist in the flesh. Gary Casteel is the epitome of a southern gentleman. He speaks in measured tones that bespeak his West Virginia birthright. When I hear a West Virginia accent, I think of General Chuck Yeager. Tom Wolfe said it best in his book “The Right Stuff” when he described it as: “a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness” that seems to draw the listener in and immediately put them at peace. Phrases like “Oh my” frame words like Riv-ah, He-ah and Nev-ah to form sentences with genteel insight rarely heard in Hoosier land.

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Sculptor Gary Casteel in his Gettysburg studio.

Classical music fills the air of Gary Casteel’s studio and adds to the importance of the moment. Gary’s studio, adjacent to the entrance to the National Cemetery, is sparkly clean and meticulously organized. Not at all like certain media portrayals would lead you to believe an artist’s studio should look like. There is no tortured artist at work here my friends. This is the workplace of a practiced hand that is straight as a preacher and as long a memory. One look at Gary’s work and that attention to minute detail is easily discerned. Although his work appears effortless, it is obviously the result of decades of difficult training and practice.
Gary Casteel grew up in the coal mining region of West Virginia and resolved early to become a sculptor while attending grade school there. Contrary to the stereotypes of the region, from an early age, he listened to classical music on the radio, devoured the works of William Shakespeare and idolized Michelangelo. In Gary’s own words, “through marriage, divorce, military service, occupation transfers, relocation, business ownership or family strife, I stayed true to my commitment to become a sculptor.” The Longstreet commission was the culmination of a lifetime dream for sculptor Casteel.
“My point of view has always been that heroes are larger than life. They are to be physically and mentally looked up to.” says Casteel. “In my youth, I was reared with ideals of heroes such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Robert E. Lee, George Patton. Now as a middle aged man with more than half a century of experience, living in an age of of hero deterioration and downfall, I choose my Icons with more wisdom. Longstreet, the General, was larger than life.” Gary Casteel decided that the memorial to Longstreet should be larger than life as well.
Unlike most monuments at Gettysburg, Casteel’s Longstreet rests at ground level and is not perched upon a lofty pedestal. The General is shown astride his favorite horse, Hero. Longstreet is pulling hard at the reins as Hero’s hooves dig into the soft Pennsylvania soil. The General’s attention is directed towards the copse of trees, the focal point of attack, mere moments before his troops would emerge from the treeline behind him. The field has become known as Pickett’s Charge and the copse of trees is forever referred to as the high water mark of the Confederacy. General Longstreet’s steely gaze is forever fixed on the target his men would never attain and one he never believed was attainable in the first place.

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Jamie Longstreet Paterson-The General’s Granddaughter at the dedication.

Longstreet's grandaughterI asked Mr. Casteel if it was true that Longstreet’s granddaughter attended the unveiling ceremony. He answered quickly, “Oh yes. Jamie Longstreet Paterson attended the dedication ceremony. We brought out a ladder and she climbed up to get a better look at the General. I was worried because she was 67-years-old but more worried when she started to cry,” said Gary. “I thought, oh my, we may have a problem here. When she came down, I realized they were tears of joy as she said, ‘I never thought I would look him in the face’.” Sculptor Casteel’s Longstreet memorial was one of the last monuments erected at the Gettysburg National Military Park. It was dedicated on July 3, 1998, the 135th anniversary of the end of the battle of Gettysburg. Jamie Paterson Longstreet died six years later on August 4, 2014.
IMG_3339It should be noted that Casteel is not only an accomplished sculptor, knowledgeable historian and well versed art scholar, he has deeper personal roots in the Civil War and Battle of Gettysburg itself. Casteel says that his own family had two ancestors -brothers in fact- who actually fired at each other from opposing sides during the Battle of Gettysburg. “I call him Uncle Bill and he placed his rifle against that stone wall and fired our way from right over there” as he points out his studio window. Casteel is currently hard at work on several pieces for the proposed National Civil War Memorial. “Did you realize that there is no national monument to the Civil War?” he asks.

 

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Me inside Gary Casteel’s studio.

z 31398193_1822681077763147_4410866842453671936_nGary guides us to a loose leaf binder containing images of the large sculpture medallions he has created for the museum. Lincoln, Lee, Jefferson Davis, and John Wilkes Booth are just a few of the completed images resting on the drying racks in the back of Gary’s studio. Gary remarks, “I asked Ed Bearss (Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service), who serves on the museum board, why there was no plaque for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Hero of Gettysburg’s Little Round Top) in the selection. He responded, ‘Gary, no one ever heard of Chamberlain before Gettysburg or afterwards for that matter.” Yes, talking with Gary Casteel gives new perspective to an old subject and promises to make a visit to his studio an unforgettable memory.
If Longstreet had died in battle, he undoubtedly would have been placed among the South’s greatest heroes, with monuments located everywhere he led men into battle. But after the death of Lee in 1870 and Pickett’s death five years later in 1875, Longstreet became the living scapegoat for the South’s defeat at Gettysburg. Gary Casteel’s statue has helped alter that view. Sometimes all it takes a new perspective from an old school craftsman to help cast things in a new light.

 

Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Gettysburg

The Confederate Monument Debate. Ad Infinitum.

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Protesters in New Orleans Louisiana. May 16, 2017. Photo by Matthew Hinton

Original publish date:  August 17, 2017

There has been a lot of talk lately Confederate Civil War monuments and what they stand for. In fact recently, several of those monuments to rebel leaders and soldiers toppled by protesters and removed in the dark of the night by officials. My wife and I traveled to Gettysburg 2 to 3 times every year and a fairly wear out my Facebook friends with the many pictures I post from that famous battlefield. The monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield had escaped the relevant racial scrutiny and have often been viewed as untouchable and different from the ones being protested across the nation until last week when the debate hit the pages of the Gettysburg compiler newspaper.
Scott Hancock, an associate professor of History and Africana studies at Gettysburg College, says it may be time to question the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield. “As an African American, I’m glad for one that we seem to have a broader public movement consensus of people that want to get the history right,” Hancock said.

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Scott Hancock, associate professor at Gettysburg College.

Hancock explained that, in the last decade or so, a majority of historians have concluded that slavery was the central issue of the Civil War. As a result, the monuments dedicated to the Confederacy and Confederate figures represent a “narrow, twisted version of history,” Hancock said. For some, the Confederate monuments on the battlefield help tell the full story of the Battle of Gettysburg. If nothing else, Hancock’s story begs the question: Is there a difference between Confederate monuments found in public parks and those found on battlefields? What about Confederate monuments in cemeteries?
The root of the question may be historical context. Should Confederate soldier’s sacrifices, and in many cases their deaths, be recalled and remembered at the spot of their struggle? In my opinion, the battlefield monuments to both sides speak to all who view them. Not only do they represent the soldiers that fought there, they are also valuable pieces of public art. Often, they are made of stone native to that soldier’s state or placed upon a sacred spot of battlefield relevance.

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Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

One need only look as far as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to understand why those monuments are placed there. Lincoln said, ” Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
To most Americans that should be reason enough to leave the Confederate Civil War monuments found on battlefields in cemeteries in place. The question is not only consigned to the Gettysburg battlefield however. Indianapolis, although never the scene of a major Civil War battle, has monuments to Confederate dead as near as Garfield Park and Crown Hill Cemetery. Undoubtedly, the question of whether or not they should remain there will be debated soon.
The argument as to whether these monuments are part of our cultural landscape will most likely continue. As for their presence on battlefields and in cemeteries, these site-specific memorials were designed to be educational markers to interpret history. From Professor Hancock’s perspective is it appropriate to have markers of any kind honoring the Confederacy placed on public land and maintained by public money? For the record, that debate goes on within the Hunter household. But, I guess I’m just a late stage baby boomer who grew up during the Cold War and who is proud to have been born during the centennial celebration of the Civil War. So I guess it’s a generational thing.
I’m not prepared to make a personal political statement in this article but I did want to share an item from my collection that I feel speaks to the issue from a different perspective. Among the many collections I obsess over is my gathering of items of all sorts relating to the battle of Gettysburg. One such item is a set of documents I bought several years ago from January 1903.

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One is a two-page handwritten document on legal sized paper from the Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) Headquarters post Bradberry Pennsylvania near Philadelphia dated January 28, 1903. The official resolution document reads: “Whereas the War of the Rebellion is over, and its memories alone remain. Among these memories none are more sacred or vivid than the three days fight on the Battlefield of Gettysburg. We remember the invasion of our soil by the Army of Rebels under the command of General Robert E Lee. Three days we fought the faux under the command of one who had sworn to support the Constitution and Sons of Our Country. Who had been educated at the nation’s expense, and honored by all the people: yet who in the hour of the country’s need proved himself an Arch Traitor.
What Gettysburg is we and our comrades have made it. The glory, the fame, the sentiment and reverence that cluster around that historic field, is all ours, and that of our fallen comrades. And whereas, it is proposed to erect a monument on the field of Gettysburg to the memory of this traitor Gen. Robert E Lee, at the joint expense of this Commonwealth and that of Virginia.
Therefore resolved, that we appeal to the Senators and Representatives of Pennsylvania in General Assembly met to defeat this insult to the memory of our dead comrades not only of Pennsylvania but of the whole country; as well as to those who survive, who gave the best efforts of their youth, to drive from Pennsylvania’s soil, the rebel hordes under the command of the Rebel General, to whom it is now proposed to honor.

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Resolved. That Thomas V. Cooper, a comrade of this post in presenting this bill and favoring its passage, voices but one comrade and does not speak for post-149. Resolved. That a copy of these resolutions under the seal of the post attested by the commander and adjutant, be sent to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State: and a copy of the same, sent to Headquarters of This Department.” The document is signed by three members of the post, (Thos. J. Dolphin, O. F. Bullard, & James H Worrall) All of whom I’m sure our former Union soldiers.

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The other is an 8.5 x 11 handwritten letter dated January 29, 1903 on the ornate letterhead of the “Headquarters John A Koltes Post No. 228 Department of Pennsylvania, G. A. R. Keystone Hall, 835 North Second St., Philadelphia” the letterhead features an image of the G.A.R. soldier’s badge at the top. The letter reads: “To the Officers and Comrades of Bradford Post No 149 Department of Pa. G. A. R. Comrades! The following resolution was unanimously adopted at a regular slated meeting of the above named Post, and I take pleasure in transmitting a copy thereof to you as directed. Namely, that we heartily congratulate our brave comrades of Bradford Post No 1494 the action they have taken so far regarding the erection of a memorial statue to Robert E Lee on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, through the apparent willingly given assistance of one of those members, Representative Thomas V Cooper, and we hope and earnestly trust, that in future Bradford post will endeavor and use the utmost ability to defeat said Thomas V Cooper for any further public position of honor or trust whatsoever. Resolved that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to Bradford Post No 149. Daniel L Hornick Commander.”
The letters illustrate that this debate was going on 40 years after the close of the Civil War and was being waged by the soldiers who participated in it. Think about the strife and turmoil that must’ve been swirling within the walls of this lodge as they protested the placement of the statue to the Rebel General they fought so bravely against. The ex-soldiers were so vehement in their opposition that they were willing to take on one of their most accomplished lodge members, Senator “Red Headed and Hopeful” Tom Cooper.

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Senator Thomas Valentine Cooper 1835-1909

Cooper served as a delegate to the 1860 Chicago Republican Convention and played a pivotal role in the nomination of Mr Lincoln. At the outset of the Civil War, Thomas helped organize Company F of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment and later enlisted in Hartranft’s Company C, 26th Regiment, serving three years in the Army of the Potomac. He mustered-out at Independence Hall, June 14, 1864, having served in 13 major engagements, including Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. Thomas represented Delaware County in the State House of Representatives, 1870-72, and was elected to the state Senate in 1872. He served 17 consecutive years in the upper house. Cooper was a Mason, a member of the Bradbury G.A.R. Post . Cooper died in his home on December 19, 1909 after a freak fire engulfed his room, most likely, the result of an ash falling from his trademark cigar. Cooper had as much right to protest the placement of the Robert E Lee statue as anyone. His patriotic credentials were unquestioned. Yet he supported the placement of a Confederate monument on a battlefield he risked his life fighting on.

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The Virginia Monument at Gettysburg.

Despite the Bradford Post’s attempt to thwart the placement of the Lee Monument at Gettysburg, the iconic landmark was indeed placed there in the days just before World War I. The Virginia monument, located on West Confederate Avenue, was the first of the Confederate State monuments at Gettysburg. It was dedicated on June 8, 1917 and unveiled by Miss Virginia Carter, a niece of Robert E Lee. It is the largest of the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield, a fitting tribute for the state that provided the largest contingent to the Army of Northern Virginia, its commander, and its name. Lee’s figure, topping the monument astride his favorite horse, Traveler, was created by sculptor Frederick Sievers from photographs and life masks of the general. He even went to Lexington, Virginia to study Traveler’s skeleton, preserved at Washington and Lee University. The monument stands 41 feet high. The statue of Lee and Traveler stands 14 feet high. The total cost of the monument was $50,000. Virginia contributed over 19,000 men to the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, the largest contingent from the twelve Confederate states. Almost 4,500 of these – almost 1 out of 4 – became casualties, the second highest state total at Gettysburg.
When it comes to the battlefield, Hancock pointed out that, while most of the park’s monuments and markers were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century, several Confederate memorials were erected in the 1960s and 1970s. Hancock points out that many of those monuments to the Confederacy were erected before, during and after the civil rights movement and deserve particular scrutiny “because of the social and racial context of the time.” Hancock singled out the Confederate monuments along Confederate Avenue, in particular that of Mississippi, which was erected in the early 1970s. The monument speaks of Mississippians fighting for the “righteous cause” and “sacred heritage of honor.”
Voices on both sides of the issue will certainly attempt to add clarity in the days ahead. For instance, former Martin Luther King Jr. right-hand man, UN representative under Jimmy Carter and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young recently said, “I think it’s too costly to continue to fight the Civil War.” Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State under George W. Bush, said this: “”When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it’s a bad thing.” The debate promises to continue. But let’s not forget this is a debate that has been going on for over 150 years now.

Civil War, Gettysburg, Politics

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part I.

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General James Longstreet

Original publish date:  June 8, 2018

Visiting Gettysburg has been a constant in my life for nearly 30 years now. If you are a fan of American history, there is no better place for you than Gettysburg. Although it’s been 155 years since the last shots were fired, the landscape of Gettysburg is ever changing and the battle goes on. In the three decades since I first visited the Borough, (in Pennsylvania, they are called Boroughs, not towns) I’ve seen battles over towers, casinos, cycloramas, visitor centers, hotels, railroads, Harley Davidson’s and monuments. And the one thing I’ve learned from all of them is that there’s always a story behind the story.
This is a story about a General, a monument, an artist and one of the most interesting women you’ve never heard of. And, like the battlefield itself, this is a story of duty, devotion, romance and controversy. Confederate General James Longstreet is a name familiar to all students of the Civil War. Longstreet, born January 8, 1821, looms large among the luminaries of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy but most likely not in the way you might think. The Lost Cause was a misguided Victorian Era view of the war that downplayed slavery and lionized the Confederate military resulting in a movement to glorify the Confederate cause as a heroic one against great odds despite its defeat. The ideology continues with the modern day Confederate monument debate I’ve written about in past columns.

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Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet at Gettysburg.

Longstreet was the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his “Old War Horse.” He served under Lee as a corps commander in the venerable Army of Northern Virginia, participating in many of the most famous battles of the Civiil War. Longstreet’s most controversial service was at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, where he openly disagreed with General Lee on the tactics used in attacks on Union forces, most notably, the devastation of Pickett’s Charge.
A month after Gettysburg, Longstreet requested and received a transfer to the Western Theatre just in time for the Battle of Chickamauga. Despite the ineptitude of Commanding General Braxton Bragg, Chickamauga became the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater and Longstreet deserved and received a good portion of the credit. Longstreet’s enmity towards Bragg ultimately resulted in his return to Lee’s army in Virginia where he soon found himself squared up against his best friend on the Union side, Ulysses S. Grant. Both men served together during the War with Mexico and both served as best man for their weddings. The two men were so close that Longstreet called Grant “Sam” and Grant called Longstreet “Pete”. As further proof of the strong connection between the Generals, Grant married Longstreet’s fourth cousin, Julia Dent, on August 22, 1848.

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General James Longstreet

When Longstreet found out that Grant had been elevated to command of the entire Union Army, he told his fellow officers that “he will fight us every day and every hour until the end of the war.” Longstreet’s attack in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 6, 1864) helped save the Confederate Army from defeat in his first battle back with Lee’s army, but it nearly killed him. The General was wounded during the battle when he was accidentally shot by his own men while reconnoitering between lines. The friendly fire incident took place about 4 miles away from the place where Rebel General Stonewall Jackson suffered the same fate a year earlier.
A bullet passed through Longstreet’s shoulder, severing nerves, and tearing a gash in his throat. General Micah Jenkins, who was riding alongside Longstreet, was also shot and died from his wounds. Longstreet’s wound caused him to miss the rest of the 1864 spring and summer campaign, He rejoined Lee in October 1864 and served admirably during the Siege of Petersburg, the defense of the capital of Richmond, and the surrender at Appomattox. As Lee considered surrender, Longstreet told his commander that he though his friend Grant would treat them fairly, but added, “General, if he does not give us good terms, come back and let us fight it out.” General James Longstreet was a man of contradictions whose story was about to get way more contradictory.

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General James Longstreet Circa 1866

After the close of the Civil War, Longstreet angered his former countrymen by daring to criticize Robert E. Lee, campaigning for Ulysses S Grant and assimilating to life in the Union. In Southern eyes, Longstreet committed blasphemy for critical comments he wrote in his memoirs about General Lee’s wartime performance, by joining Lincoln’s Republican Party and voting for U.S. Grant (twice!) and for accepting work as a diplomat, civil servant, and administrator in the reunified Federal Government of the United States.
However, anti-Longstreet feelings were not just limited to his fellow countrymen. When the “Reconstructed Rebel” applied for a pardon from President Andrew Johnson he was refused, despite a personal endorsement from Union Army General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson reportedly told Longstreet in a meeting: “There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble.” Luckily for Longstreet, the Radical Republicans in the US Congress hated Johnson more than Johnson hated Longstreet and they restored the General his rights of American citizenship in June of 1868.

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General James Longstreet Circa 1876

Leaders of the Lost Cause movement cited Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg as the main reason for the Confederacy’s loss of the war. When Grant appointed Longstreet as surveyor of customs in New Orleans in 1868, his old friend General D.H. Hill said: “Our scalawag is the local leper of the community.” When Northerners moved South for financial gain, they were called Carpetbaggers, Hill wrote that Longstreet “is a native, which is so much the worse.”
In 1868, the Republican governor of Louisiana appointed Longstreet the adjutant general of the state militia and by 1872 he became a major general in command of all militia and state police forces within the city of New Orleans. Longstreet continued his role as an anathema to his former Confederate colleagues when he led African-American militia against an armed force of 8,400 members of the anti-Reconstruction White League at the Battle of Liberty Place in New Orleans in 1874. Longstreet commanded a force of 3,600 Metropolitan Police, city policemen, and African-American militia troops, armed with two Gatling guns and a battery of artillery.
The White League charged, causing many of Longstreet’s men to flee or surrender, the General rode to meet the protesters but was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner. Federal troops were sent by President Grant to restore order. There were casualties of 38 killed and 79 wounded. Longstreet’s role in this racial battle sealed his fate among his former countrymen. This sad episode ended his political career and he went into semi-retirement on a 65-acre farm near Gainesville, where he raised turkeys and planted orchards and vineyards on terraced ground that his neighbors derisively named “Gettysburg.” A devastating fire on April 9, 1889 (the 24th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox) destroyed his house and most of his possessions, including his personal Civil War documents and memorabilia.
General-LongstreetThe attacks on Longstreet began in earnest on January 19, 1872, the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth and less than two years after Lee died. In a speech at Washington College, former Rebel General Jubal Early exonerated Lee for the defeat at Gettysburg: Early said Longstreet was late. Early claimed Longstreet’s delay on the second day somehow led to the debacle on the third. The following year at the same venue, Lee’s artillery chief William N. Pendleton, charged that Longstreet disobeyed an explicit order to attack at sunrise on July 2. Although both allegations were false, Longstreet failed to rebuke them publicly for three years. The delay damaged his reputation, and by 1875, the Lost Cause mythology had taken root.

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General George Pickett

Perhaps the most astonishing of these Longstreet attacks came from a very unexpected source. The widow of his friend George Pickett. Longstreet and Pickett had enjoyed a long, close association stretching all the way back to their service together in the Mexican War and their association to West Point. Longstreet served with distinction in the Mexican–American War alongside many of the men he would find himself fighting with (and against) at Gettysburg. In the Battle of Chapultepec on September 12, 1847, he was wounded in the thigh while charging up the hill with his regimental colors. As he fell, he handed the flag to his friend, Lt. George E. Pickett, who carried it on to the summit.
In the winter of 1862, during a scarlet fever epidemic in Richmond, Virginia, three of the four Longstreet children (Mary Anne, James and Augustus Baldwin) died within eight days. The blow was almost too much for Longstreet. An aide noted that his “grief was very deep,” while others commented on his change in personality. Because the Longstreets’ were too grief-stricken, it was General George Pickett (and his 16 year-old future bride LaSalle Corbell) who made the burial arrangements. Pickett shared Longstreet’s condemnation of Robert E. Lee’s actions at Gettysburg openly stating “that old man (Lee) had my Division slaughtered.”
Pickett went on to a less than stellar financial career in the insurance business and never forgave Lee for destroying his division (and career). He lived the final years of his life quietly and modestly, farming and battling declining health. Pickett rarely spoke publicly about his war experiences and died on July 30, 1875, at the age of fifty. After Pickett’s death in 1875 Pickett’s third wife LaSalle began to write and lecture about her famous husband. While her general husband had spent his last years brooding about the disastrous charge that bore his name, his financially burdened widow decided to make the most of an opportunity.
In an attempt to revitalize his memory, she traveled around the country lecturing about her famous husband in an attempt to transform him into the hero of Gettysburg by way of the Lost Cause. Often, Pickett’s enhancement came at the cost of Longstreet’s reputation. It is ironic that Pickett should benefit at the expense of his friend and mentor, James Longstreet. Her tales of her husband’s life & times were highly romanticized and exaggerated making it hard to separate fact from fiction.

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General George Pickett and LaSalle Corbell Pickett 

LaSalle Corbell Pickett authored the celebratory history “Pickett and His Men” (1913), which historians claim was plagiarized, and two collections of wartime letters (1913, 1928), which historians claimed were fabricated. Nevertheless, her image of her husband at the moment his charge began—”gallant and graceful as a knight of chivalry riding to a tournament,” whose “long, dark, auburn-tinted hair floated backward in the wind like a soft veil as he went on down the slope of death”—has stuck in the American imagination. And her letters have been cited in works as diverse as Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel “The Killer Angels” (1974) and Ken Burns’s documentary “The Civil War” (1990).
It would take a century of slow reassessment by Civil War historians to restore General James Longstreet’s reputation. Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel The Killer Angels, based largely on Longstreet’s memoirs and later made into the film “Gettysburg”, helped restore Longstreet’s reputation. Military historians now consider Longstreet among the war’s most gifted tactical commanders on either side of the Civil War. Part of that reassessment is due and owing to a child bride, a gifted artist and one of Gettysburg National Battlefield’s newest monuments.
NEXT WEEK: PART II of General James Longstreet at Gettysburg.

Abe Lincoln, Gettysburg

William H. Johnson. Citizen. An Abraham Lincoln story.

9475088_123705676279Original publish date:  December 14, 2013

This past November, I shared with you a series of articles commemorating the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. The speech is well known to most Americans and the words Mr. Lincoln spoke that day were once required memorization for every student in this country. The minutia surrounding the speech would make a Hollywood script writer salivate; Lincoln’s son Tad was left behind at the White House with a raging fever, Lincoln was asked to attend the cemetery dedication as an afterthought, the ground upon which he spoke was literally still wet with the blood of dead American soldiers and now Lincoln himself was showing signs of the fevered weakness of smallpox.
By all accounts, it was Lincoln’s African American valet William H. Johnson who identified the symptoms, alleviated the problem and nursed the President back to health. What? A black man saved Abraham Lincoln’s life after Gettysburg? Why have we never heard of William H. Johnson? Almost all that is known of him comes from Lincoln’s Papers. Although recently, Hollywood tried to put it’s own spin on the good Mr. Johnson. In the entirely forgettable 2012 film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, they replaced the young railsplitter’s literary “sidekick” with his White House Valet, William Johnson, played by actor Anthony Mackie. Did I mention that was Hollywood though? Now, let me tell you the real story and let’s try to set the record straight.
William Henry Johnson was born around 1835 in a site unknown. He was described as a free “colored man” who came with the Lincoln family from Springfield Illinois to become the newly elected President’s valet and barber. He has no surviving photograph, and we can only speculate as to his age. He was, however, very close to the president. He had been serving Mr. Lincoln for about a year when his employer wrote him a note of recommendation on March 7, 1861. Seems that even a President had to get confirmation for a desired new hire back in those days. It stated: “Whom it may concern. William Johnson, a colored boy, and bearer of this, has been with me about twelve months; and has been, so far, as I believe, honest, faithful, sober, industrious, and handy as a servant. A. LINCOLN.” Although he served as the President’s valet, the President’s House Register listed him in 1861 as “W. H. Johnson, Fireman, President’s House, $600 per annum.”
It appears that there was antagonism toward Johnson from the start. Some believe it was due to Mr. Johnson’s close relationship with the President. Most of the opposition came from the existing White House staff, who were generally lighter skinned, “high yellow”, that is to say, almost white. So, a White House job was apparently out of the question. President Lincoln sought other employment for Johnson only days after his inauguration. In a letter to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles on March 7, 1861, the President asked the secretary to give employment to W. Johnson, “a servant who has been with me for some time.” In that same letter, Lincoln notes that “The difference of color between him & other servants is the cause of our separation.” explained Lincoln. “I have confidence as to his integrity and faithfulness.” Even though Welles was as close a friend as Lincoln had in all of Washington, his plea evidently fell on deaf ears.
In a subsequent letter to Salmon Chase, he successfully sought a position for Johnson in the Treasury Department. On November 29,1861, Lincoln wrote Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase: “You remember kindly asking me, some time ago whether I really desired you to find a place for William Johnson, a colored boy who came from Illinois with me. If you can find him the place shall really be obliged. Yours truly A. LINCOLN.” He was then given a place as laborer / messenger with the Treasury Department at $600 per year. From then on, he worked for the Treasury in the afternoon and tended to Lincoln’s wardrobe, shaved him, and did other personal services for Mr. Lincoln in the morning and evening.
On March 11, 1862, the President wrote Johnson a personal check for $5. October 24, 1862, again found Lincoln writing a recommendation for him reading: “The bearer of this, William Johnson (colored), came with me from Illinois; and is a worthy man, as I believe. A. LINCOLN.” Nevertheless, on December 17, 1862 the President declined to endorse a memo for Johnson because he did not want it to be mistaken as an order for employment. The memorandum, referring to a request for leave of absence for his valet in order to earn extra money, reads: “I decline to sign the within, because it does not state the thing quite to my liking. The colored man William Johnson came with me from Illinois, and I would be glad for him to be obliged, if he can be consistently with the public service; but I can not make an order about it, nor a request which might, in some sort, be construed as an order. A. LINCOLN.”
gettysburg-train-On November 18, 1863, Lincoln wrote a note explaining that Johnson would travel with him to Gettysburg for the dedication of the soldiers’ cemetery. The note, written to the Treasury Department, asks to borrow Johnson’s services for a “whole day or two” and closes simply: “William goes with me.” Mrs. Lincoln remained at the White House attending to their son Tad. Once in Gettysburg. After delivering his address, Lincoln began to feel ill and while aboard the return train to Washington “lay in a relaxed position with a wet towel across his head,” placed there by Johnson. The details of the President’s recovery were covered in detail in part III of the November Lincoln at Gettysburg series. Although the President would recover, Mr. Lincoln may have unwittingly passed the illness on to his valet.
The story of Johnson’s death is not much clearer than that of his life, since the chaos of war left death and burial records in disarray. What we know is that by by January 12, 1864 Johnson was himself sick with smallpox. By the 28th, he was dead. In a January 12th interview with the Chicago Tribune, Lincoln told the reporter than he didn’t believe that he gave smallpox to Johnson. But based on the late November speech date, given the incubation period of about two weeks and the average time for the illness to run its fatal course, that’s about the right timing for a disease contracted while caring for Lincoln. However, if it was circulating around residents and staff at the White House, it is possible that Johnson contracted it from someone else.
Abraham-Lincoln colorizedDuring that Chicago Tribune interview, the journalist found Abraham Lincoln busy counting greenbacks. The money belonged to Johnson who was in the hospital, so sick that he could not even draw his pay. “This, sir, is something out of my usual line,” the president told the reporter, “but a president of the United States has a multiplicity of duties not specified in the Constitution or acts of Congress. This is one of them. This money belongs to a poor negro [Johnson] who is a porter in one of the departments (the Treasury) and who is at present very bad with the smallpox. He did not catch it from me, however; at least I think not. He is now in hospital, and could not draw his pay because he could not sign his name. I have been at considerable trouble to overcome the difficulty and get it for him, and have at length succeeded in cutting red tape, as you newspaper men say. I am now dividing the money and putting by a portion labeled, in an envelope, with my own hands, according to his wish.”
After Johnson’s passing, Lincoln learned that his friend had borrowed $150 from the First National Bank of Washington using Lincoln as a reference. The bank’s cashier, William J. Huntington, happened to mention the outstanding notes to Lincoln: “the barber who used to shave you, I hear, is dead.”
“‘Oh, yes,’ interrupted the President, with feeling; ‘William is gone. I bought a coffin for the poor fellow, and have had to help his family.’” When Huntington said the bank would forgive the loan, Lincoln replied emphatically: “No you don’t. I endorsed the notes, and am bound to pay them; and it is your duty to make me pay them.”
“Yes,” said the banker, “but it has long been our custom to devote a portion of our profits to charitable objects; and this seems to be a most deserving one.” When the president rejected that argument, Huntington said: “Well, Mr. Lincoln, I will tell you how we can arrange this. The loan to William was a joint one between you and the bank. You stand half of the loss, and I will cancel the other.” After thinking it over, Lincoln said: “Mr. Huntington, that sounds fair, but it is insidious; you are going to get ahead of me; you are going to give me the smallest note to pay. There must be a fair divide over poor William. Reckon up the interest on both notes, and chop the whole right straight through the middle, so that my half shall be as big as yours. That’s the way we will fix it.” Huntington agreed, saying: “After this, Mr. President, you can never deny that you endorse the negro.” “That’s a fact!” Lincoln exclaimed with a laugh; “but I don’t intend to deny it.”
Although the exact day of Johnson’s death is not known we do know that on January 28, 1864, Lincoln wrote a recommendation for Solomon James Johnson (it’s unknown if he was related) to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase: “This boy says he knows Secretary Chase, and would like to have the place made vacant by William Johnson’s death. I believe he is a good boy and I should be glad for him to have the place if it is still vacant. A. LINCOLN.”
While he shared a racial view typical of many white northern moderates, Lincoln clearly thought highly of Johnson. The incident reveals Lincoln’s humanity at its best. The working relationship between the two men attests to the complex and even enigmatic nature of Lincoln’s racial attitudes in general. Indeed, the mystery that surrounds Johnson’s death, and Lincoln’s sense of responsibility for it, tells us much about the “Great Emancipator’s” complex relationship with African Americans and their quest for full citizenship.
Lincoln requested that his valet be buried on the Arlington Mansion grounds (the Custis-Lee estate’s official conversion to Arlington National cemetery was still several months away) and used his own personal funds to pay all funeral service expenses including the tombstone. That original stone no longer exists. He now rests under a circa-1990s Era government issued stone with the name and a single word added by his friend, the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. While no-one will ever truly know the depth of the personal relationship between the two men, the depth of respect can not be denied. The headstone, found in Plot 3346- Section 27 of Arlington National Cemetery, reads simply: “WILLIAM H JOHNSON. CITIZEN.”

Abe Lincoln, Auctions, Gettysburg, Pop Culture

The Gettysburg Wax Museum Auction.

Wax MuseumOriginal publish date:  March 20, 2014

Seeking escape from the coldest, harshest winter in recent memory, I sought escape by attending a liquidation auction at an iconic baby boomer tourist landmark on the site of America’s greatest battlefield; The Gettysburg Wax Museum in Pennsylvania. Aware of my penchant for tourist traps and knowing that the museum was built the year I was born (1962), despite my reservations, she decreed “You’re going.”
Known as “The National Civil War Wax Museum”, the site at 297 Steinwehr Avenue opened April 19, 1962. That week Walter Cronkite took over as CBS anchorman, Bob Dylan performed “Blowin’ in the Wind” for the first time in Greenwich Village, the Boston Celtics won their fourth straight NBA championship, the Seattle World’s Fair opened and Indy 500 champion Al Unser Jr. was born (on the museum’s opening day). The original Museum featured 35 scenes containing over 150 individual figures highlighting the Civil War and Gettysburg. The museum’s purpose was not only to entertain but to educate.
IMG_0520On Saturday, March 15th the museum’s contents were sold to the public at auction. The sale included 95 Civil War wax figures and the accouterments used to illustrate each scene. In it’s half century of service the museum saw over 8 million visitors walk through the turnstiles, now lot # 265 in this very special auction.
Although I had been in the museum many times over the past 25 years, it was a shock to now see the building gutted and lain bare. Most of the auction lots were arranged in the scenes where they had “lived” for the past half-century. It seemed strange to now step into the scenes to get a closer view of the lifelike depictions from the pages of history. These forms thast were gazed upon by untold generations of visitors including presidents, diplomats, dignitaries and just plain folk from every walk of life.
I met 19-year wax museum employee Stephanie Lightner while walking the halls among the ghostly figures. She is the manager of the new museum that will soon be open there. Stephanie says the building was purchased by a New Jersey man who had grown up in Gettysburg and that the facility was being retooled to better accommodate a new generation of visitors. “We’ll be keeping some of the exhibits to display in the new museum,” said Stephanie. She said that the new owner kept all of the staff from the Wax Museum, always a good thing. The new museum, known as the “Gettysburg Heritage Center”, is set to open in late April but as Stephanie smilingly admits, “It might be Memorial Day at this point.”
IMG_0521As I finished perusing the auction lots, I halted at an area tucked away in a back corner of the hall. This dimly lit crook featured tiered shelves upon which rested approximately 40 disembodied heads. Some of the heads were recognizable to me; Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson. On a shelf nearby lay a pile of arms, legs and hands. Some of these body parts, in keeping with the brutality of the Civil War, were spattered with blood stains. Seeing these, I turned to my wife and said “Now these have the potential to go sky high.”
Officially, the auction featured 335 official lots but that number would balloon to over 400 by close of sale. The crowd quickly ballooned to standing room only. It was a strange mix of Civil War re-enactors, Harley dude’s and local Pennsylvania Dutchmen. I spotted a few ghost hunter types in the crowd as well, no doubt hoping to score a disembodied head, bloodstained arm or broken hand should the opportunity arise. I saw some familiar faces, among them Gettysburg’s former Abe Lincoln, Bill Ciampo, who told me, “I just came to see if there was a market for this stuff. When I sold my Lincoln wax statue, I sold it for $500 just to get rid of it.” Ciampo walked up to the Lincoln figures (the museum had three full Lincoln figures and one head) and said, “See, their chins are already drooping, that’s why I got rid of mine.”
IMG_0523The synchronicity of the moment was not lost on me as, outside just yards away, bulldozers busily cleared out the massive football field sized blacktop parking lot. It had once served the old visitor’s center (torn down in 2008) and Cyclorama building, built the same year as the wax museum and torn down in March 2013. In the past 25 years I watched as other tourist landmarks disappeared from the borough including the Lincoln Room Museum, The National Tower, and now, the Wax Museum.
Also among the crowd was Erik L. Dorr, curator and owner of “The Gettysburg Museum of History” at 219 Baltimore Street. Erik painstakingly maintains his fantastic personal collection of relics from the Battle and the pages of American history within the walls of his ancestral family home. “The house was built in the 1850s and has been in my family for four generations. It was extensively remodeled in 1867 and again in the early 1900s.” said Dorr.
On this day, Mr. Dorr was searching for additions to his massive collection. “I’m running out of room at my Museum now. I actually tried to buy the whole Wax Museum, including the contents, land and building. I thought it would be a fun experiment and I was getting financing in order but it didn’t fall into place fast enough and the museum sold.” says Dorr, “I would have kept the wax museum intact as much as possible while adding my collection to it.” Among the items he bid on and won were the Jenny Wade, George Armstrong Custer and John Wilkes Booth wax statues. He also bought many of the signs including the iconic interior entryway sign that lit up to indicate when the next group should enter.
“I bought most of the Jenny Wade booth with the idea of recreating it in my museum.” Dorr remarked. “As it stands now, I’ll have to display the statues one at a time because of space limitations.” Mr. Dorr reports that he is actively looking for a new space to house his collection, “I could get a place just outside of the town limits, but I want it to stay in the borough of Gettysburg.” Currently Dorr, the consummate historian, is busy making plans to attend the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy in early June as an invited guest. “They’re calling this the last reunion.” he says, “The trip is pretty brutal and most of the vets won’t make it to the 75th.” But that’s a story for a future column.
Seated nearby were a young couple whom I met by taking a photo of them proudly displaying their bidder number. Turns out this couple was Scott and Lori Hilts from Arcade New York. They live on an 1850s dairy farm and Scott has converted the barn into a museum dedicated to the battle of Gettysburg. In a familiar refrain, Scott admits, “I’m running out of room. It’s 40’by 80′, but I might have to expand.”
Scott, owner and operator of 2 funeral homes, proudly traces his roots back to Corp. John Christ of Co. E 136th New York State volunteer infantry who was wounded on the mystical third day at Gettysburg. “I bought the (Robert E.) Lee and (George) Meade figures because I felt they were the ones most identified with Gettysburg,” Hilts said, “but I bought some paintings and signs too. Since I bought the Lee-Longstreet conference painting, I went ahead and bought the General James Longstreet figure too.” He also bought a colorful Zouave soldier to represent the many ethnic troops that fought at Gettysburg and to honor his home state.
I asked Lori about Scott’s Gettysburg obsession and she explained that she was “fine with it and it keeps him out of trouble.” She admitted that when Scott told her of his plans to purchase a wax figure or two, she thought the idea was “strange” and her biggest fear was running into one of them in the middle of the night. “As long as they stay in his man cave, then I guess it’s all right.” Besides, Lori reports that she found a Steiff “center stitched teddy bear” the next day at an antique show in nearby New Oxford so, “It was a good tip for me too.”
Scott, an arduous collector whose specialty is images, letters and diaries of soldiers killed, wounded or held as POWs at Gettysburg, loves nothing better than researching every item he adds to his collection. Over the years I have found that it is often collectors like Scott who are most dedicated to the preservation, protection and promotion of history. Scott Hilts is one of those new breed “collector as curator / preservationists.”
By my count the auction grossed just over $ 100,000, a figure that does not reflect the 10% buyers premium. There were over 350 registered bidders from as far away as Los Angeles. You might think it would be one of the statues that brought the most money at the sale. But the top lot was # 317, a rare Singer sewing machine made in 1846, that brought $5775 and a round of applause from the crowd. The famous General figures, and those of Jennie Wade and Jesus Christ, all landed in the $1000 neighborhood. The Lincoln figures sold for upwards of $2000 each. But many of the lots receiving spirited bidding included the furniture, wall hangings, and artwork that adorned the scenes. Items that went largely unnoticed by museum visitors focused solely on the statues. Civil War military equipment and uniforms used to adorn the wax figures (swords, belts, hats, saddles, and bayonets) all sold well.
A personal favorite was the larger-than-life animated figure of Abraham Lincoln, for years the closing scene for the Museum. This figure moved ever so slightly to the cadence of The Gettysburg Address, or at least it used to. Now the figure looked rather sad, more resembling the Addams family Lurch character than our 16th President. The $ 2200 winning bid came via phone. I couldn’t help but wonder if the bidder would’ve been half as exuberant had they been there to view the statue in person. Oh, and that turnstile I mentioned before, it sold for $ 495. A pittance when you consider the aggregate humanity that hip-checked their way past its mechanical tentacles.
After the last lot was hammered down, I asked Erik Dorr if there were any surprises or regrets at the auction. “I thought most stuff went as expected, but some lots went higher than I would’ve guessed. I knew the Gettysburg lots would go high and recognized many local collectors in the crowd. But it seemed like they waited, bid on the lot they wanted, and left, which might’ve actually helped me.” Dorr said “I wanted to bid on one of the paintings or the Lincolns, but couldn’t justify the high price. I noticed that after the sale, all of the Lincoln statues were grouped together waiting for shipment. I suspect that they were all sold to the same bidder and that they might have actually sold for more had bidding continued.”
When I posed the same question to Scott Hilts, he responded, “I thought things went very reasonably, not cheap, but lower than I expected.” As for regrets, he says, “I wish I’d have bought the George Pickett figure. It only sold for $ 700. I should have bought more of the paintings too.” Scott offers perhaps the most touching observations of the day by saying, “I first came to this museum when I was 8-years-old. I brought my son Derron here when he was the same age. (Scott has 3 daughters too). Now Derron is graduating from Fredonia State University this June. My Great-Great-Grandfather was wounded where those bulldozers are working right now. In fact, he may well have received his wound right here where the museum sits. He was here that’s for sure.” Scott Hilts love for Gettysburg is deeply rooted.
IMG_0519Undoubtedly the happiest person in the room that day was a young woman named Kim Yates. She was hard to miss. Towards the end of the auction she bid on, and won, the last wax figure in the catalog. Suddenly, the previously sedate young lady began to scream wildly and jump around the room. One of the ringmen sidled over to me, after noting the look of obvious surprise on my face, and whispered, “She’s never bid in an auction before.”
Within moments, that same ringman rolled out those uncatalogued body parts. The Lincoln head sold for $330, then Andy Jackson’s head brought $275, followed by several more disembodied heads sporting powdered wigs sold for $ 250 each. Then it was down to the bloodied heads. Suddenly Kim Yates sprang to the front of the room and began bidding on the grisly remains faster than the ringmen could keep up with. After all was finished and the last lot hammered down, Kim told me, “I bought 6 heads, 4 torsos, a sword and a whole bunch of hands and arms.” Turns out that Kim runs a haunted attraction near Baltimore known as “Kim’s Krypt”, scheduled to open that very night. “My only worry is getting them back in time to display them tonight.” Who knew that props from one of Gettysburg’s most esteemed museums would someday end up in a haunted house? I told you those body parts would go crazy.

As you can see in this clip, I nearly owned this sign (the ring-man is pointing at me). Instead, it went to Eric Dorr’s museum in Gettysburg. A suitable place.