Reporter’s best letter: Gettysburg’s 50th reunion
Mike Brown

I t sounds crazy to name one letter to the editor that’s appeared during the The Reporter and Messenger’s 140 years and bluntly state it’s the best of all time.

Yet, I’m about to do exactly that.

Col. W. B. Woody was a Rockdale resident, a Confederate veteran and, astoundingly, a survivor of the battle of Gettysburg.

One hundred years ago he, and about 120,000 others, attended the 50th anniversary observance of the battle for our nation’s future, and soul, in Gettysburg.

This is what he wrote to his home town paper for the July 17, 1913 issue. (GAR stands for “Grand Army of the Republic” and UCV for “United Confederate Veterans,” the two veterans organizations for Civil War soldiers and sailors): Dear editor, Thinking perhaps some of your readers might wish to hear from the great get-together of the old war-scarred vets of the two greatest armies of the age, let me say: I reached Gettysburg on June 29 and as soon as my feet were on the ground my hand was grabbed by as many Yanks as there were fingers on it, shaking it and welcoming me.

Art by Emily Brinkley, a 2012-13 senior at Rockdale High School. Art by Emily Brinkley, a 2012-13 senior at Rockdale High School. I asked for a good hotel and was informed Uncle Sam had one for me out on the grounds.

Then a man was brought up and he took my grip and led the way, while on each side of the street were thousands of old soldiers shouting and otherwise making known their pleasure at seeing gray uniforms in Gettysburg.

Monday was made memorable by the arrival of 45,000, all finding cots with three pairs of fine blankets on them, and six to a good tent, well stretched. In each tent was four wash pans on good stands and water pipes, the same as any city has.

Those tents were in streets, 10 to the block and all bearing a street number. You never saw any city better laid off and easier learned.

Every two blocks had a kitchen and mess tables. Now, think of it, 4,500 tents all thus equipped, and you can get some idea of the appearance.

Three times a day, a man came around announcing the meal was ready and I want to say there was plenty and to spare every time.

All of the best to be had, and as well prepared as you can possibly find anywhere.

Not a want but was anticipated, hospitals were well provided with nurses and medicines. It exceeded my furthest expectations.

I mean to say, you could not go two blocks from your tent to get anything you need. Everything was provided.

Tuesday found 120,000 campers up for breakfast. At 10 a.m., out under the big tent, met the GAR’s and the UCVs, each trying to make the other feel free and welcome.

Our commander, Gen. B. H. Young with his staff, all in full Confederate uniform, were seated. (There was ) one blue and one gray all over the great platform with GAR and UCV commanders in front. In this way they were seated on the platform every day.

Then came speeches, freighted with get-together ideas, not a single speech but what could have been made at any reunion of the Grays or Blues.

My greatest regret was that all of both armies could not be there for I know it would not be possible for any brave soldier to stay there three days and go home with any hate in his heart for the other fellow.

Why, if I was asked for my picture to be taken, hands clasped, with an old Federal soldier once, I was asked 100 times and the Lord only knows how many were taken.

Honestly, my right hand is still sore from so much hand shaking.

I had hundreds say to me they were going home and try to get their GAR post to ask Congress to pension all Confederates as well as Federals and I do believe you will hear of this in the near future.

I wish I was a good writer that I might make this letter halfway express the true feelings manifested all over that great camp and perhaps some who can will do so.

If so, you can commit this to the basket under your table and print the good one.

Hoping God’s blessing on the great gathering together I beg to be remembered as:

Comrade W. B. Woody

Roanoke, Virginia

July 6, 1913.

Don’t worry, Col. Woody, you did just fine.

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