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June 29, 2013

Local Civil War veterans held reunion in Gettysburg in 1913

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The Daily Star

---- — Excitement is building in Gettysburg, Pa., these days as the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg will be commemorated in the next few days. Back in 1913 the local excitement of Civil War veterans was also building as they prepared for a 50th year reunion with members of the 121st New York Infantry Regiment and others in South Central Pennsylvania.

The Oneonta Star of Tuesday, July 1, 1913, reported, “Yesterday, at 8:15, about 100 veterans, most of them from this city but including some from points along the U. & D. and trolley roads and other nearby villages, embarked upon the special train on the D. & H. provided to convey them to Wilkes-Barre, where they took the Reading via Allentown for Gettysburg. The train started at Cobleskill and took passengers only as far as Nineveh and provision had been made for 400 who had arranged for tickets for this train.”

It was a four-day excursion and the veterans were guests of the state on the trip. The program of the celebration began on Wednesday.

From national reports supplied to the Star, the soldiers who used guns and bullets in July 1863 were now faced with intense heat at the ceremonies.

“In the pitiless glare of a sun that sent the mercury bubbling over the one hundred mark and made clothes a burden and baths only a delusion, the armies of the north and south today began the formal exercises set to mark the semi-centennial of Gettysburg.

“Veterans to the number of 15,000 the army officers estimated, filed into the big tent set apart for the exercises, sat in the haze of heat for two hours and shook the camp with their cheers when the speakers made reference to a reunited nation.”

“Although the men in gray were far outnumbered by those in blue, there were probably a thousand southerners throughout the amphitheater, and what they lacked in numbers they made up in their lung power.”

The three-day celebration didn’t go totally without a bad incident. It wasn’t reported if any of the local troops witnessed it, but seven men were stabbed on Wednesday night in the dining room of the Gettysburg Hotel, as a result of a fight that broke out when several men were aroused by an old veteran wearing blue who made insulting remarks about former President Abraham Lincoln. The unnamed veteran managed to escape during the melee.

The 121st New York Infantry Regiment held what was their 27th annual reunion in post rooms in Gettysburg. Many of the area veterans had moved away to 11 other states and this event allowed many to meet again for the first time since the end of the Civil War.

More than likely, the veterans paid a visit to the local monument for the 121st Regiment at Little Round Top. Back in February 1888, the Oneonta Herald reported that the state had appropriated $2,500 for the monument in Gettysburg — $4,500 had been asked for in addition to the state money, $2,500 coming from Otsego County and the remainder from Herkimer County. The plan was to dedicate the monument in July, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

It stands today with an infantry soldier in bronze at the top.

Those unable to attend the 1913 festivities in Gettysburg were able to see what went on, as “Manager Roberts of the Oneonta theatre has secured at this early day a film of pictures showing the recent reunion.” It was set to play on Monday afternoon and evening, July 14.

The Star reported on Aug. 16 that one veteran had been carrying a rebel bullet in his thigh since June 27, 1862. John Merritt, a D&H machinist at the time, had the bullet removed by Dr. Marshall Latcher of Oneonta. Merritt served as a member of the 27th New York Infantry and got the bullet when in the battle of Gaines Mills.

Oneonta’s last surviving Civil War veteran, William A. Kelley, then 86, died on Sunday, Jan. 9, 1938. Kelley had served in the New York 79th Volunteer Infantry. After an honorable discharge, he went to work for the D&H Railroad in Carbondale, Pa., and later moved to Oneonta to work in 1890.

On Monday: Oneontans embarked on a new shopping experience on Southside 30 years ago this week.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.