Local history buffs visit Gettysburg

The Masonic Memorial "Friend to Friend." Photo by Jon McGinty

By Jon McGinty
Free-lance Writer

Five members of the Logan Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) journeyed to Gettysburg, Pa., this past weekend to participate in Remembrance Day activities, which commemorate the date Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address.

The SUVCW is a national ancestral fraternal organization that is the successor to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the organization for Civil War veterans formed in 1866. The Rockford contingent that made the trip included Greg Carter, Leonard Cassaro, Terry Dyer, Steve Haight and myself.

Remembrance Day has been commemorated in Gettysburg since 1956, the year the last Union Civil War soldier died. Events include tours of the battlefield and visitors’ center, a parade of re-enactors, a commemorative dinner and a grand Civil War ball. It is sponsored by the Allied Orders of the GAR, of which the SUVCW is one.

Confederate troops on parade. Photo by Jon McGinty

Gettysburg is the site of the largest land battle in North America, where more than 165,000 Union and Confederate troops clashed in an epic three-day struggle in July 1863. General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia attacked General Meade’s Army of the Potomac on the rolling Pennsylvania hills surrounding the little town of 2,300 frightened inhabitants. When it was over, 7,800 men lay dead on the field of battle (along with thousands of horses and mules), 2,700 were wounded, and another 11,000 were missing or captured. The total casualties represented almost 30 percent of the participating combatants.

Today, the National Battlefield site includes more than 1,870 monuments, markers and cannon indicating the places where various regiments or individuals fought during the course of the battle. Steve Haight was especially interested in locating one of them. His great-great uncle was a member of the Michigan 7th Volunteer Infantry regiment, which was part of the Union line defending against Confederate Gen. George Pickett’s infamous charge on the third day of the battle.

Luminaries (left photo) mark the graves of Union dead in the National Cemetery. Terry Dyer (from left in lower left photo), Steve Haight, Greg Carter and Leonard Cassaro. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (lower right photo) shakes hands with President Abraham Lincoln. Photos by Jon McGinty

“His unit was engaged in hand-to-hand combat when the Confederates breached the Union line,” says Haight. “I found the monument to the Michigan 7th Volunteers. It was quite a feeling to stand on the very spot where my relative had fought.”

Terry Dyer, commander of the Illinois Department of the SUVCW, was particularly moved by the spectacle of the parade of hundreds of re-enactors and historians in full authentic uniforms, both Union and Confederate, marching through the crowded streets of Gettysburg, bands playing and drummers pounding.

“These people live this part of history, and they came here to be a part of this event to honor the memories of our ancestors who fought and died here, regardless of the color of their uniforms,” says Dyer. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Greg Carter returned to Gettysburg after several previous visits to find a particular monument titled the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial. It commemorates the moment Confederate Brig.-Gen. Lewis Armistead was mortally wounded and tended by a fellow Mason, Capt. Henry Bingham, a Union officer.

“It shows two brother Freemasons who were forced by circumstances to become enemies in war, yet still retained their humanity,” says Carter.

In addition to attending Civil War events and re-enactments, members of the Logan Camp also work on local and regional preservation projects, such as restoring military landmarks and graves of Civil War veterans within a nine-county area. They also conduct educational activities, and present patriotic awards to outstanding Eagle Scouts and members of the ROTC.

Membership is open to any male 14 years or older with a demonstrated interest in the Civil War. A lineage connection to a Union Civil War veteran is not required, but is appreciated. The Logan Camp meets at Rockford’s Memorial Hall the first Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. For more information, see logancamp26.com or suvcw.org.

More than 1,870 monuments mark positions of troops on the battlefield. Photo by Jon McGinty

From the Nov. 24-30, 2010 issue

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