Years ago we spent a lovely weekend in the Doubleday Inn, named for a Union general present here who also is credited as the inventor of baseball. At the Inn we enjoyed a wine and cheese gathering with a Gettysburg historian and learned much, courtesy of the Inn. The next day we did the battlefield’s official Driving Tour. I was awestruck by the courage or group insanity of marching, elbow to elbow, in parade ranks 1,200 yards up a grassy meadow to attack thousands of riflemen backed by hundreds of cannon. I was especially struck by the leadership of Brigadiers Lewis Armistead and Richard Garnett. The former was shot in his left arm halfway up, then put his hat atop his sword in his right and marched on, holding the hat high crying out “Follow me, men. Give ‘em the cold steel!!” Armistead crossed the stone wall, nearly reached the guns atop Cemetery Ridge, but then took his mortal wound in the upper leg. Garnett had broken an ankle days before, but defied a direct order to stay out of the attack. Instead he led his brigade from horseback. His horse survived and returned to camp covered with Garnett’s blood. Our historian speculated that Garnett suffered a direct hit from canister shot; his body was never found. All 15 of Pickett’s regimental commanders were killed or wounded, and his troops suffered nearly 40% casualties.
Most of the states with men at this battle have built elaborate monuments commemorating their soldiers. An uncle of my grandmother served as a Confederate surgeon and survived the war, returning to the Mooringsport area to practice his “craft”. There is a Louisiana monument which looks more like a winged hornblower or a musical angel of war (perhaps it is a sculpture inspired by jazz?) but carries only a few names. Almost none of the monuments have names of ordinary enlisted men, but there is an exception: Pennsylvania. The Keystone State had more soldiers here than any other, over 30,000 of them. The names of every one known to history appear on its huge monument. Kat and I tried to read them all, but we couldn’t (too many nouns and too few verbs) and to my surprise we spotted three Elders and a Baer which in western Pennsylvania is pronounced “Bear”.
None of our namesakes were killed here, and although we don’t know what happened over the following 19 months of The War one can speculate. Private William Elder of Company F, 63rd Penn Infantry saw so much death and suffering that he returned to Scranton and became a fire and brimstone minister, at least to the extent Episcopalians can march toward fundamentalism. Private Thomas Elder of Company E, 31st Penn Infantry made enough money playing cards to go home to Elderton and build a sawmill. His business was wildly successful, but toward the end of his life Old Tom smoked cigars holding them between a thumb and little finger (never one to spend money on safety features, Tom ended up as maimed as most of his long-time employees.) Sergeant Virgil Elder was the brigade’s quartermaster who acquired his grubstake by collecting 50 cents from everyone to whom he issued boots that fit. Later Virgil opened a liquor store in Philadelphia, made a fortune by watering his booze, then lost it to legal fees defending against criminal charges of selling diluted hooch. Virgil earned a place in Keystone history though: his case was the foundation of Pennsylvania’s state monopoly on wine and liquor stores. There are no privately owned Wine and Good Spirits shops there to this day, thanks to the avarice of Sgt. Virgil Elder.
But that’s just speculation, and they was Yankees. Ain’t none of ‘em related to us, I think. So I will leave discovery of the facts to my brother the genealogist.