In 1913 our nation, led by the government of Philadelphia, put together a Fourth of July extravaganza designed to hail the end of American disunity. The Great Reunion of 1913 commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the subsequent years of relative peace and harmony (save a "splendid little war" with Spain that lasted only four months).
The Great Reunion of 1913 was an amazing historical event, the largest gathering ever of Civil War veterans, who came together for a week of solidarity and celebration. On July 4, President Woodrow Wilson arrived and made a speech. But it was July 3 that people remember most. As part of the week's festivities, thousands of old veterans -- most in their 70s, the oldest 112 -- took their respective places on the former battlefield and commenced with a tottering reenactment of Pickett's Charge. At 3 p.m., the surviving Confederate soldiers of General Pickett's division stormed Cemetery Ridge, a clattering assortment of long beards and crutches and canes. Slowly approaching the stone fence at Bloody Angle, some of the codgers croaked out the rebel yell when they were "surprised" by a group of men from the former Union Philadelphia Brigade. But instead of shooting each other, they all shook hands across the stone wall and exchanged ceremonial flags. Some fell into each other's arms, weeping. Other just sat down in silence and looked sadly across the field.
The enthusiastic American press decided the Great Reunion was America's strongest demonstration of national unity ever. "Nothing could possibly be more impressive or more inspiring to the younger generation than this gathering," wrote The Washington Post. "But even more touching must be the emotions of these time-worn veterans, as they assemble on an occasion that in itself constitutes a greater victory than that of half a century ago, and one too, in which every section of a reunited country has common part." The New York Times used the event to advertise American concord to the rest of the world, at that time edging closer to the most terrible war any would see: "The pilgrimage to Gettysburg...proclaims to the world the solidarity of the American people; it is a significant warning to any of the great powers who mistake our political upheavals and internal strifes for a lack of homogeneity among the States."
After a peace so long as what the United States enjoyed after the Civil War, the 20th Century sure came as a horrific surprise to the generation that saw both its global conflicts.