The Origins of Gettysburg's
Soldiers' National Cemetery
Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association
Kathleen R. Georg
Gettysburg National Military Park
Whereas all families must have suffered some kind of loss, either from battle damage or from foraging and looting, the immediate need was not merely to restore order in each household. The immediate need was for hospital care for the tens of thousands of wounded from both armies, and to properly bury the bodies of the fallen, some still laying where they were slain three to four days previously. Since the Confederate army retired from the battle-field first, leaving it in the hands of the Union Army of the Potomac, it was up to that Union Army to initiate burial parties for both Union and Confederate dead. These parties were sometimes supplemented by civilians who would be assigned to the unpleasant chore of burying (especially) Confederates and horses, as a means of punishment for being caught in the act of stealing from the dead or picking up government property from the battlefield (blankets, rifles, wheels, tools, &c). Except for those soldiers who died behind their own lines, usually at a field hospital, most battlefield burials were undertaken by those reluctant soldiers and
civilians who had to deal with the decomposing bodies of soldier dead on the battlefield itself. Most of these were disfigured beyond recognition due to the length of exposure and the task of burial would have been nasty and odiferous. Faced with the unpleasantness of such a task, wherein many of the burial party would not even want to touch the dead person, it was a miracle at all that many of those who had lain long under the sun and rain received any kind of grave.
In the more difficult cases, it appears that in lieu of attempting to lift a corpse into a dug grave, the parties merely allowed the body to remain where it was and threw earth on top of it instead. Many of the battlefield killed would obviously be unidentified, unless through some good grace there were means to identify the victim from letters, rings, Bibles or other books or identification tags. In most instances, the identified dead were those who had been (and would be) buried at the hospital sites. There, there was time to properly dig and mark a grave, and perhaps friends or acquaintances who could do so. On the contrary, the battlefield dead were usually left behind when their unit fell back from an advance position, and had lain either between the lines or behind the enemy lines until Lee's army retreated. There, there were no friends to see to a proper burial, and by the time the bodies were recovered their features had little semblance of their original appearance. In addition, it would be very difficult for each unit to recover those killed days earlier, since the Union army was soon on the march in pursuit of Lee. Battlefield clean-up duties were assigned to troops not even engaged in the battle, who would have little opportunity to know the men they were burying.
Although there were indeed some who were buried by friends on the field days after they were killed, and many who were identified by some personal items on the body, most of the marked graves continued to be at the early field hospital sites. All of these marked graves usually had one thing in common--they were designated by a piece of broken fencing or a board from an ammunition or cracker box, or the like. Generally the inscription would have been in pencil, since it was the handiest thing available. Knife-incised inscriptions would have been exceedingly rare, since they would have been time-consuming to make.
But for whom were these inscriptions made? Were they made so that the family or loved ones of the dead man could locate his remains and take them back home to a native cemetery? Were they made so that comrades in arms could recover the bodies at a more convenient time and take their remains back to their home town? Were they made to perpetuate the memory of a friend and fellow soldier? We know that all of these are true. But how many of these marked bodies would be recovered by the families? How many could be recovered by regimental comrades, soon to be busy again in the South with their wars? (Local newspapers recorded that between 600 and 700 coffins had been made by town carpenters by the end of July for those requesting them to transport the remains home. Adams Sentinel, July 21, 1863.)
Theodore S. Dimon, working with the agent from the State of New York in looking after the needs of that state's wounded and dead, had come to the battlefield soon after the armies abandoned the town. Dimon recorded in his journal the state of affairs in regards to the buried New York dead, but. it was applicable to the dead of all states--North and South:
"While engaged in the various duties above named I was constantly solicited for pecuniary aid in the expense attending the exhumation, disinfecting, coffining andtransportation of our dead soldiers to their former homes . . . . It seemed wrong to leave the soldier 'buried like a dead horse,' when in another year all marks of his grave would be obliterated by the owner of the soil . . . .(Dr. Theodore Dimon, "From Auburn to Antietam", pp. 141-142; copy in GNMP files.)
Apparently, families of the dead soldiers were finding it difficult to transport and properly coffin their loved ones in the prescribed zinc cases without finding some kind of financial assistance. Those from areas farthest removed from Gettysburg would obviously have to bear a heavier financial burden in bringing home their dead relatives than those living within a closer radius of the battlefield. Dimon himself noted in his journal that at that time, only the state of Pennsylvania was providing transportation costs to the families of deceased soldiers. A notice in the newspaper confirmed Dimon's observation, stating that arrangements for "the removal of all Pennsylvanians killed in the late battles, furnishing transportation for the body and one attendant", and the resultant expenses would be born by the State. (Adams Sentinel, July 28, 1863.) If the families of soldiers outside the immediate area could not transport the bodies away from the battlefield, there were only a few alternatives as to what to do with the graves as they existed. In any event, the decision would have to be made soon as to which alternative to choose--ignore the situation and let the families and friends bear the burden; remove the Union dead to a common burial ground purchased by one or all of the states; let the families and friends remove those whom they could not transport a long distance and reinter the remains in the civilian cemetery; accurately record the graves and delay any decision.
One of Dr. Dimon's responsibilities as delegated representative of the state agent, was the care of the graves of the New York dead. These duties and responsibilities were outlined and assigned to Dimon by New York's General Agent, John F. Seymour, in a letter to Dimon dated July 16, 1863. (Dimon, "From Auburn to Antietam," pp. 139-140.) After his return to New York, Dimon outlined his accomplishments in a report to Agent Seymour:
"In regard to our dead, I would say that I made a map, enlarged from the county map of the whole district of the battle-field, and procured a careful record of the names and places of burial of our dead soldiers, referring to the map for the places of burial. This record contains all whose remains can be identified. The head boards were also marked distinctly whenever necessary. This map and record is presented with this report."(Letter of August 1, 1863; copy in GNMP files. The map, on a scale of two inches to the mile, was not included with the published report and apparently had not been located according to the Adjutant General of the State of New York. Charles G. Stevenson. Letter to Harry Pfanz, October 26, 1960; GNMP files.) The map, the re-marking of the headboards with black paint (as specified in Dimon's July 16 orders), and the whole "careful record" were undertaken for the obvious reason that the State of New York intended to minimize the danger of obliterating the identification of her dead soldiers until they could be removed by one or another party.
At about the same time, the future battlefield historian John B. Bachelder addressed his proposals along the same line to the Pennsylvania governor, Andrew Curtin:
"I have been engaged since the battle at this place in making drawings of its various phases for historical pictures. I am now occupied upon a general view representing something over twenty square miles, on which I show each road, house, field and forest, in a word everything that could effect the tide of battle or be of interest to the public. I propose to publish a supplementary sheet, with proper reference to the generalColonel Bachelder's concern for the care of the Union graves was definitely a growing and spreading universal concern within three weeks of the battle. Because men such as Dimon, acting as an agent for a particular state, saw at close hand the rapidly deteriorating condition of the field burials, there was soon to be afoot a meeting to discuss measures to solve the problem.
view, giving the name of every soldier whose grave is marked and showing, its position . . . . "I am obliged to carefully canvass every rod of the ground, to get all the names. I find that a large proportion of them were written with lead pencil and by the rains beating the fresh earth upon them have already become nearly effaced. And before the coming autumn many will be entirely obliterated. Massachusetts sent a committee on here to remark the names of her sons that had fallen in battle; they spent several days but finding they had the whole ground to canvass they have left the remainder with me. As I said before I visit every enclosure and take every name. I now propose to the Executives of different States for a fair compensation to good men to go with me and remark every name that may need it, and when necessary put up new headboards. The expense will be but a trifle, and though entirely distinct from my business I will see it well done if left in my charge. I commenced to remark them gratuitously, but find it will take me about three times as long to go over the ground. Yet I cannot bare (sic) to leave a name un-marked which another rain may blot out from its friends forever. . . ." (John B. Bachelder. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 10, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
Dimon himself envisioned a "burial place' which could be purchased, and to which the dead bodies could be removed and have their graves "permanently marked". As a result, a meeting of the various state agents and their representatives who were still in the Gettysburg area was held during the latter part of July--probably July 23 or 24, 1863. Dimon described the meeting:
"At my request . . . a meeting was held at the office of David Wills, Esquire, agent of the State of Pennsylvania. At this meeting I presented a proposition that a portion of the ground occupied by our line of battle on Cemetery Hill should be purchased for a permanent burial place for the soldiers of our army who lost their lives in this battle, or who died here of their wounds. And that their bodies should be gathered from the fields in which they were interred and deposited in this burial place by regiments and States with proper marks designating their graves. It was proposed, also, that this should be done by joint action on the part of the Executives of the States interested. The proposition met with approval. . . . Mr. Wills entered into negotiations for the purchase of the land, and I am since informed that Governor Seymour of New York has addressed Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania, engaging to join him, and the Executives of the other states, in purchasing this land and carrying out the proposed undertaking." (Theodore S. Dimon. Letter to John F. Seymour, August 1, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)Dimon's letter to New York's General Agent, John F. Seymour, indicates that the conception of a common or national cemetery originated with himself, as he was engaged in his melancholy duties on the battlefield. He saw a common burial ground, where the Union dead could be properly buried, marked, and cared for, as a solution to the problem and the best alternative of those available.
However, there were others who made the same claim. Most notable amongst these was the Pennsylvania agent for Gettysburg, Republican lawyer David Wills. In fact, to this day, there are few who have even heard of Dr. Dimon, whereas David Wills has gone down in history as the "founder" of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The first indication of any claims by Wills to the honor of initiating the project appears in a letter addressed to Governor Curtin on July 24, 1863. This letter was acknowledged by Dimon in his own journal, wherein he wrote: "David Wills, Esq.,
the agent of Pennsylvania, heartily approved the project and we both addressed the Governors of Pennsylvania and New York on the subject." (Dimon, "From Auburn to Antietam", p. 142.) It appears, however, that Dimon never saw the contents of the letter that Wills sent to Curtin, because the Wills account of the meeting was contrary to that given by Dimon in his August 1 report to Seymour. In fact, Dimon himself is not even mentioned as a participant in the Wills letter, which includes the General Agent, John Seymour, as a representative at the meeting instead.
"Mr. Seymour is here on behalf of his Brother the Governor of New York to look after the wounded &c. on the battlefield and I have suggested to him and also the Rev. Cross of Baltimore and others the propriety and actual necessity of the purchase of a common burial ground for the dead, now only partially buried over miles of country around Gettysburg." (David Wills. Letter to Andrew Curtin, July 24, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)Why David Wills chose to ignore Dimon and mention Seymour instead may perhaps have to do with politics and the fact that Wills intended to impress Curtin with the importance of those supporting the plan, in an attempt to persuade Curtin to endorse it as well. It is unlikely that Seymour attended the meeting, and that Dimon represented the interests of New York in his place is more likely. For instance, Seymour appointed Dimon as his representative via the letter of July 16, which intimated within its narrative that Seymour was returning to his duties with the military agency in New York City. He even ordered Dimon to report to him there once every two weeks. Dimon's letter of August 1 to Seymour would hardly have informed his superior of events of the meeting if Seymour himself had attended. And if Seymour attended such a meeting at the Wills office, as Wills related to Governor Curtin, he would surely know the chain of events.
"The suggestion of the purchase of ground at Gettysburg for a cemetery which originated with you was at once approved by the Governor of this State and he telegraphed to Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania to make the purchase." (Quoted in Dimon, "From Auburn to Antietam," pp. 143-144. Also given official approval by quotation of same letter in "Report of the General Agent of the State of New York for the Relief of Sick, Wounded, Furloughed and Discharged Soldiers" (Albany, 1864), pp. 62-63.)Because Wills was less than truthful, then, in his July 24 letter to Governor Curtin, we can be more assured that the journal and letters of Theodore Dimon are correct, and that Dimon was the "founder" of the National Cemetery concept at Gettysburg. Wills, however, was much more detailed concerning the planned purchase the grounds which were chosen:
"There is one spot very desirable for this purpose. It is the elevated piece of ground on the Baltimore Turnpike opposite the Cemetery. It is the place where our army had about 40 pieces of artillery in action all Thursday & Friday and for their protection had thrown up a large number of earthworks for the artillerists. It is the point on which the desperate attack was made by the Louisiana Brigades on Thursday evening when they succeeded in reaching the guns, taking possession of them and were finally driven back by the infantry assisted by the artillery men with their handspikes and rammers. It was the key to the whole line of our defences,--the apex of the triangular line of battle. It is the spot, above all others, for the honorable burial of the dead who have fallen on these fields. There are two lotsWhereas Dr. Dimon's letter referred only to purchasing merely a "portion of the ground occupied by our line of battle on Cemetery Hill", Wills' letter to Governor Curtin was much more specific. The acreage planned for purchase by Wills comprised about 8 acres and consisted of two lots owned respectively by Edward Menchey and Peter and Rebecca Raffensperger. These two lots of ground were located on the east side of the Baltimore Turnpike, on what is now called East Cemetery Hill (but called Raffensperger's Hill at the time of the battle). The location of the two lots in reference to the other points of topography of the battlefield, is shown on the following page.
of ground, together making eight acres, about 3 1/2 acres belonging to Mr. Raffensperger and 4 1/2 to Mr. Menchy and I called on them for the purpose of ascertaining whether it could be bought. They would not sell it for any other purpose, but offer to sell it for the purpose named for $200- per acre each. This is not much out of the way and I think it should be secured at once and the project started. I refer the matter to you for your careful consideration and decision. "In examining the Act of 26th Feb. 1862, Pa L. 1862 pp 550-1 I think that both sections of that act are broad enough to cover this matter and that the act contemplates such an arrangement as I have suggested.
"Our dead are lying on the fields unburied, (that is, no grave being dug) with small portions of earth dug up alongside of the body and thrown over it. In many instances arms and legs and sometimes heads protrude and my attention has been directed to several places where the hogs were actually rooting out the bodies and devouring them. And this on Pennsylvania soil and in many cases the bodies of the patriotic soldiers of our state! Humanity calls on us to take measures to remedy this and I think that it was in the contemplation of the Legislature of 1862 to remedy such matters by making provision for the honorable burial of the dead of our state who may fall on the field.
"My idea is for Pennsylvania to purchase the ground at once so as to furnish a place for the friends of those who are here seeking places for the permanent burial of their fallen ones to inter them at once and also be a place for the burial of the hundreds who are dying in the hospitals. The other states would certainly through their Legislatures in cooperation with our own Legislature contribute towards defraying the expenses. . . . The graves that are marked on the field would of course be properly marked when removed to the cemetery and the bodies should be arranged as far as practicable in order of companies, regiments, divisions and Corps. "Dr. Winslow of the U. S. Sanitary Commission tells me that the U. S. Gov. furnish coffins and did heretofore furnish a large amount of walnut or locust headboards on which the name &c. was burnt into the wood. If the U. S. Gov. would furnish these, I think the bodies could be disinterred and buried in this place for about $3.50 or $4.- each.
"I hope you will feel justified in authorizing the immediate purchase of this ground and the removal of the Penna dead in the field to it. I think that an arrangement can be made with the other states at once for the removal of all the dead known & unknown. We have a man here who superintended the burial of our dead for General Patrick and knows where they are and where the Rebel graves are. So that there would be no mistake in taking up the bodies.
"I know the soldiers in the field would feel most grateful for such a proper mark of respect, on the part of our Chief Executive, for his fallen comrades, and the multitude of friends of the fallen dead, at home, would rejoice to know that the bodies of their brave kindred had been properly cared for by our Governor.
"You will please favor me with an early answer. If the matter is delayed I am afraid the owners of the land might be operated on by speculators."
(David Wills. Letter to Andrew Curtin, July 24, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
It was because Wills recognized the battle importance of these two tracts that he selected them as the site for the proposed national cemetery. As he stated in his letter, it was here that the lunettes were still visible, and it was here that there was hand-to-hand and desperate combat between the contending armies on the night of July 2, 1863. Because of the relationship with the battle, Wills thought it appropriate to bury the victims of that battle in its contested and hallowed soil, already stained with the blood of the fallen.
Some interesting features of this letter should be discussed in detail, however, especially considering the circumstances under which Curtin has been identified in connection with the establishment of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The original visit to Gettysburg by the Pennsylvania Governor took place on July 10, 1863. According to his party's newspaper, Curtin left Harrisburg on the morning of the 10th, to give "his personal attention to the care of the wounded men in the hospitals in that vicinity." He was then to join the army in the field to "render whatever aid may be in his power to secure the comfort and the efficiency of the Pennsylvanians in that organization." (Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, July 10, 1863.) It is noteworthy that no mention was made of plans for a cemetery or burials. Curtin's only plans at the outset of his Gettysburg visit were to see that Pennsylvania's soldiers were being taken care of properly in the battlefield hospitals and in the army.
Another disturbing element in this letter is the description by David Wills of the condition of the graves, the protrusion of bodies from the graves and the need for "measures to remedy this." About a week and
a half earlier the same Harrisburg newspaper that noted Curtin's departure for Gettysburg, ran a notice about the condition of the graves. According to Harrisburg citizens who had just returned from Gettysburg's battlefield, the newspaper was informed that Pennsylvania's "dead have been all decently buried, each grave marked with suitable boards, containing the name or names of those interred with the company and regiment to which they belonged." (Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, July 13, 1863.) It is strange that Wills alarmed Curtin with these tales of the condition of the graves, while the Governor's fellow townspeople were assuring their neighbors that the graves were in good order and well marked. Since Curtin visited the battlefield at the same time that the above assurances were published, it would seem that Curtin did not see any grotesque or abysmal sights when he gazed upon battlefield graves. Curtin's fellow Harrisburgians saw decent graves which were marked with inscribed headboards on July 10 and so reported to their friends and publishers. It would seem strange that Curtin would have seen something different, especially in view of the fact that he was personally interested in the fate of Pennsylvania soldiers only.
By July 20 Curtin had joined the army and one of his associates, then in Chambersburg, sent a dispatch to Harrisburg outlining the Governor's plans concerning the dead at Gettysburg. Curtin had been making "every arrangement . . . for the removal, on application to David Wills, residing there, of the bodies of Pennsylvanians killed in the late battle. A map of the battle-field has been made, which shows the exact locality of every grave." (Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, July 20, 1863.) Here we see that at that late a date (four days before Wills' letter outlining plans for a cemetery), Curtin was not envisioning the establishment of
a soldiers' cemetery but was making arrangements to dis-inter the Pennsylvania dead to their hometowns or to family cemeteries. Wills apparently was appointed Curtin's agent in arranging these dis-interments and in making the map which located the sites of Pennsylvania burials. It becomes increasingly more convincing that David Wills was solely an agent looking out for the needs of Pennsylvania soldiers--dead or wounded--with no authority or instructions from Governor Curtin to originate a cemetery. The July 24 letter to Curtin seems to be an original broaching of the subject to the Governor and not a follow-up to some earlier discussion between the two. This further reinforces the theory that Dimon was the prime mover in the soldier's cemetery idea, and that Curtin and Wills were not the originators or fathers of the cemetery as Pennsylvania history would have us believe.
Another item of interest in the letter appears at its very close, when Wills encouraged the Governor to answer as early as possible to the letter. Wills warned that if the matter was delayed he "was afraid the owners of the land might be operated on by speculators." We are left to guess what was the reasoning behind Wills' warning. Who would be speculating in the purchase of battlefield destruction instead of prime farmland? Why did Wills distrust the Raffenspergers and Menchey to sell their tracts to these "speculators", when he had assured Curtin that the owners said the owners would not sell the land for any other purpose?
Governor Curtin did not have long to wait to solve the mystery behind the Wills warning. On July 25, the day following that of the Wills correspondence, the Governor received another letter from a Gettysburg lawyer. This other attorney, likewise a Republican in politics, was David McConaughy, an outspoken and learned native of Gettysburg and son of one
of the foremost settlers of the area. McConaughy was the moving force in originating the Gettysburg chapter of the YMCA, and sponsored lectures to raise funds for that organization, while donating his own "McConaughy's Hall" for the purpose of an assembly room for that, and other, civic organizations. He was also the prime mover and became the chairman of the board of directors of the local citizens' cemetery in the mid-1850s.
In the July 25 letter to Governor Curtin, David McConaughy was writing unofficially for himself and the Evergreen Cemetery Association:
"I have purchased & now hold all the land upon Cemetery Hill which encircles the Ever Green Cemetery Grounds, & which was occupied by the Artillery and forces on the centre of our line of battle, on the ever memorable lst 2d & 3d of July inst. "In doing so I have had two purposes, viz. to enlarge the area of our Cemetery, of which I am the President, and (2d) to secure so as to be held in perpetuity, the most interesting portions of this illustrious Battlefield, that, we may retain them in the actual form & condition they were in, during the battles, the most eloquent memorials of their glorious struggles and triumphs. "In that connection, I have also purchased the Granite Spur of Round-top, on our left (some 30 acres) the position held by our Pennsylvania Reserves, with the wonderful stone defences constructed by them, & which shall remain undisturbed, as their own monument of their heroic labors & valor. I am also in successful negotiation for about the same extent of Wolf Hill, on our right, embracing the extensive timber breast works, & the equally wonderful exhibition of the withering effects of our musketry fire. (Reference is to Culp's Hill, not Wolf Hill.) "And pervading this all, is the fixed purpose that this Battlefield shall be held by the sons of Pennsylvania and not by those of other states. At the same time the most liberal arrangements can be had with our Cemetery, for the burial of our own dead, & not of our State only but of all the loyal states, whose sons fell in the glorious strife, on this the great Battlefield of Pennsylvania. "I propose to make a public offer, to patriotic citizens of our state, that they may participate in the tenure of the sacred grounds of this Battlefield, by contributing to itsThis fantastic letter is a revelation of the plans of McConaughy for the development of a soldiers' cemetery and a battlefield memorial, written within three weeks of the battle. The information contained in this letter is a rapid-fire series of proposals, which included his own proposal for a cemetery for the soldier dead as well as a "noble National Monument" commemorating the battle and the casualties. In contrast to the conceptions of Dimon and Wills, however, McConaughy perceived the cemetery to be part of his own Evergreen Cemetery and not a separate entity. Evergreen would make arrangements with the loyal states as to costs, which up to that time had been about five dollars for each burial of individual Union soldiers. McConaughy, like Dimon, did not feel that the individual families should have to foot the bill for these burials, but that each state legislature should reimburse Evergreen Cemetery for the plots and the burial costs.
actual cost, (the minimum sum to be 10- and the maximum $100.00 from any one citizen). Shall I have the pleasure of enrolling your name first as one of the holders of this glorious patrimony?
"Again, may we not have the assurance from you, that Pennsylvania, will, out of her common Treasure, bury her noble dead within Ever Green Cemetery, which furnished the very centre and impregnable apex of the battle field? We have already buried nearly one hundred, at the cost (for ground & burial) of $5 each; and we have abundant room for all who fell here, or have died since the battles. We are also ready to enter into arrangements with our state and with all the other loyal states, to bury the dead in such manner as shall be most agreeable to them & to arrange our grounds accordingly.
"Our Cemetery has also initiated a movement for the erection of a noble National Monument in memory of the battles & the dead. The plan is the $1- subscription, similar to that of the Washington monument. Shall we enroll you & to what amount?" (McConaughy, David. Letter to Andrew Curtin, July 25, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
Meanwhile, Wills had discovered that his fellow townsman had made the purchases surrounding the Evergreen Cemetery lands, including the tracts on the east side of the turnpike. While McConaughy was away in Harrisburg, David Wills approached the Raffenspergers again and found out that McConaughy had only a verbal contract with the owners for their tract. According to McConaughy's version, Wills "endeavored to induce them to break their contract" by convincing the Raffenspergers that McConaughy's purchase from them was "bought not for a public but for a private purpose & for speculation." Indeed, Wills' story to the Raffenspergers was so convincing that they decided to retract their commitment to McConaughy and pledged to sell to Wills instead. Fortunately for McConaughy, he learned of Wills' purpose at "the opportune moment" and prevailed upon the Raffenspergers to grant him his rights after explaining to their satisfaction that he was not speculating. (David McConaughy. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 5, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
Foiled in his efforts to secure the Raffensperger property, Wills called a number of conferences with other state agents on August 3. The outcome of the conferences was a resolution that the cemetery for the Union dead "must be independent of local influences & control ." In other words, neither Wills nor the other state representatives wanted the national cemetery
to be controlled by Evergreen Cemetery or to be part and parcel of that civilian cemetery. They also concluded that the best location for the cemetery was on Cemetery Hill if it could be purchased, or on the "right centre" of the Union line if Cemetery Hill could not be secured. Since it was McConaughy, and not the Evergreen Cemetery Association, who had purchased the Cemetery Hill grounds, it would be necessary to negotiate with him instead of the board. (David Wills. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 3, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
Negotiations with McConaughy up to that time had been fruitless, as far as Wills was concerned. And on August 5, 1863 David McConaughy addressed the Governor directly, offering the state (or states) nine acres which directly adjoined the Evergreen Cemetery on the north and west. He obviously had no intention of capitalizing on the sale, since McConaughy offered the nine acres at $200 per acre---exactly the same price endorsed by Wills for the purchase of the Menchey and Raffensperger tracts in his July 24 letter to Curtin. However, in this telegram to Curtin, McConaughy conditioned the sale on the stipulation that the soldiers' cemetery be enclosed on all sides but that which adjoined his Evergreen Cemetery. McConaughy offered to convey the nine acres in fee simple, since the title was held by him and not the Cemetery Association, and asked for Curtin's decision. (David McConaughy. Telegram to Andrew Curtin, August 5, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
Thinking that perhaps Governor Curtin would not fully understand the cable, McConaughy followed it up that same day with additional information. He elaborated upon the telegram by describing the grounds offered and the conditions of the sale imposed by Evergreen Cemetery:
"The ground designated is part of the new purchases, which I made, being President of the Ever Green Cemetery & embracing the actual field of battle on the Centre of our army. It has been selected by a Committee sent by the City Counsels of Boston, with authority to contract & provide for burying all the dead of Massachusetts, and will be concurred in, I have no doubt, by all the states. It is the most elevated ground upon the Cemetery Hill & commands a grand & very extensive view of the Battlefield.Thus we see from the above letter that David Wills was losing control of the state representatives and agents. Although his own meeting chose these same nine acres as the most suitable lands, Wills had been unable to negotiate for them with McConaughy. The representatives of the State of Massachusetts decided to await the negotiations no longer, and approached McConaughy themselves. Having made arrangements with McConaughy and Evergreen Cemetery to purchase the plots necessary for the re-interment of Massachusetts dead, the agents then contracted with Solomon Powers to disinter the remains to this "most elevated ground." (It is because of their early decision to accept the McConaughy offer that the Massachusetts representatives maintained their contract with Powers. Whereas all other Union dead were removed under the specifications and supervision of Samuel Weaver, the Massachusetts dead were removed to the National Cemetery by Solomon Powers and not Weaver.)
"We make the condition that, the state, or States, enclose only on the Taneytown road (West) and on the North and South; leaving the line on the East without any enclosure--that line adjoining our Cemetery grounds and thus leaving the site proposed & our Cemetery grounds in one common enclosure. . . . Our great desire is (while not embarrassing the title or the tenure & use of the grounds sold, with any restrictions or regulations) to have the glorious dead of the Battles of July, buried within the enclosure of our Cemetery, so as to appear as if part of it, and to enhance the interest of our grounds with the glorious memories of these Battles, and the ashes of the heroic dead. The Cemetery is the common burial ground of our whole community, and our entire people feel the most deep interest in this proposition & hope that you will gratify their wishes." (David McConaughy. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 5, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
Exasperation must have led McConaughy to address a "Private & Confidential" letter to Governor Curtin, his third communication of August 5:
"Can you not send an agent to represent you in the selection of land & close any arrangement deemed satisfactory? I conclude that Pennsylvania will purchase the land, as an act of generosity & offer it to all the states for the burial of their dead. But be that so, or not, I would greatly desire not (if consistent with your wishes) to contract with D Wills E. As my reason, I state the following facts, without comment. When
I was with you, I stated that I had bought all the land on Cemetery Hill, adjacent to the cemetery & embracing the summit East of the Turnpike. For a portion of that I had a verbal contract, express & positive, the parties (R & his wife) saying that their word was as good as their bond & that on our return in a week they would sign a formal written evidence of it. Before I saw you, Mr. Wills asked me whether I had not bought from R & his wife & I told him that I had. On the day on which I returned, he went to R & his wife and endeavored to induce them to break their contract with me stating to them, that I had bought not for a public but for a private purpose & for speculation. By these representations (utterly without foundation) he induced them to promise to sell to him. Just at the opportune moment learning his purpose and effort I went to the parties and insisted on my rights and explained to their satisfaction, and ratified our contract by writing under seal.Thus we see that David McConaughy was more than reluctant to deal with David Wills, and that was one of the reasons that Wills was unable to negotiate for, the purchase of the Cemetery or Raffensperger Hills tracts (even when acting as agent for the Governor). Indeed, the Wills-McConaughy relationship must have always been a cool one, prior to these negotiations for a soldiers' cemetery. An examination of the local newspapers over the years of their law practices in Gettysburg reveals that, while both men were Republicans, they never sat on any committees together. Both were prominent in civic and political affairs, but neither belonged to the same civic organizations or crusades as the other. McConaughy himself was quite outspoken on most ventures that affected the county, his editorials and speeches frequently reprinted in the
"You will readily see why I would prefer in selling to you, to negotiate through any other person whom it might be agreeable to designate. At the same time, my interest in the Community & in its Cemetery makes me anxious that nothing of a purely personal nature shall interfere with their wishes and prosperity. I can not forget that the enclosure of our beautiful Cemetery was swept away & destroyed by the tide of battle & that it is greatly to its interest that the proposition now made be accepted." (David McConaughy. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 5, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
Curtin, upon receipt of these series of communications from McConaughy, apparently cabled or wrote to Wills, inquiring about the nine acres offered by McConaughy. Wills informed Curtin that the "land referred to is not the same I have been negotiating for. Would not be objectionable location if it could be obtained without certain reservations which Mr McConaughy desires to incorporate in the deed of conveyance." (David Wills. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 7, 1863; copy in GNMP files.) Wills, who had been negotiating for lands on the "left center" of the former Union lines, wanted to clarify the
differences in the tracts to Curtin in person, and therefore left for Harrisburg on the evening of August 7th. Apparently able to convince Curtin, in person, that it was useless to try to acquire the more desirable Cemetery Hill land for the soldiers' cemetery, Wills returned with authorization to acquire the second choice--acreage on the left center. On August 10 Wills was able to inform the Governor that he had "bought the ten acres of land on the left center with priviledge to take as much more as may be desired price two hundred dollars per acres." (David Wills. Cable to Andrew Curtin. August 10, 1863; copy in GNMP files.) Unfortunately, we have not yet uncovered from whom Wills purchased these ten acres. The general area of the "left center" might include Ziegler's Grove, the Brien Farm, the Leister Farm, or perhaps the Frey Farm. (See map opposite for location of general area.) This acreage was across the Taneytown Road from the McConaughy site, and immediately south of it.
On the day following the notification by Wills that he had closed the deal for the ten acres, he sent a more formal letter to the Governor, including within it the "contract for the land . . . purchased for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." To reassure the Governor that the decision to purchase the alternate site instead of the primary Cemetery Hill site was an acceptable one, Hills continued:
"There have been several agents here from other states, & all are very much pleased with the location. It is beautiful ground for burial & ornamentation but not quite so elevated as the ground I first wrote you about, but which I failed in buying. Instead of addressing you a letter for approval of the purchase I have drawn the agreement subject to your approval. You will please endorse it & return it to me without delay."
(David Wills. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 11, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
From this last letter to the Governor it was apparent that Wills was attempting to persuade Curtin to close and finalize the deal on the ten acres as soon as possible---perhaps to discourage any other faint-hearted agents from looking elsewhere for a burial plot for their state's dead, as Massachusetts had done. This letter, wherein Wills lauds the left-center site as "beautiful ground" which "pleased" the other state agents, was a long way from the first letter from Wills to Governor Curtin. In that letter, Wills had lauded the Cemetery Hill site, going so far as to state that it was "the spot, above all others, for the honorable burial of the dead." By August 11, Wills was obviously tiring of his role as the designated agent to purchase a state cemetery and was willing to close the deal for the less attractive site as soon as possible, urging Governor Curtin to sign the contract and return it "without delay".
Although Wills and the several other agents were "very much pleased" the left-center location selected as the final alternative for the soldiers' cemetery, there were a number of "interested parties" who opposed the new site. Upon discovering that David Wills had made his final selection along the Cemetery Ridge line instead of Cemetery Hill, a letter was forwarded to Governor Curtin from a representative number of non-residents and from Gettysburg's prominent citizens. (These included the signatures of thirteen citizens from places like Hanover, Harrisburg, Luthersville &c, as well as the endorsement of such Gettysburg men as S. S. Schmucker and C. P. Krauth of the Lutheran Seminary, President H. L. Baugher of Pennsylvania College, and merchants and professionals like A. D. Buehler, George Arnold --- McConaughy's father-in-law, John Hoke, F. P. Bucher, G. Berkstresser, Reverend M. S. Stoever, C. H. Buehler, S. S. Forney, J. L. Schick, Jacob Ziegler, James F. Fahnestock, Henry J. Fahnestock, and Edward G. Fahnestock.)
Although the letter was supposed to represent the opinions of these thirteen disinterested out-of-towners, the Gettysburg residents endorsed the letter and the opinions of the above with their own signatures:
"The undersigned being incidentally at Gettysburg, have visited the late battle field in which, as patriotic citizens they feel deeply interested, & having their attention directed to the several sites suitable for the noble monument, which your Excellency, as representative of the State honored as the scene of this great battle, in common with the governors of other States, designs to erect in memory of the honored dead, are induced by love to the noble enterprise itself, by respect for the judgement of all future visitors to this memorable spot, and by regard for the reputation of your Excellency, to take the liberty of addressing you. We are convinced that the site selected by your agent, after he failed in obtaining that adjoining Evergreen Cemetery & forming a part of that noble eminence, is by no means a suitable one, and that it would be a subject of lasting regret, if it is employed for that purpose.Apparently the motivating force behind the letter was not only patriotism and honor to the dead, but other factors as well --- a "respect" and concern for Curtin's reputation lest he endorse an undesirable location, a respect for the judgment and appreciation of future visitors to the cemetery, and the knowledge that David Wills could indeed purchase the more desirable location on Cemetery Hill if he would only listen to the Evergreen offer.
"We are happy to learn that the other far more elevated site, commanding a far more extensive view, & being remarkably well adapted for the purpose in view, which your agent failed to select, owing to a misunderstanding concerning the conditions of the offer, is now offered by the Cemetery Board in fee simple, without any restrictions at all.
"The subscribers therefore respectfully solicit your excellency to send a commission of disinterested gentlemen to this spot, or if possible to visit the place yourself, & decide this matter, so that this grand national enterprise may not be defective in so essential a feature as its location." (T. W. Conrad, et al. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 12, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
In informing Governor Curtin that the Cemetery Hill site was being offered in fee simple with no restrictions, the parties were hoping that the
decision of the Governor could be delayed until a new investigation of the offer could be made. Many of the Gettysburg gentlemen who signed the letter were quite familiar with the Evergreen Cemetery offer and that of David McConaughy because quite a few of these were either on the board of the association or were members of long standing. Perhaps these gentlemen had a vested interest in having the State secure the lands adjoining the Evergreen Cemetery, but they attempted to subdue that interest by directing the letter to the governor through the non-resident signatories.
Before Governor Curtin could react to this letter, David Wills was setting in motion the finalization of plans for the establishment of the soldiers' cemetery on the left center. On August 13 he drafted a circular letter to be directed to all the Union state governors with dead at Gettysburg. Fortunately this letter did not contain items which would or could be contradicted if the proposed purchase of the acreage on the left center did not meet Curtin's approval. The letter contained a number of points or propositions for the consideration and approval of the state governor, among which were budgetary items for the support of the establishment and maintenance of the soldiers' cemetery:
"It having been proposed by the Governor of Pennsylvania to establish a cemetery at Gettysburg, Pa. for the burial of the Union Soldiers killed in the recent battle there, and the matter having been committed by him, to the charge of David Wills of Gettysburg, with authority to apply to the Governors of the several states whose Soldiers were in the battle, for their cooperation, and to arrange the details for the carrying out of the project: the following plan is proposed by David Wills, by authority of Gov. Curtin, to the several states interested,The most interesting features of these proposals, apparently endorsed by Governor Curtin, included those which designated the State of Pennsylvania as the sole state to bear the cost of purchasing the site for the cemetery; that the other states would share in the common cost of erecting an enclosing stone wall and keeper's house, and in the cost of re-interring and permanently marking the graves of the dead. In addition, following up on the proposition made by David McConaughy (in his letter to Curtin of July 25), Wills included within the plans of the cemetery a "suitable monument", which would be paid
"1. The state of Pennsylvania to purchase the ground, about twelve acres, on the battle field, near the present Gettysburg cemetery, and take the title in fee, and the ground to be devoted in perpetuity to the object.
"2. All the bodies of the Soldiers who fell in defence of the Union, to be taken up from the battle field, without necessary delay, and deposited in the cemetery, those that can be designated by name, to be marked by a small head stone, with a number upon it, and the others in a common grave to be marked by some appropriate stone. A record to be kept of the names indicated by the numbers on the stones. The dead of each State, where known, to be buried by themselves, in the particular lot set apart to the state. The whole expense of this, to be carried to a common account.
"3. The ground to be enclosed by a well built stone wall, from stone found on or near the premises. Also a keepers house to be erected on the lot, at a cost of about $2,000. And the grounds to be tastefully laid out, and adorned with trees & shrubbery, all this expense to be carried to a common account.
"4. A suitable monument to be erected on the ground at the common expense, at a cost not exceeding $10,000, or if it shall cost more, only that sum shall be charged to the common expense.
"5. All the foregoing expenses, stated, to be chargeable to a common account (to wit under heads 2, 3, & 4) are to be apportioned among the several states having soldiers to be buried in the cemetery . . . . each state to be assessed according to its population, as indicated by the number of its representatives in Congress.
"6. After the original outlay the ground to be kept in order, and the house, & fences in repair by the state of Penna. "7. It is expressly stipulated that the whole expense, chargeable to the common account, shall not exceed $35,000. "8. Each state, if it pleases appoint an agent, who shall act with David Wills, agent for Pennsylvania, and other state agents, in carrying out the foregoing plan." (David Wills. Letter to governors, August 13, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
" . . . . You seem to have mistaken me. I bought the land for Ever Green Cemetery & with a hope that a satisfactory mutual arrangement could be made for the burial of our soldier dead. By the copy of Resolutions sent you, you will see that I submitted the matter to the judgment & action of the Board of Managers. They only asked that, the grounds for the burial of the Soldiers should be in the same general enclosure but not embarrassed by any regulations restriction or control of the Cemetery which you will please return after reading it. Such men as Revd Dr. Schmucker, Rev Dr.
Krauth, Revd Dr. Baugher, Col. Buehler, Col. Fahnestock, George Arnold D. A. Buehler Profr Stoever, &c &c felt a most deep interest in the matter. I repeat that I am gratified to know that their wishes, in common with those of our citizens generally have been regarded." (David McConaughy. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 14, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
This letter, then, reassured Curtin that the lands purchased by McConaughy on Cemetery Hill had actually been bought in trust for the Cemetery Association and not for any private speculation. According to McConaughy, he had always intended that the grounds be used for the soldiers' cemetery. The only real differences that McConaughy and Wills-Curtin could have had was in the matter of control of this soldiers' cemetery. McConaughy had foreseen the soldiers' plot to be part of his own civilian cemetery. However, he now reassured Governor Curtin that the title could be transferred to the State of Pennsylvania without "regulations, restriction or control" imposed by his own cemetery Board of managers. Indeed, he enclosed the resolution of that board for Curtin's consideration --- a resolution made the same day as McConaughy's letter to the Governor, indicating the urgency with which the board and McConaughy felt the matter should be clarified:
"Whereas the Report of the Committee on the subject of the purchase of additional grounds that the adjoining lands of Messrs Menchey, Benner and Weirick had been purchased by D. McConaughy, the President, and so secured, that they could be had, at the original cost prices, by the Cemetery Association was accepted by the Board. And Whereas a proposition has been invited by David Wills Esq. as Agent for the Governor of Pennsylvania for the burial of the dead who fell in the Battle of Gettysburg. Resolved. That the Board concur that D. McConaughy make the proposition, and upon its acceptance, convey these lands, in fee simple, at the cost prices to the State of Pennsylvania for the purpose of the burial of the said dead, with the condition that in enclosing the said lands, an open iron railing enclosure of ordinary height be made andIn other words, the Evergreen Cemetery Association was offering the acres acquired by McConaughy from Edward Menchy, Jacob Benner, and John Weirick north and west of Evergreen Cemetery (see maps on pages 19 and 24) to the State Pennsylvania at no profit to themselves. The nine (twelve) acres were to be sold at cost only and under only one condition --- that there be an "open railing enclosure of ordinary height" separating the two cemeteries. The original McConaughy proposal had stipulated that there be no fencing whatsoever between the soldiers' and civilian cemeteries, but the latest resolution by the board permitted at least some type of enclosure to designate that the two cemeteries were indeed different and separate entities.
maintained by the State, or states interested upon the division lines between said lands, and the grounds of Ever-Green Cemetery." (Minutes of Meetings of Evergreen Cemetery Board, August 14, 1863; Evergreen Cemetery office.)
Two members of the Evergreen Cemetery board also hastened to assure Governor Curtin that the matter could be resolved to great advantage to the State of Pennsylvania and to the appearance of the proposed soldiers' cemetery. In a letter to the governor, written the same day as the resolution, D. H. Buehler and Edward G. Fahnestock intimated that they must have been appointed intermediaries by Governor Curtin in resolving the apparent confusion between the propositions of McConaughy and Wills:
"We are gratified in being able to say that the difficulty in regard to location of the National Cemetery has been satisfactorily adjusted. Immediately on receipt of your note, we had an interview with Mr. Wills and subsequently with Mr McConaughy, and found that the main difficulty lay in the peculiar relations subsisting between them. Mr. Wills finally agreed to accept the more elegible site adjoining the Cemetery, if we could guaranty a full and unconditional title to the state. At a meeting of the Cemetery Board this morning a Resolution was adopted, tendering the entire ground to northThis formal notice by the members of the Evergreen Cemetery Board informed Governor Curtin that his agent in the matter, David Wills, had finally accepted the offer of the Cemetery Hill lands --- even though they conditioned the sale of the tract by requiring an open fence between the new and old cemeteries. By using Buehler and Fahnestock as the mediators between Wills and McConaughy (who had already informed Curtin of his reluctance to deal with Wills), Curtin had found a solution to the personality conflict that was imperilling the selection of the best site for the soldiers' cemetery. Indeed, continued conflict between the two may have negated a national cemetery, while the state agents purchased separate tracts on the battlefield or removed their casualties to their home states. The "peculiar relations" between two Republican attorneys in a small county seat determined the very origins and
and west of the Cemetery at cost to the State, with the simple condition that the State in enclosing the ground, put up an open fence, iron or otherwise, on the side adjoining the Cemetery, so as not to obstruct the view of the Cemetery itself. This proposition, we understand to be acceptable to Mr. Wills, who will report in person to you. The ground thus secured is elevated, part more elevated than the Cemetery itself, is accessible from the Baltimore pike, (the main avenue leading from the town) as also from the Taneytown road. It constituted the spot on which Gen. Howard's batteries were . . ., and the key to the whole position. Besides being a much more elegible site it is secured to the State at a price much less than that originally purchased. Aside from the advantageous location, although costing less, it is worth 100 per cent more than the other as arable land.
"The arrangement is eminently satisfactory to our people, and must be so to visitors.
"We congratulate your Excellency upon the satisfactory determination of the matter, and beg you to accept the assurance that whatever agency we had in accomplishing it is due to a personal regard for yourself and an earnest desire not to have the great project of a national cemetery marred by an injudicious location."
(D. H. Buehler and E. G. Fahnestock. Letter to Andrew Curtin, August 14, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
With the conclusion of the sale for the soldiers' cemetery now behind him, McConaughy immediately went on to other projects. Indeed, the very day that the agreement was drawn up, David McConaughy wrote a circular letter to several of the prominent citizens of Gettysburg (many of whom had been intimately associated with him in the drive for the new soldiers' cemetery). His proposal was the first public notification of his own plans and actions, which had been in effect since prior to July 24:
"GENTLEMEN: Immediately after the battle of Gettysburg, the thought occurred to me that there could be no more fitting and expressive memorial of the heroic valor and signal triumphs of our army, on the first, second, and third days of July, 1863, than the battlefield itself, with its natural and artificial defences, preserved and perpetuated in the exact form and condition they presented during the battle. "Acting at once upon this idea, I commenced negotiations, and have secured the purchase of some of the most striking and interesting portions of the battle ground, embracing among these the heights of Cemetery Hill, on the centre, which resisted the fiercest assaults of the enemy; the granite spur of Round Top, on the left, with its massive rocks and wonderful stone defences, constructed by the Pennsylvania Reserves; and the timber breastworks, on the right, extending for a mile upon the wooded heights of Wolf Hill, whose trees exhibit the fearful effects of our musketry fire. Other portions of the field can also be procured. "In pursuance of the original purpose, I now propose to the patriotic citizens of Pennsylvania to unite with me in the tenure of the sacred grounds of this battlefield at their actual cost. In order that all may participate who will the amount of a single share will be limited to ten dollars . . . . It is also suggested that an association be formed and an Act of incorporation be procured from our State Legislature, granting powers similar to those of a Monument Association. It is not designed to limit the number of shares which any citizen may subscribe, as the more generous the fund the more liberal the bounds of this sacred patrimony which it is proposed to perpetuate.This circular put into words the expression of the July 25 letter he had addressed to Governor Curtin, but this time he sought support for his idea from his neighbors. He once again mentioned that he had already purchased (or obtained letters of agreement for) such battle sites as East Cemetery Hill (Raffensperger's Hill), Little Round Top (Granite Spur), and Culp's Hill (which he mistakenly called Wolf Hill). Within weeks he also acquired McKnight's Hill, where Stevens' Fifth Maine Battery and part of Wadsworth's Division had built entrenchments. He now was securing the support of other individuals in the community to help defray the costs of his initial expenditures and to help set up the organization preparatory to obtaining a state charter. His own "Gettysburg Battlefield memorial project" had already cost McConaughy $3074, but had brought to the project 59 acres 86 perches of prime battlefield land. (Little Round Top, 30 acres 2 perches from Ephraim Hanaway for $205; the two tracts of East Cemetery Hill, 6 acres 52 perches from Edward Menchey and the Raffenspergers for $1369; Stevens Knoll, 23 acres 32 perches from James McKnight for $1400.) Since McConaughy himself was never a large property holder---preferring to rent his own law office instead of buying one --- these were the largest purchases he had ever made for himself. Indeed, when one remembers that David Wills was accusing McConaughy of land speculation, there seems to be little evidence to support the accusation. David McConaughy never owned any personal real estate with the exception of his own home in the borough of Gettysburg. The purchases for the cemetery and for the future Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association were always sold at cost, with no profit to himself. There seems to be little grounds to support the Wills accusation when the land records of McConaughy's transactions
"I respectfully submit the subject to your consideration and, should it meet the approval of your judgment, invite your active cooperation and influence on behalf of the Gettysburg Battlefield memorial project." (Adams Sentinel, August 19, 1863.)
Before many days had elapsed since McConaughy addressed his proposal for a memorial project, he was answered by twenty-six Gettysburg gentlemen, all supportive of the idea. Men such as newspaper editors Robert G. Harper and John T. McIlhenny; seminarians Dr. Charles P. Krauth and Simon Samuel Schmucker; Pennsylvania College President Henry L. Baugher; teacher, scientist and battlefield historian Michael Jacobs; physicians Charles Horner and H. S. Huber; pastors Charles F. Schaeffer and M. L. Stoever; and merchants J. Lawrence Schick, Edward G. and James Fahnestock, George Arnold, and Joel Danner all publicly endorsed McConaughy's battlefield preservation plan. Their letter to McConaughy was printed with his inquiring letter in the local paper:
"We have read with no ordinary interest the delineation of your happy and patriotic conception to commemorate the heroic valor of our national forces in the recent battle of Gettysburg, by the perpetuation of the battle grounds with their natural and artificial defences undisturbed.In this response from Gettysburg's highest and most influential
"We entertain, in common with you, the sentiment that these ever memorable battles, fought on the 1st, 2d and 3rd days of July last, in which the arms of United States were crowned with signal victory, to the great joy of the Nation, deserve commemoration to the latest posterity in every way in which such triumphs can be consecrated.
"Fought, as they were, in defence of Republican Government and well regulated Freedom, these battle fields are adapted to perpetuate the great principles of human Liberty and just government in the minds of our descendants, and of all men who in all time shall visit them.
"We therefore highly approve, and will cheerfully unite in the plan proposed by you, believing it to be the best method of accomplishing the much desired end---the preservation of the standing memorials of the terrific struggles and almost superhuman achievements of our troops in the greatest battle recorded in the annals of the world."
(Adams Sentinel, August 19, 1863.)
Although McConaughy preferred keeping the association under domination and control of the State of Pennsylvania only, there appeared to be no such hint of parochialism in the answer from his fellow citizens. On the contrary, there appears to be much sentiment for a national connection, wherein all Union soldiers would be honored and the national form of government would be exalted. Here again we see the major flaw in McConaughy's plans---he was provincial in his proposals whereas the demand was a national one. The loss of life, and the commitment of the Union soldiers, knew no state or
local boundaries. The impact of the Union victory and grief of the tremendous loss in life extended far beyond the borders of the Keystone State. The efforts of men like David Wills and the citizens such as Schmucker, Baugher, Schick &c were directed to recognizing this generality of sacrifice and commitment, and not of excluding those who had identical losses and convictions because of local pride.
Wills himself voiced this opinion in a later letter to the Governor of Delaware, when plans for the arrangements of the soldiers' cemetery were still formative:
"It seems to be the general wish that the stipulation in our circular of details in reference to the Soldiers' Cemetery here, should be so modified that all should be buried together and not separated into States. I have given the subject much thought, and have taken much counsel on it, and am now decidedly of the opinion that we should entirely ignore State lines or the appearance of division of States in this sacred project, and bury all together in these grounds as they fell. There are many reasons for this which I need not now advance. "Will it be agreeable to you to have this modification made?" (David Wills. Letter to William Cannon, September 15, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)Although Wills' conception of a truly national cemetery, where the soldiers would be buried together irrespective of state origin, just as they stood and fought the common enemy, was a lofty one, it apparently was not the prevailing opinion. Before a month had elapsed, Wills would again address Governor Cannon to inform him of the proposed date set for the dedicatory ceremonies for the Soldiers' National Cemetery. In that later letter, he had to reverse his stand on the arrangement of the bodies, informing Cannon that the cemetery was being laid off in lots for each state "in accordance with the desire of many of the States." (David Wills. Letter to William Cannon, October 13, 1863; copy in GNMP files.) Even while the war raged to determine the supremacy of the national government over the states, the
Wills left the details of such arrangements of the state sections to a landscape gardener who was released by the Department of Agriculture to assist in the design and plotting of the cemetery. This landscape gardener, William Saunders, was considered "one of the best . . . in the country" and was sent to assist Wills and the agents after Wills applied to the Federal Government for help. He apparently was referred to the Agriculture Department after directing his inquiry to the War Department, and at the same time he was requesting coffins to be used (as suggested by Dr. Winslow of the U. S. Sanitary Commission to him). (David Wills. Letter to William Cannon, October 13, 1863; copy in GNMP files.)
Saunders' own account of his participation in the layout and design of the new cemetery revealed that, although he may have been notified by his superiors that he would be assigned to assist David Wills, he did not receive any information directly from Wills until some six weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg. That letter, asking Saunders to meet Wills immediately at Gettysburg, took three weeks to reach him. This would imply that Wills had gotten permission to use Saunders about the same time that he was sending his first proposals to Governor Curtin regarding the cemetery. This seems somewhat illogical, since it would be difficult for Wills to convince the Department of Agriculture to loan out Saunders (their head gardener, responsible for advice to all nature of agricultural inquiries) unless he had the approval and support of Governor Curtin and the other state leaders.
In any event, Saunders related that he arrived at Gettysburg for his meeting with Wills after the land purchase had been made, and the Cemetery Hill acreage had been acquired for the site of the cemetery. That would have been sometime after August 14. His first reaction to the grounds shown him are quite apparent when a map of the tract is examined (see opposite page). Saunders, though pleased with the site, was not impressed with the exterior boundaries. Saunders later wrote:
"I was pleased with the site, but saw that it was angular, and its front on the Baltimore Pike was only about 150 feet. I therefore told Mr. Wills to get more ground, extending the front line and straightening out other lines which was speedily done, adding about 5 acres more to the cemetery and simplifying its outlines."
Saunders was correct that the frontage on the pike was only 150 feet, the original purchase by McConaughy of the Menchey tract, which was in turn purchased by Wills for Governor Curtin. The frontage was extended another 50 feet more by purchasing part of an apple orchard belonging to Captain John Myers, which also extended the back line toward the Taneytown Road, and eliminated the angularity resultant from the original three purchases made by McConaughy for the Evergreen Cemetery. The purchase of these final five acres completed the Soldiers' National Cemetery and resulted in the layout of it as we know it today. David Wills and Andrew Curtin had little to do with the configuration and design of the national cemetery, all of their decisions having been made for them by David McConaughy and William Saunders.
"On this my first visit I studied the ground thoroughly and thought of various methods of treatment. It occurred to me---and I felt it all important underOnce again Saunders mentioned the necessary purchase of part of the adjoining apple orchard, in order to satisfactorily complete his planned arrangement for the cemetery. The five acres was added because Saunders' plan of a semicircular disposition of the graves by states could not be effectively completed without adding more room to the west and north, since there would be little room for effective landscaping and driveways.
any plan --- that the remains of the soldiers from each State should be laid together in a group. In fact, I, had examined the ground before suggesting an addition to it and had employed an evening considering how best to arrange for interments. The surface was somewhat undulating, some high or elevated points, but others low and inferior in comparison, so that in destributing the interments by States some would, of necessity, be placed in the lower portions and thus an apparently unjust discrimination might be inferred. I ultimately concluded that a central point on the highest reach of the ground be designated for a monument, and a semi-circular arrangement made, so that the appropriation for each State would be a part of a common center and the position of each lot would be relatively of equal importance. "The ground was marked out in parallels 12 feet in width, thus giving a length of about 7 feet for the interments and 5 feet of pathway between the next parallel. On the inner circle of each a heavy line of curbing was placed. This made a continuous circle of gravestones, as it were. About 2 1/2 feet was marked on these stones, the width for each interment, and the name carved on the granite at its head. These blocks showed 10 inches above the surface of the ground and show a width of 10 inches on their upper surface or face. The name, company, and regiment being carved in the granite opposite each interment, secured a simple and impressive arrangement, combined with permanence and durability. "Having made rude drawings and measurements as to the space required for this plan, I went over the field and was convinced that more space would be required at this particular point to enable this plan to be carried out. Then the question of adding to it by further purchases of land was conceded, and ultimately some 5 acres of an adjoining apple orchard were procured, which allowed the plan to be carried out." (William Saunders. "Autobiographical Sketch." Copy in GNMP files.)
"Mr. Editor: Already, at least five of the brave men of our County, who have gone into the war, have fallen heroically upon the battlefield, fighting for our nation and his liberties. The remains of two of them lie in Ever Green Cemetery. "These facts have naturally suggested the idea of erecting a Monument to their memory. It appears to me that there are considerations pertinent to the subject, rising above all individual predilections, and they prompt to the following suggestions; which are made in the hope that they will elicit other and perhaps better views, and promote action. "Let there be a selection made of an eligible site and commodious ground in Ever Green Cemetery, and in the centre let there be erected a handsome and imposing shaft of marble, around which shall be interred the remains, and upon which shall be inscribed the names of all the glorious dead, native to, or citizens of our County, who die in the defence of the nation in this momentous struggle. Let each grave be indicated by a small headstone. Upon the Monument should be inscribed the names alike of privates and officers, without any other distinction whatever, save the simple yet eloquent record of the names and battlefields of our martyred dead." (Adams Sentinel, June 24, 1862.)After reading this earlier proposal for a soldiers' section within the Evergreen Cemetery, one wonders if there was a possibility that David McConaughy talked with William Saunders during his Gettysburg visit. Certainly there could have been the potential for such a meeting, since Saunders would have been walking over the grounds of the land recently sold by McConaughy for the soldiers' cemetery. As an interested party, McConaughy would have been curious to see how the development was progressing, especially since the new cemetery would have been visible (intentionally) from Evergreen. After going to all the effort of assuring that the two cemeteries would be
Throughout the development of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg and the inception of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, the name and thoughts of David McConaughy appear and reappear. His inexhaustible and far-ranging interests pervaded the history of both our present National Cemetery and National Military Park at Gettysburg to such an extent in their infancies that he might justifiably be called the father of the latter and the step-father of the former. His eccentric and parochial character, his partisan nature, and his inability to secure for himself the designation of Curtin's state agent all conspired to relegate David McConaughy to virtual anonymity, while elevating others who had less influence on the final characteristics of the finished products.
Upon the announcement that McConaughy had persuaded the interested citizens to appoint provisional and local committees and to draft the articles of incorporation for the battlefield memorial project, the local newspaper editorialized upon the venture: "The natural and artificial defences which are thus to be secured from the vandalism of avarice, and saved from destruction, for mere selfish and practical considerations in individual owners, these scenes of conflict, which are thus to be preserved in the precise form and condition they bore in the hours of battle, have become historic and destined to an immortality of fame, among the great places and events of the world's history.
"The records of our State and country will preserve the names of those who will perform this pious work of patriotism in the noble effort to perpetuate these consecrated grounds. Who would not have his name among such sacred and imperishable associations?" (Adams Sentinel, September 15, 1863.)
Aware of the virtual obscurity to which the memory of David McConaughy has fallen within the park and cemetery itself, let alone the world of the historians and the residents of the community and state he longed to serve, the above editorial bespeaks of the injustice done to the likes of David McConaughy.