The magic of Gettysburg

We took our daughter, then 5 years old, to Gettysburg for a re-enactment, and not long after that, she decided she wanted to be a re-enactor. I didn’t understand why a child would want to re-enact, but I know now what she was thinking. The magic that is Gettys burg took over our family. Around the time of the previous casino issue, we visited Mystic Seaport, Conn. Our daughter was disappointed that there were no interpreters in period dress. She was told they don’t have them anymore because attendance was down. Everyone was going to the casino at the edge of town. We have seen firsthand what happens when a casino moves into a historic place. It’s not only not the right fit for Gettysburg, it’s just plain wrong.

Judy Mason

Lancaster, Pa.

Supersize that, General Lee?

My husband and I visit Gettysburg several times a year. I am a member of the Friends of Gettysburg Foundation and have a great-great-great uncle who was killed in the battle and now rests in the national cemetery there. The only argument you hear from anyone opposed to putting a casino so close to hallowed ground is “historical integrity.” I would much rather see a casino a half-mile from the battlefield than a cheesy old-time photo studio in the former George House, where Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was taken after sustaining a fatal wound. Or what about the chain restaurants just yards away from the site of Pickett’s Charge? Did the Confederates only plan on fighting as far as the KFC? Gettysburg is already a commercial tourist trap. If a casino provides needed revenue as well as employment opportunities, what is the big deal? Am I for the casino? Yes! Am I for preserving American his – tory? Yes! I believe that at this point, the two unfortunately go hand in hand.

Jenna M. Frye

Greensburg, Pa.

Partisan wrangling

Rod Soodalter’s article “Partisan, Terrorist, Soldier, Spy” (May 2010) mentions John Singleton Mosby’s role in an alleged plot to blow up the White House in April 1865. While it is possible such a plot existed, I do not believe that there is sufficient hard evidence to prove it beyond reasonable doubt.

Mosby was an experienced, talented and ruthless (though principled) leader of the 43rd Battalion of Partisan Rangers attached to the Army of Northern Virginia. No documents from the period connect Mosby to such a plot. His modus operandi included long periods of scouting alone or with only one or two other men. He would not have used a company of men to de liver an assassin into the Federal capital.

Soodalter says Mosby “was engaged in a skirmish and Harney was captured.” Thomas Harney, an explosives expert and the alleged assassin, was captured, but Mosby did not lead the company that fought the skirmish. Company H was filled with new recruits under the command of the untested (in partisan warfare) George Baylor. This was not a trustworthy group to carry out such a vital operation. In fact, if Mosby knew that the future of the Confederacy was in Harney’s hands, his actions are incomprehensible—short of concluding that Mosby did not want Harney to succeed.

I believe that Harney was an assas sin and that Mosby acted unilaterally (as he had done throughout his partisan career) to terminate the plan. I don’t know if Mosby was against the action itself—he tended to be very much against what he con sidered murder, a sentiment he ex – pressed in a letter written years later—but I do not doubt he was against involving himself and his command in an action that would destroy their lives even if they managed to escape the gallows!

Valerie Protopapas

Editor, The Southern Cavalry Review

The Stuart-Mosby Historical Society

Ron Soodalter responds: Harney was with Mosby’s outfit when he was captured; Harney was a known demolitions man; and Mosby was a partisan ranger, working behind the lines. I believe—as do various Civil War scholars—that Mosby was to act as Harney’s safe conduct to Washington. As for his use of an entire company, apparently the gravity of the mission would have justified it. The fact that he failed is not a black mark against Mosby or his men; they merely ran into an unexpected contingent of Union soldiers. The whole area was crawling with Federals—it would have been more surprising if they actually had gotten through! George Baylor was commanding that contingent of Rangers, but they were indeed Mosby’s men. There is only so much space in an article, and mention of Baylor didn’t seem to further the story. And Baylor was anything but “un tested.” Read his record. Nor do I buy that Mosby deliberately disobeyed orders to avoid killing Lincoln. I think Valerie must take a giant step back from this blatant Mosby-worship. It’s important to remember that at bedrock, most historical research and reportage is a matter of conjecture; we weren’t there, and even if we were, we would come up with as many divergent interpretations as there were witnesses. Perhaps I’ll apply for membership in the Stuart-Mosby group. Truth is, I really like them both, flawed though they were!


Originally published in the September 2010 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here