“Pleasanter reminiscences of this famous town” – Christmas at Gettysburg in 1861
In part, this story originated as the December 24, 2018, edition of Monument Dedication Monday, a weekly series available via the Facebook page Codie Eash – Writer and Historian. Entries examine speeches delivered at the consecration of public memorials, particularly those which commemorate the Civil War. The original post may be found here.
Unlike almost any other regiment which fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, the 10th New York Cavalry had spent significant time in the now-legendary town earlier in the Civil War.
In addition to its involvement in the fighting at Brinkerhoff Ridge on July 2, 1863, the unit enjoyed the unique honor of having been stationed on guard duty in Adams County from December 24, 1861, until March 7, 1862. It was then that the New York horse soldiers familiarized themselves with the environs of south-central Pennsylvania and became endeared to its residents. Local Congressman Edward McPherson later explained that the 10th New York Cavalry’s role was to be present in “camps for drill purposes,” while making the most of “the accessibility, convenience, and other advantages of Gettysburg,” including its proximity to the Mason-Dixon Line and its road network.
On October 8 and 9, 1888, veterans of the 10th revisited Gettysburg in the time-honored tradition of dedicating their regimental monument. The aging former warriors returned that autumn—a quarter-century removed from their conflict’s bloodiest battle—to discuss their service during the rebellion and enjoy public readings of orations and poetry. One particular theme struck a nostalgic chord with those present: Their initial arrival in 1861 occurred on Christmas Eve. In his address at the monument during the silver anniversary year of 1888, Second Lt. Henry E. Hayes reflected on the 10th New York’s entrance into Pennsylvania at the tail end of the war’s first year. “On a cold Christmas night nearly twenty-seven years ago, two battalions of what was then known as the ‘Porter Guards,’ numbering about 800 strong, invaded this quiet little town of Gettysburg,” he began. “It was the first advance of the Tenth New York Cavalry towards the battle front.”
“They came here filled with the buoyant spirits, the ardent ambition, and the eager hopes of youth,” Hayes announced. Starting at Christmastime and continuing over the next three months, “there are much pleasanter reminiscences of this famous town,” he said. “Our thoughts leap over the great battle drama, and go back to the time when the good people of Gettysburg opened their hospitable doors to us and welcomed us with such a fraternal and paternal spirit, that the old homes and old loves were for the time, almost forgotten.”
“The journey” that had brought these men by train had lasted “more than twenty-four hours...,” recalled Noble D. Preston, a wounded veteran who served as the 10th New York Cavalry’s commissary (and subsequently as its historian). “A few determined citizens of the town remained to welcome the Regiment as the train pulled into the depot at Gettysburg that Christmas-night, 1861,” he explained. “There was little enthusiasm or noise; the boys were too tired or hungry, on their part, and the good people were too conservative, for anything of the kind.”
“The night was damp and gloomy without, but all was cheerful within,” Preston added. While Gettysburgians were initially reserved and introverted, “their quiet demeanor and modest ways, served to bring out in strong contrast a generosity and hospitality which have always remained a pleasant theme with the men...,” he stated. “The ladies had provided refreshments for the men, and awaited their arrival with puddings, pies, and patience, until the lateness of the hour—far beyond the time of their usual retiring—induced them to their homes, taking the provisions with them.”
“Singing and shouting drowned any sigh that might have escaped from those who thought of distant homes and friends,” Preston remembered. “It was Christmas-eve. But little sleep was enjoyed” and, “Every extravagance that ingenuity could conjure up was indulged in, to keep the fun going.” Seeing “as no quarters had been obtained,” these “boys” had to rest in train cars that night.
On Christmas Day 1861, plans were unveiled to lodge two companies at the Bendersville Fair Grounds and another two at the York Springs Establishment, both of which were a few miles north of Gettysburg. Then, after the New Year, land for official barracks was apparently procured on the farm of John Sachs (or Socks) along Marsh Creek, southwest of the borough. Ultimately, however, “It was finally decided to build the canvas city on the farm of Dr. David Shafer, near the railroad bridge over Rock Creek, just east of the village,” according to Preston.
Noncommissioned staff officers lodged along Carlisle Street, near the regimental hospital. A quartermaster’s office was established in the Franklin (or McClellan) House, on the site occupied by the modern Gettysburg Hotel. Enlisted men frequented the tavern at the Eagle Hotel while they were off duty, although bar owners were prohibited from selling “intoxicating or spiritous beverage[s]” to any soldier.
Instantly, the cavalrymen became celebrities, as “daily parades are witnessed with interest by the citizens of town and surrounding country [sic],” bringing a larger “number of persons from the country...than at any previous time,” journaled the Adams Sentinel in a contemporary report. On December 26, 1861, commander Col. John C. Lemmon issued a proclamation to locals declaring that the “encampment in your neighborhood” was created “to assist in the suppression of an unholy and fratricidal rebellion,” considering Gettysburg’s proximity to the slaveholding loyal state of Maryland, which was susceptible to Confederate invasion.
The regiment’s tenure in Gettysburg ended in March 1862, when the officers and men were ordered to report to Baltimore, Maryland. Regimental surgeon Roger W. Pease expressed his “most grateful acknowledgement for the unremitting kindness and sympathy manifested by its inhabitants,” while the Sentinel noted that “their departure was regretted.” In fact, the paper vowed, “They have our wishes for a speedy and honorable service, and trust that they will look back with kind remembrance to the pleasant intercourse they had with us.”
In reflecting upon his regiment’s wartime service from 1861 to 1865, veterans who gathered at the monument in 1888 analyzed what “the bloody campaigns of three years of active field duty, from Gettysburg to the Appomattox,” meant for the men of the 10th New York Cavalry. In the words of Capt. Norris Morey, the regiment (and the remainder of the United States military during the rebellion) “fought not to destroy, but to save” the nation from “a desperate effort to overthrow and dissolve our union of States,” and to defeat “one or more confederacies of states devoted to a system of chattel slavery.” The men “enlisted not for themselves, but for the nation…to give liberty to a down-trodden and despised race of slaves,” said Morey.
The unit’s secretary, Clifton W. Wiles, seconded this sentiment in his expression that all must “remember with gratitude the noble deeds of those men who put slavery, rebellion and its flag into the last ditch” and continued to “enforce our demands for justice” in the postwar years. “Let this monument typify the enduring loyalty and patriotism of the organization whose name is inscribed upon its granite sides,” Hayes concluded. “Let it also be a symbol of the strength and permanence of faithful comradeship and true fraternity”—a representation of “the pleasant memories of old times” which began on that “cold Christmas night” of 1861.
 Edward McPherson to “My Dear Sir,” Jan. 25, 1890, in N.D. Preston, History of the Tenth Regiment of Cavalry, New York State Volunteers, August, 1861, to August, 1865 (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1892), 24.
 H.E. Hayes, “Introductory Address,” Oct. 9, 1888, in Dedication of Battle Monument and Annual Re-Union of the Tenth New York Cavalry Ass’n (Porter Guard Cavalry,) at Gettysburg, Pa., Tuesday and Wednesday October 9th and 10th, 1888 (Cortland, NY: Democrat Power Presses, 1889), 5.
 Hayes, “Introductory Address,” in Dedication of Battle Monument, 5, 6.
 Preston, History of the Tenth Regiment, 15, 17.
 “THE PORTER GUARDS,” Adams Sentinel, Jan. 8, 1862, 2; Lemmon, “To the Citizens,” in History of the Tenth Regiment, 19.