Things are not always as they seem.
Take the site from which Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863. For years, visitors to this most famous of American battlefields were told — and markers have indicated — that our 16th president made his brief remarks from the spot where the Soldiers National Monument stands today.
However, thanks to diligent historical research by able and scholarly park historian Kathleen Georg Harrison, this has been disproved. She has shown to the satisfaction of the National Park Service that President Lincoln spoke from within the town cemetery, Evergreen.
The Brown family vault, erected in the 1950s, stands on or near where the platform was erected. A new marker has been authorized to be placed on the Park Service side of the fence. (The fence was not there in 1863.)
Also at Gettysburg, guides for years related — and a plaque at the site still outlines — the dramatic story of Barlow’s Knoll. It was here, visitors were told, that Union Gen. Francis C. Barlow of New York was so severely wounded in the first day’s fighting that he was left on the field for dead.
Leading his surging troops through the area, Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon of Georgia found him. In a spirit of generosity and compassion, he gave water to the unfortunate Barlow, put him in a building for safety and otherwise made him as comfortable as possible.
The dispirited New Yorker spoke of his wife and how he yearned to see her face once again and let her know of his love. When Gordon learned that Mrs. Barlow was, in fact, near the battlefield, he immediately arranged for her to be brought to the scene under a flag of truce.
With the pressures of war closing around him, Gordon forgot the incident. As it turned out, unbeknown to his generous foe, Barlow survived the war but was saddened to hear that Gordon had been killed.
About 15 years after this incident, Gordon, by then a U.S. senator, and Barlow, a prominent state official in New York, attended a dinner in the nation’s capital. (It was a kinsman of Gordon’s from North Carolina whom Barlow had heard had been killed.)
When each learned the other had survived the war, it was a time of rejoicing and the beginning of a cherished friendship that lasted until Barlow’s death in 1896.
This wonderfully poignant story moved all who heard it.
However, in a revealing article in Civil War Times Illustrated (May 1985), William F. Hanna showed that this incident never happened.
Things are not always what they seem.
These are but two of the many strangely contradictory and curiously bizarre stories and statements about Civil War events and personalities that mark this most absorbing period of U.S. history. Here are some others:
ITEM: Dennis Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s cousin, 10 years his senior, told Lincoln’s mother when handing back the strenuously crying newborn: “Take him Aunt! He’ll never come to much.”