Was It Not As In The Old Days?

Four score years ago, they came back, back to the scene of the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War.  They came back, not to fight, but to forgive and forget.  Once young men with strong bodies and courageous convictions, a rapidly diminishing regiments of 1359 Federal and 486 Confederate battered, broken ancient veterans of the war gathered in the cross roads town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the final reunion of the United Confederate Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic.  The remainder of the 8000 living veterans could or would not make the trip. Many had not the strength or the stomach to return to hallowed ground where some 50,000 souls were killed, wounded, or captured in the first three horrendously hot, viciously violent, heart wrenching days in July 1863.

The year was 1938, and all able veterans of the Civil War gathered in the Pennsylvania town which hosted the climactic battle of the war.  Averaging 94 years of age, they came at the invitation as  guests of President Franklin Roosevelt to show the nation that although the war had been long over, their bloodshed and heroism was not forgotten.  Roosevelt hoped that the event would permanently cement the healing of the nation as it entered a far more arduous battle for freedom. 

Of the 53 to 60 Georgia veterans to attend the momentous event were four men from East Central Georgia.  Among the small group of the men in Gray was Green Jenkins of Laurens County, Georgia.  At 90, Jenkins was the last known Laurens Countian to survive the end of the war in 1865.  While Jenkins, like the vast majority of the attendees, was not engaged in the fighting at Gettsyburg, most of those who were able to go were compelled to attend the reunion of out respect to the fellow comrades and once and for all end the lingering feelings of bitterness and malice.

Green V. Jenkins, a son of James J. and Lucinda Jenkins, was born in Laurens County on Jan. 27, 1848. His brothers Isaac, Littleton, and George W. fought in the Civil War. The oldest brother, Isaac, died in Richmond, Va., on Dec. 15, 1862. Corp. Littleton Jenkins was captured at Spotsylvania Court House, Va., on May 12, 1864. Corp. Jenkins was taken to Elmira Prison in New York. George Jenkins was wounded and disabled at Mechanicsville, Va. on June 26, 1862. Green, the baby brother, was ready to fight for Georgia. 

On July 20, 1864 as the Battle of Atlanta was about to begin,  Green Jenkins, at the age of 16,  enlisted in a reserve unit of the Confederate Army. Company A 3rd Georgia Reserves at Camp Sumter, at Andersonville,  Georgia.  He saw service in Georgia and South Carolina during the last year of the war.  Jenkins was very proud of the many years which he spent as a Deacon of Bethsaida Baptist Church. I.M. Jenkins, Green’s son accompanied is father to the four days of festivities at Gettysburg. 

Only two and one half months after the reunion,  on Sept. 26, 1938, Green Jenkins died at the age of 90. He was the last surviving veteran of the Confederate Army in Laurens County, “The Last Boy in Gray.” Jenkins was buried in the cemetery at Bethsaida Church, next to his wife who predeceased him by 10 years.

Bennett Whitley Odom, son of Elijah Samuel Odom and Rutha Goff Odom, of Odomville, near Adrian, Georgia, was there too.  Only thirteen years of age at the beginning of the war, Ocom enlisted at the age of 16 in Company H, 2nd Regiment, Georgia Militia in Macon, Georgia.  Odom was discarged from the army in Augusta in February 1865.  The senior Odom, the last surviving Confederate veteran of Emanuel County,  was accompanied to Gettysburg by his son, Algerine E. Odom. He died on December 17, 1941 and is buried in the cemetery of Poplar Springs United Methodist Church near Scott, Georgia. 

Henry Jasper Kight, was born in Kite, Georgia on December 17, 1844, a son of Shadrick and Millie Norris Kight, was accompanied by his son, the Rev, H.L. Kight.  As a member of Company F, the 14th Geogia Infantry, Kight, at the age of 19, was position to the northeast and rear  of General George Pickett’s Division on July 3 at Gettysburg.  From his bird’s eye seat, Kight witnessed the collapse of Pickett’s Division and consequently Lee’s Army during the climax of the battle.  The husband of Delilah Riner, Kight died on October 19, 1942 and is buried in the Kite city cemetery. 

Perhaps Georgia’s most well known Confederate veteran and her last one, was William Joshua Bush, a native of Gordon, Wilkinson County, Georgia.  Bush, also a member of the 14th Georgia was there at Gettysburg, as well as the preceding major, horrific battles of Fredericksburg and Chancelorsville.  Bush, who died on November 11, 1952, moved to Fitzgerald, Georgia, which was settled by many Union veterans of he the war.  In a gesture of friendship and forgiveness, Bush invited his friend from Fitzgerald, Henry Brunner, who served in the Union army during the war.

Also said to present at the grand reunion was Richard Johnson of Uvalda, Montgomery County, Algerine Trapnell “Allie” Durden (LEFT) of Stillmore, Emanuel County (born April 11, 1848, died October8, 1940, son of Dennis Durden and Phoebe Dillard, enlisted in the Co. H, 2nd Georgia Militia in Macon, June 1865, discharged in February 1865 in Augusta), and W.H. Veal, of Deepstep, Washington County, Georgia. 

On July 1, “Reunion Day,” Secretary of War Harry Hines Woodring address and assembly of the attending veterans at the stadium of Gettysburg College.  The next day featured a 3-mile-long, 150-minute parade from the stadium at the Emmitsburg Road, through the Lincoln Square.  After a Sunday mornng service on the 3rd day of July, the veterans assembled at “the angle.” along Cemetery Ridge to shake hands across the impenetrable “stone wall.”  That evening nearly a quarter of a million people descended on the grounds of the site of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial.  President Franklin Roosevelt gave a short address to the solemn crowd as the sun set.  The festivities ended on the 4th of July with a demonstration of modern military might, which included fighter and bomber planes and the requisite fire works show. 

Who knows, it may be given to us, after this life, to meet again in the old quarters, to play chess and draughts, to get up soon to answer the morning roll call, to fall in at the tap of the drum for drill and dress parade, and again to hastily don our war gear while the monotonous patter of the long roll summons to battle? Who knows but again the old flags, ragged and torn, snapping in the wind, may face each other and flutter, pursuing and pursued, while the cries of victory fill a summer day? And after the battle, then the slain and wounded will arise, and all will be talking and laughter and cheers, and all will say: Did it not seem real? Was it not as in the old days?   Sgt. Barry Benson, 1st South Carolina Infantry, 1880.  Red River to Appomattox by Shelby Foote. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. p. 1048).