The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913

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John Hopkins
Pub Date:
Oct. 2023
Illus., notes, biblio., index. HC, d.j. 216pp.

"In 'The World Will Never See the Like,' first-time author John Hopkins offers
a compelling, poignant and sometimes heartbreaking account of the biggest gathering
of the Blue and Gray since the Civil War."  -- Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2024

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About the book

It was front-page news throughout the country—the largest gathering of Union and Confederate veterans ever held. “[It] will be talked about and written about as long as the American people boast of the dauntless courage of Gettysburg,” declared a woman who accompanied her father to the reunion. But as the years passed, the memorable event was all but forgotten. John Hopkins’s The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913 goes a long way toward making sure the world will remember.

The 1913 Gettysburg reunion is a story of 53,000 old comrades and former foes reunited, and of the tension, even half a century later, between competing narratives of reconciliation and remembrance. For seven days the old soldiers lived under canvas in the stifling heat on a 280-acre encampment run by the U.S. Army. They swapped stories, debated still-simmering controversies about the battle, and fed tall tales to gullible reporters. On July 3, the aging survivors of Pickett’s Division and the Philadelphia Brigade shook hands across the wall on Cemetery Ridge, in the reunion’s climactic photo op.

Some of the battle’s leading personalities were in attendance including Union III Corps commander Dan Sickles, who at 92 was still eager to explain to anyone who would listen the indispensable role he had played in the Union victory. Also present was Helen Dortch Longstreet, the widow of Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, who devoted her life and considerable energies to defending the reputation of her general. Both wrote articles from the reunion that were syndicated in newspapers across the country. There was even a cameo appearance by a young and as yet unknown cavalry officer named George S. Patton Jr.

Hopkins fills his marvelous account with detail from the letters, diaries, and published accounts of Union and Confederate veterans, the extensive archival records of the reunion’s organizers, and the daily stories filed by the scores of reporters who covered it. The World Will Never See the Like offers the first full story of this extraordinary event’s genesis and planning, the obstacles overcome on the way to making it a reality, its place in the larger narrative of sectional reunion and reconciliation, and the individual stories of the veterans who attended. Every reader interested in Gettysburg will find this a welcome addition to their library.


Advance Praise


“Gettysburg National Military Park has been a place of reflection, study, and contemplation for millions of visitors over the years. For thousands of Civil War veterans who attended the 1913 reunion, the battlefield was a place for personal remembrance, recollection of lost comrades, and reconciliation with former foes. That personal connection with the battle shaped their experiences during the reunion. In this groundbreaking study, author John L. Hopkins deftly examines the reunion through the lens of the veterans within the context of society, politics, and the national mood at the time.” — Scott L. Mingus Sr., author of Flames Beyond Gettysburg and co-author of If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania, Vols. 1 and 2


“Too many historians end the Gettysburg story with the departures of the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia from the battlefield. In reality, the participants continued to refight and reshape the battle at reunions and gatherings for as long as they lived. In The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913, author John Hopkins tells the full story of the Civil War’s greatest reunion. Hopkins covers all aspects of the event: the difficulties, the memories, and even the comedy. Whether the reader is interested in the challenges of organizing the massive event, views it through the rose-colored glasses of reunion and reconciliation, or revisits the final battlefield journeys of aged veterans such as General Daniel E. Sickles, this book will fill an essential niche in any Gettysburg enthusiast’s library. — James A. Hessler, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide, author of Sickles at Gettysburg (2009), and co-host of The Battle of Gettysburg Podcast


“Like many of us who find the history of the post-war Gettysburg battlefield a deeply compelling subject, John L. Hopkins had his curiosity piqued when he read a short description of the 1913 celebration attending the 50th Anniversary of the battle. Thank goodness. After he discovered that no book-length treatment covered the epic event, he determined to research and write his own. The results, The World Will Never See the Like: The Gettysburg Reunion of 1913, is a tour-de-force. His four decades in public relations has honed his considerable writing skills, but he matches his graceful writing with deep research and an obvious love for his subject. We follow in great detail the almost amusing political machinations that nearly doomed the project, the massive infrastructure project needed to build the camp, and the arrival and subsequent adventures of the tens of thousands of aging veterans who showed up for the event. Hopkins also delves into some of the event’s controversies like the flying of the Confederate battle flag and the chimeric presence of African-American veterans. He also places the celebration and its partial emphasis on the South’s Lost Cause justification for the Civil War in the context of its times, whose echoes reverberate with particular acuity today.

You should be warned. You will learn nothing new about the battle of Gettysburg. That said, be assured you will learn much about the meaning of Gettysburg at a crucial time in American history. With the old soldiers dying off in increasing numbers and centers of political power quickly moving away from the veteran organizations, these graying men and women who fought the war gathered in grand numbers one last time to remind themselves and their fellow countrymen that what they did at Gettysburg—and thousands of other battlefields across the nation—can never be forgotten.” — Pat Brennan, co-author of Gettysburg in Color Vols. 1 and 2

“Hopkins's study of the reunion is enhanced by many images and by a bibliography for readers wishing to explore the subject further. The book is valuable for itself and for provoking thought about the continued need for both reconciliation and justice in America in our troubled, polarized times.” - Midwest Book Review


John L. Hopkins is a communication and public relations professional with more than three decades of experience in strategic communication planning, issues management, media relations, crisis communication, news and feature writing, and team building in higher education, nonprofit, and agency settings. He was born and raised in New York City, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Williams College, and was transplanted to the Midwest in the mid-90s. John and his wife, Apple, have three grown daughters. This is his first book.