Just two handshakes. That’s all that separates today’s Scouts from the Civil War.
In other words, a young person could, in 2022, shake the hands of a person who has shaken the hands of someone who was alive during the Civil War.
Realizations like that can bring the Civil War to life, taking this chapter of American history out of static textbooks and grainy photographs and into stark reality.
But for a few hundred Scouts in July 1938, the Civil War was more than a lesson in history class.
That month, exactly 75 years after the Battle of Gettysburg, 500 to 600 Scouts gathered in Pennsylvania to camp, meet Civil War veterans and commemorate the bloodiest battle of the war.
To help bring that gathering to life, the Adams County Historical Society in Gettysburg, Pa., used technology from MyHeritage to colorize a photo from the event.
Andrew Dalton, executive director of the historical society, confirmed the photo’s provenance and agreed to let Bryan on Scouting use it here.
Scouts serve Civil War veterans
The image depicts Union veterans of the Civil War speaking to a group of Scouts at the gathering.
The young men are wearing special blue and gray neckerchiefs presented to Scouts who served at the event.
About 200 older Scouts worked with the U.S. Department of War (dissolved in 1947) to respond to medical and other emergencies. Another 300 to 400 camped and performed other tasks as needed.
They were “well uniformed, alert and efficient,” Scouting magazine wrote in its September 1938 edition.
This included serving as aides and orderlies, helping veterans in wheelchairs move around the site, guiding visitors at information booths, running errands, and rendering “those small services that mean so much to the comfort and happiness of a group of old people,” Scouting magazine wrote.
The 75th and 50th anniversaries
Scouts didn’t just serve others at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. They were just as involved at the 50th anniversary, also called the Veterans’ Encampment because of the 50,000 Civil War veterans who gathered there.
In 1913, when the BSA was just three years old, hundreds of Scouts camped at Gettysburg to manage the crowd and help the American Red Cross render first aid. This was one of the first Good Turns that brought the BSA into national prominence.
“The gigantic crowds could never have been handled so perfectly had it not been for the assistance given by the Boy Scouts,” Boys’ Life magazine wrote in 1913.
The praise wasn’t just from the BSA’s own publications. The July 3, 1913, edition of the Philadelphia Telegraph published this commendation:
It has been a great and invaluable service, for the Boy Scout has been ready and willing to run an errand or do anything else for the convenience and comfort of the now-aged men who risked their lives in the war. And it is a tribute to their own discipline and intelligent care of themselves that with all their exposure and often fatiguing work, not one of the Scouts has been treated in any of the hospitals. It has been a remarkable demonstration of youthful ambition properly directed.
“Youthful ambition properly directed” — a phrase about Scouting that’s still applicable more than a century later.
Learning more about Gettysburg
Dalton, the executive director of the historical society that shared the photo, said he welcomes Scouts or Scout groups who wish to visit Gettysburg and learn more about the battle — and beyond.
In 2023, the Adams County Historical Society will open a new museum in Gettysburg that will tell the full story of Gettysburg through immersive experiences and never-before-seen artifacts.
“It will be a great stop for Scouts to learn more about the history of Gettysburg,” Dalton says.