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Three 19th-Century Tourist Guides to Civil War Battlefields

Posted on 10/17/2016

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Among the newly digitized works from the American Antiquarian Society in The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922 are travel guides for tourists visiting the Gettysburg and Petersburg battlefields after the Civil War.

Danner's Pocket Guide Book with History of the Battle of Gettysburg (1884)

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This promotional pamphlet encourages visits to the iconic battlefield. In addition to an account of the battle, it includes illustrations, anecdotes, and advertisements, especially for accommodations. The City Hotel, which details its best features and services, boasts of having “Toilet rooms on first and second floors” and “Electric light and bells.” Additionally, it advertises:

Battlefield a specialty. Dinner with drive over the Battlefield with for (sic) or more, $1.35 each. Field Glasses go with every team. Six Battlefield Guides connected with Hotel.


Another advertiser is W.H. Tipton, “Battlefield Photographer,” who writes, “I have been constantly on the field since July, 1863.”

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Among the anecdotes is an account of the only civilian killed during the clash of armies, Jennie Wade.

The only citizen killed at the battle of Gettysburg was a young lady, Miss Jennie Wade, whose life was cut off by a Confederate ball while she was attending to her household duties. The house in which she was killed still stands on Baltimore street but a short distance from the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Her body was buried in the garden and afterwards in Evergreen Cemetery.

A reecnt (sic) writer has truly said: “Everyone has read of the sweet and comely Jennie Wade, who was the only woman killed at Gettysburg. It is not so well known that she was engaged to, and corresponded with Corporal Skelly, from whom Gettysburg G.A.R. Post, No. 9, is named. He fell at Winchester; was it not poetic justice, if not unkind fate, which led that stray bullet to snap the golden cord, ‘ere her lover’s death had broken her heart?”

Such affecting stories are interspersed with more advertisements, some of which are not directly connected to the business of tour guides. An example is the Bloch Brothers promotion of “Chew and Smoke Mail Pouch Tobacco” which is claimed to be “Pure, Harmless, Satisfying.” Further, it is alleged to be “Nicotine Neutralized” and “Anti-Nervous” and “Anti-Dyspeptic.”

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Another anecdote concerns “The Humiston Children”:

After the close of the battle, on Stratton street, was found the corpse of a Federal Soldier. Tightly grasped in his hand was an ambrotype likeness of three children, and on them his last gaze had been fastened as his soul had departed to his God. The ambrotype was photographed and widely circulated. A copy reached Cattaraugus County, N.Y., was recognized as the children of Orderly Sergeant Humiston, of the 154th New York Regiment, Costar’s Brigade. The children were brought to the Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home of Gettysburg and educated, the mother for a time being the Matron of the institution.

These anecdotes serve to personalize the enormity of the slaughter which marks this seminal battle. The imprint provides the numbers of dead, injured, and captive soldiers from both sides. The illustrations include depictions of the dead and dying. It may have been necessary for the tourists to understand the scope of this epic history of death, sacrifice, and suffering by learning about the stories of individuals whose lives were profoundly affected by the battle. One last account of such is entitled “The Hero of Gettysburg.”

At the commencement of the battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, John L. Burns, then past 70 years of age, and a citizen of the place, inspired by the spirit of true patriotism, shouldered his trusty flint-lock rifle and went out to meet the enemy, who were then advancing toward Gettysburg, and within a short distance of the town. Entering the ranks of the Seventh Wisconsin regiment, he fought with unflinching bravery.

In the early part of the engagement he was wounded twice, and although suffering greatly from his wounds he faltered not, but pressed on, taking an active part until 4 o’clock p.m. when he fell badly wounded in the ankle. Soon after his fall the loyal army retreated, leaving him upon the field in the enemy’s line, where he remained until the following morning.

John Burns was for many years the Borough Constable of Gettysburg, and was very strong willed and positive. He died February 4, 1872, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

In his official report General Doubleday says: “My thanks are especially due to a citizen of Gettysburg, named John Burns, who although over seventy years of age shouldered his musket and offered his services to Colonel Wister, 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Colonel Wister advised him to fight in the woods, as there was more shelter there; but he preferred to join our line of skirmishes in the open field. When our troops retired he fought with the Iron Brigade.”


The Gettysburg Knapsack: A Souvenir of Useful Information for Veterans, Patriots, Tourists, and the Great Army of Generous Youth, in Whose Souls the Stirring Reminiscences of the Battle of Gettysburg Find a Place (1897)

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This pamphlet was published thirteen years after the guide book described above. This one describes some of the enhancements to the battlefield that had been instituted by the United States Battlefield Commission:

A United States Battlefield Commission has been appointed (3 members), under whose supervision there has been opened up magnificent Telford avenues along the Federal and Confederate battle lines; they are also marking (with Bronze Tablets) the position of every corps, division, brigade, regiment and battery in the Confederate Army, so that it is now possible for the tourist to visit the locations of the troops of both armies (via carriage with guide) and to intelligently examine and understand them. Five iron and steel observatories (60 and 75 feet high) have been erected upon different parts of the field and from them the entire battlefield can be seen; the eye can sweep over a landscape of magnificent scope and grandeur. To one alive to the beauties of nature these views alone are sufficient to stir the mind and heart with sublime and inspiring thoughts. What then will be the feelings of those who can in imagination roll back the veil of years, and, standing on these towers, catch the inspiration of the past and in the march of mind rehearse the evolutions of that great struggle whose stage is so grandly spread before them.

It is clear that there was a lively commercial interest in the battlefield and that providing guided tours was first among them.

Luther W. Minnigh, the author of this pamphlet, was intimately connected to the battlefield all of his life. He populates this pamphlet with quoted words of praise, including one from the Army and Naval Journal:

Those who have occasion to visit the battlefield of Gettysburg should secure the services of Luther W. Minnigh, the battlefield guide and lecturer and author of “Gettysburg – What They Did Here.” Mr. Minnigh was born on the ground covered by the battlefield, was brought up and educated at Gettysburg, traversed the grounds daily for weeks after the battle, has devoted years to a study of the engagements, and is a thorough master of the whole subject. His descriptions of it are vivid and eloquent and free from the mannerisms of the ordinary guide. His study of the field has been supplemented by information received from numerous heroes of the great battle, whom he has accompanied in their visits to the scene of their exploits.

The pamphlet is plentifully interspersed with advertisements, particularly for services and products related to the historic site. Commemorative spoons seem to have been popular.

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The rest of the text includes pages of statistics, descriptions, and quotes including Lincoln’s address. One section lists all of the sculptures and the names of the sculptors. The names of the dead, both Union and Confederate are listed, and places of interest are mentioned. Finally, Minnigh provides pages of testimonials for his services:

Precise in detail, dramatic and impressive in manner. – Hartford (Ct.) Daily Times

Minutely exact, wonderfully graphic. – Owego (N.Y.) Record

Magnificent word painting, gives a graphic and vivid description. – Reading (Pa.) Eagle

Mr. Minnigh’s descriptions of the three days battle were so vivid that it would have taken but a slight stretch of the imagination to believe that the terrible combat which occurred on those July days of 1863, was again being bitterly waged. Mr. Minnigh’s supply of anecdotes and incidents, gathered personally from those that figured in the fight, seemed inexhaustible, and a few hours spent with him at the various important points of the battleground were more instructive than the careful reading of many volumes which have been written about this important battle. – Philadelphia Times


A Guide to the Fortifications and Battlefields around Petersburg: with a Splendid Map, from Actual Surveys Made by the U.S. Engineer Department Prepared and Published as a Hand-book, by the Proprietor of Jarratt's Hotel (1869)

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For almost a year before the end of the war the two armies engaged in a deadly combat around Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. The prolonged siege was marked by trench warfare, the Union Army tunneling under a Confederate fort and setting off explosives which killed hundreds of men and left a crater which became one of the attractions for “pleasure seekers” after the war, and many bloody engagements. By 1869 a brisk tourism business had developed attracting the curious from near and far. This imprint is an example of the promotion of this new business.

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One of the first pages of this promotional guide book from Jarratt’s Hotel in Petersburg, Virginia, is an advertisement for the hotel’s stables announcing the provision of battlefield tours:

Ready at all times to carry pleasure seekers and invalids to the battlefields around Petersburg, In two hours and a half....

The bloodiest battles of the late war were fought in the vicinity of Petersburg, and all lovers of pleasure should visit the grounds.

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The anonymous author lays out the purpose of the hand-book:

The following statement of interesting events which transpired before Petersburg from the 15th of June, 1864, to the 3rd of April, 1865, is intended to accompany and explain the “Sketch of the Entrenched Lines” immediately in front of that city, for the information of the many visitors who, for years to come, will visit the ground made historical by the “brave deeds of brave men.” The account will be necessarily brief, its object being to guide the reader along the continuous lines of earthworks of the two contending armies – to enumerate some of the chief points of interest, and, in a condensed form, follow the different steps taken to force the evacuation of the city.

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And while the author evinces a natural sympathy for his fellow southerners, he also praises certain qualities and endeavors of the Union troops. He describes the Poplar Grove Church which had been designed and constructed by the 50th N.Y. Volunteer Engineers and which he describes as “the beautiful rustic structure referred to, and devoting the same to worship of the Great God of Battles.”

The Regiment, upon moving away from the camp to take part in the pursuit of Lee’s Army, left a wooden tablet over the main entrance to the church, with these words inscribed upon it: “Presented to the Trustees of the Poplar Spring Church [a nearby established congregation] by the 50th Regiment New York Volunteer Engineers.” It has been proposed to move the edifice to the Central Park of New York City, as one of the mementoes of the war, and certainly no more interesting and striking feature could be added to the already many beautiful adornments that embellish those tasteful and admirably designed grounds.

This brief account of the events in the last year of the war concludes with Lee’s General Orders from Appomattox on April 9, 1865, wherein he states:

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources…

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a faithful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you all an AFFECTIONATE FAREWELL


An Appendix includes an essay titled “Suffering of Prisoners – Who is Responsible?” which firmly answers its question. It was the North’s intransigence which was responsible for the suffering of Union troops in southern prisons. There follows a poem titled “The Siege of Petersburg” which also savages the Union for the fate of the prisoners of war and concludes:

A down time’s steepest path,

Their names with scorn will go,

The objects of a Nation’s wrath –

Those ministers of woe!

They killed fifteen thousand men,

Who perished in that prison pen!

One curious advertisement at the back of the brochure is from a real estate agent written under the title “Virginia and Palestine.” It boasts of the “Well Improved and Fertile Lands, with a climate equaling Palestine, with productions more varied than in all of India” and which can be had for a price “from Four to Twenty Dollars per acre, which, all things considered, is cheaper by far than in the west.”

The south wants you, and you want the promised land. Surely it cannot require much courage for northern farmers to emigrate to such a climate, country and people.


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