In 1913, the state of Pennsylvania, under Gov. John K. Tener, hosted a soldiers' reunion at Gettysburg to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle.
A great effort was made to contact veterans from both the Union and Confederate forces and invite them, at no cost to themselves, to attend the reunion. Gov. Tener encouraged other states to arrange rail transportation for their veterans to attend, and veterans from 47 of the 48 states were present for the historic gathering.
Among them was John Bullington of Fayette County, who was a color bearer with the 38th Virginia Infantry attached to Armistead’s Brigade of Pickett’s Division.
It was Corp. Bullington who ran at the head of the charge with Armistead, and he, too, fell near the place where Gen. Armistead was killed. The colors were shot from his hands while in the advance, and were not retaken that day.
Injured, John Bullington made his way toward the main body of Lee’s army, and was furloughed to recover from his wounds. Six months later, he was back with his regiment and carried the battle flag at Malvern Hill, where he was again wounded.
In 1910, Bullington recalled the events of Pickett’s Charge for the local history book, "Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Fayette County." His remarkable memory brought the events to life, and the stories he recalled coincided with the regimental history of the 38th Virginia Infantry.
Three years after he sat down with the editor and told of his part in this pivotal battle, he traveled to Gettysburg, one of 53,407 veterans, both North and South, to attend.
Termed the largest of all veterans' reunions, the gathering began June 29 and ran through July 6, 1913.
The encampment for the veterans was set up on 280 acres. Each man was assigned to a cot in a tent sleeping eight men, with the tents arranged according to state. More than 5,000 tents were set up for the great camp, and created nearly 48 miles of avenues and company streets.
Hot meals, prepared by 2,170 cooks, were provided from 173 field kitchens. On site were also members of the U.S. Army, with 124 officers and 1,342 enlisted men to make sure things ran smoothly.
The youngest veteran to attend was 61 years old, and the oldest was 112 years young. The United States and Confederate flags flew side by side during the reunion, where 50 years before they had been on opposite sides in the field of battle.
A highlight of the reunion was the Confederate veterans walk on the path of Gen. George Pickett’s charge that was greeted, this time, by a handshake from the Union veterans.
Each of the veterans was presented with a mess kit containing a fork, knife, small and large spoon, tin cup and two plates as a souvenir.
Shortly after his return from the reunion, Bullington was interviewed by the editor of The Vandalia Union. A short article, titled, “A Confederate Hero” was published in the July 10, 1913, edition, and in it the former soldier shared some of his thoughts.
He told that the flag he was carrying on the fateful day of Pickett’s Charge was captured by Federal troops, and was restored to the Virginia regiment from which it was captured under the famous order by President Cleveland. When returned, it was found to be literally riddled with bullets.
He told the writer that he rejoined his unit six months after the Gettysburg battle, and was engaged in the battle at Malvern Hill. There he was shot in the upper leg, the ball lodging under the skin on the inside of his thigh. He cut it out with his pocket knife and kept it, prizing it very highly as a souvenir of the greatest war in all history.
Bullington enlisted under Fitzhugh Lee, and was afterwards transferred to Robert E. Lee’s command, participating in more than 30 battles. He was with Lee at the surrender in Appomattox.
When they weren’t participating in planned public exercises at the reunion, veterans spent their time in Gettysburg reminiscing with friends and getting to know former foes. The picture accompanying this story was taken of John while he shook hands with a veteran from a Pennsylvania unit.