To the Beat of His Own Drum - The 1913 Journey of Peter Guibert
As the United States transitioned into the 20th century, the memory of its own Civil War became more and more distant with the thinning ranks of the Blue and the Gray. In 1913, fifty years following the fight at Gettysburg, it was decided that the veterans of both sides would meet on the very battlefield where the "High Tide of the Confederacy" was turned. On January 5, 1909, four years before the anniversary, Governor Edwin S. Stuart addressed the Pennsylvania General Assembly regarding the grand reunion:
"We are approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the most decisive battle of the war for the suppression of the Rebellion, fought on Pennsylvania soil, at Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863. The Commanding General of the Union forces was a distinguished Pennsylvanian, and on that memorable field thousands of Pennsylvania's sons won imperishable fame. Of Pennsylvania commands, there were engaged, or present on the field, sixty-nine regiments of infantry, ten regiments of cavalry, and seven batteries of artillery. Many of the men of these commands are still living, and many will be living on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle, and it would be entirely in keeping with the patriotic spirit of the people of the Commonwealth to properly recognize and fittingly observe this anniversary. Other states, both north and south, who's sons fought at Gettysburg, will surely cooperate in making the occasion one that will stand foremost in the martial history of the world."
By April 1913, invitations to the approaching commemoration would be en route to Civil War veterans across the nation. Among the recipients was a 70 year old French immigrant named Peter Guibert. A wartime resident of Allegheny City, Guibert had enlisted in the 74th Pennsylvania Infantry Company F, and served as a drummer in such engagements as Cross Keys, 2nd Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Sulphur Springs, and Gettysburg. Shortly before the close of the war, the young soldier served briefly with the 77th Pennsylvania Infantry, who he would ultimately muster out with at their expiration of service.
With the end of hostilities, however, Guibert didn't set his drum aside. In fact, in the post-war period, the seasoned veteran focused on honing his craft by continuous practice and taking on more non traditional productions. In a May 1913 interview printed in the Altoona Times, Guibert discussed the role music played in his life since the war's end:
"I've traveled considerably since the war, in shows and circuses, always playing in the bands, and have found it a great life, full of action, and sometimes nearly as bad as fighting... but of latter years, especially since the old soldiers began gathering together on two or three occasions and since (Soldiers and Sailors) Memorial Hall was built, I have played several times there. My comrades in the Union Veteran Legion and the Abe Patterson Post all like music and I try to please them whenever it is possible. I don't think I will play any more out of town."
When the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg Commission went through the final stages of planning the 1913 reunion, they decided to offer veterans in the Keystone state free transportation to the event. Although Guibert lived within close commuting distance of the train station in Pittsburgh's North Side, he chose an alternative mode of travel - walking.
With the announcement of the anniversary observance, Guibert hatched a plan to march approximately 200 miles to Gettysburg with his drum and a few other instruments. Accompanying Guibert on this journey would be 62 year old John Conroy, a US Army veteran of the 1870s Indian Wars. The two veterans prepared to step off toward Gettysburg on May 26, and arrive just in time to rest and participate in the anniversary celebration.
On the morning of May 26, 1913, both Guibert and Conroy departed Pittsburgh's North Side from the old Allegheny City Hall - meeting place of Abe Patterson G.A.R. Post 88. Over the next several weeks they would travel through the heart of Pennsylvania, playing at various venues for a variety of crowds along the way.
The exact route of the duo's journey is uncertain, however, many of the stops along the way, which included Chambersburg, Carlisle, and Cashtown, followed the general direction of Lincoln Highway, or modern Route 30. They would reach their final destination on Friday June 13, with plenty of time to spare before the coming observance. From mid-June until early July, the two men would make the Gettysburg City Hotel their temporary home. The memories and friendships forged in the weeks surrounding the 50th anniversary of the battle would leave an everlasting impression on the veterans.
In the years following the 20th century's largest gathering of Civil War veterans, the accomplished musician not only treasured the shared experience, but also the instrument which had accompanied him through peace and war. His drum, which had just as many miles on it as Guibert himself, became a family heirloom - to be passed on through several generations and future anniversaries.