Staking North Carolina's Claim at Gettysburg: Recalling Commemorative Efforts, 1985-1986
By Michael Hill
In 1985 I was asked to assist with a project to erect a series of monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park. Responsible for initiating the effort was Archie K. Davis of Winston-Salem. He did so on behalf of the North Caroliniana Society, which he served as president. But, his objective had deeper roots. In brief he wished to carry through on the earlier efforts by North Carolina veterans to commemorate their role in the Battle of Gettysburg, and to settle a long-standing argument with Virginians.
Archie Davis was among the most distinguished citizens of the Tar Heel State. Longtime chairman of Wachovia Bank, he is the only person to serve as head of both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Bankers Association. He played a key role in the establishment of Old Salem and of the Research Triangle Park (where Davis Drive is named for him). He played in the Twenty-Sixth Regiment reenactment band based in Winston-Salem. During his term in the state legislature (1959-61), he developed an interest in Henry King Burgwyn, the “Boy Colonel” killed at Gettysburg, and commenced work on a biography of Burgwyn that he submitted in his pursuit of a doctorate at Chapel Hill, a book in time published by UNC Press.
Banker, civic leader, and Civil War scholar Archie K. Davis.
Early in 1985 Mr. Davis proposed to the North Carolina Historical Commission that the state sponsor monuments to the Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Regiment at Gettysburg. He wished to have the state’s endorsement of the project even though he himself footed most of the bill for the memorials. The Commission gave its blessing. The greater hurdle was with the National Park Service (NPS) and the staff at Gettysburg, where the last monument to an individual Confederate regiment had been placed in 1908. Other larger state monuments had followed, among them the North Carolina monument crafted by Gutzon Borglum, widely considered to be the finest on the field, dedicated in 1929.
Mr. Davis had in mind a monument at the point where troops of the Twenty-Sixth, as part of the Pettigrew-Pickett Charge, had pushed to within ten paces of the “Bloody Wall,” the so-called “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” NPS rules dictated that any advanced position monument be a complement to another monument elsewhere on the battlefield. Thus, plans were set in place to dedicate the first monument in the woods on McPherson Ridge, on what is now Meredith Drive just north of Willoughby Run. The position placed it just across the road from the landmark monument to Michigan’s “Iron Brigade.”
Eleftherious Karkadoulias of Cincinnati cast the bronze plaque.
The bronze plaque on the finished monument sits atop a six-ton block of Salisbury pink granite, a stone associated with North Carolina and one that stands out from others used on the Pennsylvania battlefield. A crane delivered the base to the wooded site. I travelled to Gettysburg in July 1985 to witness and document the placement. Prior to our arrival, a concrete base had been constructed. Then the crane delicately lifted the two-part granite base into place. Assisting throughout were Kathy Georg Harrison and her husband, Tom, both affiliated with NPS, and Bob Prosperi, a local guide.
A crane was required to set the base for the monument.
The placement of the granite base came off without a hitch, though barely so. As the six tons were fitted into place, it became apparent that no one had given thought as to how to pull the ropes out from beneath the granite. Mr. Davis conceived the idea of pooling all of our quarters and creating four stacks, one placed at each corner inside the ropes. The banker carefully reimbursed us all for the contribution and the stone came to rest. Today the flattened quarters are still there, invisible behind the caulking between the stones.
Six tons of Salisbury pink granite forms the central base.
Mr. Davis contemplates how to remove the ropes.
Over the course of the three day battle, the Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Regiment saw action on the first and last days, suffering an 86% loss, counting fatalities and injuries. Gen. James J. Pettigrew, in writing to the regiment’s former leader, Governor Zebulon B. Vance, said that they “covered themselves with glory.” The bronze plaque, detailing the service of the regiment, was made by Eleftherious Karkadoulias of Cincinnati.
In the first weekend of October in 1985 the primary Twenty-Sixth monument was dedicated with a grand event. The reenactment band from Winston-Salem was present. Historians John Barrett, Warren Hassler, and Gary Gallagher attended. Three hundred guests from North Carolina took part, including UNC President William Friday and Frank Kenan, Mr. Davis’s lifelong friend and college roommate. Mr. Kenan was so inspired by the events that he subsequently pursued the placement of a similar monument to the Fifty-Third North Carolina Regiment, in which his ancestor had served.
But the October 1985 event was not the end to Mr. Davis’s efforts. He had unfinished business. Working closely with NPS staff, he set plans to erect near the “Bloody Wall” the advanced position monument for the Twenty-Sixth. He worked closely with NPS staff to research and document the site. Key to the documentation was the written testimony of a Rhode Island soldier that members of the Twenty-Sixth had pushed to within ten paces of the wall. That position placed the advanced position monument closer to the wall than the Virginia monument depicting Gen. Lewis Armistead.
Mr. Davis consults with advisors on the site for the advanced position monument.
The week the advanced monument was dedicated in October 1986 the (Raleigh) News and Observer banner headlined on the front page that “N.C. Gets Confederacy’s High-Water Mark at Gettysburg.” The story documented the role that Mr. Davis played in staking the claim for North Carolina. The debate over who went the “farthest at Gettysburg” had peaked around 1900. The claim was one emblazoned on the Confederate monument dedicated at the State Capitol in 1895. The debate has fascinated modern historians, among them Carol Reardon of Penn State, who analyzed the Virginia-North Carolina debate in her book Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory.
The second monument to the 26th NC Regiment is ten paces from the wall.
In return for the assistance lent to him, Mr. Davis responded to an NPS request to help raise funds for the cleaning of the older Confederate monuments. The 1929 Borglum masterpiece had undergone recent renovation but memorials for other states were sorely in need of work. Mr. Davis made phone calls to friends and professional acquaintances and the work was funded in quick order. One call, for example, went to a daughter of Douglas Southall Freeman in Virginia. NPS staff members gave Mr. Davis the tentative go-ahead for the second monument and work proceeded to select a spot. The second monument is considerably smaller that the first, but is made of the same materials, pink granite and bronze.
Twenty-eight years later I am left with many memories of the trips to Gettysburg. I count it as my great fortune to have been introduced to an expert on the subject. Mr. Davis reimbursed the state for the cost of my trips. I left via Piedmont Airlines from Raleigh-Durham and he departed from Piedmont Triad. We met in Baltimore and rented a car. Even in the hot summer, Mr. Davis did not like to use the car’s air conditioning, claiming that it was bad for his health. On return trips he always insisted that we top off the tank to avoid additional rental car charges. To my chagrin, on one outing, the tank overflowed, soaking Mr. Davis with gasoline waist to toe. Without a change of pants, he feared not being permitted on the plane but we made it back intact.
The sesquicentennial of the Civil War is a time to look back and assess the lessons we can take today from an earlier era. The persistence of memory and the dedication of one man to follow through are lessons made evident by this episode in Tar Heel history.
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Michael Hill, an employee of the Office of Archives and History since 1982, is Research Branch Supervisor, administrator of the State Highway Historical Marker Program, and co-editor of the revised edition of the North Carolina Gazetteer.