Upon These Steps
Gettysburg Memorial Service
88th Pennsylvania Volunteers Infantry (PVI) Monument at Gettysburg
The monument is located on Oak Ridge facing Forney's Field, where the NC 23rd Regiment, a part of Iverson's Brigade, was advancing on the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863. Company G of the regiment was known as the Granville Rifles, which was organized in present day Vance County NC.
Men of the 88th PVI defended the advance and captured the battle flag of the NC 23rd Regiment. Only 53 Rebels out of the regiment's 336 survived the battle.
On November 15, 2014, author David C. Reavis, a descendant of the NC 23rd Regiment, was invited by the "Descendants of the 88th PVI" to speak at their memorial service held at the monument.
Remarks of David C. Reavis, a descendant of the NC 23rd Regiment
Memorial Service held at Gettysburg by Descendants of the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers Infantry
November 15, 2014
Thank you greatly for allowing me to speak today, representing descendants of the NC 23rd Regiment. It is an honor indeed to have been invited by your organization to speak at this memorial service being held on such hallowed grounds. As you can tell by my accent, I truly am from the South.
Seven score and eleven years ago, our respective ancestors, men and boys of the 88th PA Volunteers Infantry, and men and boys of the NC 23rd Infantry Regiment, met on the very ground we are standing today. They all had responded to the call of duty to fight for the country they found themselves a part in July of 1863. The two sides met as foes, with the belief that the cause for which each was fighting was worth putting down their life. Each side claimed they were fighting for liberty as they understood it, and were each convinced they were doing the right thing. They faced off against each other here at Oak Ridge as enemies. Some met their Maker that day, and some survived, but only to meet their Maker at a later time. In the end, regardless of the side fought for, all met their Maker, just like we all will one day. This is our common fate.
What would our ancestors think if they could have looked into the future to see the descendants of both sides standing here today, on the very ground that many of them shed their blood?
What would they have us remember about them?
Would they be pleased that those of us standing here today are living together peacefully, as brothers and sisters? I believe they would.
Would they be thankful that we care for their monuments and grave sites, if we knew where they are buried? And for those whose grave sites are only known by their Maker, would they be pleased that we stand here today honoring their lives and service to devotion anyway? How many tombstones have we ever seen that had the inscription, “Gone but not forgotten,” and wonder to ourselves, “Forgotten by whom?” May we seek out those brave and noble men and not let their lives and for what they fought be forgotten.
It is only fitting that we, descendants of the men who fought each other, remember who they were and what they did. Less than a thousand of the PA 88th, and 336 of the NC 23rd were among those who squared off that day. From where we stand today, we can see the place now known as Iverson’s Pit.
It was in that pit that First Sergeant Edward L. Gilligan of the 88th PVI fought hand-hand to secure the capture of the NC 23rd's battle flag, and for this deed was later awarded the Medal of Honor. The Union veterans kept the flag as a trophy, until the year 1905, when the Union veterans saw fit to return the flag to the State of North Carolina, where it hangs today in the State Museum of History.
It was also in that pit we are now overlooking, that Confederate Private James Rial Stewart of Kittrell NC fought hand-to-hand defending his regiment’s flag, but unfortunately lost his life. He lay on the field for five hours after being shot before he died. Private Stewart was later “posthumously awarded the Badge of Honor for gallantry in battle.” According to a family letter written home, he was buried somewhere on these grounds in an unmarked grave. Today, we remember men like him, on both sides, who never returned home to their love ones.
Nor do we forget men like my own ancestors who fought in that pit. Private Sam Reavis was one of only 53 men of the NC 23rd to survive that day. Corporal James T. Stone of Kittrell, NC, who later married my great-grandmother, was one of many who were wounded and taken as prisoner. These two men slept in the same house I grew up in. Today, I walk on the same battlefield that they fought.
Many men never returned home. Many would come home, missing arms or legs and half blinded by the flash of burning gun powder. In many cases, the impact of the war lasted for generations. Major Charles Blacknall of the NC 23rd was severely wounded in Iverson’s Pit, and later died at Winchester. Major Blacknall’s son, Oscar, was ten years old when the Battle of Gettysburg took place. Oscar was never able to forgive the North for his father’s death. At the age of 65, in his hometown of Kittrell, mental illness had taken its toll. In July 1918, 54 years after Gettysburg, Oscar calmly shot his wife Carrie at the dinner table, shot his daughter Kate in the backyard, after she ran out of the house, and then he killed himself. Our ancestors who fought here would not have wanted such bitterness to continue after the war ended. Casualties of war extend beyond the battlefields. These are lessons that should be learned.
Like my wife and I, you are here today because we feel it would greatly please our ancestors to know that we remember and honor them. It would please them to know that we appreciate the dedication to the causes for which they fought and held so dear.
On this occasion it is also fitting that we should remember the words of Edmund Burke, a political philosopher:
"Society is an open ended partnership between generations. The dead and the unborn are as much members of society as the living. To dishonor the dead is to reject the relation on which society is built - the relation of obligation between generations. Those who have lost respect for the dead have ceased to be trustees of their inheritance.”
Today, whenever I attend a meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, we salute the Confederate Flag, but only after pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I believe our ancestors who fought here in 1863 would be proud to know that their descendants are meeting here today, 151 years later, united as citizens of this great county, but remembering our respective heritage. It is up to us to continue the spirit that eventually engulfed the nation, “with malice toward none and charity towards all.”
So while future generations may not remember the words we speak here today, may they never forget the men who fought here in 1863.
Marker for Iverson's Pit
Marker is located on Oak Ridge, 70 to 80 yards north of the PVI Monument.
The Federals cut loose with their first volley. Startled, Private Sam Reavis looked up quickly. What appeared to be coming toward him in slow motion from behind the wall was a sheet of flames and smoke. Right off the bat, nearly five-hundred exposed Rebels dropped in an even, seemingly endless row. The large number of men hit was due to the accuracy of the musket rifles at such close range. Sam heard bullets whizzing by his head as he saw the two soldiers on each side of him get hit and fall. There being nothing to take cover behind, Sam immediately dropped to the ground. The only thing he had to hug was the ground. Twenty yards ahead he saw a muddy swell in the field that looked as it could possibly provide some type of cover. The field reminded him of a tobacco field back home that had a muddy spot where water always stood after a big rain.
Colonel Christie was already in the swell and hollered “This way men! This way!” Sam began crawling for all he was worth. He soon realized that what he initially thought was red mud he was crawling through was actually blood from his fallen comrades.
The row of dead men provided him his only cover as he crawled. Even though it took nearly two minutes to reach the sunken spot, it seemed like a lifetime. Several childhood memories went through Sam's head as he squirmed his way forward. During the crawl he recollected the many prayers of protection his Mama had prayed over him. He stopped crawling only momentarily to cover his head when he heard a loud cannon boom. Upon looking up, he saw a jack rabbit hopping before him, as if guiding him to his destination.
For nearly an hour, unable to advance and unwilling to retreat, the surviving members of the brigade lay in the hollow. They fought the best they could, being exposed to a steady barrage of fire. Sam knew what was coming next when he heard a Yankee Officer on the other side of the wall yell, “Charge and give them steel!” Upon seeing the Rebels trapped, Yankee regiments from Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts came charging over the wall with fixed bayonets. During this bayonet charge, a Yankee clubbed the Confederate color bearer over the head and captured the prized flag of the Twenty-Third as a trophy.
At this point, a number of Confederates were captured as well, including two soldiers from Kittrell - James T. Stone and James Rial Stewart. Amid the commotion, Jonathan Fuller Coghill, also of Kittrell, grabbed Sam Reavis by the arm and said, "Follow me and do exactly as I do." Jonathan, a trained sharpshooter, began to walk slowly and nonchalantly toward the rear away from the fighting. Sam did as he was instructed and followed. Surprisingly, the two men walked off the battlefield without being noticed.
Sam and Jonathan contributed their ability to escape partly to a diversion created by Rial Stewart. Rial had put up an amazing hand-to-hand fight that drew the attention of the astonished Yankees. Rial was finally overpowered and taken prisoner. While being taken off the field on the opposite side, Rial was shot when another line of battle came up from behind and shot into the group...... Rial lived for nearly five hours after being shot. The bullet that struck him went in the right side and came out the left side........ Rial's last words were, "I now wait for that last trumpet call."
(Excerpts from the chapter on Gettysburg in "Upon These Steps.")
View of Iverson's Pit looking from the stone wall located on Oak Ridge.
The first row of corn in the cornfield (not there in 1863) represents where the first 500 Confederates would have fallen during the first volley.
The Descendants of the 88th PVI have invited David Reavis to come back again next year, but this time, "Bring reinforcements!"
The author will be recruiting descendants of the NC 23rd to join him next year.