Off Beat: Guns of Gettysburg echoed across the country

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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While re-enactors and historians will observe Gettysburg's sesquicentennial for the next week, today is the 150th anniversary of a Vancouver link to that Civil War milestone.

Union Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was killed in the opening engagement of the three-day battle.

He was among several Gettysburg generals -- on both sides -- who served here before the war or were posted to Fort Vancouver later in their careers. (It became Vancouver Barracks in 1879.)

Reynolds was an artillery major at Fort Vancouver in 1860. He was named commander of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy before being assigned to a combat role. Reynolds was shot in the head on July 1, 1863 -- the highest-ranking officer on either side to die at Gettysburg.

Union Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard was involved in the same engagement on July 1. He came to Fort Vancouver in 1874 as commander of the Department of the Columbia.

George Pickett came to Fort Vancouver in 1856 during a tour of Northwest posts, including Camp Pickett on San Juan Island, where he took part in what became called the Pig War. The Virginia native left in July 1861 to join the Confederate Army.

On July 3, 1863, his name became part of a turning point of the war: Pickett's Charge. "By the end of the war, his division had been reduced from 9,000 at its peak to 100 soldiers," said Mike Vouri, a National Park Service historian at San Juan Island.

Brig. Gen. John Gibbon commanded a Union division that was in the center of the defensive line facing Pickett's Charge; Gibbon was wounded when a bullet hit him in the left shoulder. In 1884, he came to Vancouver Barracks to command the Department of the Columbia.

U.S. Grant became the most prominent officer who served at Fort Vancouver before the Civil War. He wasn't at Gettysburg, but Grant certainly wasn't idle that week. Confederate forces in Vicksburg, Miss., surrendered to Grant on July 4, 1863, effectively splitting the Confederacy in half -- and putting Grant on the path to commanding the Union army.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.