Col. John Badger Bachelder and The Gettysburg Cannon

The cannon in the collection of the Hyde Park Historical Society that sits in Weld Hall of the Hyde Park Public Library, was presented to Col. John Badger Bachelder in recognition of his work documenting the Battle of Gettysburg. The Norfolk County Gazette on Dec. 11, 1886 stated: “The citizens of Gettysburg hold our fellow townsman, Col. John B. Bachelder, in kindly remembrance on account of his services in preserving the history of the great battle.”

Col. John Badger Bachelder, the official historian of the Battle of Gettysburg, resided in Hyde Park from around 1880, until his death in December of 1894. Before coming to Hyde Park, he, and his wife Elizabeth, lived in Chelsea where their only child, Charlotte, had died of Typhoid Fever, at age 13 in June 1874.  Col. Bachelder was a founding member of the Hyde Park Historical Society when it was formed in March, 1887, and served as its Vice President.

John Badger Bachelder was born September 29, 1825 in Gilmanton, N.H. He was educated at Captain Alden Partridge’s Military School in Pembroke, N.H. and at Gilmanton Academy. After he left Gilmanton, he taught at the Hale District School in Barrington, NH.

Bachelder may have lived for a while in Boston, around 1847, before he went on to teach in Reading, PA at the Pennsylvania Military Institute, where he became principal in 1851. He became involved with the Pennsylvania state militia and was appointed a colonel in 1852, a title that he carried for the rest of his life.

In 1853 Bachelder returned to New Hampshire, where he married Elizabeth Barber Stevens, and began his career as an artist. Elizabeth had been a student of his in Barrington.

In the late 1860s they were photographed together at the Gettysburg Battlefield.

As we can see in this picture, he was a very imposing character. He was about 6’3” or 6”4”, which was exceptional for the period.

From 1854 to 1856 he maintained a studio in Manchester, NH. He painted scenes in New Hampshire such as a Landscape showing The Old Man of the Mountain.

He also sketched city scapes; wide angle, three dimensional birds-eye views of communities around New England, like this one of Salem, MA.

At that stage of his career he had established working relationships with publishers of engravings, in both Boston and New York. He executed a series of cityscapes that were reproduced for sale as lithographs.

When they moved to Hyde Park around 1880, John and Bessie lived in a large stone house at the corner of Gordon Ave. and Austin Street.

The footprint of the house is shown in a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map in Society’s archives.

The house is no longer there, but the stone wall and gate posts remain.

The house was built, in 1854 and 1855, for the Rev. Henry Lyman, who, as a founder of the Hyde Park Land Company, was responsible for giving the name “Hyde Park” to the community.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, in order to record the history of the major battles, Col. Bachelder planned to accompany the Army of the Potomac. This might have been arranged through Gen. Benjamin Butler, who was the uncle of Elizabeth Bachelder.

Bachelder witnessed many of the eastern battles of the war, following along with his sketch pad and note book. After the Battle of Gettysburg, which ran from July 1st through 3rd, 1863, he created an isometric map of the battlefield.

This was a three dimensional rendering of the area. He visited field hospitals, interviewed wounded soldiers of both armies, and determined the position on his map of every unit engaged in the battle. During visits to the Army’s winter quarters, he interviewed the commanders of every regiment and battery in the Army of the Potomac. He went on to organize reunions on the field of veterans who identified exact locations of their units.

In the fall of 1863, he published a panoramic view of Gettysburg.

He commissioned qualified professional artists to render full color maps from his drawings of the battlefield.

In 1870, under Bachelder’s direction, James Walker executed “The Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault at the Battle of Gettysburg,” a massive work that measured 7.5 by 20 feet. Bachelder wrote an accompanying guidebook and toured widely with the canvas, lecturing across the United States.Lithograph copies of the work were made available by subscription.

Another work of art that was created from Bachelder’s planning was “The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln.”

On April 15, 1865, the day that Lincoln died, Bachelder travelled to Washington, D.C. in an effort to capture the last hours of the President’s life. He gathered all those who had been with Lincoln in his last hours, to pose for photographer Mathew Brady. Artist Alonzo Chappel created this painting from Brady’s photograph.

In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed into law a bill that provided $50,000 to Bachelder to write a detailed history of the battle of Gettysburg.

From 1883 to 1887, Col. Bachelder was the Superintendent of Tablets and Legends for the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, and was responsible for the placement of monuments and battlefield markers, both Union and Confederate.
In 1892, a monument designed by Bachelder, titled “The High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, was dedicated to mark the furthermost advance of the Confederate Army.

Col. John B. Bachelder and his wife Elizabeth lived for many years in their comfortable home at Gordon Ave. and Austin Street. A walk of two short blocks would get him to the train that would set him on a journey back to Gettysburg or to a lecture engagement anywhere around the country.

Bachelder stayed active with the Hyde Park Historical Society throughout his long residence in the town. Upon his death in 1894, the Society noted his passing in a Memorium in the Historical Record.

He was buried in his wife’s Stevens family cemetery, in Nottingham, New Hampshire. Elizabeth lived on in Hyde Park until her death in 1914.

That concludes the story of the Bachelders in Hyde Park. But the Colonel’s commemorations of the Battle of Gettysburg live on.

by Tom Sullivan