Chapter 8: the organizations of the veterans
The germ of the ‘G. A.R.’
idea: Union reserves on picket duty
William W. Silkworth, of Long Branch, New Jersey, a veteran who had an opportunity to inspect some of the pictures reproduced in the Photographic History, recognized this group as Company B, 170th Regiment, New York Volunteers. ‘You cannot appreciate or understand fully my amazement and joy in the discovery,’ he wrote to the editors.
‘There right in the front of the picture sits my brother playing cards (You will note that he is left handed.
We laid him away in front of Petersburg). With him is John Vandewater, Geo. Thomas and Wash. Keating.
There is Charlie Thomas and all the rest as true as life.
With the exception of two, I have not seen any of the boys for thirty years.’
It was at such moments as this, when the Federal soldiers played games and chatted and became
acquainted, that the organization was being evolved which has grown into a leading national institution since its formation at Decatur, Illinois, on April 6, 1866.
Between the men who had fought and marched and suffered together, who time out of mind had shared their last crust and saved each others' lives, who had nursed each other and cheered each other on when another step forward seemed to mean certain death, there arose a great love that extended to the widows and orphans of those whose dying words they had heard on the field of battle.
Ever since that time the organization has lent assistance to those reduced to need by the inexorable war. It admits to membership any soldier or sailor of the United States Army, Navy or Marine Corps, who served between April 12, 1861, and April 9, 1865.|
The Grand Army of the Republic
John E. Gilman, Commander-in-Chief, Grand army of the republic
At the close of the Civil War
, there were over a million men in the Union
Nearly two and a half million had served under the Stars and Stripes during the four long years of warfare, of whom three hundred and fifty-nine thousand had died.
It was essential that those still in the service should disband and retire to civilian life.
This was effected after a grand parade of the armies of the Potomac
, the Tennessee
, and of Georgia
, on May 23 and 24, 1865, when one hundred and fifty thousand men marched through the wide avenues of Washington
in review before the President
and the commanding generals
From the glare and glory, the power and prestige of the soldier's career, they went into the obscurity of the peaceful pursuits of American citizenship, and in a few short months the vast armies of the United States
The great war was ended, but it would have been strange indeed if the memories of those years of storm and stress, the sacrifices of those who had fallen, the experiences of the march, the battlefield, and the camp, and the needs of their disabled comrades, and of the widows and the orphans had been forgotten.
Even before the war had ended, organizations of veterans of the Union
armies had begun to be formed.
The first veteran society formed, The Third Army Corps Union, was organized at the headquarters of General D. B. Birney
, commander of the Third Army Corps, at a meeting of the officers of the corps, September 2, 1863.
The main object, at that time, was to secure funds for embalming and sending home for burial the bodies of officers killed in battle or dying in hospitals at the front.
General D. A. Sickles
was its first president.
In April, 1865, the Society of the Army of the Tennessee was formed at Raleigh, North Carolina
, membership being restricted to officers who had served with the old Army of the Tennessee.
The object was declared to be ‘to keep alive that kindly and cordial feeling which has been one of the characteristics of this army during its career in the service.’
was elected president in 1869, and continued to hold the office for many years.
After the war, many other veteran societies were formed, composed not only of officers but of enlisted men of the various armies, corps, and regiments, as well as many naval organizations.
Among them, the Military Order
of the Loyal Legion
of the United States
was the first society formed by officers honorably discharged from the service.
It was first thought of at a meeting of a group of officers who had met the day after the assassination of President Lincoln
for the purpose of passing resolutions on his death.
These resolutions were subsequently adopted, and it was determined to effect a permanent organization.
This was done May 3, 1865, and a constitution and by-laws were, in part, adopted the same month.
The titles of officers, the constitution, and general plan, were, in part, afterward adopted by the Grand Army of the Republic.
The essential difference was that first-class membership of the Loyal Legion
was restricted to officers.
Besides the foregoing organizations of veterans, there were others formed of a political nature, such as the Boys in Blue and other similar societies, and there were held in September, 1866, two political conventions of veterans of the army and navy.
These political soldiers' clubs were the result of the times, for the controversy between Congress and President Johnson
was at its height.
In the East
, after the fall elections of 1866, most of these political clubs of veterans were ready to disband.
The desire for a permanent organization of veterans became strong.
No post of the Grand Army
had been organized east of Ohio
prior to October, 1866.
Posts were started, and inasmuch as eligibility to membership in the Grand Army
was possessed by those who composed the membership of these political clubs, the Boys in Blue and similar clubs formed, in many places, the nucleus of the Grand Army
This fact gave, in good part, a political tinge to the Grand Army
during the first year or two of its existence, and to it was due, chiefly, the severe losses in membership that the order sustained for a short period.
But, eventually, the political character was wholly eradicated, and the order recovered its standing and its losses.
During the winter of 1865-66, Major B. F. Stephenson
, surgeon of the Fourteenth Illinois regiment, discussed with friends the matter of the
formation of an organization of veteran soldiers.
He had, previously, while the war was still continuing, talked over the formation of such an organization with his tent-mate, Chaplain William J. Rutledge
of the same regiment, and both had agreed to undertake the work of starting such a project after the war was ended, if they survived.
At the national encampment in St. Louis
, in 1887, it was stated by Fred. J. Dean
, of Fort Scott, Arkansas
, that in February, 1866, he, with Doctors Hamilton
and George H. Allen
, assisted Doctor Stephenson
in compiling ritualistic work, constitution, and by-laws at Springfield, Illinois
, and these four assumed the obligations of the Grand Army of the Republic at that time.
It is conceded that the initiatory steps to constitute the order were taken in Illinois
, and Doctor Stephenson
's name is the first one connected with the systematic organization of the Grand Army
He and his coworkers were obligated in the work.
Several other veterans joined with them, and a ritual was prepared.
The question of printing this ritual occasioned some anxiety on account of the desire to keep it secret, but this difficulty was solved by having it printed at the office of the Decatur (Illinois) Tribune,
the proprietor of which, together with his compositors, were veterans.
They were accordingly obligated, and the ritual was printed by them.
Captain John S. Phelps
, one of the active associates of Doctor Stephenson
, who had gone to Decatur
to supervise the work of printing the ritual, had met several of his comrades of the Forty-first Illinois and had sought their cooperation.
One of them, Doctor J. W. Routh
, who was acquainted with Doctor Stephenson
, went to Springfield
to consult the latter about organizing, and, with Captain M. F. Kanan
, called upon Doctor Stephenson
They returned to Decatur
to organize a post there, and at once set to work and secured a sufficient number of signatures to an application for a charter.
They returned to Springfield
to present the application in person.
On April 6, 1866, Doctor Stephenson
issued the charter, signing it as department commander of Illinois
, thus creating the first post of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The ritual was revised and a constitution written by a committee from this post, at the suggestion of Doctor Stephenson
The committee reported that the regulations and ritual had been presented to department headquarters and accepted.
The plan of organization consisted of post, district, department, and national organizations, to be known as the Grand Army of the Republic.
The declaration of principles in the constitution, written by Adjutant-General Robert M. Woods
, set forth that the soldiers of the volunteer army of the United States, during the war of 1861-65, actuated by patriotism and combined in fellowship, felt called upon to declare those principles and rules which should guide the patriotic freeman and Christian citizen, and to agree upon plans and laws which should govern them in a united and systematic working method to effect the preservation of the grand results of the war. These results included the preservation of fraternal feelings, the making of these ties advantageous to those in need of assistance, the providing for the support, care, and education of soldiers' orphans, and maintenance of their widows, the protection and assistance of disabled soldiers, and the ‘establishment and defense of the late soldiery of the United States
, morally, socially, and politically, with a view to inculcate a proper appreciation of their services to the country, and to a recognition of such services and claims by the American
To this last section, the national encampment in Philadelphia
, in 1868, added, ‘But this association does not design to make nominations for office or to use its influence as a secret organization for partisan purposes.’
The word ‘sailors’ was added by the Indianapolis encampment.
In May, 1869, the present form of rules and regulations was adopted.
Post No. 2
of the Department of Illinois
was organized at Springfield
, as stated by General Webber
, in April, 1866.
In 1865, in Indiana
, correspondence relating to the continuance of the Army Club
, a society of veterans, had come to the hands of Governor Oliver P. Morton
, of Indiana
He sent General R. S. Foster
, of Indianapolis
, to Springfield
, to examine into Doctor Stephenson
's plan of organization.
met the latter, and was obligated by him. On his return, he obligated a number of his intimate comrades, and these he constituted as a department organization.
The first post of this department was organized at Indianapolis
, on the 22d of August, 1866.
had issued, as department commander, General Orders No. 1
, on April 1, 1866, at Springfield
, in which he announced the following officers: General Jules C. Webber
and chief of staff; Major Robert M. Woods
; Colonel John M. Snyder
; Captain John S. Phelps
, and Captain John A. Lightfoot
, assistant adjutant-general
, on duty at the
On June 26, 1866, a call had been issued for a convention, to be held at Springfield, Illinois
, July 12, 1866.
The convention was held on this date and the Department of Illinois
organized, General John M. Palmer
being elected department commander.
was recognized, however, in the adoption of a resolution which proclaimed him as ‘the head and front of the organization.’
He continued to act as commander-in-chief.
In October, 1866, departments had been formed in Illinois
, and Minnesota
, and posts had been organized in Ohio
, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania
On October 31, 1866, Doctor Stephenson
issued General Orders No. 13
, directing a national convention to be held at Indianapolis
, November 20, 1866, signing this order as commander-in-chief.
In accordance with this order, the First National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic convened at Indianapolis
on the date appointed, and was called to order by Commander-in-Chief Stephenson
A committee on permanent organization was appointed and its report nominating the officers of the convention was adopted, and General John M. Palmer
became the presiding officer of the convention.
The committee on constitution submitted a revised form of the constitution which, with a few amendments, was adopted.
Resolutions were adopted calling the attention of Congress to the laws in regard to bounties, recommending the passage of a law making it obligatory for every citizen to give actual service when called upon in time of war, instead of providing a substitute, and suggesting, for the consideration of those in authority, the bestowal of positions of honor and profit upon worthy and competent soldiers and sailors.
General S. A. Hurlbut
, of Illinois
, was elected commander-in-chief and Doctor Stephenson
The national organization of the Grand Army of the Republic was thus fairly started.
The Second National Encampment was held at Philadelphia
, January 15, 16, and 17, 1868, when General John A. Logan
was elected commander-in-chief.
At the Third National Encampment at Cincinnati
, May 12 and 13, 1869, General Logan
was reelected commander-in-chief.
It appears from Adjutant-General Chipman
's report at this encampment that, at the Philadelphia
encampment in 1868, there were represented twenty-one departments, which claimed a total membership of over two hundred thousand.
But there had been very few records kept, either in departments or at national headquarters, and there seems to have been very little communication between posts and headquarters.
At the Cincinnati
encampment, the adjutant-general reported that the aggregate number of departments was thirty-seven, and that the number of posts, reported and estimated, was 2050.
At the encampment at Cincinnati
, in 1869, the grade system of membership was adopted, establishing three grades of recruit, soldier, and veteran.
This system met with serious opposition and was finally abandoned at the encampment at Boston
, in 1871.
It was claimed that to this system much of the great falling-off in membership was due. It is a fact that, at this period, there had been a large decrease in the numbers in the order, particularly in the West
But the cause of this may be laid to a variety of reasons.
The order, at first, seems to have had a rapid growth.
Because of the incompleteness of the records, it is impossible even to estimate what the strength of the membership in those early days was. But the real solidity of the order was not established until some years had passed.
On May 5, 1868, Commander-in-Chief Logan
, by General Orders No. 11
, had assigned May 30, 1868, as a memorial day which was to be devoted to the strewing of flowers on the graves of deceased comrades who had died in the defense of their country during the Civil War
. The idea of Memorial Day had been suggested to Adjutant-General Chipman
in a letter from some comrade then living in Cincinnati
, whose name has been lost.
At the encampment at Washington
, in 1870, Memorial Day was established by an amendment to the rules and regulations.
It has been made a holiday in many of the States, and is now observed throughout the country, not only by the Grand Army
but by the people generally, for the decoration of the graves of the soldiers.
The first badge of the order was adopted in 1866.
A change was made in October, 1868, in its design, and a further change in October, 1869.
At the national encampment of 1873, the badge was adopted which is substantially the one that exists to-day, a few minor changes being made in 1886.
It is now made from captured cannon purchased from the Government
The bronze button worn on the lapel of the coat was adopted in 1884.
The matter of pensions has, in the nature of things, occupied much of the time of the Grand Army
encampments, both national and departmental.
The order has kept careful watch over pension legislation; its recommendations have been conservative, and of late years have been adopted by Congress to a very great extent.
has been given to veterans and widows entitled to pensions, by cooperation with the Pension Office in obtaining and furnishing information for the adjudication of claims.
The Grand Army has been assisted in carrying out its purposes by its allied orders, the Woman
's Relief Corps, the Sons of Veterans, the Daughters of Veterans, and the Ladies
of the G. A. R. These
organizations have adopted the principles and purposes that have actuated the Grand Army
and have given much valued aid in the achievement of the results obtained.
The Grand Army of the Republic before the end of the nineteenth century had passed the zenith of its career.
Its membership remained about the same in numbers after its first great leap and subsequent subsidence, varying between 25,000 and 50,000 from 1870 to 1880.
During the decade between 1880 and 1890 it rose to its highest number of 409,--489.
Since then it has decreased, through death, in very great part, until, at the national encampment of 1910, at Atlantic City
, it had diminished to 213,901.
Its posts exist throughout the length and breadth of the country, and even outside, and nearly every State has a department organization.
Its influence is felt in every city, town, and village, and it has earned the good — will and support of the entire American people.
Among its leaders have been some of the most prominent men of the country.
|B. F. Stephenson,||Illinois,||1866|
|S. A. Hurlbut,||Illinois,||1866-67|
|John A. Logan,||Illinois,||1868-70|
|Ambrose E. Burnside,||Rhode Island,||1871-72|
|John F. Hartranft,||Pennsylvania,||1875-76|
|John C. Robinson,||New York,||1877-78|
|George S. Merrill,||Massachusetts,||1881|
|Paul Van Dervoort,||Nebraska,||1882|
|Robert B. Beath,||Pennsylvania,||1883|
|John S. Kountz,||Ohio,||1884|
|S. S. Burdett,||Dist. of Columbia,||1885|
|John P. Rea,||Minnesota,||1887|
|Russell A. Alger,||Michigan,||1889|
|Wheelock G. Veazey,||Vermont,||1890|
|John Palmer,||New York,||1891|
|A. G. Weissert,||Wisconsin,||1892|
|John G. B. Adams,||Massachusetts,||1893|
|Thomas G. Lawler,||Illinois,||1894|
|Ivan N. Walker,||Indiana,||1895|
|T. S. Clarkson,||Nebraska,||1896|
|John P. S. Gobin,||Pennsylvania,||1897|
|James A. Sexton,||Illinois,||1898|
|W. C. Johnson,||Ohio,||1899|
|Albert D. Shaw,||New York,||1899|
|Thomas J. Stewart,||Pennsylvania,||1902|
|John C. Black,||Illinois,||1903|
|Wilmon W. Blackmar,||Massachusetts,||1904|
|John R. King,||Maryland,||1904|
|James Tanner,||Dist. of Columbia,||1905|
|Robert B. Brown,||Ohio,||1906|
|Charles G. Burton,||Missouri,||1907|
|Henry M. Nevius,||New Jersey,||1908|
|Samuel R. Van Sant,||Minnesota,||1909|
|John E. Gilman,||Massachusetts,||1910|
|Hiram M. Trimble,||Illinois,||1911|
The United Confederate Veterans
S. A. Cunningham, late Sergeant-Major, Confederate States Army, and Founder and Editor of The Confederate veteran
The organization known as the United Confederate Veterans
was formed in New Orleans, June 10, 1889.
The inception of the idea for a large and united association is credited to Colonel J. F. Shipp
, a gallant Confederate, commander of N. B. Forrest
Camp, of Chattanooga
—the third organized—who was in successful business for years with a Union veteran.
had gone to New Orleans in the interest of the Chattanooga
and Chickamauga Military Park
, and there proposed a general organization of Confederates on the order of the Grand Army of the Republic, his idea being to bring into a general association the State
organizations, one of which in Virginia
, and another in Tennessee
, had already been organized.
Following these suggestions, a circular was sent out from New Orleans in regard to the proposed organization, and the first meeting was held in that city on June 10, 1889, the organization being
perfected under the name of United Confederate Veterans
, with F. S. Washington
, of New Orleans, as president, and J. A. Chalaron
A constitution was adopted, and Lieutenant-General John B. Gordon
, of Georgia
, was elected general and commander-in-chief.
At this meeting there were representatives from the different Confederate organizations already in existence in the States of Louisiana
While giving Colonel Shipp
credit for suggesting the general organization of the United Confederate Veterans
, the important part played by the Louisiana
camps in furthering the association must be emphasized.
The previously existing organizations became the first numbers in the larger association.
The Army of Northern Virginia, of New Orleans, became Camp No. 1; Army of Tennessee, New Orleans, No. 2; and LeRoy Stafford Camp, Shreveport
, No. 3.
The N. B. Forrest
Camp, of Chattanooga, Tennessee
, became No. 4; while Fred. Ault Camp
, of Knoxville
, is No. 5.
There are other camps, not among the first in the list, which are among the most prominent in the organization.
For instance, Tennessee
had an organization of bivouacs, the first and largest of which was Frank Cheatham
, No. 1, of Nashville
, but which is Camp No. 35, U. C. V. Then, Richmond, Virginia
, had its R. E. Lee
Camp, which has ever been of the most prominent, and was the leader in a great soldiers' home movement.
In the U. C. V. camp-list, the R. E. Lee
, of Richmond
, is No. 181.
The camps increased to a maximum of more than fifteen hundred, but with the passage of years many have ceased to be active.
While the organization was perfected in New Orleans, the first reunion of United Confederate Veterans
was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee
, July 3 to 5, 1890.
To this reunion invitations were extended ‘to veterans of both armies and to citizens of the Republic
,’ and the dates purposely included Independence Day.
The first comment both in the North and South was, ‘Why keep up the strife or the memory of it?’
but it was realized that such utterances were from those who did not comprehend the scope of the organization of United Confederate Veterans
, which, from the very outset, was clear in the minds of its founders.
It was created on high lines, and its first commander was the gallant soldier, General John B. Gordon
, at the time governor of Georgia
, and later was United States
was continued as commander-inchief until his death.
The nature and object of the organization cannot be explained better than by quoting from its constitution.
The first article declares:
‘The object and purpose of this organization will be strictly social, literary, historical, and benevolent.
It will endeavor to unite in a general federation all associations of the Confederate
veterans, soldiers and sailors, now in existence or hereafter to be formed; to gather authentic data for an impartial history of the War
between the States; to preserve the relics or memories of the same; to cherish the ties of friendship that exist among the men who have shared common dangers, common suffering and privations; to care for the disabled and extend a helping hand to the needy; to protect the widow and orphan, and to make and preserve the record of the services of every member and, as far as possible, of those of our comrades who have preceded us in eternity.’
Likewise, the last article provides that neither discussion of political or religious subjects nor any political action shall be permitted in the organization, and that any association violating that provision shall forfeit its membership.
The notes thus struck in the constitution of the United Confederate Veterans
were reechoed in the opening speech of the first commander-in-chief
. General Gordon
, addressing the Veterans and the public, said:
Comrades, no argument is needed to secure for those objects your enthusiastic endorsement.
They have burdened your thoughts for many years.
You have cherished them in sorrow, poverty, and humiliation.
In the face of misconstruction, you have held them in your hearts with the strength of religious convictions.
No misjudgments can defeat your peaceful purposes for the future.
Your aspirations have been lifted by the mere force and urgency of surrounding conditions to a plane far above the paltry consideration of partisan triumphs.
The honor of the American Government, the just powers of the Federal Government, the equal rights of States, the integrity of the Constitutional Union, the sanctions of law, and the enforcement of order have no class of defenders more true and devoted than the ex-soldiers of the South and their worthy descendants.
But you realize the great truth that a people without the memories of heroic suffering or sacrifice are a people without a history.
To cherish such memories and recall such a past, whether crowned with success or consecrated in defeat, is to idealize principle and strengthen character, intensify love of country, and convert defeat and disaster into pillars of support for
future manhood and noble womanhood.
Whether the Southern people, under their changed conditions, may ever hope to witness another civilization which shall equal that which began with their Washington and ended with their Lee, it is certainly true that devotion to their glorious past is not only the surest guarantee of future progress and the holiest bond of unity, but is also the strongest claim they can present to the confidence and respect of the other sections of the Union.
Referring to the new organization, General Gordon
‘It is political in no sense, except so far as the word “political” is a synonym of the word “patriotic.”
It is a brotherhood over which the genius of philanthropy and patriotism, of truth and justice will preside; of philanthropy, because it will succor the disabled, help the needy, strengthen the weak, and cheer the disconsolate; of patriotism, because it will cherish the past glories of the dead Confederacy and transmute them into living inspirations for future service to the living Republic; of truth, because it will seek to gather and preserve, as witnesses for history, the unimpeachable facts which shall doom falsehood to die that truth may live; of justice, because it will cultivate national as well as Southern fraternity, and will condemn narrow-mindedness and prejudice and passion, and cultivate that broader and higher and nobler sentiment which would write on the grave of every soldier who fell on our side, “Here lies an American hero, a martyr to the right as his conscience conceived it.”
The reunions, thus happily inaugurated, became at once popular and have been held every year except the first appointment at Birmingham, Alabama
, which was postponed from 1893 to 1894.
No event in the South
is comparable in widespread interest to these reunions.
Only the large cities have been able to entertain the visitors, which range in number between fifty thousand and one hundred thousand.
The greatest of all gatherings was at Richmond, Virginia
, June 30, 1907, when the superb monument to the only President
of the Confederacy
There were probably a hundred thousand people at the dedication.
An idea of the magnitude of these reunion conventions and the interest in them may be had by reference to that held in Little Rock, Arkansas
, in May, 1911, a city of a little more than thirty thousand inhabitants, wherein over a hundred thousand visitors were entertained during the three days.
No finer evidences of genuine patriotism can be found than in the proceedings of these conventions.
In fact, there are no more faithful patriots.
line of 1911 is not yet so thin as the press contributions make it. True, the veterans are growing feeble, but the joy of meeting comrades with whom they served in Camp and battle for four years—many of whom had not seen one another in the interim—is insuppressible.
It is not given to men in this life to become more attached to each other than are the Confederates
They had no pay-roll to look to, and often but scant rations, which they divided unstintedly.
And their defeat increased their mutual sympathy.
Yet, on the other hand, there is a just appreciation of their adversaries.
The great body of Confederate veterans esteem the men who fought them, far above the politician.
They look confidently to the better class of Union veterans to cooperate with them in maintaining a truthful history.
Maybe the time will come when the remnant of the soldiers, North and South, will confer together for the good of the country.
The Confederates have not pursued the excellent method of rotation in office in their organization, as have the Grand Army
General John B. Gordon
sought to retire repeatedly, but his comrades would not consent.
At his death General Stephen D. Lee
, next in rank, became commander-in-chief.
It was a difficult place to fill, for there never was a more capable and charming man in any place than was General Gordon
However, General Lee
was so loyal, so just, and so zealous a Christian that he grew rapidly in favor, and at his death there was widespread sorrow.
He was succeeded by General Clement A. Evans
, of Georgia
, who possessed the same high qualities of Christian manhood, and he would have been continued through life, as were his predecessors, but a severe illness, which affected his throat, made a substitute necessary, so he and General W. L. Cabell
, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department from the beginning—their rank being about equal—were made honorary commanders-in-chief for life, and General George W. Gordon
, a member of Congress from Tennessee
, was chosen as active commander-in-chief in 1910. Generals Gordon
, and Evans
died in. 1911.
Each had a military funeral in which U. S. Army officials took part.
Within a score of years there had developed a close and cordial cooperation between the veterans and such representative Southern organizations as the Confederated Southern Memorial Association
, the United Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
All are devoted to the highest patriotic ideals.