The Grand Army of the Republic (often known by its abbreviation, G.A.R.) was an organization of U.S. Civil War veterans who had served for the Union. In existence from 1866 through 1956, it peaked in 1890 at over 400,000 members and 7,000 posts. The G.A.R. scheduled meetings and other gatherings for members, provided charitable donations to the needy, supported the construction and maintenance of Civil War memorials and sites, and became a powerful political lobbying group. In 1868, the group’s commander-in-chief initiated an observance known as Decoration Day, which we still commemorate today as Memorial Day.
Confederate Bass Drum, Captured at Missionary Ridge, 1860-1863.Gift of the Jewell Family.THF159778
A Battlefield Souvenir Preserved by G.A.R. Members of Fulton County, Ohio
This drum was likely left behind by fleeing Confederates as Union soldiers drove them from the hill during the battle of Missionary Ridge, part of the Chattanooga Campaign in Tennessee, on November 25, 1863. The astonished Confederates panicked, broke rank, and fled pell-mell. A Union victory. In less than a year and half, the Civil War would end and the Union would be preserved.
The abandoned drum was probably picked up from the battlefield by a member of the 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a Union unit that participated in the Missionary Ridge assault.
This battlefield souvenir was then taken to Fulton County, Ohio, where it was preserved by members of the local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), an organization of Union veterans. By the 1880s, Fulton County had about 11 G.A.R. posts. To these Union veterans, this drum symbolized victory over Confederate forces. The drum was likely displayed in the G.A.R. hall at Wauseon in Fulton County.
A few days before the Missionary Ridge battle, Abraham Lincoln gave his eloquent Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania. For us today, this drum symbolizes the end of the Civil War and the “new birth of freedom” spoken of so memorably by Abraham Lincoln on that day.
Detroit's Bagley Memorial Fountain stands amidst a banner and festive decorations in its original location at Woodward Avenue and Fort Street. This photograph may have been taken during a Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Memorial Day celebration. A society for Union Civil War veterans, the G.A.R. began observing the holiday - originally called Decoration Day - in 1868. THF 202914
When Civil War veterans returned home after the conflict they established their own fraternal organizations, helping one another remember and heal from their shared experiences. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in Decatur, Illinois. The G.A.R. was a fraternal organization made up of Civil War veterans who fought and served for the Union.
Veteran Robert Burns Beath, writing in 1888 of the returning home of veterans said, “They were soon to part, each in his own way to fight the battle of life, to form new ties, new friendships, but never could they forget the sacred bond of comradeship welded in the fire of battle, that in after years, should be their stimulus to take upon themselves the work confided to the people by President Lincoln ‘to bind up the Nation’s wounds,’ ‘to care for him who shall have borne battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”
This unique “bond of comradeship” would be the catalyst for veterans to join together in influencing a nation still reeling from the aftermath of war. Under the watch-words “Fraternity, Loyalty, and Charity” the G.A.R. set out to serve their brothers in arms as well as loved ones left behind by the fallen through charitable initiatives.
Steve LaBarre is the head of adult services and reference for a public library. He is a historian, researcher, and author of Mid-19thCentury United States History and the American Civil War. Becky Young LaBarre is Assistant Director at Glessner House Museum (1887) in Chicago’s Prairie Avenue Historic District. They reside in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.
Did you know? The G.A.R. helped establish May 30 as Memorial Day—or Decoration Day as it was then known—asking members to decorate the graves of their fallen comrades with flowers on May 30, 1868.
Confederate veterans who fought for the South formed their own organization, called the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), in 1889.
We all have a unique and individual story, whether it started in this country before or after the Civil War, and the collective history of our past is the relevant ingredient that we all share. The social, political, technological, medical and scientific innovations from the Civil War were transformative and vast that serve as the foundation of the many attributes we still benefit from today. As we get ready to celebrate Civil War Remembrance at The Henry Ford, we ask you to join us in honoring all veterans for their sacrifices and achievements in protecting, sustaining, and preserving the promise of the Constitution of the United States for “a more perfect Union.”
Brian Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford.
Guests to Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village 2014 may have been surprised to find the Tintype Studio transformed into a living history exhibit for the weekend. The small building was outfitted as a period social club called the Loyal Union League, serving as a Lincoln campaign headquarters for the 1864 presidential race. Last year marked the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection to a second term in office and the exhibit explored how local Union Leagues throughout the country participated in the campaign.
The previous year, The Henry Ford's Executive Producer Brian Egen and Senior Manager of Creative Programs Jim Johnson, along with members of The Petticoat Society (a living history organization), discussed the creation of a special program and interpretative scenario utilizing the Tintype Studio building. This site, because of its proximity to activities taking place at the Pavilion, Town Hall and the Village Green, was a perfect location for visitors to step back in time and experience the excitement and uncertainty of the 1864 election season.
Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated. This chair is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.
But our Lincoln-related collections encompass much more than this rocker. They include materials that relate to such topics as his two presidential campaigns, life before his Presidency, his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War, his assassination, the public mourning after his death, and the ways in which he has been remembered over time.
The 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to assess, study and organize these collections into digital galleries we call “Expert Sets.” Links to these are included below, along with links to five essays written by curators that delve more deeply into some of these topics.
This lively scene from 1905 documents African Americans proudly parading through the streets of Richmond, Virginia, in celebration of Emancipation Day. The well-dressed marchers include many elders who were formerly enslaved, as well as many of their children and grandchildren born after the end of slavery. In 1905, forty years after the American Civil War ended, this life-changing event—Emancipation—continued to have deep, emotional meaning for African Americans.
During the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect on January 1, 1863. This Executive Order, aimed at the secessionist states of the fledgling Confederate States of America, declared their slaves to be free. (However, this proclamation did not include all enslaved people—slaves were not freed in slave states that had remained loyal to the Union. In December 1865, the 13th Amendment completed Emancipation by declaring slavery illegal everywhere in the United States.)
At the time of his assassination in April 1865, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was considered by a majority of northerners as a competent president. Yet, this was not always the case. Lincoln was elected president at a critical time when the nation was at a breaking point over issues of states’ rights and slavery. As a direct result of his election, eleven states left the Union before his inauguration in 1861, touching off the Civil War.
During much of his first term of office, Lincoln was viewed by many as lacking the skills necessary for the role of President of the United States. He was lampooned as unsophisticated and criticized for tolerating ineffective generals. Lincoln, however, was a skilled politician—wise, tenacious, and perceptive—and learned from his mistakes.
Abraham Lincoln was committed to preserving the Union. He believed that the United States was more than an ordinary nation—it was the testing ground for a unique form of democracy. Many, including Lincoln himself, described one of his greatest achievements as the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which shifted the goal of the war from a fight to preserve the Union to one of freeing the enslaved. With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln’s vision of an indivisible Union—and a more perfect one—was fulfilled.
Take a look at images from The Henry Ford’s wonderful, eclectic collection of Lincoln-related photographs. These images span the years from Lincoln’s career as an Illinois legislator during the 1840s to his tragic death in 1865.
The original daguerreotype of this image of Abraham Lincoln was taken by Nicholas H. Shepherd in Springfield, Illinois, shortly after Lincoln’s election in 1846 to the U.S. House of Representatives. It is believed by many to be the earliest known image of Lincoln, who was 37 or 38 years old when it was taken. At this time, Lincoln was a husband and father of two small boys, had a successful law practice in Springfield, and had just become a junior member of Congress.
Daguerreotypes like this one are one-of-a-kind photographs made on silver-coated copper plates. In order to make photographic prints, copy negatives had to be made from the original daguerreotypes. This photographic print was made in the early 20th century from a 19th-century copy negative. In 1902, Frederick Hill Meserve, an early collector of photography, found glass negatives from Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C., studio in a Hoboken, New Jersey warehouse. Meserve carefully preserved the negatives and made the later photographic prints of the earlier images--including this photographic print in our collection.
By telegraph and letter, by railroad and newspaper, word of Virginia's deadly spring of 1864 reverberated across America.
This weekend, amidst the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Overland Campaign, National Park Service battle sites in Virginia and communities North and South are remembering those who fell at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.
The loss of men in Virginia constituted deep wounds to communities across Michigan. Places like Dearborn, Williamston, Pontiac and dozens more reckoned with the loss of men who would never come home—most of them buried today as unknowns on Virginia's fields.
This weekend, at The Henry Ford, in the village that reminds us so much that America’s heart is built around home and community, we join with the staff of The Henry Ford to remember.
We remember families like the Churches of Williamston, whose son Charles went to fight with the Third Michigan Infantry. War interrupted his quest to become a pig farmer, but he found both purpose and improvement in his service. “I am ten times better a man than I ever was before this war,” he told his homefolk in 1863. “It is the best school I ever attended and…people need not be troubled about my well fare.”
But then, in May 1864, came word from the Wilderness in Virginia, scene of the first clash between Grant and Lee, a horrific place of fire and death. That spring of sadness, letters like this flew across America like daggers.
Camp of the 3rd Michigan Infantry
May 20, 1864
Dear Sir it becomes my painful duty to inform you that your son Charles H. Church is [presumed] to be killed. Our regiment went on a charge May 6th and after going until the rebles shot fell thick and fast all around. We fell back and to our surprise he did not fall back with us… Some of our regiment saw him and they say he was wounded in the bowels and fell back a short ways but was compelled to give up. The johnnys soon held the ground that we had gained and all that he had with him fell into the enemys hands. Our regiment with you mourn his loss for he was a good soldier and a brave man. ….. We have lost two thirds of our regiment since we left on this campaign. Many brave officers and men have been killed. We mourn their loss.
Edgar W. Clark, Co. G, 3rd Mich Inf Washington, D. C.
Julia Wheelock, a teacher in Ionia, Michigan, traveled to Virginia to care for the wounded in 1864.
The Civil War touched every corner of or nation and drew into it not just soldiers and sailors, but sisters and loved ones. In 1862, Julia Wheelock, a teacher in Ionia, Michigan learned that her brother Orville had been wounded at the Battle of Chantilly. She rushed to Washington to find and care for him, but got there too late. Julia sought no refuge from her grief. Instead, she stayed and helped in the hospitals around Washington and would quietly forge a career of courage and accomplishment as a caregiver. Her published letters are among the best from a woman serving at the front.
In 1864, Julia (now an agent of the Michigan Soldiers’ Relief Association) traveled to Fredericksburg to care for the wounded from Wilderness and Spotsylvania. In her letters, she recorded heart-wrenching dilemmas, scorching moments. She wrote on May 15:
“Among the hospitals I have visited today is the old Theatre…I took a quantity of pillows, chicken soup, and crackers. The moment I entered the hospital, oh, what a begging for pillows came from all parts of the room! `Please give me a pillow, I’m wounded in the head and my knapsack is so hard,’ said one. Another wants one for the stump of his arm or leg. `I don’t think it would be so painful if only I had a pillow, or cushion, or something to keep it from the hard floor; there, that small one will do for me; please lady, let me have that….” For a few moments I stood with the pillows in my arms, unable to decide what do. I could not supply all, and to whom should I give?”
In that same theater, Julia came across a wounded captain facing death. Julia fed the Captain broth, then asked if there were anything she could do for him before she headed off to her next patient
“If you will, please write a few lines to mother,” he said.
Remembered Julia: “Taking her address, I inquired whether there was anything in particular he wished me to write. I shall never forget the expression…as he looked up and said, “Oh! Give her some encouragement, but tell her I’m trusting in God.” He hesitated a few moments, and then added: “It will be so hard for my mother, for she is a widow, and I am her only son.” I tried to speak a few words of comfort, telling him that if his trust was in God all would be well….In a moment the thought of the anguish that would soon pierce that lone widowed mother’s heart, rushed upon my mind, and poor, weak human nature was overcome, and I could only bow my head and weep. The poor fellow seemed fully conscious of the fact that he must die; and while he would have his mother know the worst, he wished the sad intelligence to be gently broken. The language of his heart seemed to be, ‘Who will care for my mother now?’”
The story of war invariably revolves around home. Some fought to defend homes. Others aspired only to reach home once more. Deaths in Virginia halted those journeys home and sent shockwaves through homes across Michigan and America, challenging the will of families, communities, states, and nations to continue.
Continue they did, crippled by hardship, awash in heartbreak, civilian and soldier alike. It is a sad, difficult story to be sure. But the hardship endured is also a measure of the commitment and determination of those who toiled and sacrificed on our behalf 150 years ago.
Those who gave so much asked only one thing of those who followed: that we remember. And this weekend, we do. We remind ourselves that the fruits of their toil and sacrifice constitute the foundation of our nation still: a still-improving place of freedom and justice and unprecedented prosperity.
John Hennessy is Chief Historian, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, with the National Park Service. The Henry Ford is pleased to partner with the National Park Service in delivering special presentations and outreach programming through the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield relating to the 150th Anniversary of General Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864 during Civil War Remembrance.
Although there were no Civil War battles fought in Michigan, and we have not graves to decorate, Greenfield Village has become a place where we commemorate one of the most pivotal time periods of our Nations’ History. Since 1993, The Henry Ford has hosted Civil War Remembrance in Greenfield Village over the Memorial Day weekend to honor the sacrifice of not only those from 1861 – 1865, but of all veterans who have faithfully served in the protection of the United States. Memorial Day’s genesis can be traced to the American Civil War as comrades, families and small towns across the land decorated the graves of recently fallen soldiers.
The Civil War Remembrance program offers an opportunity to journey back in time to a moment when our nation was engaged in a massive civil war affecting lives across thousands of miles. Guests can appreciate and honor the memory of those four defining years where more than 3 million would have fought and over 750,000 will have died – the equivalent of 7.8 million dead today. As we are in the fourth year of the Civil War sesquicentennial years, it's important to reflect and think about this time period 150 years past and how it's relevant to our world today and for our future. One of the ways we make those distant events relevant is through commemoration and programming. Civil War Remembrance is one such way and is an officially recognized event by the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee through the Michigan Historical Commission.
It's important that we remember the extraordinary service and paramount sacrifice of the common individual soldier who drew from that large reservoir of bravery and courage to continue onward in spite of almost certain death. To their families and to their generation they were known, for the pain and loss of a loved one was felt directly and with absolute certainty. To us they are unknown in name only as their actions will live forever. And to those families and loved ones who sustained incredible and permanent loss, undue hardships and burdens beyond imagine, we must always sustain and uplift the memory of those contributions that made such an indelible impression on our identity. As a principal defining moment, this monumental conflict put into motion a series of events that has brought us to where we are today as a people and as a nation. Their determination and perseverance wove yards of whole cloth creating a foundation for America’s tapestry that continues to be created.
Civil War Remembrance is one of the most comprehensive programs of its kind – we like to say it's the ultimate tribute to the ultimate sacrifice. This program draws participants, historians and experts from throughout the country. Over the three-day weekend Greenfield Village will come alive with special recognition opportunities, commemorations, musical performances, exhibitions, demonstrations (tactical infantry, artillery and cavalry), dramatic performances, hands-on and participatory activities and much more. One of my favorite program offerings is "Enlist in the Army" where guests can “enlist” in the army receiving a reproduction enlistment form from an 1860’s recruiter at the Phoenixville Post Office. After enlistment, they head to Dr. Howard’s Office to see if they are fit for service (everyone passes with a cursory superficial “if you're breathing you're good” exam), and then they are off to the Logan County Courthouse to be “mustered in” and prepared for military drill and schooling. At this point, the group of guests are commanded by an officer in the Federal army, given wooden muskets and then drilled on the Village Green with commands and movements as new recruits would have received during the war. We only need to figure out how to muster them out of service at the conclusion of the day! This year we have Tim Erikesen and The Trio de Pumpkintown as our primary musical performance with an extended concert Saturday evening with shorter performances both Sunday and Monday. Tim is acclaimed for transforming American tradition with his startling interpretations of old ballads, love songs, shape-note gospel and dance tunes from New England and Southern Appalachia. He combines hair-raising vocals with inventive accompaniment on banjo, fiddle, guitar and banjo sexto-a twelve string Mexican acoustic bass-creating a distinctive hardcore Americana sound. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the 1864 presidential election wherein Abraham Lincoln won a second term in office. We will have a re-created Lincoln Campaign Head Quarters stationed out of the Tintype Studio in Greenfield Village.
For 2014, The Henry Ford is very pleased to have partnered with the National Park Service in delivering special presentations and outreach programming through the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield relating to the 150th Anniversary of General Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864. For the highlight of this partnership, The Henry Ford will take part in Reverberations, an innovative program initiated by the National Park Service connecting three national parks in Virginia and eight communities around the country to illustrate the devastating impact of the Civil War on communities across the country. Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan is one of those communities.
This special candlelight illumination ceremony with John Hennessy, Civil War historian and chief historian/chief of interpretation at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, will be simultaneously conducted by the partner communities both North and South. This ceremony will culminate in taps being played in Greenfield Village and echoed to these other locations virtually as the event will be streamed live in conjunction with the other ceremonies. The activities will ultimately conclude with a grand illumination ceremony the Fredericksburg National Cemetery in Virginia.
Civil War Remembrance Weekend takes place in Greenfield Village Saturday, May 24, through Monday, May 26, with a special late night Saturday evening. Learn more about the program by visiting our event page.
Brian James Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford.