On Blue & Gray

On Blue & Gray

November 30, 2021 1 By Editor


Skimming through titles of obscure publications I came across “The Journal of the Seventy-Second National Encampment of the Grand Army of The Republic (1938)”.[1] The Grand Army of the Republic was a Union Army veteran organization setup shortly after the end of the Civil War.[2]

The part of the Journal that caught my attention was discussion of an invitation to participate in a North / South battlefield reunion (Blue and Gray, Union and Confederate veterans).[3] The reunion would be at Gettysburg; Confederate and Union veterans would be in their respective uniforms. The US flag and the Confederate Stars and Bars would be present. The whole event would show the nation ”our reconciliation to the results of that Civil War”[3a] …. but the Grand Army of the Republic said – no Confederate uniforms and no Confederate Stars and Bars battle flags.. 

With further discussion, the Confederate uniforms would be acceptable but no Stars and Bars, at least not anywhere where the public, or Grand Army of the Republic veterans, could see the Confederate battle flag. The Grand Army of the Republic representative to the Gettysburg Reunion Committee said, as an individual member he had no objections but that he could only present the idea of having the Stars and Bars in front of the Confederate veteran encampment and ask the Grand Army of the Republic for approval.

Quotes from Jefferson Davis and Theodore Roosevelt, side-stepping by the Grand Army of The Republic’s Gettysburg Reunion committee member —- I only agreed to this as a state representative, not in my role as a committee member.

Then the head of the Gettysburg Reunion wrote — you misunderstand, we are not inviting The Grand Army of the Republic or the United Confederate Veterans, we are inviting all veterans who served in the armies between 1861 and 1865. This was viewed dubiously, until the next month when the Government of the United States issued a reunion invitation to all veterans who served in the Armies between 1861 and 1865. The Grand Army of the Republic representative dropped all objections because the government invite “completely changed the complexion of affairs”… “and gave assurance that nothing would be permitted at the reunion but what was fit and proper.”[4]

During the Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic members fought in 10,000 locations[5], gave some 364,000 lives to the conflict, and suffered 281,000 wounded members.[6] The wounded included 145,000 extremity wounds (excluding amputations) and 22,000 amputations (counting only those that survived the operation). Union forces incurred 75,000 cases of typhoid fever (with a fatality rate ranging from 17% in 1861 to 56% in 1895), 63,000 cases of measles (excluding the 4,000 soldiers that died from the measles), gastrointestinal disorders (at a rate of 711 cases per 1000 soldiers per year), Malaria (224 of every 1000 Union soldiers), Smallpox (at a rate of 5.1 per 1000 soldiers),[7] lingering post war ailments including rheumatism, malaria and chronic diarrhea.[8] More than a few veterans suffered PTSD symptoms. In the words of the late Tony Horwitz:[9]

“…symptoms—including flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia and suicidal thoughts—turn up frequently among Civil War soldiers, particularly those who entered asylums.”  

“…most Civil War veterans who entered the asylum never left it.”

 Often, the last item in a patient’s file is a telegram like the one sent to a Massachusetts woman in 1900. ‘Your husband died this afternoon. Shall we bury here? Answer?’”

After contemplating the Civil War and post-war carnage suffered by the Grand Army of the Republic members, one question rang in my mind. Members of the Grand Army suffered the deaths and wounds of the war, yet they found a way to tolerate the sight of the Stars and Bars — what is the cause of so many people today not being able to do the same? Union and Confederate veterans gathered together to remember their comrades in 1883, 1887, 1893, 1894, 1897, 1899, 1900, 1911, and 1938;[10] why do we now feel the need to tear down, or hide from public sight, any memorials for dead Confederate soldiers? Maybe our Civil War pain is greater than that suffered by the Union soldiers, or maybe we just think it is.

Now the "Friendly" Angle One of the most affecting sights witnessed during the present reunion of Confederate and Federal veterans at Gettysburg is depicted in this photograph. Across the stone wall, which marks the boundaries of the famous "Bloody Angle" where Pickett lost over 3,000 men from a force of 6,000 these old soldiers of the North and South clasped hands in fraternal affection / / International News Service, 200 William St., New York.
Civil war veterans shake hands across the wall that once divided them / International News Service

Two unidentified Union veterans
Two unidentified Civil War Veterans / C.W. Borah, Photographer
Portrait of unidentified Confederate veteran in United Confederate Veterans uniform with Maryland state buttons and Southern Cross of Honor and Union veteran in Grand Army of the Republic uniform with medals, clasping hands at 1913 Gettysburg reunion.
Civil War veterans clasp hands at the 1913 Gettysburg reunion / American Press Association
Union and Confederate veterans shake hands at 1913 Gettysburg reunion
Civil War veterans shaking hands at the 1913 Gettysburg reunion / International News Service
Stars & Stripes and Stars Bars, Gettysburg 1913
Gettysburg Reunion of July 1913 / Bain News Service publisher
107 year old veteran at Gettysburg reunion 1938
107 year old Union veteran at 1938 Gettysburg reunion / John A. Shipley photographer

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light house against the evening sky


(click on footnote number to return to main text)

[1] Journal of the Seventy-Second National Encampment of the Grand Army Of  The Republic, https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/scd0001.00120272299

[2] The Grand Army of the Republic and Kindred Societies, The Library of Congress, accessed on November 29, 2021,  https://www.loc.gov/rr/main/gar/garintro.html

[3] Thomas Ambrose “final report of the committee from the Grand Army of the republic on the Gettysburg reunion” Journal of the Seventy-Second National Encampment of the Grand Army Of  The Republic: 90-95, https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/scd0001.00120272299

[3a] IBID, 92

[4] IBID, 94

[5] Robert F. Reilly,” (2016) Medical and Surgical Care During the American Civil War, 1861-1865”, Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 29:2, 138, DOI: 10.1080/08998280.2016.11929390

[6] “Statistics on the Civil War and Medicine”, Ohio State University Department of History, accessed on November 29, 2021,https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/cwsurgeon/cwsurgeon/statistics>

[7] Robert F. Reilly,” (2016) Medical and Surgical Care During the American Civil War, 1861-1865”, Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 29:2, 138-142, DOI: 10.1080/08998280.2016.11929390

[8] “Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD?” Tony Horwitz,  last modified January 2015, <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ptsd-civil-wars-hidden-legacy-180953652/

[9] IBID

[10] “Reunions”, The Center for Civil War Research, accessed on November 29, 2021 https://www.civilwarcenter.olemiss.edu/reunions.html