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May 2015

America’s First National Veterans Organization — The Grand Army of the Republic

America’s First National Veterans Organization — The Grand Army of the Republic

Today there are countless fraternities and organizations, both private sponsored and government run, for veterans and their families.  But before the Civil War there really were no national level organizations for veterans.  In 1866 the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was found by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, who was an army surgeon during the war.  Originally the GAR was founded as a fraternity for Union Civil War veterans.  However as the organization grew it became more involved in politics.  Soon the GAR became a veterans advocacy group, lobbying for veterans benefits, equal pensions for black Civil War veterans, and sponsoring candidates for political office.

The GAR was a national organization, but divided into state departments and local posts.  Members typically wore military style uniforms while the organization operated on a quasi military chain of command (post commander, commander-in-chief) Today most veterans organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion, use the exact same model.  Annually the GAR would hold a National Encampment, as well a state and local reunions. At its height in 1890, the GAR was composed of over 490,000 members. This included one woman, Sarah Emma Edmonds, who had fought in the war disguised as a man.  In response to the popularity of the GAR, Confederate veterans also formed their own group, the Unite Confederate Veterans.

Because the GAR was made up of Civil War veterans only, the organization shrank over the decades as veterans passed away.  The GAR was officially disbanded when the last member, and last surviving Civil War veteran Albert Woolson passed away in 1956.

Although the GAR disbanded over 60 years ago, its legacy still lives on.  One idea created by the GAR was to mark veterans graves with a special bronze marker.  Union Civil War veterans graves are marked with the symbol of the GAR (a five pointed star).  Today the tradition of marking veterans graves from the American Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan serves as a final legacy of the GAR.

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Disrespect Of The Remains Of Confederate Dead At Arlington

A Sign Commanding Silence And Respect At Arlington National Cemetery Virginia

Disrespect Of The Remains Of Confederate Dead At Arlington -  The federal government did not permit the decoration of Confederate graves at the cemetery- Miegs refused to give families of Confederates buried there permission to lay flowers on their loved ones’ graves, families barred from the cemetery.

Confederate military personnel were among those initially buried at Arlington. Some were prisoners of war who died while in custody or who were executed as spies by the Union, but some were battlefield dead. For example, in 1865, General Meigs decided to build monument to the Civil War dead in a grove of trees near the flower garden south of the Robert E. Lee mansion at Arlington.

The bodies of 2,111 Union and Confederate dead within a 35-mile (56 km) radius of the city of Washington, D.C., were collected. Some of the dead had been interred on the battlefield, but most were full or partial remains discovered unburied where they died in combat. None were identifiable. Although Meigs had not intended to collect the remains of Confederate war dead, the inability to identify remains meant that both Union and Confederate dead were interred below the cenotaph he built. The vault was sealed in September 1866. Other Confederate battlefield dead were also buried at Arlington, and by the end of the war in April 1865 several hundred of the more than 16,000 graves at Arlington contained Confederate dead.

The federal government did not permit the decoration of Confederate graves at the cemetery, however. As Quartermaster General, Meigs had charge of the Arlington cemetery (he did not retire until February 6, 1882),  and he refused to give families of Confederates buried there permission to lay flowers on their loved ones’ graves. In 1868, when families asked to lay flowers on Confederate graves on Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day), Meigs ordered that the families be barred from the cemetery. Union veterans’ organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR; whose membership was open only to Union soldiers) also felt that rebel graves should not be decorated. In 1869, GAR members stood watch over Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery to ensure they were not visibly honored on Decoration Day.  Cemetery officials also refused to allow the erection of any monument to Confederate dead and declined to permit new Confederate burials (either by reburial or through the death of veterans).

The federal government’s policy toward Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery changed radically at the end of the 19th century.


Arlington Cemetery- Confederate Monument

Arlington Cemetery- Confederate Monument

The fallen figure of a woman, also representing “The South”, leans on a shield emblazoned with the words “The Constitution” as a symbol of what the UDC believed the South fought for.

A figure representing “The South” stumbles while clutching a shield representing the Constitution of the United States on the south face of the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemtery in Arlington, Virginia, in the United States. Mineva, goddess of war, supports her. American historians agree that many of the civic wounds created by the American Civil War were healed by the feelings of common cause generated during Spanish-American War. In June 1900, the U.S. Congress passed legislation setting aside Section 16 of the cemetery for the burial of Confederate States of America war dead. Many Confederate dead were already buried at the cemetery, and were memorialized by the Civil War Unknowns Monument. But the new area of the cemetery would allow for individual burial of those whose identities were known.

By December 1901, 482 Confederate remains were disinterred at the cemeteries at Alexandria, Virginia; the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C.; and portions of Arlington National Cemetery and reinterred in concentric circles in Section 16. Their headstones were given a pointed top, to indicate that they were Confederate graves. 

Shortly thereafter, the United Daughters of the Confederacy asked that a memorial to the Confederate dead be erected in Section 16. Secretary of War William Howard Taft granted the request on March 4, 1906. Confederate veteran and nationally-known sculptor Moses Ezekiel was commissioned to design and sculpt the monument. It was cast and manufactured by Aktien-Gesellschaft Gladenbeck of Berlin, Germany.



The battlefield cross

Kathleen Golden

Carved wooden temporary grave marker of Lieutenant Charles R. Carville, a member of the 165th New York Volunteers who died at Port Hudson May 27, 1863, during the American Civil War. Division of Armed Forces History, Nation Museum of American History.

The first appearance of the "battlefield cross" is a matter of conjecture. It might have been during the Civil War, to signify a dead soldier to be gathered and buried during a truce called for that purpose. Soldier dead were buried in graves in temporary cemeteries near the battlefields, identified by simple wooden plaques. The configuration of the rifle pointed downward with a helmet perched on the stock was a more common sight during World War I and World War II. While the battlefield cross still acted as marker so that the Graves Registration Service personnel could remove the body for burial, it also began to serve as a memorial. Although it is called a cross, the memorial has no overt religious context.

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Va. group looks to honor female Civil War soldiers with monument


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 This is a Civil War era photo provided by the Library of Congress shows Frances Clalin Clayton, who disguised herself as a man, "Jack Williams," to fight in the Civil War.  (Library of Congress | via Associated Press)

Onofrio Castiglia, The Winchester Star
The Associated Press
© May 24, 2015


When considering the millions of men who fought in the American Civil War, one local group highlights the fact that some of them were not men at all — but women, in disguise.

On May 15, Steve Killings, board president of The Academy for Veteran Education and Training — an educational nonprofit group located at Historic Jordan Springs — said that the organization is trying to erect a monument to honor the more than 500 women who posed as men so they could fight.

According to the Civil War Trust, more than 3 million soldiers fought in the war (about 620,000 lost their lives, nearly as many as all other American conflicts combined).

Killings said that there is no memorial anywhere dedicated to the little-known group of women who fought as valiantly as their male counterparts, and not as nurses or seamstresses, but as combat soldiers.

"There have been 513 positively identified women who fought in the war," Killings said. "It's a field that's not very well documented because women had to hide their identities."

According to Killings, Tonie Wallace and Greig Aitken — the owners of Historic Jordan Springs — are donating a portion of their land to the public trust for construction of the monument.

He said that Jordan Springs is an ideal spot, as it is close to battlefield sites in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia and a scenic drive from Washington, D.C.

"This area is Civil War history-central," Killings said. "It really is a perfect place for (the monument)."

Apart from being one of a kind, Killings said the monument — titled Glory Honor's Stone — will also stand out in that it will house a data depository where academics and historians can preserve collections of related documents and artifacts.

An online funding campaign has been launched in support of the monument. A stated goal of the fundraising is to "inspire and validate all American female soldiers now and in the future for their brave service and sacrifices."

The fundraising is being done through — a crowdfunding website — and the goal to be reached is $75,000 in three months.

Killings said that the project got underway at Jordan Springs on May 8, when representatives of U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, R-10th, and state Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, attended a meeting for the project.

Brig Gen. Wilma Vaught, founder of the female veterans memorial in Arlington, was also present at the meeting, Killings said.

He said the monument will be accessible to the public and is meant to be a Virginia State Park, though he believes there is the potential for it to be a national monument.

"The idea is to make this a state park, but we're seeing interest on the national level as well."

Anyone wishing to donate to the project can visit

Additional information can be found on the monument's Facebook page at


The Sharps Military carbine with coffee grinder stock


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During the American Civil War the Sharps Military Carbine was the most popular breech loading firearm with over 90,000 in use.  Because of its easy loading mechanism and short compact size it was popular among cavalrymen as well as scouts and specialty soldiers.  Unlike most firearms of the day, which were loaded by the muzzle, the Sharps carbine was loaded through the breech.  The user pushed the trigger guard forward, which exposed the breech, inserted a paper cartridge, closed the breech, placed a percussion cap on the nipple, then fired by pulling the trigger.  On horseback this was a much easier process then loading a musket from the muzzle with a ramrod.  It also gave the Sharps a greater advantage in firepower because it was faster to load than common muskets.

Some rare examples of the Sharps carbine have an unusual feature, what is commonly called a Sharps coffee grinder.  Integrated within in the stock is a grinding device, complete with a folding handle, an opening to material material in to be ground up, and an opening from which ground material would be deposited. While commonly referred to as a “coffee grinder”, in reality it was used to grind up grains such as corn or wheat.  Not every Sharps carbine was outfitted with this device, it was intended that every squad or platoon would be issued at least one coffee grinder Sharps carbine.  While it may seem goofy, it is actually a brilliant idea when one considers that the men who would have been issued these carbines were soldiers who would be expected to spend a lot of time behind enemy lines (cavalrymen and scouts) without regular access to supplies.

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