CONFEDERATE VETERANS UNITED
Veterans of the 'Lost Cause' launched a two-phased movement that influenced Southern thought for a century. Though most Southern vets withdrew from the public limelight, preoccupying themselves with earning a livelihood, many eventually yearned for the lost camaraderie of combat. Reconstruction-era hostility confronted "rebel" societies. In fact, federal authorities forbade them to organize as late as 1878. But that did not prevent the more determined among their lot from organizing. As early as 1867, Terry's Texas Rangers formed an association to erect a monument in Austin, Texas. (Incidentally, it took 40 years for them to raise $10,000!) No doubt, other groups formed locally to achieve specific ends.
The Birth of the Confederate Veterans Movement
The Confederate veterans movement evolved in two phases. The first phase centered on Virginia and was elitist. The Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, established Nov. 5, 1870, in Richmond. It never numbered more than 200 ex-officers. The group's Louisiana Division, which ated as an autonomous group, helped sick and unemployed vets in New Orleans.
Similarly, the Association of the Army of Tennessee came on the scene in 1877. A Confederate Survivors' Association was created in Augusta, Ga. in 1878. North Carolina's Society of Ex-Confederate Soldiers and Sailors was most likely the first Fraternal Confederate Veterans group to have statewide members in October 1881.
A prominent early vet group was Robert E. Lee Camp #1 of Confederate Veterans. It was formed in Richmond in April 1883. Camp #1's greatest project was creation of the first permanent soldiers' home in the South. It embraced Northern vets as "a band of brothers, bound to us by deeds greater than those won on the field of battle or the forum, deeds of brotherly love and charity." Four years later, other independent camps were coming together to form the Grand Camp of Confederate Veterans of Virginia. This group continued to extend its membership into Tennessee and Georgia.
In 1883, Prior to the formation of Robert E. Lee Camp #1 of Confederate Veterans, The city of New Orleans had gained a reputation as the headquarters of post-war Confederate sentiment, feeling and action. Six years later in 1889, several groups met in New Orleans in order to unite and launch the Confederate Veterans movement's second and most influential phase.
United Confederate Veterans
In February 1889, the Virginia and Tennessee army society divisions along with the Benevolent and Historical Association, Veteran Confederate States Cavalry endorsed a plan for a comprehensive regional organization. Representatives of 10 Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi groups met that June and formed the United Confederate Veterans.
John B. Gordon became commander and George Moorman adjutant general. Moorman, the organizational genius and Gordon, the inspirational leader. they remained in office until their deaths in 1902 and 1904, respectively. Sumner Cunningham was the owner and publisher of The Confederate Veteran, a newspaper magazine that reported news and information that was of value to Confederate Veterans. Cunningham brought to the Confederate movement his journalistic skills. After the formation of the UCV, the magainze became the official printed organ of the UCV. It sold for 50 cents and later $1. It reached a peak circulation of 20,000 by the century's turn. In 1909, it was regarded by some as the most popular magazine published in the South.
The UCV helped create two auxiliaries that later went independent. in 1894, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was formed. It reached 45,000 members in 800 chapters by 1912. Children of the Confederacy was a UDC offshoot. The Daughters also sponsored a scholarship program at various colleges. In 1896, the Sons of Confederate Veterans was created. By 1903, its membership had grown to over 16,000 members.
Membership of the UCV and SCV were drawn from a broad spectrum of Southern society. the majority of which were from the lower and middle class. Virtually none of its membership was drawn from the "elite" upper society.
In 1890, more than 60 percent of Confederate Veterans were still under 55. Around 1903 or 1904, UCV hit its zenith in numbers: 80,000 or one-fourth to one-third of living Condeferate Veterans. Its 1,565 local camps were spread across 75 percent of the counties of the 11 former Confederate states. The largest percentage of camps, 19%, were located in Texas. South Carolina and Georgia trailed with about 10% each.
Assistance to needy veterans and their families was not the hallmark of the UCV's existence. however the New Orleans, Nashville and Richmond camps became renown for their charitable deeds for Confederate Veterans and their families. "In general, the UCV devoted limited attention to aid. The rhetoric of respect generally exceeded the reality of relief," reported Gaines Foster in Ghosts of the Confederacy.
Typical camps met only once or twice a year. Camps did not provide aid to indigent comrades and did not undertake historical projects. The number one project UCV camps were involved in were reunions or conventions for Confederate Veterans. These event quickly became "Festivals of the South" where crowds expressed symbolically society's appreciation for the common soldier's sacrifices as well as lamenting "The Lost Cause". It was common practice for the SCV, UDC, and the UCV to produce medals, ribbons, and other assorted memorabilia to commemorate reunions and gatherings. The most renown of these medals was the UDC's Southern Cross of Honor that was presented to Confederate Veterans that attended the conventions. These medals and other convention items are now rare collector's items today and are much sought after by collectors.
Individual members looked forward to these annual gatherings. They were also extremely popular with non-members who often out-numbered the attending UCV members. Some 20,000 veterans flocked to Birmingham in 1894. Throughout the 1890s, these get-togethers attracted on average 30,000 veterans and 50,000 spectators. UCV's 1903 reunion in New Orleans outdrew Mardi Gras in public attendance. After entering the Twentieth Century, the number of living Confederate Veterans was rapidly on the decline. At the 1902 convention in Dallas, of the 140,000 people who were in attendence, only 12,000 were veterans. The 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg attracted 8,000 Confederate compared to the 44,000 Union veterans that were in attendance.
The greatest of all the Confederate Veterans gatherings was at Richmond, Virginia on June 30, 1907. During that event, a monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis was unveiled and dedicated. It was estimated over 100,000 spectators atteneded 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. Little Rock was city of a little more than 30,000 residents. inhabitants and over 100,000 visitors gathered there for the three day event. In 1917, the annual UCV convention was held in Washington, DC and is acknowledged as the most significant gathering of Confederate Veterans. The UCV parade was reviewed by President Woodrow Wilson.
The UCV sixty-first convention was held in Norfolk, Virigina. May 30th - June 3rd, 1951. It was the last UCV convention held and is generally acknowledged as he end point for the organization. A commemorative United States postage stamp was issued to commemorate the occassion that was virtually identical to one printed in 1949 for the last national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization for Union Veterans.
Vindicating the "Lost Cause"
At first, the UCV primarily served as a functionary group that oversaw regular gatherings of Confederate Veterans, but as time progressed and the number of living Confederate Veterans began to dwindle, the UCV became interested in the preservation of the memory of the Confederacy. It began to take an active role in preserving Confederate heritage, especially the celebration of the average infantryman.
In 1892, it established a Historical Committee to promote understanding of the war. UCV recommended histories, sponsored exhibits and helped establish museums, such as the Confederate Battle Abbey in Richmond in 1921. Fearing history's verdict, it embarked on this crusade with a vengeance.
Vindication was needed because of the growing commercial sentiment that belittled the achievements of the war generation, specifically those that were of the Confederacy. One veterans group was determined "to see to it that our children do not grow up with false notions of their fathers, and with disgraceful apologies for their conduct."
Said one UCV Historical Committee member: "... No concerted action has been taken to write our history...save those who are antagonistic to us and our posterity, who are prone to moderate our valor, and the victories we won..." That was remedied with the publication of a 12-volume history -- Confederate Military History -- in 1899.
Military defeat had no bearing on this historical crusade. As author Bennett Young wrote, veterans had to believe the "sword in and of itself never made any cause right, and the outcome of battles does not affirm the truth of political or even religious questions." Besides its multi-volume military history, the UCV also proposed a major study of veterans contributions to society entitled "The Confederate Soldier in Peace".
The Committee's highly educated members could cite several successes. Their efforts stimulated historical research (by 1903 history was being taught in every Southern institution) and spurred the establishment of state archives. their efforts made history courses mandatory in public schools and convinced the State of Tennessee to fund a chair of American history at Peabody Normal College.
End of the Line
Like all associations, UCV endured petty bickering, internal political infighting, commercial exploitation of its rituals, trivialization of its traditions and declining public interest. Despite these things, the UCV endured, but it could not overcome the simple fact that through the progression of time, even the most hardy Confederate Veteran would age and eventually die.
After the formation of the UDC and the SCV, the UCV began a process of turning over it functionary duties to these secondary groups. By the 1920s, most of this work had been turned over to the SCV. After the 1951 UCV convention in Norfolk, Virginia, the UCV was effectively no longer in existance. The SCV laid claim to being the direct continuance of the UCV.
The last verified Confederate Veteran to pass was Mr. Pleasant Camp, who died on December 31, 1951, however there were a number of other men whose families claimed they were the last Confederate Veteran that died as late as December 1959. While there may have been Confederate Veterans that died after Mr. Camp, there is no evidence of proof to their exact birth date or participation in the War.