In our previous posting we looked at the Grand Army of the Republic – the GAR – and their role in the Great Reunion at Gettysburg in 1913. The GAR’s equivalent on the other side was the United Confederate Veterans, or the UCV.
Whereas the GAR was founded in 1866, only a year after the end of the Civil War, the UCV wasn’t formed until 1889…one year after the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. (One might infer some sort of cause-and-effect between the Confederates who came together at Gettysburg in 1888 to commemorate that 25th anniversary and saw their GAR counterparts, but most likely there was little or no actual relationship between the first Blue-Gray reunion at Gettysburg and the UCV’s founding a year later).
Still, the UCV had deep ties to the Battle of Gettysburg. The first UCV commander was General John Brown Gordon, who just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg had taken his troops as far as Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Susquehanna River…the farthest into Yankee territory any Confederate unit would reach. Days later on July 1, 1863, Gordon’s troops faced off against those of Union Brigadier General Francis Barlow in one of the opening encounters of the Battle of Gettysburg that first day. A number of stories about Generals Gordon and Barlow during and after that encounter – perhaps true, perhaps exaggerated, perhaps fantasy – circulated for years and we’ll take a look at them in a future entry.
But back to the UCV…
As noted in our previous entry about the GAR, it was those two veterans’ organizations who formally communicated their intentions to meet one another at Gettysburg in July of 1913 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle. Even though planning had been underway for several years, it wasn’t until early 1912 that both organizations officially declared their intentions to gather. In the official Pennsylvania Commission Report (discussed in one of our previous entries), the General Order #9 of January 20, 1912 by the UCV Commander at that time, Lieutenant General C. Irvine Walker, began the process of linking the UCV with the state governments of the former Confederate states to begin allocating funds, gaining governmental support, etc. Walker ended his General Order with these poignant words:
“May our gray heads rest in peace in those graves which will soon claim us, with the satisfaction that we have contributed to bringing to our country the blessings of peace and good will. Let us bury deep and forever, all bitterness, but never fail to perpetuate the glorious history of that record of high duty superbly done by you in your young manhood.”
Several months later at the 22nd National UCV Reunion in Macon, Georgia in May of 1912 (and following the letter from GAR Commander Harvey Trimble to General Walker that was mentioned in our GAR blog entry) the membership as a whole voted to accept the GAR’s invitation to meet at Gettysburg the following year, and the countdown to the Great Reunion was on!