The organization known as the United Confederate Veterans was formed in New Orleans, June 10, 1889. The inception of the idea for a large and united association is credited to Colonel J. F. Shipp, a gallant Confederate, commander of N. B. Forrest Camp, of Chattanooga, Tennessee-the third organized-who was in successful business for years with a Union veteran. Colonel Shipp had gone to New Orleans in the interest of the Chattanooga and Chickamauga Military Park, and there proposed a general organization of Confederates on the order of the Grand Army of the Republic, his idea being to bring into a general association the State organizations, one of which in Virginia, and another in Tennessee, had already been organized.
Following these suggestions, a circular was sent out from New Orleans in regard to the proposed organization, and the first meeting was held in that city on June 10, 1889, the organization being perfected under the name of United Confederate Veterans, with F. S. Washington, of New Orleans, as president, and J. A. Chalaron, secretary. A constitution was adopted, and Lieutenant-General John B. Gordon, of Georgia, was elected general and commander-in-chief. At this meeting there were representatives from the different Confederate organizations already in existence in the States of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
While giving Colonel Shipp credit for suggesting the general organization of the United Confederate Veterans, the important part played by the Louisiana camps in furthering the association must be emphasized. The previously existing organizations became the first numbers in the larger association. The Army of Northern Virginia, of New Orleans, became Camp No. I ; Army of Tennessee, New Orleans, No. 2 ; and LeRoy Stafford Camp, Shreveport, No. 2. The N. B. Forrest Camp, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, became No. 4 ; while Fred. Ault Camp, of Knoxville, is No. 5. There are other camps, not among the first in the list, which are among the most prominent in the organization. For instance, Tennessee had an organization of bivouacs, the first and largest of which was Frank Cheatham, No. I, of Nashville, but which is Camp No. 35, U. C. V. Then, Richmond, Virginia, had its R. E. Lee Camp, which has ever been of the most prominent, and was the leader in a great soldiers’ home movement. In the U. C. V. camp-list, the R. E. Lee, of Richmond, is No. 181. The camps increased to a maximum of more than fifteen hundred, but with the passage of years many have ceased to be active.
While the organization was perfected in New Orleans, the first reunion of United Confederate Veterans was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, July 3 to 5, 1890. To this reunion invitations were extended ” to veterans of both armies and to citizens of the Republic,” and the dates purposely included Independence Day.
The first comment both in the North and South was, ” Why keep up the strife or the memory of it?” but it was realized that such utterances were from those who did not comprehend the scope of the organization of United Confederate Veterans, which, from the very outset, was clear in the minds of its founders. It was created on high lines, and its first commander was the gallant soldier, General John B. Gordon, at the time governor of Georgia, and later was United States senator. General Gordon was continued as commander-in-chief until his death. The nature and object of the organization cannot be explained better than by quoting from its constitution.
The first article declares : ” The object and purpose of this organization will be strictly social, literary, historical, and benevolent. It will endeavor to unite in a general federation all associations of the Confederate veterans, soldiers and sailors, now in existence or hereafter to be formed; to gather authentic data for an impartial history of the War between the States ; to preserve the relics or memories of the same; to cherish the ties of friendship that exist among the men who have shared common dangers, common suffering and privations ; to care for the disabled and extend a helping hand to the needy; to protect the widow and orphan, and to make and preserve the record of the services of every member and, as far as possible, of those of our comrades who have preceded us in eternity.”
Likewise, the last article provides that neither discussion of political or religious subjects nor any political action shall be permitted in the organization, and that any association violating that provision shall forfeit its membership.
The notes thus struck in the constitution of the United Confederate Veterans were reechoed in the opening speech of the first commander-in-chief. General Gordon, addressing the Veterans and the public, said: “Comrades, no argument is needed to secure for those objects your enthusiastic endorsement. They have burdened your thoughts for many years. You have cherished them in sorrow, poverty, and humiliation. In the face of misconstruction, you have held them in your hearts with the strength of religious convictions. No misjudgments can defeat your peaceful purposes for the future. Your aspirations have been lifted by the mere force and urgency of surrounding conditions to a plane far above the paltry consideration of partisan triumphs. The honor of the American Government, the just powers of the Federal Government, the equal rights of States, the integrity of the Constitutional Union, the sanctions of law, and the enforcement of order have no class of defenders more true and devoted than the ex-soldiers of the South and their worthy descendants. But you realize the great truth that a people without the memories of heroic suffering or sacrifice are a people without a history.” To cherish such memories and recall such a past, whether crowned with success or consecrated in defeat, is to idealize principle and strengthen character, intensify love of country, and convert defeat and disaster into pillars of support for future manhood and noble womanhood. Whether the Southern people, under their changed conditions, may ever hope to witness another civilization which shall equal that which began with their Washington and ended with their Lee, it is certainly true that devotion to their glorious past is not only the surest guarantee of future progress and the holiest bond of unity, but is also the strongest claim they can present to the confidence and respect of the other sections of the Union.” Referring to the new organization, General Gordon said “It is political in no sense, except so far as the word ‘ political ‘ is a synonym of the word patriotic.’ It is a brotherhood over which the genius of philanthropy and patriotism, of truth and justice will preside ; of philanthropy, because it will succor the disabled, help the needy, strengthen the weak, and cheer the disconsolate ; of patriotism, because it will cherish the past glories of the dead Confederacy and transmute them into living inspirations for future service to the living Republic ; of truth, because it will seek to gather and preserve, as witnesses for history, the unimpeachable facts which shall doom falsehood to die that truth may live; of justice, because it will cultivate national as well as Southern fraternity, and will condemn narrow-mindedness and prejudice and passion, and cultivate that broader and higher and nobler sentiment which would write on the grave of every soldier who fell on our side, ‘ Here lies an American hero, a martyr to the right as his conscience conceived it.’ ”
The reunions, thus happily inaugurated, became at once popular and have been held every year except the first appointment at Birmingham, Alabama, which was postponed from 1893 to 1894. No event in the South is comparable in widespread interest to these reunions. Only the large cities have been able to entertain the visitors, which range in number between fifty thousand and one hundred thousand.
The greatest of all gatherings was at Richmond, Virginia, June 30, 1907, when the superb monument to the only President of the Confederacy was unveiled. There were probably a hundred thousand people at 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, a city of a little more than thirty thousand inhabitants, wherein over a hundred thousand visitors were entertained during the three days. No finer evidences of genuine patriotism can be found than in the proceedings of these conventions. In fact, there are no more faithful patriots. The Gray line of 1911 is not yet so thin as the press contributions make it. True, the veterans are growing feeble, but the joy of meeting comrades with whom they served in camp and battle for four years-many of whom had not seen one another in the interim-is insuppressible. It is not given to men in this life to become more attached to each other than are the Confederates. They had no pay-roll to look to, and often but scant rations, which they divided unstintedly. And their defeat increased their mutual sympathy. Yet, on the other hand, there is a just appreciation of their adversaries. The great body of Confederate veterans esteem the men who fought them, far above the politician. They look confidently to the better class of Union veterans to cooperate with them in maintaining a truthful history. Maybe the time will come when the remnant of the soldiers, North and South, will confer together for the good of the country.
The Confederates have not pursued the excellent method of rotation in office in their organization, as have the Grand Army comrades. General John B. Gordon sought to retire repeatedly, but his comrades would not consent. At his death General Stephen D. Lee, next in rank, became commander-in-chief. It was a difficult place to fill, for there never was a more capable and charming man in any place than was General Gordon as commander-in-chief. However, General Lee was so loyal, so just, and so zealous a Christian that he grew rapidly in favor, and at his death there was widespread sorrow. He was succeeded by General Clement A. Evans, of Georgia, who possessed the same high qualities of Christian manhood, and he would have been continued through life, as were his predecessors, but a severe illness, which affected his throat, made a substitute necessary, so he and General W. L. Cabell, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department from the beginning-their rank being about equal-were made honorary commanders-in-chief for life, and General George W. Gordon, a member of Congress from Tennessee, was chosen as active commander-in-chief in 1910. Generals Gordon, Cabell, and Evans died in 1911. Each had a military funeral in which U. S. Army officials took part.
Within a score of years there had developed a close and cordial cooperation between the veterans and such representative Southern organizations as the Confederated Southern Memorial Association, the United Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. All are devoted to the highest patriotic ideals.
Source: "Photographic History of the Civil War"
Author: S. A. Cunningham
Date: October 23rd, 2016