Remembrance and Recovery: Maryland’s Civil War Veterans
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Civil War Veterans’ Organizations
Approximately three million men served in the Civil War for the Union and Confederate armies combined. While the war lasted for four years, the veteran era lasted for over seventy years. Most of the former soldiers could not return to their old lives and simply forget what they had experienced…they would forever be the boys in blue and gray. Many carried scars from the battles and at least 60,000 were amputees, which often limited their ability to support themselves. Many more suffered health problems like chronic diarrhea, which would affect them for the remainder of their lives.
It is common for veterans to wish to associate with others who shared their experiences. Common bonds and common problems united these men long after the war was over. As a border state, Maryland had both Union and Confederate veterans, one-time adversaries who often lived in the same towns and sometimes within the same families.
Many national organizations were formed to support veterans, both as social clubs to foster a feeling of comradeship and as a means for giving financial and medical assistance when necessary. Most of these national organizations had Maryland branches, and there were a few organizations solely for Maryland veterans. All these groups had considerable impact on post-war American society. They lobbied the government to recognize the claims of soldiers for pensions and other benefits, supported veterans for public office, honored the Civil War dead, erected monuments on the battlefields and in towns, and offered medical assistance to destitute veterans.
The Grand Army of the Republic
The G.A.R. was the first national organization for Union veterans and was founded in Decatur, Illinois, on April 6, 1866. Membership was open to anyone who had served in the United States Army, Navy or Marine Corps during the Civil War and who had received an honorable discharge. The stated goals of the organization were to perpetuate the associations made during the war, to provide aid to those in need, and to ensure that the soldiers’ sacrifices for preserving the Union would not be forgotten. Its activities were supported by the Woman’s Relief Corps and the Sons of Union Veterans.
The organization of the G.A.R. was much like the army and functioned on national, state, and local levels, with the smallest unit of operation being the local post. Annual encampments were held for members at both the national and state levels. Parades, speeches, receptions, and business meetings were all part of these encampments. In 1881 the Sons of Union Veterans was organized to be the successor to the G.A.R., since the G.A.R. would cease to exist once the last veterans had died. Today the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War remains an active organization and continues to preserve the heritage of the Civil War veterans.
The United Confederate Veterans
The Confederate equivalent of the G.A.R., the United Confederate Veterans (U.C.V.) was founded in 1889 to foster and support the activities of Confederate veterans. Membership was open to anyone who had served in the Confederate service and had received an honorable discharge. The organization adopted an elaborate military structure and sponsored annual reunions for the veterans. They were also instrumental in erecting monuments dedicated to the men who served the South. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, like the Sons of Union Veterans, was founded in 1896 to succeed the U.C.V. once the veterans had died. Today the Sons of Confederate Veterans is still an active organization.
One of the more enduring reminders of Civil War veterans is the national holiday known as Memorial Day. It was referred to as Decoration Day in the early years since the graves of the veterans were decorated with flowers, and parades and solemn services were held in their memory. The first Memorial Day ceremonies were held on May 30, 1868. Many local posts of the veterans’ organizations held their own ceremonies and issued post cards and special memorial ribbons to mark the occasion.
The Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers’ Home
While Union Civil War veterans were provided for by the Federal Government, the Confederate veterans relied on a patchwork of resources from state-run programs and benevolent societies. As time went by, more and more veterans needed monetary assistance, shelter in soldiers’ homes, and permanent resting places in soldiers’ cemeteries. In Maryland, the Confederate veterans depended on two organizations unique to the state—The Society of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States in Maryland and The Association of the Maryland Line.
In 1888, through a Bill in the State Legislature, The Association of the Maryland Line acquired control of the state arsenal property in Pikesville and an annual sum of $5,000 for maintenance of the buildings. The arsenal had been built in 1818 by the United States government and the property had been transferred to the State of Maryland in 1880. Renovations were made to the old Pikesville Arsenal buildings, and the Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers’ Home was dedicated on June 27, 1888, with seven veterans in residence. They were soon joined by many others.
The buildings within the walls of the arsenal compound were converted into use as a soldiers’ home. Aside from the residential rooms, the complex included a large library, dining room, kitchen, administrative offices, pharmacy, Quartermaster Room, Commissary Department, carpenter shop, paint shop, the Relic Hall and Superintendent’s house. The old laboratory, located some distance away from the other buildings, was used as the hospital.
The Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers’ Home hosted over 460 Confederate veterans during the forty-four years of its existence. The youngest men to enter the home were only 46, the oldest were 90, and the majority were in their 60’s and 70’s. Although some of the men were in poor physical condition, others were able to perform light duty and were assigned jobs tending the garden, milking the cows, working in the mess hall and kitchen or helping in the medical offices. While some residents voluntarily left the home to live with family and friends and others were dismissed for breaking the rules, for most of the veterans it was their last home. Many were buried on Confederate Hill in Loudon Park Cemetery or in other cemeteries in and around Baltimore.
With the passing of the veterans, the closing of the home was inevitable. In 1932 the last two remaining residents were moved to private homes, and the era of the Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers’ Home came to an end. The property was then used by the Maryland National Guard, the American Red Cross, the Maryland State Police, and various civic organizations. Today, three of the original buildings and the perimeter wall remain in existence.
The Maryland Monument at Antietam National Battlefield
One of the true Civil War legacies in Maryland is that there were both Union and Confederate veterans in the state. In 1900 Maryland dedicated a state monument to its veterans in both armies who had fought in the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Each veteran was given a medal and ribbon to commemorate the event. It is the only monument on that battlefield which represents service in both armies from veterans of the same state. In subsequent years, many events were held as joint reunions for both Union and Confederate veterans, culminating in the 1938 reunion at Gettysburg where 1,845 aging veterans were on hand for the lighting of the Eternal Peace Light Memorial.
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About the Author
Dan Toomey is a recognized expert on the Civil War in Maryland. He is the author or co-author of fourteen books including The Civil War in Maryland and The Maryland Brigade. He was the project historian for the Maryland Monument erected at Gettysburg and wrote the inscription for that monument.
Toomey, Daniel Carroll; The Civil War in Maryland; Toomey Press, 1983.
Toomey, Daniel Carroll; Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers’ Home and Confederate Veterans’ Organizations in Maryland; Toomey Press, 2001.
Toomey, Daniel Carroll; Union Civil War Veterans’ Organizations in Maryland; Toomey Press, 2004.Tags: Civil War Medicine, Maryland, Memorial Day, Soldiers Homes, Veterans Posted in: After the War