Historic City Memories: The Fraternal Orders

St. Augustine and The Fraternal Orders

Part one of a series

The Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans

By Geoff Dobson

Several years ago, a member of a local fraternal order who took great pride in his Southern ancestry, brought in a copy of a photograph of his great-grandfather in the uniform of a fraternal order and asked if anyone recognized the fraternal group.

One glance revealed the awful truth; his great-grandfather was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veteran’s organization for those who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War. The Grand Army of the Republic (the “GAR”) and its southern counterpart the United Confederate Veterans (the “UCV”) played an important part in American history and both were represented in St. Augustine fraternal life. Five Presidents of the United States were members of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Over the years dating back to the British Period, there have been many Fraternal Orders in St. Augustine. As covered in a prior article, the Masonic Order has been in St. Augustine for over two hundred years and its symbols are to be found throughout the city. Fraternal Orders have played an important part in American History. Beginning with George Washington many of our presidents, if not most, have been members of various Orders, some members of multiple orders. Warren G. Harding who frequently vacationed in St. Augustine was a member of the Masons, the Eagles, the Odd Fellows, the Moose, and the Elks. When visiting St. Augustine he attended Lodge at both the Elks and the Scottish Rite bodies of the Masons.

Theodore Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin Roosevelt were also inveterate joiners. Both were members of the Elks, Eagles, and the Masons. Theodore Roosevelt when staying at the Ponce de Leon Hotel stopped by the local Elks Lodge to “see the boys.” Theodore Roosevelt was also a member of the Moose.

Although Florida was a part of the Confederacy, the GAR was well represented in Florida. At one point, Florida had 34 GAR posts in the state. The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall in St. Cloud is still used as a meeting place for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. St. Cloud was founded as a retirement community for members of the GAR. St. Augustine had GAR two posts, H. W. Chatfield Post #11 and John A. Logan Post #14. There were also posts in Federal Point and Palatka. There were GAR posts in every state, Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and Peru. At its peak, the GAR had almost 500,000 members.

The United Confederate Veterans were organized later that the GAR. In St. Augustine it was represented by E. Kirby Smith Camp. It ultimately was succeeded by the Sons of Confederate Veterans

At the end of the Spanish American War, veterans of that war petitioned to join the GAR. It was, however, determined by the GAR that the organization would be open only to those who fought on behalf of the Union in the Civil War even though this would ultimately mean that the Order would fade away. Thus, veterans of the Spanish-American War formed their own organization the United Spanish War Veterans open to veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection and the Chinese Relief Expedition (the “Boxer Rebellion”)

The GAR was dedicated to the principles of Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty. Its ritual was similar to the ritual of the Masonic Fraternity. Members of the United Confederate Veterans and the GAR would have joint encampments and reunions. Union veterans would participate in memorial services held by the UCV. The 83rd and final Encampment of the GAR was held in on August 29th through September 1st, 1949. Six veterans attended. There at the final Campfire, “Taps” were played and the GAR Colors were retired for the last time. On February 13, 1954 the GAR, through its last surviving member, Albert Woolson, conveyed all of the GAR’s assets, except ones specifically excepted by resolution, to the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War. Today, the Sons of Union Veterans still have seven active posts in the State of Florida, none, however, in St. Augustine.

The final Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans was held in Norfolk, Virginia in 1951 attended by three veterans. The following year, the three held a reunion in Jackson, Mississippi on the 144th birthday of President Davis. In St. Augustine, William Wing Loring Camp of The Sons of Confederate Veterans continues to meet.

BY the flow of the inland river,
Whence the fleets of the iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the one, the Blue ;
Under the other, the Gray.
These in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat:
All with the battle-blood gory,
In the dusk of eternity meet;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day ;
Under the laurel, the Blue ;
Under the willow, the Gray.

-Francis Miles Finch

On April 25, 1866 in Columbus, Mississippi a women’s memorial association placed flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate troops in the local cemetery — without discrimination between the two sides. The association inspired Francis Miles Finch, a judge of New York’s highest court and later dean of the Cornell School of law, to write the above lines.

April 26th, Confederate Memorial Day, is a legal holiday in the State of Florida.

Next Article: Other Veterans’ Organizations in St. Augustine.

Geoff Dobson, a St Augustine resident for the past 33 years, is a western and Florida history writer and was former General Counsel for the Florida Department of Transportation. He is a former president of the St. Augustine Historical Society and a regular contributor of nostalgic memories to Historic City News. Before his parents moved to Florida, his father was a Black Angus cattleman. Geoff has written extensively on Wyoming history (“Wyoming Tales and Trails”). When Geoff was in high school, his family lived in the cattle country of eastern Sarasota County. The family spread, which his parents called “Wild Cat Slough,” was reachable only by a pair of ruts over the sand hills and through a snake and gator infested slough. Now, it is an area of four-lane roads, expensive subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks. . His undergraduate degree is in history. Geoff received his post-graduate degree from the University of Florida. He may be reached at horse.creek.cowboy@gmail.com

Share your thoughts with our readers >>