of the Republic in Milwaukee
by Stephen A. Michaels, Wis. Dept. Co., SUVCW
The lst GAR department was officially organized at Madison, Wisconsin on June 7, 1866.
At that meeting, Gen. James K.
Proudfit was elected Department Commander.
The GAR made its 1st appearance in Milwaukee on July 31, 1866. Two independent organizations had been formed and from these were recruited Phil Sheridan Post, No. 3, which was chartered on the above date. On September 16, 1875, General John Sedgwick Post, No. 12, was chartered and held its meetings at the National Home (now on the VA grounds).
It was disbanded within a short time
after its organization and many of its members joined Veteran Post, No. 8, which had at
the Home one of the finest post rooms in the state.
Following an initial period of
enthusiasm, the GAR experienced a general decline in membership and interest not only in
Wisconsin, but throughout the nation as well.
But so ineffective had the GAR in
Wisconsin become, that when the department encampment was held at Berlin, Wisconsin, in
January, 1879, there were but 3 posts represented.
"Comrades! Attend to this at once, or we shall not know
Replies poured into the secretary's
office for a year and a half. Many letters contained war incidents, bits of biography and
valuable war history.
Generals U.S. Grant and Phil Sheridan
arrived by special train and were guests of honor at the campfire and parade.
Most of the GAR posts in Wisconsin were
organized in the decade between 1880 and 1890.
During the administration of Commander Griff J. Thomas (1879-81),
Other Grand Army Posts in the city were
the Robert Mueller #250, the Rank and File #240, the George C. Drake #223, and William
Milwaukee's E.B. Wolcott Post #1 furnished two GAR Commanders-in-Chief: August G. Weissert in 1892 and Frank A. Walsh in 1926. Comrade George W. Peck served as Milwaukee's mayor and was one of eight Post Civil War governors of Wisconsin.
Time eventually began decimating the ranks of the Grand Army. Post 1 membership, once numbering 600, dropped to 195 members by January lst, 1915. Five years later, it was the only post listed in the Milwaukee City Directory and one of 3 with more than 50 members.
By 1941, William P. Bryant, age 93, was one of 2 surviving Civil War vets in Milwaukee and the only active member of the Wolcott Post. He conducted post meetings at the Milwaukee County Library each Saturday with the help of the Sons of Union Veterans.
A decade later, on September 29, 1951,
the last Civil War survivor to live in Wisconsin, 105 year old Lansing A. Wilcox, died at
the Grand Army Home at King. As a patriotic order, the GAR not only urged display of the
U.S. flag over schoolhouses, it conducted a history text book campaign after the issue was
presented at the department encampment in 1887.
As a charitable and fraternal order,
Wisconsin's GAR urged the founding of a Soldiers' Home in King, Wisconsin. Milwaukee posts
did their part in helping raise over $5,000 toward establishing that facility in 1897. On
September 15, 1934, after 18 years and a World War, Milwaukee's Abraham Lincoln memorial
Location of Milwaukee's GAR Posts:
E.B. Wolcott #1 - 472 E. Water
Location of City landmarks and GAR HQ's and Allied Orders during 1889 National Encampment:
1. Pabst Brewing Company, (formerly Phillip
Best Brewing Co.), Chestnut, 9th, l0th and 11th Streets.
Grand Army of the
Plaque Presentation Souvenir
March 21, 1998
at the Milwaukee Libriry's Centennial Hall, formerly "GAR Memorial Hall"
The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is a congressionally chartered patriotic and educational organization created in 1881 and recognized by the Grand Army of the Republic as its legal successor.
Among the charges given to the Sons by the Grand Army veterans was to preserve and perpetuate the memory of the Grand Army of the Republic and of the men who saved the Union of this country in 1861-1865 and to cooperate in doing honor to all who have patriotically served this country.
The Grand Army of the Republic may best be described as a visionary veterans organization whose members' dedication not only helped to preserve a nation, but also helped to ensure, through the establishment and institutionalization of laws, traditions and memorials, that our veterans and their contributions would not be forgotten by the American public.
Unfortunately, much of our community has forgotten the men who met here, in this room, once a week, preserving friendships and memories of the past, while planning for the future. Forgotten and perhaps lost forever are the artifats, records and photos from another era that adomed these walls. Forgotten too is the room that contained in body and soul what Milwaukee knew about the American Civil War.
When the E.B. Wolcott Post was chartered on January
14, 1880, there was a renewed detemtination among the post's charter members. Nearly all
of these men had been with posts which had failed earlier. These men were detem~iined that
time would be different. effort would be successful. The charter members of the post were:
W.L. Pavey, A.B.F. Way, S.F. Hammond, Frank W. Harwood, Florian J. Reis, W.E. Coates, J.P.
Rundle, O.L. Rosenkrans, Henry A. Valentin, Henry G. Rogers, Henry C. Koch, C.P.
Huntington, Edward Ferguson, Irving M. Bean, Garth W. James and Charles H. Boynton.
Edward Ferguson Henry A. Valentin Henry C. Koch Joseph P. Rundle Charles P. Huntington Henry G. Rogers Florian J. Reis Omar L. Rosenkrans Irving M. Bean
E.B. Welcott Post #1 in 1938
Dr. Erastus B. Wolcott, a Milwaukee physician revered by veteran as a friend and active advocate for universal veterans health care, had just died 9 days earlier. The good doctor had to be memorialized.
And there was great anticipation in Milwaukee as preparations were already underway for the phenomenal Soldiers and Sailors reunion to be held that June. This reunion was credited with doubling our city's population in the next 12 years and trebling the city's industries. This reunion and a general reform of the Grand Army of the Republic brought about swift growth in the E.B. Wolcott Post. So much growth in fact, that the E.B. Wolcott Post was continually looking for a new post room for its ever increasing membership.
The old Knights of Pythias Hall on Wisconsin Street was the Post's first regular quarters. The Post held its first meeting in the hall over No. 1 Grand (Wisconsin) Avenue on December 20th, 1882. The organization continued to grow, and soon these quarters became too small for the large and increasing membership. Early in 1886, the Post moved to quarters in the Light Horse Squadron Armory building, where it remained for 5 years. On October I0th, 1890, the Post left its armory quarters and, preceded by its drum Dr. Erastus B. Wolcott corps, marched to the handsome Post rooms in the Academy of Music building.
The Academy of Music was the E.B. Wolcott post's home from 1890 to 1899. Note the large GAR Badge hanging in the second story window.
The Grand Army Post room was a house of friends. "It was there that the general and the private, the merchant prince and the clerk, the millionaire and the laborer, sat side by side as comrades, bound each to the other by the tenderness of ties, yet the most enduring of any in this world outside the family circle."
As early as 1891, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported on the GAR's need for a memorial hall in Milwaukee in which to preserve a large number of valuable war relics for future generations. Furthermore, the veterans themselves felt that the hall should be in the new library building, then in the planning stages.
In 1897, the E.B. Wolcott Post contemplated being possibly the only post left in the state within a decade. The lease to its current headquarters was to expire in two years and the post considered building a club house for it and other patriotic societies. The club house was never built. Instead, the post moved twice more.
The second and last time, in 1913, the E.B. Wolcott Post began moving its many trophies West end of Memorial Hall (1915) of war, records and mementos to this hall. By that time only 5 of the charter members who started the post were still living. The post was still the largest in the state with 195 members. By 192 1, all the other posts in Milwaukee had consolidated with the Wolcott Post.
The Post attended National Encampments as an organization at St. Louis, Columbus, Milwaukee, Boston and Detroit. Two members were representatives to the lst National Encampment held at Indianapolis in 1866.
The total number mustered into the Post was 712. The ~Post's membership represented service in organizations from 21 states, four of which were southem-West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida and Missouri. Nearly every regiment or battery leaving Wisconsin was represented among its membership.
Ever cognizant of its own mortality, the Wolcott Post allowed our camp, C.K. Pier Badger Camp #1 to meet here, beginning in 1919. Auxiliary #4 began meeting here in 192 1. We had responsibility for handling the ~hall's rentals until 1926 Many changes have taken place in our city and in this library since this room was last called "GAR Memorial Hall," and known as the home of the E.B. Wolcott Post #l.
We here today... Remember these men of the E.B.
Wolcott Post #1, Grand Army of the Republic, not just for who they were, but for the city
that they became.
We remember that this hall was their cherished home, where they celebrated successful patriotic initiatives; where they ~moumed the loss of beloved conuades. We remember that the E.B. Wolcott Post reached far beyond the walls of this hall: Ensuring that the U.S. Flag was flown over every public school in Wisconsin, Making presentations to schools children about patriotism and the Civil War, Raising money for indigent veterans, Publishing the Memorial Day Annual, and much more.
These veterans represented a cross section of Milwaukee. These veterans represented us both in war... in peace.
To these men we dedicate our work to build a better community for future generations. To the Milwaukee Public Library, we present this plaque in their memory.
East end of Memorial Hall (1915)
Speaking at the Plaque Presentation were City Librarian Kathleen Huston, Milwaukee Mayor John 0. Norquist, Milwaukee County Executive F. Tom Ament, and Wisconsin Secretary of Veterans Affairs Raymond Boland.
E.B. Wolcott Post
Members of Distinction
U.S. Senator Joseph V. Quarles, Milwaukee Mayor and Wisconsin Governor George W. Peck, Brig. Gen. L.W. Cooke, USA, Gen. Arthur MacArthur, USA, LtC. Jerome Watrous, WNG, Byron Kilboum, Charles E. Estabrook, Augustu G. Weissert, Milw. Soldiers Home Gov. Cornelius Wheeler, and Zalmon Gilbert Simmons.
The Post fumished two Conunanders-in-Chief of the GAR: A.G. Weissert in 1892 and Frank A. Walsh in 1926.
E.B. Wolcott Post and the Oscars
The film "Wings of the Dove" was nominated recently for an Academy Award for best screenplay from original material. The story was written by novelist Henry James. James' younger brother Garth served as one of the white officers of the 54th Massachusettes (featured in the film Glory). After the war, Garth settled in Milwaukee and was one of the charter members of the E.B. Wolcott Post.