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The Grand Army
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. 
Within 3 months' time, eight posts had been established in the state, the lst being the Cassius Fairchild Post #1, chartered at Madison on June 10, 1866 with 17 members.

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.
Interest in Sheridan Post lagged and it died a natural death. 
Some of its members organized Robert 'Chivas Post, No. 2 (Robert Chivas was a nephew of the late Alexander Mitchell and a lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin, who was killed at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863).

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. 
GAR historians attribute the decline to the neglect of proper reports and organizational work, the use of grades or degrees of membership, participation in partisan politics, and a waning interest among some of the early members. 
To its credit, the Department of Wisconsin maintained its organization and held annual encampments during the lean years of 1868 to approximately 1879.

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. 
The most important business that came before the meeting was the proposition as to whether the Wisconsin department should surrender its charter and become part of the Illinois department.  At the time, a Wisconsin Reunion Association was organized in Berlin, Wisc. 
It was composed partially of Grand Army men and a large majority of ex-soldiers, who did not belong to any post.  Col.  Colwert K. Pier was made president and Griff J. Thomas of Berlin, secretary of the association.  It was decided to hold a reunion in Milwaukee of all the Wisconsin soldiers who could be brought together, during the week of June 8, 1880. C.K. Pier composed a

circular on January 11, 1879, that was published in practically all the papers in the state, and in hundreds of papers outside of the state. 
It concluded with this appeal:

    "Comrades!  Attend to this at once, or we shall not know
    whether you are dead, proud or gone to Texas."

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. 
Col.  Pier used this information and began a series of articles, which were printed in The Milwaukee Sunday Telegraph until the time of the reunion. 
These articles laid the foundation for the agitation which brought not only the greatest soldier reunion ever held, but also was the beginning of a new growth of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Fully a quarter of a million people, including 100 thousand ex-soldiers, gathered in Milwaukee. 

All of what was known as Prospect Hill was covered with tents. 
Hotels and private homes were filled to overflowing.  The city raised $40,000 for the entertainment of its guests during the week of the reunion.

Generals U.S. Grant and Phil Sheridan arrived by special train and were guests of honor at the campfire and parade.
Wisconsin's famed war eagle, "Old Abe," was there for what would be his last parade. 

The doubling of the city's population and trebling of her industries within the next 12 years is often attributed to the impetus given by the reunion.

Most of the GAR posts in Wisconsin were organized in the decade between 1880 and 1890.
The Wisconsin Department was one of several that experienced growing pains.

During the administration of Commander Griff J. Thomas (1879-81),

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Post No. 1 at Madison refused to cooperate with the Department to the extent of ignoring letters written to it. After consultation with the Commander-in-Chief, Thomas annulled its charter.

E.B. Wolcott Post was chartered January 5, 1880 in Milwaukee and was awarded the coveted designation of No. 1.
That post was on the point of surrendering its charter in 1881, but finally determined not to surrender and steadily improved to the point of having the largest membership in the state.

Other Grand Army Posts in the city were the Robert Mueller #250, the Rank and File #240, the George C. Drake #223, and William Steinmeyer #274. 
Women's Relief Corps were connected with most of the Milwaukee Grand Army posts and there were several Circles of the Ladies of the GAR. A Wisconsin law requiring the display of the U.S. flag over every schoolhouse in the state had its origins at a soldiers gathering at Plymouth, Wisconsin in June 1884.
Gen.  Harrison C. Hobart of the Wolcott Post made the following address: "I hope to live to see that flag displayed in or over every educational institution
throughout the nation, from the little district school in the back town to the great university, and if perchance churches adopt the custom of so placing it,
where all who worship may see it, all the better.,' Milwaukee hosted the National GAR Encampments of 1889, 1923, and 1943. 
At the 1889 Encampment, Gen.  William T. Sherman made his last visit to the city, and reviewed the great parade of veterans.
One of the attractions of the week was a naval battle planned and conducted by Cpt.  J.B. Oliver, captain of Battery A. The revenue cutters "Michigan" and "Andy Johnson" participated. 

The shore force, consisting of the Wisconsin National Guard, extended from the Northwestern railroad depot to the government pier.

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. 
Three years later, when theCommander-in-Chief instructed posts to urge patriotism in schools, Wisconsin posts sponsored a series of free lectures on Civil War subjects in our schools.
In 1898, Milwaukee GAR members, along with others in Wisconsin,helped enlist 2,000 men to fight in the Spanish American War.

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 was dedicated. 
Prior to World War I,, E.B. Wolcott Post and members of the business community raised $5,000 for the project.  The statue, which was to
commemorate Lincoln's visit to Milwaukee in 1859, now stands near its original site near the War Memorial Center, on Lincoln Memorial Drive ...
"an expression of love, loyalty of country and reverence for a great emancipator-"

Buck, Diane M., Outdoor Sculpture in Milwaukee, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, 1995 Rood, Hosea W., The Grand Army of the Republic and the Wisconsin Department (Vol. 6, Wisconsin Magazine of History) State Teachers College, 1922-1923 Wolcott Post #1, Roster of E.B. Wolcott Post N,o..l, Milwaukee, WI January 1, 1915 Johnson, Thomas L.W., The Grand Army of the Republic in Wisconsin, GAR Centennial Observance--April 16-17, 1966.
Watrous, LtC.  J.A ., editor, Memoirs of Milwaukee County (Military History),
Western Historical Association, Madison, WI, 1909

Location of Milwaukee's GAR Posts:

E.B. Wolcott #1 - 472 E. Water
Robt Chivas #2 - 3rd and Prairie
Veteran Post #8 - National Home
Geo C Drake #223 - 279 3rd
Rank & File #240 - 9th & Greenfield
Robt Mueller #250 - 12th & Wine
Wm Steinmeyer #274 - 630 Walnut
(according to 1907 Milwaukee City Directory ...C.K. Pier Badger Camp #1
met at location of Drake Post on lst and 3rd Tuesdays)

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.
2. House of Correction.
3. Union Depot.
4. Chamber of Commerce.
5. Chicago & Northwestern Depot.
6. Court House: Department Headquarters Connecticut, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Iowa,
Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Utah.
7. City Hall: Department Headquarters of California.
8. Exhibition Building.
9. Calvary Cemetery.
10.Post Office. Headquarters Department of Ohio..
11.Central Police Station.
12.Plankinton Hotel. (Commander-in-Chief and Staff.)
13.West Side Turn Hall. Headquarters G. A. R., Department Headquarters of Vermont.
14.Schlitz Park.
15.High School Building, East Side, corner of Knapp and Cass Streets. Woman's Relief Corps.
16.Knights of Pythias Hall, corner of Grand Ave. and West Water Street. Ladies of the G. A. R.
17.Sons of Veterans. National Headquarters in Camp, Prospect Ave.,.hend of Dane and Irving Streets, East Side.  
18.Seventh District: School Building, East Side, Jefferson Street, near Juneau Ave,
Department Headquarters:
Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Dakota, West Virginia, Delaware, Kentucky
Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Maine, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota,
New Jersey, Missouri, New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, New Hampshire,
Potomac, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington Terr.
19.Builders' Exchange, No. I Grand Ave. Department Headquarters of Kansas.         
20.Young Men's Christian Association, Fourth Street, near Grand Ave. Department Headquarters of New York.
21.Glass and Sewing Machine Works.
22.Northwest Corner Wisconsin Street and Broadway, East side. Headquarters Department of Wisconsin
23.South Side Turnverein, National Ave.
24.Milwaukee Garden, State and 14th Streets.
26.G. A. R. Camp, near Water Tower.

Grand Army of the Republic
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

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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.

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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 #1 GAR
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.