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Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is an American fraternal organization, the legal successor to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). SUVCW is a Congressionally Chartered Corporation with headquarters in the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The National Organization of the SUVCW is headed by an annually elected Commander-in-Chief who oversees the operation of 26 Departments (each consisting of one or more states), as well as a Department-at-Large, a National Membership-at-Large, and over 200 community-based Camps. SUVCW has 6,360 male members, to whom it distributes its quarterly publication The Banner.

Local camps are responsible for decorating graves on Memorial Day in addition to continuing to preserve history. Many camps seek to complete their mission in a number of ways. For example, members of Alden Skinner Camp 45 have organized and now maintain the New England Civil War Museum.

The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code.

History[edit | edit source]

The SUVCW was founded by Major Augustus P. Davis in 1881 to ensure the preservation of its own mission following the death of the last Union Civil War veterans. It is based on the principles of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR): Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty.

In July 1877, Davis made his first proposal for an organization of sons of GAR members to General Alexander Hayes Post 3 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The proposal was resoundingly rejected by the members of Post 3. Over the next four years, Davis made at least three additional attempts to gain approval of the members of Post 3 to organize their sons. A young boys drum and bugle corps was actually begun only to be rejected by the Post members. Finally in September 1881, the Post 3 members took a neutral position on Davis' latest proposal. They would not endorse his plan, nor would they oppose it.

Davis' plan was to organize the sons of GAR members into a military style organization whose purposes would mimic those of the GAR and additionally be bound to provide assistance to the members of the GAR. Membership was limited to the eldest living son of a GAR member.

Davis had envisioned the SV as not only a fraternal, patriotic and charitable organization but also as an organized military reserve which called upon in time of war. Members of the Sons of Veterans wore military style uniforms and practiced tactics and drill.

Davis' vision for the SV can be seen in this quote - "The Sons of Veterans is destined to become the great military organization of the country, that glory of its supremacy, that healing of the sense when its National hymn are sung that none other not thus reared can know or feel. Through this organization the declining days of the Union Veteran will be made pleasant, his record of service to his country preserved, his memory honored, patriotism promoted. While if the dire necessity of the Nation should dictate, the Sons of Veterans, uniformed, drilled and equipped would come at once to her defense with the glory of their fathers surrounding them, each heart pulsating in unison with the rising and falling of the Nation's emblem. And who would be powerful enough to prevail against such a host?"

The first organization meeting was held November 12, 1881 in the GAR Post 3 meeting room, 3rd floor of the Old City Hall in Pittsburgh. A group of eleven boys met and adopted the constitution, rules, regulations, and ritual written by Davis and formed the Sons of Veterans of Pennsylvania (SVPA). They elected officers and thus was born the organization today known as the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Articles of Incorporation for the Sons of Veterans of Pennsylvania were filed on December 28, 1881, and approved by the Court of Common Pleas the same day. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved the charter on January 12, 1882.

In addition to Davis' organization, there was a rival organization called the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans (PSV). The PSV was started on September 29, 1878 when Anna M. Ross Camp Number 1 was founded in Philadelphia. The PSV was started by Comrade James P. Holt of Anna Ross Camp 94 of the GAR in Philadelphia.

On October 15, 1878 the Planning Committee presented a proposed constitution and rules for the operation of the cadet corps to Post 94. These were approved and the name "Sons of Veterans" was adopted (hereinafter "Philadelphia Sons of Veterans"). Other Posts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York likewise established cadet corps.

In 1879 the Earp family of Massachusetts formed camps in that state as well as in Missouri and New Jersey. This organization also used the name "Sons of Veterans" (hereafter "Earp Sons of Veterans").

In July 1880 the Earp Sons of Veterans disbanded and all camps joined the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans. A Division (state level) organization was formed by the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans.

On February 22, 1882 the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans formed a national organization following the request of the Earp Sons of Veterans which had not be accounted for in the Division formations of the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans in 1880.

In March 1882 the SVPA changed its name to Sons of Veterans of the United States of America (SV) to better reflect their nationwide status and growth.

Major Davis fervently devoted his time, energy and money to the proliferation of the Sons of Veterans of Pennsylvania. Camps were formed throughout Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Northern West Virginia and Southern New York. By mid year it was apparent that there was a need for a formal organization within Pennsylvania. On July 4, 1882, the Division of Pennsylvania was created and the first Division Encampment held in Pittsburgh.

Throughout the summer of 1882, the organization grew geometrically. By fall, there was a pressing need for a National Organization. On October 18, 1882, the first National Encampment was held in Pittsburgh. The constitution, rules and regulations proposed by Davis were adopted. As of July 1, 1884 the organization had grown to a membership of over 20,000.

In July, 1883 a special meeting was held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania by the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans. Because of dissension among the camps arising from failure to issue charters and incorrect record keeping, 33 camps of the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans withdrew from that organization and joined the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America.

In August, 1886 the two remaining camps faithful to the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans joined the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America. Thus ending the organization known as the Philadelphia Sons of Veterans. These two camps were Anna M. Ross Camp #1 and Ellis Camp #9.

Membership in the SV grew rapidly and membership at the 1890 national encampment was reported at 145,000.

The SV's Relationship with the GAR[edit | edit source]

The SV had a fairly complex relationship with the GAR. While GAR members generally believed that there should be a worthwhile organization for their sons to join they could not allow for their sons to join the GAR as the horrific experiences of wartime service would not be understood by those who had not endured them. While the GAR gave its approval to the SV it would not make the SV part of the GAR. On July 25, 1883 the GAR national encampment recognised the SV as "entitled to the confidence and support of all comrades of the Grand Army of the Republic".

Final and complete acceptance by the GAR came in 1888. In his report to the National Encampment of the GAR, Commander-in-Chief John P. Rea stated, "It will be but a short period until our ranks are so meager and the surviving Comrades so weighed down with the burden of years that our organization will have ceased to be an active force in the work of loyal love and charity which it has ordained. The tender ceremonies of Memorial Day will then be performed by others or not at all. It seems to me that it would be the part of wisdom for us while yet in our vigor to establish such relationship between our Order and the Sons of Veterans as to properly recognize the organization."

As a result of Commander-in-Chief Rea's presentation the GAR adopted the following resolution:

"RESOLVED: That this encampment endorse the objects and purposes of the Order of Sons of Veterans of the United States of America and hereby give the Order the official recognition of the Grand Army of the Republic and recommend that Comrades aid and encourage the institution of Camps of the Sons of Veterans of the USA."

In contrast to the 1890 SV membership numbers {above}, membership of the GAR in 1890 was reported to have been 490,000.

Sons of Veterans Reserve[edit | edit source]

In 1903 it was decided to divide the Sons of Veterans civil and military functions. A new organization was formed called the Sons of Veterans Reserve (SVR) which conducted the military training. As the SVR was not a state militia organization, it was not integrated into the National Guard in the early 20th Century. Today the SVR serves as the uniformed ceremonial component of the SUVCW and only SUVCW members in good standing can become members of the SVR.

20th century[edit | edit source]

Membership in the SV peaked in 1904 when it was reported at over 200,000. Membership then started to dramatically decline. The exact reasons for this are unknown but it can be speculated that by that time many of the SV had served in the Spanish American War and had joined the United Spanish War Veterans (USWV) which was founded in 1902 and was patterned after the GAR. Another reason is that many of the members of the SV were now in their 30's and needed to devote more of their time to their careers and families. Another possible explanation is that many SV members served during the Spanish American War and their personal experiences may have shattered the romantic vision of military life which led them to join the SV in the first place.

In 1922 the name of the SV was changed to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). The primary reason for this change was that sons of veterans of the Spanish American and First World War desired membership in the SV and it was decided by the SV leadership that the organizations would be exclusively for descendants of Union veterans of the Civil War.

On February 13, 1954 the last surviving member of the GAR, Albert Woolson, deeded all remaining property to the SUVCW stating that "The meaning and intent of this conveyance is to convey to said Commandery-in-Chief, sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, all post and department records of the Grand Army of the Republic and it is my express wish and desire that said Grantee shall use its best endeavors to return said records to the Communities where grand Army posts were located, so far as possible, for the use and benefit of the Communities where such posts were located."

Through most of the 20th Century the SUVCW experienced a slow decline in membership reflecting a general trend in American society away from fraternal and patriotic organization. The SUVCW did, however, experience a resurgence after the acclaimed PBS television series The Civil War produced by Ken Burns.

In recent years the SUVCW has been active in efforts to prevent the sale to private collectors of Civil War period artillery pieces removed from monuments erected by the GAR.

As of late 2007 the SUVCW had 26 Departments (containing one or more states) and five states with a camp at large covering the entire state. Membership is estimated at approximately 7,500.

Membership[edit | edit source]

Full membership in the SUVCW is open to any man, 14 years of age and older (6 to 14 for Junior members), who:[1]

1. is directly descended from a Soldier, Sailor, Marine or member of the Revenue Cutter Service (or directly descended from a brother, sister, half-brother, or half-sister of such Soldier, etc.) who was regularly mustered and served honorably in, was honorably discharged from, or died in the service of, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Revenue Cutter Service of the United States of America or in such state regiments called to active service and was subject to the orders of United States general officers, between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865;[2]

2. has never been convicted of any infamous or heinous crime; and

3. has, or whose ancestor through whom membership is claimed, has never voluntarily borne arms against the government of the United States.

Associate membership is available to men who do not have the ancestry to qualify for hereditary membership, but who demonstrate a genuine interest in the Civil War and agree to support the purpose and objectives of the SUVCW.

Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (ASUVCW)[edit | edit source]

Membership Eligibility for the ASUVCW:

Women who are lineal or collateral descendants of Soldiers, Sailors or Marines regularly mustered and honorably discharged from the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps of the United States of America during the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865 are eligible for membership in the ASUVCW. Additionally, membership is open to mothers, wives, widows, daughters and legally adopted daughters of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). Associate Memberships are available to women who do not qualify through heredity but who demonstrate a genuine interest in the Civil War and can subscribe to the purpose and objects of the Auxiliary. Junior Membership is open to young ladies of at least eight (8) years of age.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. SUVCW membership webpage.
  2. The termination date cited is that of Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
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