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In May 1865, at the close of hostilities, a Grand Review throughout Washington, D.C., exhibited parading Union troops from the Eastern and Western Theaters of the Civil War. For numerous Civil War veterans, this was their last memorable act as soldiers, as many were soon mustered out of service and began civilian life. A presidential reviewing stand was erected outside the White House where President Andrew Johnson watched soldiers parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. News correspondent Noah Brooks wrote, “The main point of attraction was the White House. Here were built covered stands capable of seating, comfortably, ten or fifteen thousand people, the central stand being designated for the use of the President, cabinet, heads of departments, military dignitaries, and diplomatic corps.” Brooks also noted, “The weather was absolutely perfect, and nothing occurred to mar the enjoyment of the scene.”1

In September of 1892, 70,000 Union veterans convened in Washington to celebrate the 26th Annual Grand Army of the Republic Encampment on the White Lot, now known as the Ellipse. The event, which lasted from September 19 to the 24th, featured a parade reminiscent of the 1865 Grand Review.2 Camps along the Ellipse were organized according to theater of service and army designation with specific camps for veterans of the Army of the Potomac, Army of the Tennessee, Army of the James, and other branches and units of service. President Benjamin Harrison, a Civil War veteran himself, took an active part in the planning of the event, being briefed several weeks before on the encampment’s process.3 In 1915, the G.A.R. Encampment met again in Washington, D.C. Many veterans and their families wished to see the White House, which was currently undergoing repairs. President Woodrow Wilson made sure however, that the White House was open to the public during the encampment.4

The memory of that event is shadowed with its story of sacrifice, of loss, of dark tragedy long endured... but the way in which Americans of North and South met and eventually overcame that tragedy is a living memory forever.

— President Dwight D. Eisenhower

In addition to various Union veterans to visit the White House, Confederate veteran groups also stopped by to pay their respects to the president. On June 23, 1922, 80 veterans from a soldiers’ home in Beauvoir, Mississippi, arrived at the White House having recently attended a reunion of Confederate veterans in Richmond, Virginia. 5 On December 16, 1927, Confederate veterans from Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas, along with a delegation of representatives from Maine, were received by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House following a presentation of the return of captured battle flags from Maine to representatives of the southern veterans at the Capitol.6 Throughout the 1920s, Union veterans continued to make a presence at the White House, even serving as escort to President-elect Herbert Hoover as he made his way from the White House to the Capitol for his 1929 inauguration. 7

After the last Civil War veterans passed away throughout the 1950s, commemoration of their service continued through ceremonies commemorating their bravery. On the upcoming centennial commemoration of the Civil War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated in January 1961, “This observance affords us a special opportunity to pay tribute to those Americans whose heroism and sacrifice, a century ago, comprise a part of our national heritage... The memory of that event is shadowed with its story of sacrifice, of loss, of dark tragedy long endured... but the way in which Americans of North and South met and eventually overcame that tragedy is a living memory forever.” 8

This article was originally published May 24, 2016

Footnotes & Resources

  1. P.J. Staudenraus (editor), Mr. Lincoln’s Washington: Selections from the Writings of Noah Brooks, Civil War Correspondent (South Brunswick: A. S. Barnes and Co. Inc., 1967), 472.
  2. Peter R. Penczer, “The Ellipse: The Nineteenth-Century Evolution of the White Lot,” White House History 38, 18-20.
  3. “With His Old Comrades: President Harrison’s Part in the Grand Army Encampment,” Washington Post, September 3, 1892, 7.
  4. “Wilson Welcomes Legions of G.A.R.,” Washington Post, September 28, 1915, 1.
  5. “Veterans are Received: Party of 80 Confederates Call Upon the President,” Arkansas Gazette, June 24, 1922, 1.
  6. “Confederate Flags Returned to South by State of Maine,” Washington Post, December 17, 1927, 22.
  7. “Hoover’s G.A.R. Guard of Honor,” Washington Post, March 10, 1929, S10.
  8. Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Statement by the President: The Centennial of the American Civil War.," January 5, 1961. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

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