A 100 Year Old Women’s Organization that still promotes patriotism- the WRC

” Lets rededicate ourselves to service

For the dear old Boys in Blue

And when their soul has answered the roll

It’s for their memory our mark we’ll do.”

From the WRC Journal Dept. of Oklahoma, 1938-1939

In recent years, historians have written about the Southern women’s memorial organizations like the Ladies Memorial Associations and the UDC. Many have overlooked an important organization that continues to serve our nation- The Woman’s Relief Corp.

After the Civil War, as the veterans began to create organizations to perpetuate the memory of the war, the women of the North began to form organizations that would aid the veterans, their families and perpetuate the memory of the soldiers’ sacrifice in the Civil War. In 1881, at the national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic ( a Union veteran organization) the men passed a resolution to create the Woman’s Relief Corps as an auxiliary to the GAR.It was not until 1883, that the measure was put into effect and the WRC official existed. This unified the many local women’s groups that were already organized and working on behalf of the veterans.

Women in Massachusetts and Ohio immediately organized  corps within their states.  Many of the first members were wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of Civil War veterans, however membership was not limited to those related to veterans. Any  loyal woman of good moral character over the age of sixteen  could join the organization. By 1885, there were 22 departments, three provisional departments and 20,226 members.  The WRC’s charter called for the organization to specifically aid and assist the GAR and to perpetuate the memory of their heroic dead as well as assist the veterans, their widows and their orphans with finding employment, housing and to assure them sympathy and friends. In short the ladies sought to “. . .cherish and emulate the deeds of our army nurses, and of all loyal women who rendered loving service to their country in her hour of peril.”

After establishing themselves, the women began to working to protect the veterans and promote patriotism. One of the yearly responsibilities that the WRC took to heart was the promotion of Memorial Day as proposed by former Union General and GAR member John A. Logan. Every year the ladies decorated Union graves in the South and placed plaques with the Gettysburg Address in the national Cemeteries.  In Sandusky, Ohio, the women helped to preserve the names of the Southern dead at the former prison site at Johnson Isle and helped to persuade the federal government to erect a memorial at the site.

Throughout the North, WRC departments established and maintained Veteran’s homes and orphanages. After the war, Mrs. Anne Wittenmeyer, a future WRC member, opened an orphanage in Farmington, Iowa. This facility cared for those children left without a parent due to the war. After the creation of the WRC, the organization continued to raise funds and assist in the maintenance of the home.  The orphanage remained open with the assistance of the WRC until 1970.  By 1905, the women had expended two million dollars in relief for the veterans and their families and had worked to get laws passed that provided relief to the veteran’s widows and children.

The male veterans of the Civil War were not their only concern. Many of the founding women had aided in the war effort. Some had served as nurses and worked with the Sanitary Commission during the war. The WRC recognized these women’s sacrifice and commitment to the Union cause. In 1892, the Woman’s Relief Corp helped get legislation passed that recognized the nurses and gave them a monthly pension of $12.00 a month. By 1900, the WRC opened a veteran’s home for army nurses in Ohio. This was one of the first facilities dedicated to women nurses.

By 1900, the WRC boasted 2, 803 Corps and a membership of nearly 150,00 members. As the Civil War generation began to diminish, the women continued to their work. Now they included veterans of all wars. By the early 1900s, the WRC added the promotion of patriotism and loyalty to their mission.  This included proving that Francis Bellamy was the original author of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The National headquarters for the Women's Relief Corp and the GAR museum in Springfield, IL

The National headquarters for the Women’s Relief Corp and the GAR museum in Springfield, IL

They also worked to promote the adoption of this pledge throughout the United States. As part of this campaign, the women distributed flags to schools and encouraged the recitation of the pledge of allegiance as part of a patriotic education.  Along with promoting the pledge and ensuring that all schools had flags displayed in the classrooms, the women of the WRC continued to place flags on the graves of deceased soldiers and promote the respectful observance of memorial day.

As you wave your flag this Fourth of July weekend, I hope you will stop and remember this dedicated group of women- The Woman’s Relief Corp.  The organization is still in existence and still continues the mission they set in 1883. Down the street from Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, you will find the headquarters of the WRC. The women, along with the Sons of Union Veterans maintains a GAR museum.  If you would like more information please check out their website  http://suvcw.org/WRC/index.htm.

Membership is still open to all loyal women who are of good character.

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Monument makers and art

Sculpture in Italian cemetery, Venice, Italy

Sculpture in Italian cemetery, Venice, Italy

I maybe odd, but I enjoy wondering through old cemeteries. The ones where the stones are leaning over and moss covers one side of the stones. The older cemetery monuments are often artistic and express the love and grief of the families. It is the sculptures and designs on the monuments that we most overlook and most art lovers ignore as artwork. The process of sculpting a monument in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is quite remarkable and a dying art form.

headstone monument to a world war I aviator in Venice, Cemetery

headstone monument to a world war I aviator in Venice, Cemetery

Monument companies kept drawings of designs they could offer clients. The company also kept molds of their most popular designs. If the order was custom, a designer would draw up a design of the monument. Those with sculptures, required the company sculptor to create a model in clay.

Monument to World War Aviator in Italian Cemetery

Monument to World War Aviator in Italian Cemetery

Next, the selected granite or marble would be brought into the shop as a large block. Stone cutters cut it into shape and size.  The mold of the sculpture would be created and plaster would be poured into the mold. This created a cast of the design. The cast or model would be set next to the stone horizontally to be used by the stone cutter or carver to created the actual sculpture. Using a pointing machine, the stone cutter would cut the design in stone. This would be done several times before the piece was finished. The carver would do the small details by hand.

Eagle carved on monument in Italian headstone

Eagle carved on monument in Italian headstone

A draftsman created all the other details beyond the statue. The draftsmen would design the base, die, cap and the lay-out of the lettering.  Using a “blue print” or tracing paper attached to the stone, the letter cutter cut out the letters memorializing the deceased.

Bronze hat and carving on cemetery monument in Italian cemetery

Bronze hat and carving on cemetery monument in Italian cemetery

Today most of this work is done by computers. Statues are machine cut. In places like Westerly, Rhode Island the art of stone cutter is dying. The few who carved stones by hand are dwindling and companies now turn to finely tuned computers. The image of your loved one can be put onto the stone with computer in exact likeness. In the book, A History and Guide to the Monuments of Chickamauga National Military Park, I have a photo of the pointing machine at work. You can also look photos of the granite industry and the process on the website for the Babcock-Smith House – http://www.babcock-smithhouse.com/

While visiting Italy, my husband and I visited a cemetery  on an island near Venice. The cemetery was like visiting a sculpture museum. Most amazing, is that the elaborate sculptures were carved by talented artist. Next time you are in a cemetery, really look at the stones. Examine the hands on the angels. Linger over the faces and flowers. When you read the epitaph remember that someone spent considerable time and talent putting on those lines.  deathangelstoneitaly

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Veterans and battlefields

Veteran’s day, some current research and a visit with a friend has gotten me thinking about the significance of revisiting a battlefield. Recently, Colonel Robert W. Powell, a world war II veteran returned to Holland. In September 1944, during operation Market Garden he crashed landed in Holland as a glider pilot. He was knocked unconscious with a severe head injury and broken ankle. Four months after crashing he woke up in a hospital in Paris. For the past 70 years he has not know what happen when he crashed.

A group of paratrooper took the Colonel back to where he crashed on the anniversary of his landing. It was an amazing journey. Mayors in the little Dutch towns greeted him, and he visited the memorials erected by the Dutch to the Americans in this towns.  ( Which leads me to another thought that I won’t discuss in this post.)

Col. Powell learned that the Dutch citizens went to the fields and carried the wounded American fliers to a farm house where they had set up a hospital. At some point, the Colonel was transferred to a military hospital in Paris for further treatment.

Colonel Powell was touched by the reception he received, but was more touched by learning of the actions of the Dutch people during the war and how they saved his life. He walked the field where his glider landed and visited the farmhouse where he was treated. Talking with Powell, he said that the visit filled in the gaps in his memory and life. He now knows what happen so long ago and has an ever better picture of the operations that he took part in.

I have been reading about Civil War POW’s and their visits back to the prison camp where they suffered. The memorials on the Civil War battlefields were initiated by the veterans who returned years later to learn of the battle and see where they had fought.  It is interesting to see similiarities between the world war II veterans that I have meet with over the years and the civil war veterans. The need to revisit  battlefields, to remember and to ensure that others remember is a reaction that has been with veterans for generations. The horrors and heroism on the field of battle should never be forgotten.

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Kentucky State Monument at Chickamauga National Military Park

In 1890, when Henry V. Boynton and Ferdinand Van Derveer began contemplating the idea of preserving the Chickamauga battlefield, they wanted it to honor soldiers of both sides of the conflict and perhaps even demonstrate reconciliation between the North and South. In September 1895, they realized their dream of a battlefield park at Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Most of the monuments dedicated that month and first year were Union states.

Southern states, lacking funds, trailed behind in erecting monuments. By the turn of the century,  only two border state had completed and dedicated monuments. For Maryland and Kentucky erecting a monument on the battlefield was a delicate ordeal. These states had soldiers fighting for both sides during the conflict. During reconstruction, these states struggled to find peace among its citizens.   In 1898, the state of Kentucky began the work of constructing a monument in honor of the soldiers who served at Chickamauga. The state had formed a commission in 1893, to locate battle positions, but the task of erecting a monument lingered for several years.

With their design submission, the Kentucky commission explained that it was the state’s intention to honor both sides and to try not to offend either one.  Most of the monuments on the battlefield celebrated the heroism of the soldiers with a granite soldier ready for battle or carrying the flag. Kentucky chose to forgo the classic soldier. The state commissioners worried that the image may offend one side or the other.  This may seem harmless, but one must consider that most of the soldier statutes were realistic in their portrayal of a confederate or union soldier. This would have left Kentucky having to make choice- North or South? Instead of the soldier, Kentucky chose the image of Bellona, the Roman goddess of War. They placed her upon a round sphere with four cannons pointing out in four different directions. On top of the shaft, she held her sword high in the air.

Bellona, the Roman Goddess of War stands on top of the Kentucky monument at Chickamauga.

Bellona, the Roman Goddess of War stands on top of the Kentucky monument at Chickamauga.

On the four corners of the capstone, the commission place roaring tiger heads. These symbolized battle as well. An American and a Confederate flag with an eagle’s wings spread over both flags, thus symbolizing unity decorated the sides of the capstone. One side of the monument featured a confederate shield and the opposite a union shield.

Rampant tiger head on the Kentucky monument.

Rampant tiger head on the Kentucky monument.

Plaster model of the capstone for the Kentucky monument featuring an eagle with spread wings over flags from both sides.

Plaster model of the capstone for the Kentucky monument featuring an eagle with spread wings over flags from both sides.

To further capture the idea of reconciliation and unity the commission included a seal with two sides shaking hands. The monument features some of the most moving inscriptions on the battlefield. It is monument well worth a stopping and admiring. One of the best Inscriptions on the side are the words,

“As we unite in life and , they united in death, let one monument perpetuate their deeds, and one people forgetful of all asperitives, forever hold in grateful rememberance all of the glories of the terrible conflict which made all men free and retained every star on the nation’s flag.”

Seal on the Kentucky state monument at Chickamauga

Seal on the Kentucky state monument at Chickamauga

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Memorials and memory

Oklahoma City bombing memorial, OKC

Oklahoma City bombing memorial, OKC

I recently visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial. This is the site of the April 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City. I toured the memorial on a Sunday morning with 11 seventh grade girl scouts. While visiting I noted the behavior of the people and the atmosphere of the park.

The girl scouts were very quiet and reverent. Believe me this was the most calm, quiet and reverent moment I have experienced with them in the last seven years. Other visitors talked in low tones, and walked slowly. It was much like walking through a cemetery.

I thought about the mood of this site and the behavior of people here as opposed to many of our Civil War Battlefields. On a visit to Chickamauga NMP, I noticed a family practicing catching a baseball, others playing frisbee, bicyclist zooming through the battlefield. It had the feeling of a city park more than a memorial and site of death.

I asked my girls what made this site different than a battlefield. I reminded my daughter of her visit to Chickamauga and the people there.  The girls responded that the OKC bombing included innocent people. They argued that the soldiers were fighting a battle and they had signed up to fight in a war. Several noted that the people in OKC were simply going about their work day unsuspecting. I argued that over 20,000 people died horrific deaths on the battlefield though and most were still buried on the battlefield. They did not waiver in their argument that OKC memorial deserved quiet reverence and respect for the lives lost.  These smart young ladies made very good arguments.

But I could not help but think about the intentions of the veterans who created the national military parks. I am not sure they would have felt the same. They saw those fields as places of tragedy. A place where innocence was lost. I often wonder what was the mood on the battlefield parks in the early days, while the veterans and their children were still living. Would they argue against those girls’ views of the two sites?                                                                                                                                                                                                             Dear reader, what do you think the attitude and atmosphere on our national military parks should be?

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A New Book on Chickamauga

My lattest book

My latest book

Well I have not posted anything for quite awhile. I have a really good excuse though. I have been writing a book on the monuments of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. This book is similar to the Shiloh book. Unfortunately, I could not do every monument at the park. So it highlights the state monuments. If you find yourself near the park, pick up a copy. It can also be ordered from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Part of the proceeds from this book will go toward the preservation and restoration of the monuments at the park.

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Tennessee Monument at Shiloh

The Tennessee Sate Monument by Gerald Sanders

The Tennessee Sate Monument by Gerald Sanders at Shiloh NMP. Photo courtesy of Jane D. Beal

In the last post, I mentioned how important Southern women have been in memorializing the Southern soldiers on the battlefields. I would like to continue with that thought, but take it to the 21st century. Yes, even today those wonderful Southern women are still honoring their past. In 2005, Shiloh National Military Park held dedication ceremonies for its most recent monument-the Tennessee State Monument.  Despite the battlefield being in the state of Tennessee, the State had never erected a state monument to honor her sons.  The 2nd Tennessee monument was erected to that regiment, by its survivors. So the rest of the Tennesseans who fought in the battle lacked a memorial. One small, but devoted Southern woman began the work toward erecting a monument at Shiloh. Mrs. Bettye Stanley, a member of the Shiloh Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, followed in the footsteps of the Southern women before her in raising funds and getting memorial erected.  In much the same matter as women of her UDC chapter had done almost one hundred years before.

In 1992, Stanley began working with the Shiloh Chapter of the UDC to raise funds for a Tennessee monument at the park. The women contacted Tennessee Governor Ned McWhorter about funding for a monument. This was to no avail.  Small, but determined to honor Tennessee’s Civil War soldiers, Stanley began soliciting help from other UDC chapters and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. She also gave presentations to any group that was willing to listen to her impassioned appeal for funding a monument. By  the early 2000s, she had the support of state representative Randy Rinks and state senator Steve McDaniel.  Sympathetic to history and the need to honor Tennessee’s past, these two men had secured funding for a monument at Gettysburg to Tennesseans.  The two politicians secured $125,000 for  a Shiloh monument. Excited about honoring past Tennesseans, the Sons of Confederate Veterans joined Stanley and the women in getting donations and soliciting designs.

Soldier on the Tennessee State Monument at Shiloh NMP.  Artist Gerald L. Sanders. Photo courtesy of Jane D. Beal

Soldier on the Tennessee State Monument at Shiloh NMP. Artist Gerald L. Sanders. Photo courtesy of Jane D. Beal

SCV member Jerry Lessenberry suggested Texas sculptor Gerald Sanders to create a monument. Sander’s created a design that focused on the color bearers.  Not only would it recognize the brave Tennessee soldiers, but it would honor the color bearers of the Sixth Tennessee who were killed at the battle.  The monument, Passing of Honor,featured three soldiers, all accurate in accouterments and uniform. June 3, 2005 that state of Tennessee and Shiloh National Military Park dedicated a monument in honor of all Tennesseans who fought at Shiloh April 6-7, 1862.


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