Speaking the Language of Monuments
Historians record Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) leader General John Logan of Illinois as a creative political opportunist: a prewar Stephen Douglas Democrat who favored conciliatory measures toward the South to prevent war — but correctly sensing Radical Republican power he allied with them to keep his political star ascendant. Feeling slighted as West Point-educated commanders refused him promotions he developed an aversion to that institution; in the postwar he was known for his “bloody-shirt” oratory and catering to the pension desires of GAR veterans, serving as their commander for three terms. Logan’s postwar writings underscore the Republican Party ideology of containing slaves, and later freedmen, in the South.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Speaking the Language of Monuments
“In short, the Grand Army [of the Republic] memory of the war represented the persistence into peacetime of the millennial, republican vision prevalent in the North before 1860 . . . [and this] older ideology of republicanism lived blissfully on in the campfires of the GAR until at least 1900.
In that view, the virtuous nation, saved until [Fort] Sumter from the ordinary travails of history, had come through the war purified of the blot of slavery and ready to lead the rest of the world into the sunshine of universal democracy. Despite the painfully obvious failure of Gilded Age America to live up to that vision, the Grand Army of the Republic (the name of the order itself is highly significant) strained to see the nation in those terms.
The past was the past, With the Republic secure, the saviors could return to lives as simple citizens. “There is not in human history, a case cited except ours, in which a million soldiers were, in a day, removed from belligerent to peaceful life,” Logan told the 1869 national encampment. “Probably, there is no government on earth, except our own, that would have dared try the experiment. I am confident there is no other in which such trial would be safe.”
These were not the words of realists trying to come to grips with a bloody and divisive war, nor those of militarists with a present-day political agenda. The members of the Grand Army had no such words in their vocabulary. Instead, the spoke the language of monuments.
[Logan announced] that “that the late war between the American States was the legitimate climax of several cooperating forces.” The North American continent, he wrote, was reserved for European civilization through “a marvelous ordering of events.” The Revolution, though it “arrested the attention of the world,” was actually the product of trends dating back “forty centuries.”
The Civil War, by removing the blot of slavery, had rendered the Declaration of Independence “the Magna Carta of all mankind, destined to last while the human race endures.” The main threat to [Logan’s] yeoman’s paradise was “class distinction,” both in the slaveholding South and at “aristocratic” West Point . . . [and] argued that the Southern slave system had been the legitimate child of monarchy.” Once cured, the country presumably could return to its pristine state, provided that “class distinction” did not come back to ravage it.” To avoid that fate, Logan wrote, the “restrictive, inadequate, and wholly un-American” military academies need to be overhauled in the interests of democracy.”
(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 192-198)