“The War Between the States” Angered This Civil War Veteran

Frederick R. Meres served in the 14th US Infantry during the Civil War and later as the “Grand Army Poet” of the Grand Army of Republic (GAR). In all, he is said to have penned over 500 poems. I came across Mr. Meres in a 1923 Milwaukee Journal article, “Vet Poet Angered by Plan to Change Civil War’s Name.” The article explains his reactions to a history book (the book is not named) written by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, that did not use the phrase Civil War but rather

affirms that the rebellion was not a rebellion but a “war between the states.” That Abraham Lincoln was the instigator of the Civil War, “and all that sort of nonsense.”

Upon reading this, I wondered if this Daughters of the Confederacy book was the first to reference the Civil War as  “The War Between the States”? This link by the North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission shows that indeed, many Southern Groups who made attempts during the 1920s to change the war’s name to “the War Between the States.”

Meres continues:

Lincoln used the term Civil War when he could perhaps more rightly have called it the War of the Rebellion.. but he did not wish to offend the South. But the new term they have conceived is ridiculous. Accept this change, and Lee was a hero and Jefferson Davis was the equal of Lincoln and should be honored as such. I ask you, can you beat it?”

black white soldier reconciliation

Was Meres fearful what a name change to the Civil War would do to the memory of why the war was fought?

I searched online for more information on Meres and found his poem, “National Memorial,” (1907). He clearly saw the abolition of slavery as a key reason to remember the Civil War. But there are shades of a reconciliatory tone between Northern and Southern soldiers in the poem’s Chorus (read below). What do you think? Was Meres ready to let bygones be bygones with the South (1907) until they started changing the name of the War and perhaps the reasons why it was fought (1923)? Did the majority of Yankee veterans care what the war was called or were they more interested in Reconciliation with their former Southern adversaries?

National Memorial (1907)

Oh say can you see by the dawn of the day,

The day set apart for the grave decoration,

The remnant of those who in battle away

Had offered their lives for the life of our Nation;

That the shackle and chain no longer remain,

Nor the slave block its horror Nation profane.

Chorus:

Then gather the flowers that grow by the way,

And strew on the graves of the Blue and the Gray.

Oh the havoc of shell, the gloom of the pen.

The ravage of fever, the pang of starvation,

Are past and forgiven by this band of brave men,

Who honor the graves with love and devotion,

For the sword now is sheathed, they are resting beneath

The sod and the wave for the freedom of slave

 Chorus:

Then lovingly cast on the crest of the wave

The tribute of love for the true and the brave.

 Then cast on the flowers, deck the monument fair,

In church-yard and park with the holy reflection;

With malice to none and in charity share

The principals held by the chief of our Nation,

And the flag of the free forever will be

The emblem of peace and of true liberty.

Chorus:

We will councel our children and honor the day

That ended the strife ‘tween the Blue and the Gray.

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3 thoughts on ““The War Between the States” Angered This Civil War Veteran

  1. Hi Chris,

    The “strew on the graves of the Blue and the Gray” is definitely a reconciliationist statement. GAR veterans throughout the late nineteenth century (especially those affiliated with the Republican party) made active efforts to define Memorial Day as a day strictly confined to remembering the Union dead. Somewhere between 1900 and 1904 (I don’t remember when) national GAR leadership called for local GAR posts to start decorating nearby Confederate graves (if there were any Confederate POW graves around) in addition to Union graves. Different posts would have had different responses to these calls, but in my research on the Indiana GAR I can definitely tell that a reconciliationist tone was vocalized on Memorial Day with more frequency at the turn of the twentieth century.

    Also, the earliest date I could find for a “official” call to reference the Civil War as a “War Between the States” is 1900. That year, the United Confederate Veterans passed a resolution declaring “that in speaking of the war between the United States and Confederate States it shall hereafter be declared as the war between the states” (80). http://books.google.com/books?id=n1krAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA80&dq=United+Confederate+Veterans+War+Between+the+States&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zGhgU7SfGeLsyQGQv4HICQ&ved=0CEYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=United%20Confederate%20Veterans%20War%20Between%20the%20States&f=false

    I have a magazine article on the naming of the war coming out this summer. I’ll be sure to pass it along once it comes out! Great essay, as always!

    • Hi Nick,

      Thank you so much for sharing! This is such a fascinating subject. Without not knowing for sure, of course, but it could appear that Meres bought into that 1904 directive and maybe wrote his poem celebrating that reconciliatory spirit. But then, maybe the Confederate veterans and other events pushed him a little too far with their interpretation of the war by 1923 and he responded in kind with his comments I quoted above. Have you found GAR veterans who acquiesced to forging bonds with the South but then essentially, said this going too far equating Southern heroes with Northern heroes? Congratulations on your article! I look forward to reading it.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Chris!

    I saw a lot of tensions between resentment and reconciliation with some veterans. General Lew Wallace in 1892 made a speech to the Indiana Loyal Legion in 1892 in which he warned his fellow Union veterans that “the Solid South is but another name for the Confederacy. It needs watching,” but then at the Chickamauga/Chattanooga battlefield dedication in 1895 he expressed his confusion to the audience as to why anyone would hold a grudge against former Confederates! Similarly, the Indianapolis papers made a big deal about Indiana veteran Newton M. Taylor’s 1914 handshake with a Confederate veteran at a local cemetery, but at that same event Taylor apparently “stood by his premise that southern politicians brought on the Civil War.”

    My opinion on most GAR veterans is that they willing to reconcile with former Confederates, but only if those former Confederates acknowledged that they were at fault for bringing on the war and that the nation was better off unified then split. Reconciliation with “strings attached,” essentially.

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