The 31st National Encampment of the GAR was called to assemble at Buffalo, New York, during the week commencing Monday, August 23, 1897. The arrivals of many hundreds of the veterans and their friends, even before this date, indicated the great interest that was being taken in the, great gathering.
Commander-in-Chief, T. S. Clarkson, with his official staff and his escort, consisting of the Department Commander of Nebraska, his staff and delegates and about 400 comrades and friends, and delegates of the Woman's Relief Corps, arrived by special train over the Nickel Plate railroad at 8 o'clock on Monday morning. The Citizens Committee and Bidwell-Wilkeson Post of Buffalo were present and received the Commander-in-Chief as he stepped from the train and escorted the party to the Iroquois Hotel.
A 4 o'clock the committee and escort again met at the hotel and escorted the Commander-in-Chief and staff to Camp Jewett, a magnificent city of tents located near Fort Porter, overlooking the Niagara Rover, where, during the week, ten thousand three hundred veterans registered and camped. A more beautiful and perfect camp never was laid out and it was the resort of hundreds of thousands of visitors during the week.
The camp was formally turned over the Commander-in-chief by Major Jewett of the city of Buffalo with a very patriotic address and received by the Commander-in-Chief and dedicated to the veterans.
The Commander-in-Chief had, early in his administration by personal visits, secured the promise of Comrade William McKinley, President of the United States, that he would visit the Encampment, and his arrival of Tuesday afternoon, the 24th, with several members of his official family, aroused the greatest interest among both veterans and citizens and his trip from depot to hotel under escort of Commander-in-Chief Clarkson and staff was a perfect ovation from masses of people lining the entire route.
On Tuesday evening one of the features of the week was a banquet tendered by Columbia Post of Chicago to President McKinley and Commander-in-Chief Clarkson at the Elicott Club. It was a most superb entertainment.
By Wednesday morning the veterans had assembled in greater numbers than ever before in the history of the Order, except, perhaps, Washington, The weather on this day, as through the entire week, was absolutely ideal and served to make the whole Encampment a most memorable one. Comrade President William McKinley rode with the Commander-in-Chief at the head of the great column and at 11 o'clock they reached the reviewing and took their places to review the line and remained in place until the last veteran passed at 5:05 o'clock PM. At its close the President said, "Even to a veteran the sight was a most surprising as well as inspiring one. It is too bad the every child in the country could not see it, for it would surely inspire patriotism and inculcate all the good qualities that go to make up the American citizen. It had never supposed until today that so many brave survivors of the war were capable of following martial music for such a distance on city streets. Such a display of patriotic courage cannot fail be of benefit to the entire country."
It was estimate that 50,000 veterans in the great parade and that less than 3/4 million most orderly, well behaved and intensely patriotic and interested people witnessed it from street, window, and housetop along he entire line. A more magnificent pageant has never been in the country since 1865.
The President in the evening accompanied the Commander-in-Chief and spoke at several campfires to immense audiences.
In the evening the official and personal staff of the Commander-in-Chief assembled in the parlors of the Iroquois and sending for the Commander-in-Chief and his daughter, Comrade J. Cory Winans, Chief of Staff, presented to Commander-in-Chief Clarkson a most beautiful official badges, studded with diamond, and to his daughter, for Mrs. Clarkson, a gold watch and chain and diamond ring, both recipients responding feelingly.
In point of weather, enthusiasm, the display of true comradeship on all sides, attendance, liberality, and thorough management on the part of Citizens' Committees, in fact everything on that goes to the make up a successful Encampment and reunion, the almost verdict was that the 31st National Encampment held at Buffalo, New York bears away the palm.
Journal of the 31st National Encampment GAR, 1897, Buffalo, New York, pages 377 - 379.
Jerome Orton, PDC
Department of New York
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War