On August 29 - September 1, 1949, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) met for its 83rd and final National Encampment. Returning once again to the city of Indianapolis, only six veterans were able to attend. The business meetings were held at the Hotel Claypool, and the opening ceremonies and final Campfire were held at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. The Campfire Program ended with the playing of Taps by the Marine Band bugler, and the colors of the GAR were retired for the last time.
Thursday, August 19, 1999 dawned with cloudy skies over the city of Indianapolis. As the morning passed, the skies cleared, presenting a robin's egg blue sky. At 12:30 p.m., five buses arrived at the Adams Mark Hotel, the site of the National Encampment of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), its Auxiliary, and the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic. The buses, all bearing the names of heroes of the Union, General U.S. Grant, General William T. Sherman, General Phillip H. Sheridan, Admiral David G. Farragut, and Admiral David D. Porter, were boarded by nearly 250 brothers and sisters of the Allied Orders of the GAR. At 1:00 p.m., the buses pulled away from the hotel, thus beginning a pilgrimage that would transcend time and hearken back to the days of the grand and glorious Grand Army Encampments.
The buses arrived at Monument Circle at 1:30 p.m. The imposing Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument towered over GAR descendants and casted a shadow upon the modern skyscrapers. As the busses were disembarked, a hush fell over the descendants as a great sense of wonder and awe overcame them. Many had never visited the monument before, but had only seen pictures. The size and prominence of the imposing edifice took some by surprise. This hush was momentary, for the crowd burst forth with excitement and anticipation, as a child on Christmas morning.
The ceremonies were conducted by the Sons of Veterans Reserve (SVR). As the final preparations were being made, the sound of camera shutters was heard everywhere. At 2:00 p.m., the bugle sounded, and Captain Edward Krieser, SVR, who also served as the Master of Ceremonies, gave the welcoming remarks. The massed colors of the Commandery-in-Chief, several Departments, SVR Military Districts, and even some Camp flags, were presented and formed in front of the entrance to the memorial. The National Anthem was sung by Carolyn Billups, and the entire assembly joined in. Brigadier General David V. Medert, commanding the SVR, gave a very stirring and emotional address, reminding the crowd of the real purpose of our organizations, and giving honor to our ancestors who preserved the Union. All the national heads of the Allied Orders of the GAR, and the heads of other Civil War descendents organizations, then presented wreaths. Commander-in-Chief Andrew M. Johnson of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) was first, followed by Betty J. Baker, National President of the Auxiliary to the SUVCW; Jennie Vertrees, National President of the Ladies of the GAR; Gail Butterfield, National President of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War; Mary Phelps, National President of the Woman's Relief Corps, Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic; Patrick Griffin, Commander-in-Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans; Michael Sullivan, Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States; and Carol Seales, National President of the National Daughters of the Grand Army of the Republic. The Indianapolis Fire Fighters Pipe and Drum Band then played Amazing Grace, which by the end had caused many a moist eye. A benediction was read by Captain Krieser, Taps was played, and the ceremony came to an end. After time for photographs, the buses were then boarded, and proceeded to the Indiana War Memorial Building.
Arriving about 3:00 p.m., the Allied Orders of the GAR entered the auditorium and took their seats. An address of welcome and orientation was given by one of the curators of the War Memorial Building. The brother and sisters were then directed to proceed up the stairs to the Shrine Room. Words cannot describe the feeling of reverence felt by all that entered the "tomb-like" room. In the center stood what can only be described as an "alter", on the top of which was a large mosaic of the Great Seal of the United States and above which hung an extremely large United States flag. Still higher, there was hanging a large multi-pointed star-like light. The room's ceiling was over 80 feet from the floor. In the corners were the flags of the nations who were part of the Allied Forces of the First World War, and around the room were large portraits of the commanders. Following this was a display commemorating all the wars in which the United States has participated. Exhibits began with the Revolutionary War, tracing the American Armed Forces through the years. A rather impressive exhibit covered the Second World War, with a large part devoted to the contributions of women, not only on the home front, but in the Armed Services as well. Time passed way too fast for the exhibit goers and not all the exhibits could be viewed.
At 4:00 p.m., the buses returned to the hotel to give the attendees time to freshen up before beginning the trip to the Indiana Roof Ballroom. At 5:30, the buses left the hotel, with every seat occupied. Upon arriving at the ballroom, there was quite a line waiting to enter the lobby. There were two elevators, which were both good sized, so the wait really was not that long. It must have been the anticipation of what the evening would bring.
Upon entering the foyer, each attendee received their commemorative badge for the occasion. Similar to the 1949 GAR Delegate badge, it made a handsome souvenir of the evening.
The ballroom was spectacular. Restored to its 1949 appearance, it resembled a Spanish Villa courtyard, complete with the moon and twinkling stars in the sky. A social hour was observed, allowing everyone a chance to visit and discuss the earlier events of the day. At 7:00 p.m., the assembly was welcomed by Master of Ceremonies, Edward Krieser. The Invocation was given by Anne L. Iannito, National Chaplain of the Auxiliary. The National Anthem was sung by Carolyn Billups, with all those present joining in. A fabulous dinner was then enjoyed by all, consisting of both roast pork and roast beef. The desert was presented at the end of the meal. Referred to as The Epitome of Decadence, it was a big hit with all those attending. While everyone was enjoying the dinner, video images of Grand Army members were shown on the large screen above the stage.
During the desert, it was announced that a thunderstorm was approaching downtown Indianapolis, and everyone was asked to remain in there seats; a power failure was quite possible. It turned out that it was a storm inside the ballroom. The clouds rolled in along the ceiling, covering the stars and the moon. The sound of thunder filled the ballroom, and lightning flashed. A torrential rain was heard to fall, but not to fear. Soon, the storm passed, and the moon and stars returned, and all was well.
At this point in the evening, introductions of all the heads of the Allied Orders and special guests took place. As the Commander-in-Chief finished his remarks, he was detained by the Master of Ceremonies. It seems that it was Commander Johnson's birthday, and he was presented with a small chocolate cake, complete with a candle. The assembly sang a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, after which, Commander-in-Chief Johnson blew out the candle to the applause of all. The evening was completed by the entertainment by the 97th Regimental String Band. Dancing and music was enjoyed by all. The buses began shuttling back to the hotel around 8:00 p.m., and the last bus returned about 11:00 p.m.
During the Encampment, the U.S. Postal Service set up a cancellation station in the hallway outside the meeting hall. Known officially as GAR Station, special commemorative envelopes were offered for sale, imprinted with the likeness of the special commemorative badge struck for the occasion. Sporting the original GAR postage stamp of 1949, the U.S. Postal Service then added the correct postage of 33 cents. The cancellation stamp included the GAR and SUVCW membership badges.
The special commemorative events would not have been possible, without the hard work and effort of the 1999 GAR Memorial Committee. Special mention must be made of the extraordinary work done by Brother Ed Krieser of the Indiana Department. None of this would have been possible if not for Ed.
1999 GAR Memorial Committee: Gary L. Gibson, PDC Michigan, Chair; Edward Krieser, PDC Indiana; Alan Loomis, PCinC, Indiana; Richard Orr, PCinC, Pennsylvania; and David V. Medert, PDC Ohio.
Gary L. Gibson
Past Department Commander
Department of Michigan
Chair of the 1999 GAR Memorial Committee
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War