War Papers


Captain Thomas Mitchell, 198th Pennsylvania Infantry USV
A Paper Prepared and Read before the California Commandery of the
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
January 18, 1889

Transcribed by Douglas R. Niermeyer, Past Commander-in-Chief
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
(November 2005)

COMMANDER AND COMPANIONS: It is eminently proper that upon an occasion like this we should link together in our thoughts "The Society of the Cincinnati" and "The Loyal Legion." Both are military orders, but founded not to perpetuate military rank and power, the pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war, but to cherish the memories of past wars, to inculcate to the latest ages the duty of laying down in peace arms assumed for public defense; to continue the mutual friendships begun under the pressure of common danger; to perpetuate sentiments of patriotism and loyalty, benevolence and fraternal fellowship between companions in arms. Both were instituted by the officers of two great armies and navies, about to disband forever, but whose deeds will live in history, in legend and in song, as long as time shall last, though history should repeat itself and the very names of "England" and the "United States" should be blotted from the map of the earth; whose gallant leaders, chiefs among the few, the immortal few, who were not born to die, will live in the memory of future ages like the heroes of Ilium and Troy, long after the places of their birth and burial have been forgotten, and the tongue which they spoke has become obsolete, The Army of the Revolution, The Grand Army of the Republic.

The first wrested from the tyrant's band the magnificent heritage which we enjoy; made this glorious emblem of our liberty famous among the flags of the world; wrote in letters of living light on the pages of history the truths of the Declaration of Independence, and laid the foundations of a great nation where the priceless blessings of civil and religious liberty might be enjoyed by all. The other preserved in its integrity the birthright which they inherited; vindicated the flag, which when it came into their hands was known and honored throughout the world; confirmed and enlarged the operation of those self-evident truths which their ancestors had declared, and in their turn declared that the principles which those ancestors had sealed with their blood should not perish from the earth.

The Society of the Cincinnati had its origin at a meeting of officers held at the cantonment on the Hudson River on May 10, 1783, at which time the form of institution was agreed to. The original rough draft in the handwriting of General Knox is still extant. It was determined that the first general meeting should be held in May, 1784, and in the meanwhile temporary officers were chosen, General Washington as President General, and General Knox as Treasurer.

The Society met at Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 4, 1784, and each of the thirteen States were represented by duly elected delegates. The minutes of the meeting, in the hand-writing of Winthrop Sargent, are extant and were published by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1858. The proceedings were conducted with great dignity, General Washington presiding. Among other things, it was resolved that the Society should be divided into State meetings to be held on the Anniversary of Independence, and that there should be a meeting of the Society, to consist of the officers and representation from each State Society, at least once in three years, on the first Monday in May, at such places as the President should direct. Membership was to consist of the commissioned and brevet officers of the army and Navy of the United States, who had served three years and who left the service with reputation, and such officers who were in actual service at the close of the war, and all the principal staff officers of the Continental Army, the French ministers, all Generals and Colonels and Admirals and Captains in the French army and navy who had cooperated with the armies of the United States in their exertions for liberty.

General Washington was unanimously chosen President; General Gates, Vice-President, and General Knox, Secretary.

At this meeting, also, the order or badge of the Society and its form of diploma was adopted.

Incredible as it may seem, the Society, approved of and officered by these gallant and patriotic men, was bitterly attacked on all sides, and principally for what must strike us with amusement, viz.: that it was an attempt to found a military aristocracy, for the Eagle was to descend from the father to the son according to the law of primogeniture, or on failure of issue, to his collateral heirs in the due line of inheritance forever. So obnoxious was this feature deemed that it was made the subject of inquiry by the Legislatures of several of the States, and Rhode Island disfranchised such of its citizens as were members of the Society, while Massachusetts declared it to be "dangerous to the peace, liberty and safety of the Union."

In the minutes of the meeting at Philadelphia in May, 1784, already referred to, this matter was fully discussed, and it is recorded that "General Washington, in confidence, introduced a report of a committee of Congress, that Do person holding an hereditary title or order of nobility should be eligible to citizenship in the new State they were about to establish, and declared that be know that this was leveled at our institution, and that our friends had prevented it passing into resolution till the result of this meeting should be known, but that if we did not make it conformable to their sense of Republican principles we might expect every discouragement, and even persecution, from them and the States severally."

An attempt was made to propitiate the public sentiment, and the Society recommended to the State Societies certain modifications of the institution, but as the assent of all the States was necessary to the change, and that assent was never given, the Society retains today the hereditary feature. The opposition seems to have soon died out, and as some indication of the estimation in which the Society was held when the time for its next general meeting came round, it appears that the convention which adopted the Constitution of the United States was convened to meet in Philadelphia in May, 1787, with direct reference to the fact that the Cincinnati would meet there on the first Monday of the same month, and in order to give Washington an opportunity of presiding over both sittings.

This brief sketch would be incomplete without some reference to the Cincinnati in France. No foreign decoration was permitted to be worn at the French Court, except the Golden Fleece, but Lafayette, kneeling at the throne of his most Christian Majesty, obtained for the French Cincinnati the special privilege of appearing at Court with the new decoration, and the Society acquired a distinction in the gay capital of France which it never possessed at home. Rochambeau, Lafayette, and a number of our distinguished allies, were among its members, and along with the cross of the ancient and honorable Order of St. Louis, were proud to wear the Eagle of the Cincinnati.

Time will not permit me to trace the subsequent history of the Society. We all know how groundless were the fears entertained at its foundation.

Washington, the great American Cincinnatus, was with difficulty persuaded to leave his beloved farm to assume again public duties, and finally, after eight years of service to the Republic, retired to the private life which was so dear to his heart. He remained President of the Society, however, until his death. The rest of the Cincinnati, with the men whom they commanded, beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks, and became peaceful and industrious citizens of the great Republic, which realized in great measure the vision of the prophet: "Every man dwelt under his own vine and his own fig tree, and there was no man to make them afraid."

The Society has ceased to exist in at least half of the original thirteen States, and is today, to the great mass of the people, scarce the shadow of a name. And it is probable that not one in a thousand of the citizens of that great city of Ohio, which, though it lies far east from us, proudly styles itself the "Queen of the West," knows that its name commemorates the military society which a hundred years ago Mr. Adams thought was II the first step taken to deface the beauty of our Temple of Liberty."

The Loyal Legion originated at Philadelphia in April, 1865. For a week past the North had been wild with rejoicings. The cruel war was over; and the mothers, the old men and the maidens were looking forward with joy to the return of their boys in blue. Suddenly the eyes that were bright with gladness were dimmed with tears of mingled wrath and passionate grief, for the beloved President, who had borne on his shoulders through the dark days of the war the responsibilities and the sorrows of the whole nation, had been foully stricken down in its hour of triumph. Arrangements were being made on all sides to do honor to his mortal remains, and among others, the officers of the army in Philadelphia assembled to take measures to attend the funeral in a body. It was at this meeting that the idea of the Legion originated, but only the first three names on our rolls are recorded as founders of the Order. Five or six new members were elected April 20th, and seven or eight July 26, 1865. There were no elections then until September, but thereafter new members were elected every month, separate Commanderies were formed in a number of the States, and the Order has continued to grow ever since. I had the honor to be elected July 26, 1865, and was enrolled as Number 16.

The Legion met with none of the bitter opposition which assailed the Cincinnati, and its subsequent history is known to us all.

Such, in brief, is the history of the two Military Orders which we toast tonight. In their origin and their institution they have much in common. There are some points, too, of pleasing contrast, due to the different circumstances which called them into existence. The Cincinnati fought to create; the Legion, to preserve. They triumphed over a foreign foe; we over one of our own household. They would have been more than human had they not boasted of their achievements; proud as we are of ours, the fraternal character of the strife forbids us to boast. Their bridge is the boastful monarch of the skies; ours the emblem of the saved. Their motto is a personal boast - "Omnia relinquit servare rempublicam;" ours a record merely of the end accomplished: "Lex reqit arma tuentur;" and it is meet that the Eagle of the Cincinnati should be emblazoned with a laurel wreath - the Cross of the Legion with the thirteen stars.

In their institution they declared their desire to inculcate the duty of laying down in peace arms assumed for the public defense, and professing the highest veneration for the character of the illustrious Roman, Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, distinguished for his devotion to this duty, they called themselves the Society of the Cincinnati. Our name, though less euphonious, contains an epitome of the history of the war in which we were engaged. We are well called the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, for out of the Military came Order, and because a Legion was Loyal we have these United States.


Mitchell, T. 1889. THE KINDRED ORGANIZATIONS;THE SOCIETY OF THE CINCINNATI AND THE MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION OF THE UNITED STATES, A Paper Prepared and Read before the California Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, January 18, 1889. Published by the Commandery, Shannon-Conmy Printing Company, San Francisco, California. 7p.

Copyright © 2005 Douglas Niermeyer, Missouri Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

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