Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lucius Fairchild and GAR Patriotic Instruction

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

This morning, one of my youngest readers, Andrew, creator of the blog Civil War Kids, reminded me of the very troubling fact that many grade school children have no grasp of even the most fundamental Civil War history.

As disheartening as this is to me - as I am sure it is to you -  it would have been all the more so to the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic. GAR veterans were resolutely determined to insure that children knew their Civil War history, what had been at stake, what Union soldiers had sacrificed, and what had caused the conflict. Naturally, their history had a decidedly Union bent - children of Confederate veterans were not so keen on Union history...and neither were their parents. But more on that later.

Today we look at Lucius Fairchild. He was quite the accomplished fellow, with an impressive vita. He served as an officer in the storied Iron Brigade, rising to the rank of brigadier general, did a stint as the Secretary of State, President Grant appointed him consul to England, and then France, he was elected governor of Wisconsin and served three consecutive terms, and he was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Department of Wisconsin, GAR. And I thought I was busy.

Fairchild's work with the GAR also included what the organization termed "patriotic instruction." Veterans took an active role in education to make certain that their voices were heard (and remembered). Part of this included a series of essays written about the war by school children. I have included a few snippets from the 1890s that I found particularly illuminating - the collection is housed at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, should you ever care to check it out.

– Frank Toby, age 12, sums up the history of the war in two concise sentences.

“About this time there were negro slaves in the south owned by southern planters. Abraham Lincoln set them free by the War.”

- Charlie Baumel, age 10, had this to share regarding slavery and secession:

“The people in the cotton growing states believed that by this election that the North were going to pass laws to deprive them of their slaves so six of the southern states withdrew from the Union.”

- Esther Komitsch, age 12 wrote this homage to Lincoln and the Union soldiers:

Our flag is red, white, and blue
Abraham Lincoln was brave and true,
He freed the slaves,
To the southern peoples’ amaze,
And was honored by the boys in blue.
The Boys in blue,
Were very brave too,
They fought with all their might,
Some lost their lives,
And some lost their sight
To free the southern slaves.

Through these children's papers, we can see how the Fairchild's efforts to incorporate the slavery issue in to patriotic instruction worked. Years after Fairchild's death, others who had taken up the task of instructing school children would continue to stress the importance of this work. In 1906, instructor Edward Cronon would offer these words to his comrades:

We have saved the Union; those who come after us must be taught to preserve it. this is not mere sentiment; it is a duty which we owe to those who come after us, and who are to take our places as citizens when we are gone. if they are properly instructed, as I am sure they will be, then our mission will have been accomplished.

And in 1915, he would again speak to his instructor brethren and this time color his words with hues of reconciliation, while nevertheless remembering the Union cause:

While I am not in favor of flaunting our victory in the faces of the brave old comrades who felt it their duty to fight on the other side, it is well worth while for us in the jubilee year to recall in a public manner the high courage and patriotic devotion that saved our country from disunion, kept all the stars on our flag and made it in fact as well as in song – the land of the free and the home of the brave.



  1. That is so cool to read what kids my age thought after hearing from men who lived it. I like to poem that Esther wrote.

    I also was reading more about John Brown today. After reading more about his killing of the Doyle men, I don't think a monument would be right.

  2. I found something interesting. In 1899, the city of Montreal approved a request by their local GAR branch to march in the annual Queen's Birthday celebration. Apparently this was the first time this had ever happened. Amazingly, they were given equal status with the Army and Navy Veterans, the oldest veterans' association in Canada dating back to 1840 (the GAR was the second). The sight of British and American veterans marching together must have been amazing. In 1899, it appears that the two countries had reconciled after the tensions of the previous century.

    This is not to say anti-US prejudice was not strong in this age (still is today). Harper Wilson responded in 1900 to accusations that he was a foreigner, and as such could not be Winnipeg's coal and wood inspector. His sincere but flawed defense reveals the contradictions of the age. He said he was born in "the good old" County Down, Ireland, but moved to Canada as a teenager. Apparently, Irish birth did not qualify as foreign in the British Empire. He then announced his proud service in the Fenian Raids in 1866, when Canadian militia fought off attempts by Irish rebels (many of whom were Civil War veterans) to seize the Canadian colonies for ransom for Ireland. Okay, fair enough, but just below that he stated - somewhat plainly - what he did between 1861 and 1865: service in the Union Army, Army of the Potomac, as a Captain under General U. S. Grant. In a post script, Wilson said how Arthur "Gat" Howard, a New Hampshire-born man recently killed in the Boer War in South Africa " was a foreigner who gave his life for the British flag. I found the letter in and can't reproduce it here. Sorry.