Union army parades in its days of glory

Celebration: In May 1865 the mood in Washington was festive as Union armies marched through the streets on their way to demobilization.

Grand Review 2000

June 04, 2000|By Jack Gorman | Jack Gorman,Special to the Sun

When the re-enactment of the Union army's Grand Review takes place in Harrisburg, Pa., next weekend, African-American regiments will march under arms alongside Union and Confederate re-enactors, all commemorating the 135th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the ceremony held in the national capital at the close of the war.

However, when the two-day Grand Review of the Union army began May 23, 1865, no African-American regiment could parade under arms or in uniform, and, unlike their white counterparts, black soldiers were ordered to ride mules and carry spades in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue when passing in review before President Andrew Johnson and Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Once the review was completed, the Union commanders faced a large task in dismantling the forces that had defeated the Confederacy. About 10 percent of the Union army was made up of African-Americans, thanks to two acts allowing them to enlist, which were passed by Congress in 1862.

Dismantling the wartime production included dismissing a large percentage of the soldiers and reducing government production of weapons. The Northern blockade of the South's overseas trading routes also was ended, and large numbers of men who worked in shipyards were released.

Civilian demobilization, too

A demobilization of sorts also had to take place among Union civilians, who for four years had hated, fought and lost family to the South, and now had to accept the reintegration and reconstruction of the former Confederate states.

The African-American soldiers marched on the second day of the review, preceding each division of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's soldiers, who were famous for the scorched-earth policy that they employed as they marched through the South, particularly in the burning of Atlanta. This was done to distract attention from the fact that Sherman's Western-based troops were not as well dressed as the Eastern-based troops. Therefore, each division had African-American soldiers march before it with picks, spades and axes, followed by the soldiers. Then came six ambulances after each division to represent its baggage train, followed by men, dubbed "Sherman's bummers," who showed off the trophies of war: pack mules loaded with turkeys, geese, chicken and bacon, followed by cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, crowing roosters, completed at one point by a chattering monkey.

Notably missing from the festivities in Washington in May 1865 was popular Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, who had been dispatched by Grant to New Orleans despite a plea by Sheridan to remain for the review. He was to guard the Rio Grande against a possible Mexican army attack, as well to force the surrender of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who still held a large force of troops west of the Mississippi River.

The Union troops had been called to Washington for a final review, although only 150,000, slightly more than half of all available forces, were permitted to go to the celebration. Others remained on occupation and guard duty at captured areas throughout the South.

Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer rode down Pennsylvania Avenue on a stallion captured from the Confederates a few days before Appomattox when about 300 teen-age girls began tossing bouquets of flowers at him, spooking the horse, and sending it galloping down the avenue. Custer attempted to salute the president with his sword, but succeeded only in knocking off his hat.

In demobilizing the Union armies after the Grand Review, the War Department faced a daunting task. Four days after the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the department discontinued the draft, as well as all recruiting of soldiers, which, as of May l, 1865, totaled 1,034,064 volunteers. By Aug. 7, 1865, 640,806 of these were gone. By Nov. 15, 1865, 800,963 (nearly four-fifths) of the troops had been dismissed. A year later, there remained only 11,043 volunteer soldiers, 8,756 of which were U.S. Colored Troops. Also halted was the stockpiling of weapons and ammunition, as well as the building of forts.

Of particular interest to the government was cutting wartime costs quickly. The war had been funded through a series of war bonds sold by Salmon P. Chase, until Philadelphia banker Jay Cooke proposed selling war bonds to the public in amounts as low as $10, which could be paid by monthly installments. Cooke raised $400,000,000 worth of "five-twenties," or 6 percent bonds, which were redeemable in not less than five and no more than 20 years. Almost $800,000,000 was raised by selling "seven-thirties."

Grant felt that the collapse of resistance "rendered a large part of our military force unnecessary." Although the army had been significantly reduced, it remained swollen to over three times its pre-Civil War numbers. Over the last year of the war the Union army cost the United States over a billion dollars. By 1867, that cost was below $100 million.

Navy cuts started earlier

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