• Caring for widows and orphans of veterans.
• Caring for disabled veterans.
• Preserving Confederate relics and artifacts.
• Organizing reunions and fraternal gatherings.
• Preserving a record of service of its members.
• Influencing public education of Confederate history.
• Healing and reconciling the country.
“What a concept today, eh?” says Harold Mills, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, about that last purpose. On Friday, Sept. 27, at noon at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia, Col. Mills will speak about the history of the United Confederate Veterans.
The veterans who made up the private organization – it did not accept any government funds – were serious about that “healing and reconciling” part. They held joint reunions with their Union counterparts in the Grand Army of the Republic, starting in the 1880s. The biggest of these occurred at Gettysburg in 1913.
Other meetings were also momentous. In 1911, “They had this humongous parade and gathering in Little Rock, Arkansas,” said Mills. With veterans’ families and others, 100,000 people showed up, and bivouacked in a “huge tent city.” That number was twice the population of Little Rock at the time.
Mills scoffs at suggestions that participation in the UCV was the veteran’s way of coping with PTSD: “Those guys got together because they were glad to be alive.” These farm boys would otherwise never have gone beyond their home county lines, and the Civil War was “the biggest adventure of their whole lives.”
But an organization made up of veterans of one conflict could not last forever. The UCV had its final reunion in Norfolk, Va. in 1951. Three members attended: William Townsend, John B. Salling, and William Bush. The last verified Confederate veteran would die on the last day of that year.
In a tangible sign of the kind of reconciliation the group had sought, the U.S. Post Office Department issued a 3-cent stamp to commemorate that final reunion.
Col. Mills is a Vietnam veteran and a career intelligence officer. He is also a retired South Carolina educator and National Board Certified Teacher in History. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland and the Air War College, and holds graduate degrees from the University of Southern California and Boston University. He is a member of four heritage organizations: the Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton Camp #273, Sons of Confederate Veterans; the Gen. Maxcy Gregg Chapter, Military Order of the Stars & Bars; the Col. Thomas Taylor Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution; and the General Society of the War of 1812.
His lecture, which is free and open to the public, is part of the museum’s monthly Lunch and Learn series.
About the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum
Founded in 1896, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is an accredited museum focusing on South Carolina’s distinguished martial tradition through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other American conflicts. It serves as the state’s military history museum by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting South Carolina’s military heritage from the colonial era to the present, and by providing superior educational experiences and programming. It is located at 301 Gervais St. in Columbia, sharing the Columbia Mills building with the State Museum. For more information, go to https://crr.sc.gov/.