Dont Forgit the Gloves

Letter writing was the main form of communication with loved ones during the Civil War. The Union Army had a post office near forts and camps. The Union Army also had a mail service that followed the armies for the men where they could purchase stamps and mail their letters. In 1864, the U.S. Mail Service announced that Union soldiers could send their letters home for free as long as they wrote “Soldier’s Letter” on the outside of the envelope. [1]

“Where and when a soldier had an opportunity to put pen (or pencil) to paper depended on what time of year it was, whether that soldier’s unit was actively campaigning, and what objects might be available to assist in the mechanics of writing.” [2] 

One of the letters that Daniel Griffis wrote to his father was preserved in a pension file claim of his father Joel Griffis. [3]  The two page letter was written while Daniel, age 32, and his regiment were camped in Mitchell’s Station, Virginia in the winter of 1863-1864. Daniel was a wagon master in the New York First Dragoons Regiment in the Civil War.

Illustration by Gregory Proch source

It is not known what type of wagon Daniel Griffis handled. The illustration above represents the predominant wagon used by Union forces during the war. Brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker set up a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Ind., in 1852, they started making wagons. Earning a reputation for quality and durability, they expanded into the manufacture of carriages in 1857. That same year they landed a subcontract to build supply wagons for the U.S. Army. [4]

As James Riley Brown indicates in his recollections of the Regiment, Mitchell’s Station (where Daniel was able to compose this letter) was the winter camp for the Dragoons:

“A year and a half had passed since we donned the blue, and we were now counted among the veterans, thoroughly inured to the vicissitudes of army experience. With the exception of our short stay in Manassas, we had for seven months been so incessantly on the move that we could never tell where night would overtake us.”[5]

The letter touches on a number of subjects that provide a glimpse of everyday life as a soldier during war. You can get an idea of what Daniel was like and what he thought of while away from home. The letter also touches on some of Daniel’s relationships with his family and friends.  Like many of the Civil War soldiers, Daniel had a limited education. Daniel’s education was probably at the fourth grade level. While many young men from rural areas had never attended school and could neither read nor write, Daniel was able to put his thoughts on paper and often spelled words phonetically. As reflected in the letter, his limited education led to many words being mispelled or sentences left incomplete. For phonetic spellings I have provided the intended words in parentheses.

(Click on a specific page of the letter to view a large version of the image.)

Image of a two page letter from Daniel Griffis
Page One of February 7, 1864 letter by Daniel Griffis
Letter from Daniel Griffis
Page Two of February 7, 1864 letter by Daniel Griffis

The underlined sentences and the numbers written on the second page were probably notations made by Daniel’s father Joel Griffis. The letter was used to support Joel’s claim that he was dependent upon his son’s financial assistance. The addition on the second page perhaps was a tally of money that Daniel had sent to his father.

The following is a transcription of the original letter:

______________________________________________________________________________

Mitcheles (Mitchell’s) Station, Virginia

February 7th, 1864

Dear Parents and Friends

It is sunday eavning (evening) so I thought I would drop you A fieu (few) lines to let you no (know) that I am well and hope there will fiend (find) you the same and in good spirits.  I have been quite loensome (lonesome) to day the Regiment has been out on A three days scout and just returned what success they have had I have not lear net (learned) yet.  well Father I have written to Oscar Bristol for seventy dollars for you and I will try and send you thirty that will make one hundred dollars. I expect to git (get) paid of this week or next. I will try and let you have one hundred dollars.  that will be all I can let you have this time. that will leave me forty five Dollars with O. Bristol.  I wish that you would git (get) me a pair of indian drys gloves git (get) a pair of half guntlets such A pair as you would like to drive in get tite (tight) firm leather not to heavey (too heavy) and send them by mail.  I have not had letter from you (your) sons.  I wrote you one stating that I saw John Gates the one that took dinner with Maggie and Ruth.  now dont (don’t) forget the gloves.

[end of page one)

I had A letter from uncil Wm (uncle William) lastil (?) the other day they was all well. Newtan (?) did talk of inlisten (enlisting) again well I must tell you what wee (we) had for supper to night. wee (we) had hot coffee & bread & butter & cold boild beanes (boiled beans) and frided (fried) nut cakes perhaps you will say where did he git (get) his cakes. I will tell you wee (we) can by (buy) weat (wheat) flour here for 6 cents per pound and I have got A cook that can jest (just) as good pies and cake as ene one (anyone) so that is the way wee git (we get) our cakes, well it is giting (getting) late so I must close so good night write son (soon) as you git (get) this my best wishes to you all good bye.

Truly yours as A son

Daniel Griffis

To his father

______________________________________________________________________________

Daniel’s letter contains the following subjects:

  • The Regiment’s scout trip;
  • Discussion on monetary support to his father and obtaining funds owed by Oscar Bristol;
  • Obtaining leather gloves for his wagon master duties;
  • A brief discussion about family and friends; and
  • The quality of food while at winter camp at Mitchell’s Station.

The Regiment’s expedition that Daniel references in the letter refers to a forward movement of the Union Army to the Robertson River. The following is James R. Brown’s recollection of the reconnaissance:

“The Dragoons crossed Robertson River at Moot’s Ford, where the enemy’s calvary pickets were met and driven in. The principle fighting, however, was a sharp artillery duel, and a brush we had with a brigade of infantry, in which we lost three killed and eight wounded. Our infantry had some sharp fighting, sustaining a loss of three hundred. After floundering around in the deep mud, we returned to camp, the whole affair, like most of Meade’s later movements, proving a failure.” [6]

The discussion about money appears to be in response to an earlier request from his father for monetary assistance. One hundred dollars in 1865 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $1,596.50 today. [7] Sending one hundred dollars to his father was a considerable sum. Joel was 57 years old and supporting his second family of three children. He no longer was a farmer in Mayfield. He was living in Gloversville and working as a teamster. [8] He was financially struggling.

Daniel intended to ask for $70 dollars from Oscar Bristol to be sent to his father. Oscar Bristol is believed to be a cousin of Daniel’s late wife Augusta Bristol who passed away at a young age of 29 in 1861. Daniel was a Blacksmith prior to his enlistment into the service in August 1862. It appears that Daniel left Mayfield, New York after his wife passed away and went to Stillwater, New York to work for her extended family. Stillwater is approximately 200 miles to the west of Mayfield. Daniel provided his services to Oscar Bristol, a farmer, who lived in Stillwater, New York and owed Daniel $115.00. [9] In addition to the $70.00 from Oscar Bristol, Daniel intended to mail and additional $30.00 to his father and “…that will leave me forty five Dollars with O. Bristol”. Daniel wrote that “that will be all I can let you have this time”, suggesting he sent money back to his father on a number of occasions.

The arduous demands of managing and driving supply wagons that had two, four and sometimes six horses, depending on the size and weight of the load, certainly demanded having a good pair of gloves.

“Among the teamster and wagon man’s many enemies were shoddy, stump-filled roads, sucking mud that threatened to swallow up teams and wagons whole, and lame or otherwise injured animals. Drivers often found themselves down in the dirt, digging out their wagons or helping mechanics with repairs. They were also responsible for the care of their hard-working teams and constantly fed their animals from the sacks of forage they lugged in each 2,500- to 2,800- pound wagonload.” [10]

The first Federal wagon train entering Petersburg, VA [11]
Example of Full Gauntlet gloves. [12]

Daniel’s family lived in an area of New York state where the glove making industry provided jobs for generations of families,  making the Gloversville community a center of leather production early in its history. There were already 40 small glove and mitten factories there by 1852.  The city would become the center of the American glovemaking industry for many years. [13] His father certainly would have access to buying the finest wagon gloves for his son.

Daniel requested tight firm leather gloves, specifically a pair of half gauntlet style gloves that were suitable for driving a wagon and withstanding the nature and duties of a wagon master. He also specified that he wanted gloves that were made out of supple leather, similar to indian dry leather processed gloves. The Indian process of tanning rendered a soft, pliable and durable leather. [14] Daniel went on in the letter to talk about family but came back to the subject of the gloves to underscore his need for them: “now dont forgit the gloves“.

In his brief letter, Daniel touches on a number of family and friends that he either saw or received correspondence and also those he has not heard from. He tersely mentions that he had not heard from his brothers, Stephen and William. He mentioned he saw John Gates (no relation) who knew and visited his sisters Maggie and Ruth. John Gates may have been in the 121st Infantry Regiment, which at the time of Daniel’s letter writing, was in the general area where Daniel was camped for the winter. [15] He also mentions receiving a letter from uncle (“uncil”) William. It is not apparent from my research who he is referencing in the letter. The only uncle I am able to document for Daniel is Joel’s brother, William Gates Griffis. William Gates Griffis, however, died in December 1860 so it certainly was not William Gates Griffis. He also mentioned that he was considering enlisting again after this three years were completed.

While staying in their winter quarters at Mitchell’s station, James Riley Bowen revealed novel approaches to making ends meet when it came to food. In addition, being stationary during the winter, allowed many soldiers to receive ‘gift packages’ of food from home.

“Some of the boys also ‘borrowed’ a baking pan and waffle iron, so that we had baked puddings and beans with waffles on our bill of fare. … The boxes from home now began to flow into the regimental city, and the boys reveled in the luxuries of home made ‘vittles’.” [16]

Food is a recurrent subject in civil war correspondence from soldiers to their family. Soldier’s complained about the quality of food and were also forthright in describing occasions where they have had a good meal.

“In camp we had Hardtack and frequently soft bread, the latter usually drawn loose in dirty wagons and dumped upon the ground by the indifferent teamsters. We however, usually ‘skinned’ our loaves, that is, cut off the outside, before using.”

“Company cooking in time became unpopular, and was dispensed with, the men greatly preferring to form themselves into squads, or messes, of from four to six, and prepare their own food.” [17]

Daniel was no exception to writing about food in his letter. He was proud to state that they had a cook that knew how to make pies and cakes as best as ‘anyone can get’. For Sunday dinner, he had a king’s meal of hot coffee, bread & butter & cold boiled beans and fried nut cakes. As he stated in the letter, it was hard to believe he could have such a meal since flour was a precious commodity for food preparation during the war. The supply chain to the winter camp provided access to purchasing flour at six cents per pound.

Re-created ration of Hardtack [19]

This was certainly better than a meal of Hardtack and coffee. The Union soldier received a variety of edibles. The food issue, or ration, was usually meant to last three days while on active campaign and was based on the general staples of meat and bread.

Meat usually came in the form of salted pork or, on rare occasions, fresh beef. Rations of pork or beef were boiled, broiled or fried over open campfires. Army bread was a flour biscuit called hardtack, re-named “tooth-dullers”, “worm castles”, and “sheet iron crackers” by the soldiers who ate them. Hardtack could be eaten plain though most men preferred to toast them over a fire, crumble them into soups, or crumble and fry them with their pork and bacon fat in a dish called skillygalee. [18]

“Many became expert in the preparation of food, considering our limited material. One way was to fry pork, and then fry the hardtack to a crisp in the grease, which with coffee made a palatable meal. For a change we cut pork into small pieces, then pounded up hard tack, and boiled all together. This dish was called ‘lobloll’.”

“Another was was to put the hardtack into a small, strong bag, and laying it on a stump or stone, pound to a powder with a hatchet; then make into a batter, and bake in pancakes. This with melted sugar was a luxury.”

“There were many other methods for preparing dishes which necessity, the mother of inventions, compelled us to originate. Anything for a change.” [20]

Sheridan in center, Photo by Mathew Brady (1822-1896) [22]

Daniel ended his letter on a good note regarding the joy of having a good meal. We do not know if he received the gloves from his father.

A few months later Daniel and the Dragoons would experience a totally new life as soldiers. On April 6, 1864, General Philip Henry Sheridan assumed command of the cavalry corps, including the Dragoons. Sheridan reached only 5 feet 5 inches tall, a stature that led to the nickname, “Little Phil.” Abraham Lincoln described his appearance in a famous anecdote: “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.” [21]

Daniel and the First Regiment stayed at Michell’s Station until April 23, 1864 and then briefly moved to Culpepper, Virginia. On May 4th, the Regiment broke camp and joined Ulysses S. Grant’s and General George G. Meade’s 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia known as the Wilderness Campaign – a series of battles designed to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia.

No other letters were saved by his father Joel. Between April and August in 1864, Daniel undoubtably experienced a multitude of mundane and harrowing events as a wagon master supporting the Dragoons in the various raids in northern Virginia. His support ultimately led to his capture by Mosby’s guerrillas and his imprisonment and death in a prison hospital. [23]

Information about Daniel’s capture by Mosby and his imprisonment is found in a separate story.

Sources

[1] American Civil War Soldier Letters,

AmericanCivilWar.com, article source: National Park Service, Gettysburg National Military Park;

Letter Writing in America: Civil War Letters, Smithsonian, National Postal Museum;

Delahanty, Ian, Soldier’s Diaries and Letters, Essential Civil War Curriculum, Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, June 2015

[2] Delahanty, Ian, Soldier’s Diaries and Letters, Essential Civil War Curriculum, Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, June 2015

[3] U.S. Civil War Pension File Claim 231.631, Joel Griffis, 31 May 1877: Joel Griffis claimed that he was economically dependent on Daniel Griffis and unsuccessfully requested a survivor’s pension.

[4] Guttman, Jon, Studebaker Wagon: The Studie That Served on the Front Lines, History.net

[5] James Riley Bowen, Regimental History of the First New York Dragoons: Originally the 130th N. Y. Vol; Infantry; During Three Years of Active Service in the Great Civil War, originally published by author 1900, Reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2012, page 112

[6] Ibid, page 118-119

[7] CPI Inflation calculator, $100 in 1865 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $1,596.50 today, an increase of $1,496.50 over 156 years. The dollar had an average inflation rate of 1.79% per year between 1865 and today, producing a cumulative price increase of 1,496.50%.

[8] U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918, Tax Year 1864, Division 9 of Collection District 18, New York state, image 313 of 578; assessed a $10.00 tax on $400.00 assessed value.

[9] In a September 28, 1877 affidavit from Joel Griffis for obtaining a pension from Daniel’s military service, it was also indicated that the 70 dollars “he had earned by his labor just before enlisting and left it with him at time of his departure with said Bristol at Springwater” (September 28, 1877 Affidavit of Joel Griffis, Claim No. 231.631 filed by J. Reck. Ally, Johnstown, NY)

[10] Ether, Eric, Behind the Horsepower of Civil War Armies, History.net

[11] Reeke, John, photographer, Photograph of the siege of Petersburg, April 1865, Library of Congress Civil War Photograph of Petersburg, Va. The first Federal wagon train entering the town

[12] This is a photograph of antique Civil War Gloves leather gauntlet riding calvary uniform dress gloves. Daniel requested half gauntlets made of soft leather but durable to withstand the nature of a wagon master’s duties.

[13] Downtown Gloversville Historic District, Living Spaces; Gloversville, New York, Wikipedia; Gloversville, New York, Wikipedia

[14] Frothingham, Washington, Revised and Edited, History of Fulton County, Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co. 1892, Page 156; See also Hosterman, Elizabeth R & Hobbs, Robert B. Leather Gloves: General Information, Letter Circular LC921, U.S. Department of Commerce, national Bureau of Standards, Washington D.C. Oct 11, 1948

[15] New York Civil War Regiment Lists, Volume IV (106th-137th Regiment), page 358 Fold3.com link; 121st New York Infantry Regiment, The Civil War in the East Z: the regiment was probably camped for the winter of 1863-64 in Northern Viginia after the Mine Run Campaign in November and December 1863.

[16] James Riley Bowen, Regimental History of the First New York Dragoons: Originally the 130th N. Y. Vol; Infantry; During Three Years of Active Service in the Great Civil War, originally published by author 1900, Reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2012, page 114

[17] Ibid, Page 37

[18] Author unknown, Soldier’s Food during the Civil War, Civilwar.com; Godoy, Maria, Civil War Soldiers Needed Bravery To Face The Foe, And The Food, National Public Radio; Heichelbech, Rose, What Exactly did Civil War Soldiers Eat?, DustyOldthing.com ; Civil War Food,  Civil War Academy online; Colleary, Eric, Civil War Recipe: Hardtack (1861), The American Table June 26, 2013; Rose, Savannah, The Hardtack Challenge: How a Soldier’s Staple Holds Up Today, The Gettysburg Compiler: On the Front Lines of History (online)

[19] Photograph by Matt Rourke, Associated Press, of re-created hardtack made at Bushey Farm ,Gettysburg, PA,

[20] James Riley Bowen, Regimental History of the First New York Dragoons, Page 47

[21] Morris, Roy, Jr. Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan. New York: Crown Publishing, 1992. Page 1

[22] Photo by Mathew Brady (1822-1896), 1864 Heritage Auction Gallery: Major General Philip Sheridan and his generals in front of Sheridan’s tent, 1864. Left to right: Henry E. Davies, David McM. Gregg, Sheridan, Wesley Merritt, Alfred Torbert, and James H. Wilson.

[23] The Battle of Berryville Pike, American Civil War

Buttons, Medals and Civil War Remembrance

In addition to having the Civil War discharge paper and musket of William J. Griffis, handed down through successive generations, there are an assortment of civil war and Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) uniform buttons and civil war veteran medals in the family archives. The buttons and medals probably passed from William J Griffis to his son Charles and in turn to Harold Griffis.

GAR Buttons
An assortment of Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) buttons

They are physical remnants of post-Civil War organizations that affirmed the identity of a veteran or a son of a veteran that fought in the Civil War. They also were the physical trappings of an allegiance to a group of individuals who shared memories and physical experiences of war that divided a country. These buttons, membership medals, community meetings and commemorations, and “Camp Gatherings’ provided a social base for “the preservation of the grand results of the war”. These grand results included the preservation of ‘fraternal feelings’ (story telling and remembrance of the past); providing social networks to provide veteran assistance; providing for the support, care, and education of soldiers’ orphans, and maintenance of their widows; the protection and assistance of disabled soldiers; furthering the goals of veteran pensions; and promoting the visibility of veteran’s affairs to the general public.

There are two types of buttons in this family assortment. One type of button has the initials ‘GAR’ (Grand Army of the Republic) on them and a second set has an eagle with either a shield or initials in the chest of the eagle. There are also two sizes of GAR buttons. The large buttons were breast coat buttons and the smaller sized buttons were for the sleeves.

The second set of buttons have eagles with various types of shields. They are Civil War uniform buttons. There are seven buttons with eagles with wings outstretched that have shields on their chest.

Seven Civil War era buttons for Union uniforms

Prior to and during the Civil War, Scovill was the most prolific of button manufacturers. The Scovill name is common on buttons from the 1830’s to the 1970’s. The original Scovill partnerships and companies that had contracts for making buttons were located in Waterbury, Connecticut. Oftentimes the name Waterbury also appears on Scovill buttons. The brothers J. M. Lamson Scovill and William Henry Scovill operated the business from 1827 to 1840. [1]

One of the coat buttons has an eagle with a flat lined union shield. The backmark (underside) of the button has the inscription: Scovill MFG C WATERBURY. Backmarks with variations of Scovill Manufacturing began about 1850 (for example, Scovill MG.- early 1850s, Scovill MF’G – mid 1850s). Some of the buttons reference the division of the army on the eagles’ shield, with “I” representing the Infantry, “C” for Calvary, and “A” the Artillery. The buttons with the division significations were made by Scoville between 1821-1902. Buttons with eagles with a flat lined shield were made between 1854-1875. The necks on the eagles for all of these buttons lean to the left. The eagle buttons in our possession were probably made in the the late 1850’s and early 1860’s.

This may have been one of William J Griffis’ buttons that was from his uniform when he was in the 153rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. [2] It is a button that is 5/16th of an inch wide. It was probably a sleeve uniform button.

There is one button in the collection with an “I” in the eagle’s shield, signifying infantry. Since William Griffis was in a New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, this very well could have been one of his uniform buttons. This button has “H.Bros.&Allien. NY” on the back mark of the button. The backmarks are raised in a depressed channel. This type of button generally dates from the 1830s to 1850s.

The “H. Bros.&Allien.NY” refers to Horstman Brothers & Allien, a manufacturer of the button that was located in New York. Manufacturer and retailer of civilian and military equipment, William H. Horstmann (1785-1850) originally established a manufacturing, importing, and retail business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1816. His firm consisted of two companies: one dealt in civilian clothing and goods, and the other in military uniforms and equipment. After his sons, William H. Horstmann (1819-1872) and Sigmund H. Horstmann (1821-1870) joined the firm, they established another branch of the business in New York, NY. The firm was also called William H. Horstmann & Sons (1843-1893, Philadelphia), Horstmann Bros. & Company (1850-1852, New York; 1859-1893, Philadelphia), Horstmann Bros. & Allien (1852-1877, New York), Horstmann Sons & Drucker (1845-1849, New York), The William H. Horstmann Co. (1893-1940, Philadelphia). [3]

The remaining five buttons are eagle buttons with an “A” in the eagle’s shield. Two of the buttons are 3/4 inch wide and remaining three are 1/2 inch wide buttons. They all have “W.H. Smith & Co. New York” on the backsides of the buttons. The back marks on the 1/2 inch buttons have depressed marks (the lettering looks like it was hand stamped into the metal). This type of button typically dates from the 1860s and later. The larger buttons have backmarks with a raised mark in a depressed channel. This type of design generally dates from the 1830s to 1850s. [4]

There are no known relatives that were assigned to Civil War artillery units. It is not known who were the original owners of the Artillery buttons. It is conceivable that William or his son Charles acquired the “A” buttons from someone they knew or through their association with veterans organizations.

Whether the buttons were the original buttons on the uniform of William Griffis is not certain. William Griffis was active with the Grand Army of the Republic after he mustered out of the service. William’s son Charles Arthur Griffis was a member of the “Sons of Veterans of the United States of America” (SVUSA). Both father and son may have collected civil war buttons or wore some of these buttons on a uniform while participating in events with the SUVCW.

Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)

GAR Uniform Hat Pin of William Griffis

William Griffis may have been a member of the GAR Willard Allen Post, in Johnstown, Fulton County, New York. The post was in existence in May 1869 when Memorial Day was originally observed. [5]. Although these historical artifacts and newspaper articles document William’s membership with the GAR, there are no known documents that link William to a specific GAR Post. Since he lived in Johnstown, it is assumed that he was affiliated with of the Johnstown Posts.

At the close of the Civil War, there were over a million men in the Union armies. Nearly two and a half million had served for the Republic during the four long years of warfare, of whom three hundred and fifty-nine thousand had died. Most of those still in service at the end of the war disbanded and returned to civilian life. This general disbandment was largely effected after a grand parade of the armies of the Potomac, the Tennessee, and of Georgia, on May 22 and 24, 1865. One hundred and fifty thousand men marched through the wide avenues of Washington in review before the President and the commanding generals. [6]

“From the glare and glory, the power and prestige of the soldier’s career, they went into the obscurity of the peaceful pursuits of American citizenship, and in a few short months the vast armies of the United States had disappeared. The great war was ended, but it would have been strange indeed if the memories of those years of storm and stress, the sacrifices of those who had fallen, the experiences of the march, the battlefield, and the camp, and the needs of their disabled comrades, and of the widows and the orphans had been forgotten.”[7]

Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership to the GAR was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The community level of the organization was called a “Post”. Each Post was numbered consecutively within each department. Most Posts also had a name and the rules for naming Posts included the requirement that the honored person be deceased and that no two Posts within the same Department could have the same name. The Departments generally consisted of the Posts within a state and, at the national level, the organization was operated by the elected ‘Commandery-in-Chief’. [8]

GAR uniform in the 1900’s [9]

Groups of veterans began joining together under the aegis of the GAR first for camaraderie and then for social service and political power. By 1890 the GAR would roughly number 409,500 veterans of the “War of the Rebellion”. The organization represented a potent political force for pension advocacy and legislation, and social assistance and active relief work for veterans and families.

The GAR was influential in establishing Memorial Day. Memorial day was originally proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and it was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

For GAR formal gatherings, for the first few years veterans typically wore the uniform they had when mustered out. By the 1880s, those uniforms were no doubt worn thin and perhaps did not fit anymore and were put aside. In the 1880s era the GAR uniform had a notched rolling collar and was adopted by the many of the GAR organizations. Usually rank insignia was not worn since the soldiers were civilians. By the 1890s rank insignia was being worn in some cases. The photo to the right depicts the GAR uniform of the 1880’s. [9]

The top photograph in this story as well as the two below depict the GAR uniform buttons (breast and cuff buttons) that were in the possession of William and his son Charles Griffis.

GAR Membership Medals

The general design of the badge was in use since 1869. The pendant of the badge is a five pointed star, like the Medal of Honor granted by Congress. The face of the medal has the Goddess of Liberty in the center, representing loyalty, and on either side stands a soldier and a sailor clasping hands in front of the Goddess to represent fraternity. Two children are kneeling in the foreground to receive a benediction and the assurance of protection from soldiers. This is the symbol of charity. On each side of this center group are the flag and eagle representing freedom and an ax and a bundle of rods for union. In the star points are the emblems of different arms of service, bugle for infantry, cannon for artillery, muskets for marines, swords for cavalry, and an anchor for sailors. Surrounding the center is the legend, Grand Army of the Republic, 1861 Veterans -1866, the later date commemorating the close of the war and the founding of the order.

The membership medal was designed and required for GAR membership.  Each member was required to purchase their medal from the official quartermaster.  To prove that the medals were authentic and properly obtained, a small alpha-numeric serial number was stamped on the edge of every official medal.  The first was a letter that corresponded to the G.A.R. Commander of the year, and subsequent next digits were a sequential number.  There were no records kept on which veteran purchased which medal. [10] In 1879, Ulysses Grant was presented with a gold version of the Gar membership medal [11]

There were three medals in William’s possession. Two of the medals were membership GAR medals and the third medal was a regiment membership medal. The following medal is in very good condition. The ribbon has minimal damage and the colors of the ribbons are still vibrant. The serial number B31848 on the edge of the star can still be read. Based on the serial number , there were seven commanders in chief whose last names began with a “B” [12] :

  • Ambrose Burnside 1871-72
  • Robert Beath 1883
  • S.S. Burnett 1885
  • John Black 1903
  • Wilman Blackmor 1904
  • Robert Brown 1906
  • Charles Burton 1907

Since this medal is is relatively good condition, it is assumed that William purchased this medal to replace his order membership medal. It may have been purchased in the early 1900’s. William Griffis passed away in 1908.

The second membership medal is not in the same condition as the first medal. The ribbon is basically destroyed. However, the serial number W1048 can still be deciphered. Based on the serial number, there were five commanders in chief with last names beginning with “W” [13]:

  • Louis Wagner 1880
  • William Warner 1888
  • A.G. Weissert 1892
  • Ivan Walker 1895

Since the medal came into widespread use in the 1880’s, it is assumed William obtained this medal in 1880 or 1888 and probably was his first medal that he purchased.

The third membership medal represents William Griffis’ participation with the 153rd Infantry Regiment of New York Volunteers. The medal depicts a particular time of service when the regiment served in the Department of the Gulf and 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 19th Corps, from February, 1864 to March 1865. During this time the regiment took part in the Red River campaign, meeting with severe losses at Pleasant Hill. It was also active at Mansura and was commended for its bravery in these battles by the commanding general. [14]

Newspaper Article

The following is a newspaper article from The Johnstown Daily Republican (August 23, 1906, Page 8) that provides an account of the 25th annual reunion of the 153rd Regiment. Thirty-eight of the 250 surviving members of the original 1,300 members attended. It provides a good example of civil war reunion activities associated with the GAR and regimental reunions. William J Griffis was elected treasurer of the GAR based unit, two years before be passed away.

Sons of Veterans of the United States of America

William’s son Charles never served in the military but was an avid member of the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America. The following is a certificate commemorating the election of Charles Griffis as first lieutenant in the SVUSA.

A framed certificate with official waxed seal attesting that Charles A Griffis is elected to the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America Click here for larger rendition

The certificate reads:

“To Charles A. Griffis of Gloversville State of New York Greeting Whereas You have been duly elected First Lieutenant of D.B. Decker Camp No. Nine Division of New York located at Gloversville State of New York and as I repose special trust and confidence in you , I do by virtue of the power and authority vested in me, hereby commission you as such with rank from the sixth day of January A.D. 1898.

“You will therefore carefully and with honor and fidelity discharge the duties of said office in accordance with the Constitution of the Commandery-in-Chief, the General Rules and Regulations of the Order, and Legal Instructions provided for your government and this shall be your authority for serving.

“In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and have caused the Seal of Division to be affixed at Elmira in the State of New York this 31st day of Jany in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety eight and in the one hundred and twenty second years of the Independence of the United States of America.

Attested by Adjutant and Division commander”

The SVUSA was a fraternal organization that carried out educational, patriotic and philanthropic activities to preserve the history and legacy of the Union veterans of the Civil War. It was the legal successor to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Similar to the GAR, most SVUSA activities occurred at the “Camp”, or local community, level. In turn, Camps were grouped into state and/or regional structures called “Departments”. The National organization had their headquarters at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. [5]

Charles Griffis’ involvement in the activities of the SVUSA were documented on a number of occasions in the local newspapers of Gloversville.

“Sons of Veterans” Gloversville The Daily Leader., April 06, 1898, Page 5

The Johnstown Daily Republican, April 06, 1898, Page 7

“Sons of Veterans Gloversville The Daily Leader, December 03, 1897, Page 8

Charles continued his various roles and duties in the organization throughout his life. The following are photographs of a “War Chest” parade in Gloversville, New York during World War I around 1917. Charles Griffis is riding a painted horse in the the first photograph.

Sources

[1] U.S. Uniform Buttons: U.S. Military Uniform Button Identification, Inkspot Antiques, accessed January 13, 2021; Scoville Fasteners, Company-Histories.com, accessed January 14, 2021.

[2] 153rd Infantry Regiment, York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History, Accessed December 20, 2020 Last modified: January 24, 2018 
URL: http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/153rdInf/153rdInfMain.ht

[3] William H. Horstmann, Autry Museum of the American West’s Collections, online term search

[4] Eichman, Harry, Young, Young, Smith & Co. General Staff Buttons: Early Variants, Generalstaffbuttons.com

[5] Edited by Dean Enderlin, SUVCW National GAR Records Officer, National GAR Records Program – Historical Summary of Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Posts by State, Page 2 of 29, 30 June 2013, last edited Dec 21, 2020, GAR Records Website: www.garrecords.org specific listing : http://www.suvcw.org/garrecords/garposts/ny.pdf ; also: http://www.suvcw.org/garrecords/garcat/garcat-ny.htm

[6] Grand Review of the Armies, Wikipedia, page accessed on January 14, 2020; Flemming, Thomas, The Big Parade, American Heritage, Volume 41, Issue 2, March 1990; Ross, D. Reed, Civil War Grand Review, History.net, page accessed January 14, 2021; Stroock, William, The Grand Review of 1865, WarfareHistoryNetwork.com, page accessed November 9, 2020.

[7] Gilman, John E. Commander-in-Chief, Grand Army of the Republic, civilwarhome, 1910

[8] The Grand Army of the Republic and Kindred Societies, The Library of Congress, Researcher and References Division, September 13, 2011.; Grand Army of the Republic History, Sons of Union Veterans from the Civil War Website, page accessed October 28, 2020

[9] Studio portrait of H.H. Bennett wearing a GAR uniform, Wisconsin Historical Society, Henry Hamilton Bennett, Title, Image ID 8072. Viewed online at ( https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM8072 ); see also 1880s G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) Sackcoat (Blouse), Quartermaster Shop; see also differences between 1880 and 1900 uniforms :

Civil War veteran and amputee Henry A. Seaverns of GAR George W. Perry Post no.31, Scituate, Massachusetts, in uniform with sword, canteen, and other artifacts, standing on crutches in front of American flag, Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Digital ID: (digital file from original, front) ppmsca 53396 ,  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

[10] Robert J. Wolz, PDC, National Historian of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, July 2013, Frequently Asked Questions

Mark Sharky, G.A.R. Membership Medal, US Civil War Grand Army of the Republic, Union Army Veteran Samuel Rouse, GAR, Type V 1891 – 1892, March 19, 2008

[11] Ulysses S. Grant Gold GAR Membership badge, National Museum of American History, currently physically not on view (January 2021)

[12] Gilman, John E. Commander-in-Chief, Grand Army of the Republic, civilwarhome, 1910

[13] Ibid

[14] 153rd Infantry Regiment, York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History, Accessed December 20, 2020 Last modified: January 24, 2018 

[15] Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, From Wikipedia, referenced page was last edited on 12 January 2021, at 12:56 (UTC)http://www.suvcw.org/?page_id=167