The United Confederate Veterans (UCV) was created in June 1889 when representatives of various Confederate veterans’ groups met in New Orleans. They selected John B. Gordon to serve as the group’s first commanding general. Gordon led the organization until his death in January 1904, when he was succeeded by Mississippian Stephen D. Lee. Unanimously elected commander in chief at the Nashville reunion, Lee told the assembled veterans that he had received “the highest honor that could be conferred upon a living Confederate.” Lee remained highly popular and influential until his death in 1908.
The UCV held its first reunion in 1890 in Chattanooga, and the gathering was repeated annually until 1951, when just three aged survivors attended. The organization had a decidedly military structure: local units were called camps, each state comprised a division, officials at all levels were addressed by military titles, and veterans wore gray uniforms at reunions and other official functions.
The organization grew rapidly through the 1890s, buoyed in part by publicity in the pages of Confederate Veteran magazine (1893–1932), which became the UCV’s official organ in 1894. Exact membership figures are impossible to ascertain, since the UCV never issued comprehensive statistics, but historian Gaines M. Foster has estimated that between a quarter and a third of all eligible veterans were members in 1903. At the annual reunion in Nashville in 1904, Adj. Gen. William E. Mickle reported that 1,563 camps existed, although some were dormant or had been absorbed, with 102 in Mississippi.
Mississippians exhibited great interest in the UCV. According to Foster, more than 85 percent of Mississippi counties boasted UCV camps. On 2 June 1891 The UCV held its second annual reunion in Jackson, a one-day affair that coincided with the unveiling of the city’s imposing Confederate monument. More than five hundred Mississippi veterans attended the twenty-third annual state reunion, held in Greenwood in October 1913. Delegates participated in business meetings and took an “active interest . . . in the cause of dependent comrades” and widows. Greenwood provided a hospitable environment, conveying the veterans around the city in automobiles. Local United Daughters of the Confederacy members hosted an evening reception on the courthouse grounds, and one appreciative veteran confessed that he would “rather come to Greenwood than go to any other place except heaven.” On the second day, veterans listened to additional welcoming speeches, heard an invocation by the divisional chaplain, elected officers for the upcoming year, and “swarmed” Mrs. N. V. Noblin after she sang a “charmingly rendered” version of “Dixie.”
Veterans were most closely tied to their local camps, bonding based on common wartime experiences, holding local reunions, gathering with family and friends at barbecues and picnics, and receiving honors at public ceremonies including Confederate Memorial Day celebrations and the unveiling of Confederate monuments. The vast majority of UCV members were Democrats and members of mainline Protestant denominations.
The UCV peaked in the early 1900s. Death inexorably reduced its members, and by the time national reunions were held in Jackson in 1937 and Biloxi in 1930, 1946, and 1950, the organization was nearly moribund. Yet at its height, the UCV provided a framework for veterans to share wartime memories; support a host of benevolent causes, including veterans’ homes for indigent comrades; and embrace a Lost Cause ideology that idealized the Confederacy and viewed the war as a holy crusade waged on behalf of states’ rights.
- Confederate Veteran (November 1913)
- Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South (1987)
- Minutes of the Fourteenth Annual Meeting and Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans Held at Nashville, Tennessee on . . . June 14, 15, 16, 1904 (1904)