It was organised on 10 June 1889, by ex-soldiers and sailors of the Confederate States as a merger between the Louisiana Division of the Veteran Confederate States Cavalry Association; N.B. Forrest Camp of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Tennessee Division of the Veteran Confederate States Cavalry Association; Tennessee Division of Confederate Soldiers; Benevolent Association of Confederate Veterans of Shreveport, Louisiana; Confederate Association of Iberville Parish, Louisiana; Eighteenth Louisiana; Adams County (Mississippi) Veterans’ Association; Louisiana Division of the Army of Tennessee; and Louisiana Division of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Union equivalent of the UCV was the Grand Army of the Republic.
There had been numerous local veterans associations in the South, and many of these became part of the UCV. The organisation grew rapidly throughout the 1890s culminating with 1,555 camps represented at the 1898 reunion. The next few years marked the zenith of UCV membership, lasting until 1903 or 1904, when veterans were starting to die off and the organization went into a gradual decline.
The UCV felt it had to outline its purposes and structure in a written constitution, based on military lines. Members holding appropriate UCV “ranks” officered and staffed echelons of command from General Headquarters at the top to local camps (companies) at the bottom. Their declared purpose was emphatically non-military – to foster “social, literary, historical, and benevolent” ends.
The UCV sponsored Florida’s Tribute to the Women of the Confederacy (1915).
The national organisation assembled annually in a general convention and social reunion, presided over by the Commander-in-Chief. These annual reunions served the UCV as an aid in achieving its goals. Convention cities made elaborate preparations and tried to put on bigger events than the previous hosts. The gatherings continued to be held long after the membership peak had passed and despite fewer veterans surviving, they gradually grew in attendance, length and splendour. Numerous veterans brought family and friends along too, further swelling the crowds. Many Southerners considered the conventions major social occasions. Perhaps thirty thousand veterans and another fifty thousand visitors attended each of the mid and late 1890 reunions, and the numbers increased. In 1911 an estimated crowd of 106,000 members and guests crammed into Little Rock, Arkansas – a city of less than one-half that size. Then the passing years began taking a telling toll and the reunions grew smaller. But still the meetings continued until in 1950 at the sixtieth reunion only one member could attend, 98-year-old Commander-in-Chief James Moore of Selma, Alabama. The following year, 1951, the United Confederate Veterans held its sixty-first and final reunion in Norfolk, Virginia, from 30 May to 03 June. Three members attended: William Townsend, John B. Salling, and William Bush. The US Post Office Department issued a 3-cent commemorative stamp in conjunction with that final reunion. The last verified Confederate veteran, Pleasant Crump, died at age 104 on 31 December 1951.
The Confederate Veteran
In addition to national meetings, another prominent factor contributed to the growth and popularity of the UCV. This was a monthly magazine which became the official UCV organ, the Confederate Veteran. Founded as an independent publishing venture in January 1893, by Sumner Archibald Cunningham, the UCV adopted it the following year. Cunningham personally edited the magazine for twenty-one years and bequeathed almost his entire estate to insure its continuance. The magazine was of a very high quality and circulation was wide. Many veterans penned recollections or articles for publication in its pages. Readership always greatly exceeded circulation because numerous camps and soldiers’ homes received one or two copies for their numerous occupants. An average of 6,500 copies were printed per issue during the first year of publication, for example, but Cunningham estimated that fifty thousand people read the twelfth issue.