This post was written by N-YHS intern Rachel Schimke, a graduate student in the Archives and Public History program at NYU, who processed the Alexander Robert Chisolm Papers.
Though most war-weary Confederate soldiers returned home following Lee’s surrender, not all had the ability or interest to recover their lives in the South. Founded in 1890, the Confederate Veteran Camp of New York provided a community for the former boys in gray who were living in New York City after the Civil War. By 1893, the camp had approximately 300 members. According to the organization’s 1903 constitution and by-laws, the purpose of the camp was to, “perpetuate the memories of our fallen comrades, to minister to the wants of needy and worthy Confederate soldiers and sailors, and to preserve and maintain the sentiment of fraternity that was born amid the pleasures, hardships, and dangers of the march, bivouac, and battlefield.”
Alexander Robert Chisolm (1834-1910) served as the second lieutenant-commander of the Confederate Veteran Camp of New York and later as its commander, in charge of presiding over meetings and calling special sessions as needed. During the war, Chisolm was the senior aide-de-camp to General G.T. Beauregard and was, in Chisolm’s words, Beauregard’s “confidential friend.” Though A.R. Chisolm was born in South Carolina and returned to the state as a young adult to manage his inherited property, he actually spent his childhood in New York. He sold his land in the South after the war and moved to New York in 1870. Though he resettled in a Union state, Chisolm never forgot his days in the Confederate States Army, and spent much of later life writing and giving speeches about his war experiences.
The members of the Confederate Veteran Camp of New York apparently showed little hostility toward their Northern neighbors. An article from the New York Times dated January 20, 1891 describes a banquet hosted by the organization which “several distinguished Union soldiers” also attended as guests (a copy of the banquet menu is held by the New York Public Library). The dining room of the New-York Hotel where the banquet was held was decorated with American flags, and toasts were raised to Generals Lee and Grant with “equal heartiness.” A.R. Chisolm, in a speech he delivered to the Survivors’ Association of Charleston in 1893, praised New York City as a place where, “the Ex-Confederate Soldier has ever been welcomed.” A newspaper clipping in Chisolm’s papers at the New-York Historical Society mentions that members of the veterans’ camp were present at a memorial service held in honor of Grant.
Of course, the hardships of the war were certainly not forgotten. In his notes which preface a speech on the Battle of Shiloh he gave before the Confederate Veteran Camp, Chisolm expressed concern that some Confederate veterans, “although battle-scarred, knew practically very little of the true history of events.” Promotional literature on the camp from 1930 emphasizes the “cruelty and destruction” imposed on the South during the war and boasts that the “achievements and successes” of Confederate veterans “have never been equalled by any similar group of men.” (The literature also asserts the veterans’ “unconditional” belief in the “supremacy of the white race notwithstanding punitive constitutional amendments.”)
Still, it is interesting that such a large community of Confederate veterans existed in New York, and that by all accounts they lived harmoniously among their former enemies- whatever animosities toward the North they may have still felt.