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Living Flag Moves Civil War Veterans

 
 

With the Wave of a Hand


With a wave of a hand, it blossomed out in a glory of color and then a burst of cheers erupted from the multitude assembled.

When many of the veterans caught sight of it, they were moved to tears as they took off their hats in mute salute.  Other veterans wildly cheered and broke the line to simply gaze at the awe-inspiring sight.  It was May 14, 1903, in Anderson, Indiana.

That Thursday was the final day of a three-day state encampment of the Indiana Department Grand Army of the Republic(GAR) in the city.  The year 1903 was to be the only year in the long history of the GAR in Indiana (1879-1948) that such a meeting was held in Madison County.  It may have been the only time, but it was remembered as the most memorable one.  The reason:  The Living Flag.

Two thousand Anderson school children had practiced for several weeks under the leadership of school superintendent Carr and his corps of teachers.  When their day arrived, they were  more than ready.  The children had been so well trained that there was not the slightest incident.

The children assembled at the stand promptly at 1 p.m. in the afternoon and remained for some time before they donned their costumes.  The stand was constructed of scaffolding on the northwest corner of the courthouse square.  At the command of Superintendent Carr, they put on their red, white, and blue caps.  On another command, they put on their capes.  Old Glory was then displayed in all its loveliness, and shouts of approval and applause went up from 10,000 throats witnessing the grand spectacle.   

Lifting In Song

The children then gave a handkerchief salute in perfect unison and the effect was labeled as indescribable.  Then they would sit, altogether, like a beautiful subsiding wave.  The demonstration was followed by singing.  Their singing was described as thrilling and showed the students' excellent and painstaking training under the direction of Miss Birchard.  The opening song was particularly touching.

At 1:30, the choir burst forth with "My Country, Tis of Thee."  With that, a platoon of Anderson police appeared like a moving wall and the massive crowd surged back, leaving a passage for a magnificent procession of distinguished men in uniforms of blue and gold, carriages with dignitaries, 20 drum corps, and 15 bands. 

Indiana Senator Charles W. Fairbanks was among the dignitaries.  He would in two years become the 26th vice president of the United States.  Other notables was Civil War General John T. Wilder;  however, the eyes of all who lined the streets were on the group that followed. 

Indiana Governor Winfield T. Durbin, a Civil War veteran and Anderson resident since 1879, was dressed in civilian clothes and wore a silk hat.  His staff member were dressed in uniforms with magnificent gold trimmings.  The entire group were mounted.  They were led by Grand Marshal Captain Alonzo I. Makepeace, who was born in Pendleton.  He enlisted in Company A, 19th Indiana Infantry in July 1861.  Rising to the rank of captain, his regiment was a member of the famed Iron Brigade and participated in the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was taken prisoner.  After 20 months in captivity in nearly every prison in the Confederacy, he was exchanged.  Being grand marshal and leading his former comrades-in-arms had to be one of his greatest honors.  

Farther north on Meridian Street were the city's honored guests.  Their procession consisted of 6,000 grizzled Union Civil War veterans dressed in blue, banner bearers, patriotic women and disabled veterans riding in carriages.  They moved south on Meridian Street and passed in review of the national and department GAR officers located on the balcony of the Anderson Hotel near 7th and Meridian Streets.        

A Good March

The former soldiers stood the march well and they moved with the enthusiasm of youth despite being in the autumn of their years.  Taking all this in were the children of the Living Flag.  They had the best seats in the house.  It was without question, pageantry's finest hour in Anderson.  The scene from the top of the Living Flag was breathtaking.  An immense crowd was packed for blocks in all directions.  Through this crowd along Meridian Street and then down Eighth Street to Jackson and then doubling back was a constantly moving current of blue with dashes of colored banners.  Their view down Eighth Street was electrifying with the counter-marching of waving banners and two streams of blue running in opposite directions.  It was a spectacle to behold. 

It was the trip back up Eighth Street that loosened the emotions of the Civil War heroes.  Waiting at the intersection of Eighth and Meridian Streets on the corner of the courthouse lawn was the enormous Living Flag of the nation they had fought so hard to preserve 40 years earlier.  No doubt thoughts of comrades lost and hardships endured brought forth the flood of tears described by many who witnessed the stirring moment. 

One final tribute captured the attention of the jubilant crowd and gave cause for reflection.  As one of the bands in the parade passed by the Living Flag, they began to play the tune that came to symbolize the Confederacy, "Dixie."  The stirring tune was too much for the children and, although they had not trained to sing it, they all began to hum it.    


Lengthy Parade

How long the parade lasted was not recorded;  however, it took 20 minutes for all the units to pass a given point.  The encampment ended that evening with closing ceremonies and the veterans soon departed for home.  Encampment chairman Francis Van Pelt announced that three Big Four railroad special excursion trains would depart from the Anderson depot beginning at 10 o'clock that evening bound for Union City, Wabash, and Greensburg.   

Although Anderson hosted the event only once, the Living Flag idea caught on and spread across the country.  It was featured at the Toledo, Ohio, GAR gathering in 1908, and the following year in Salt Lake City.

Credit for the origination and promotion of the Living Flag was given to Jerome J. Musser, who overcame what was described as insurmountable difficulties.  For his efforts, he received well-deserved praise from a grateful city.  


By Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian 

As a part of the parade for the state encampment of the Indiana Department Grand Army of the Republic in the spring of 1903, 2,000 Anderson school children created the 'Living Flag.'

Those who saw it were amazed and thrilled by the sight!

 
 

 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net

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