Camping Out with the Boys in 1894: 28th National Convention, G.A.R.
There might not have been tents or sweet-smelling wood smoke involved, but the annual encampments for the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) were, like the act of camping, a celebration of nature—in this case, human nature. Established to recognize the efforts of Union soldiers during the Civil War, the G.A.R. brought men together from its inception in 1866 until its dissolution in 1956, under the watchwords of Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty. An annual encampment, or convention, was held every year through 1949 to honor those who died in the Civil War, and to foster comradeship among veterans. Each veteran in attendance received that year’s G.A.R. encampment ribbon badge.
The ALPLM has received hundreds of encampment badges and other G.A.R. memorabilia over the years from generous donors. Typically consisting of a top bar pin connected to a medal via a patriotic ribbon, G.A.R. membership badges resemble the military Medal of Honor, with its characteristic eagle and star. G.A.R. encampment badges on the other hand, showcase more creativity and, in some instances, even beauty. For example, the badge issued at Pittsburghfor the 28th National Encampment in 1894, is striking not only for the level of detail inherent in its design, but the story behind the source materials is itself a work of art.
One of two such badges in the Library’s Artifacts Collection, the 28th National Encampment badge came standard with three separate components: the badge, a protective case, and a paper pamphlet outlining the “History of the Old Cannon from Which This Badge is Made.”
This multi-part badge measures 4.25” x 2.25” overall. It features a top bar pin made of gold-tone metal, with the following engraved scenes: a fort to the left, and marching troops at right. A central inset reads: “GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC / 1861 VETERAN 1866,” around an image of two figures (Peace and Prosperity) shaking hands. Bar reverse has a straight pin with hook clasp, and this maker’s mark: “HEEREN BROS. & CO. PGH.”
A metal jump ring at bar front connects a small gold-tone medallion, depicting a building labeled “OLD BLOCKHOUSE.” Medallion reverse reads: “MEMBER / 28TH NATL. / ENCAMPMENT / PRESENTED / BY / CITIZENS / EX. BOARD.”
The ribbon extending from the top bar pin to the medal proper is yellow, with a U.S.flag motif. The medal is shield-shaped, with a raised lip border and eagle embellishment at top. Border inscription reads: “28TH NATIONAL ENCAMPMENT G.A.R. / SEPT. 1894.” At center is a castle-type fort with the label: “THE SEAL OF THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH.” Medal reverse shows City Hall and two tablet emblems. The inscription here reads: “HISTORICAL RECORD / OF OLD / CITY HALL / 1861-1865.” Inscribed on the tablets: “409745 / SOLDIERS / ENTERTAINED / IN THIS / HALL / 79460 / SICK & / WOUNDED / PROVIDED / FOR AT THE / SOLDIERS / HOME / TOTAL 489205.”
This metal case for the ribbon badge measures 4.5” x 4.5” overall, and mimics the shape of a cross-section of steel rail. It has a silver-tone steel lid etched with elaborate scenes and border insignia. Above one image of a factory, the case reads: “SOUVENIR / 28TH NATIONAL ENCAMPMENT, G.A.R.” At center: images of the soldiers’ campsite, and a “GAS & OIL” refinery. At bottom: another factory, with the inscription: “PGH,PA.”
The lid opens on a hinge. Case interior is lined with plush wine-colored velvet and red ribbon. The case bottom is brass, painted black.
Cut to fit the case precisely, this slim sheath of papers recounts the way in which an old cannon belonging to the Allegheny Arsenal was donated, by Congress, to The Citizens Executive Board of Pittsburgh in 1893, for the express re-purposing of the weapon into commemorative badges. The pamphlet is addressed to “Comrades of the G.A.R,” and concludes with a list of the committee members for that year’s badge.
It could be said that this single badge tells three distinct and equally valuable tales. Presented as a remembrance at the 28th G.A.R. National Encampment, it echoes first and foremost with the sighs of the Civil War. Struck as it was from an actual cannon that had known battle, the second life of the badge recalls the cyclical natures of life, loss, and hope. Finally, a treasured museum artifact, the badge now shines as a real and present part of history for those who will carry the legacy of the past proudly into the future.