In my previous post (here), I described how some veterans came to Notre Dame after the Civil War to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross as priests or brothers of the order, forming a literal "Band of Brothers."
In Part II of "A REAL 'Band of Brothers'" below, I provide an excerpt from my book Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010) in which I describe how the veterans at Notre Dame founded a very unique post of the Grand Army of the Republic. Enjoy!
In the autumn of 1897, the remaining Civil War veterans in the classrooms and halls of Notre Dame decided to join the ranks again,this time by forming their own post—a very special one, in fact—of the country’s most active Union veterans’ organization, the Grand Armyof the Republic (GAR)...a newspaper reported that fall. Besides the notable personalities, Notre Dame’s chapter—Post No. 569—was unique because it was the only one in the country composed entirely of ordained priests or professed religious men as members.
On the evening of October 5, 1897, the Auten Post members of the GAR of nearby South Bend, Indiana, marched in a body from their homes and filed into Washington Hall on campus for the inaugural ceremonies. The university band played a march as the enthusiastic crowd that had waited outside the hall began to enter. Father Peter P.Cooney—installed as chaplain of the new post—offered a heartfelt and patriotic prayer...
Father William Corby—elected commander—then gave a welcoming address followed by additional speeches given by visiting dignitaries.The formal part of the ceremony being over, the balance of the evening was given to sharing war stories and tales of amusement. General St.Clair Mulholland, Father Corby’s old friend and comrade in the Irish Brigade—who had come eight hundred miles to attend—obliged by giving an address full of good Irish humor...
The evening concluded with the reading of telegrams of congratulation from around the country...and a closing address from Father Morrissey, president of Notre Dame, who declared his own pride in the school’s Civil War record...
You can read Fr. Cooney's prayer, Gen. Mulholland's hearty Irish humor, and Fr. Morrissey's closing remarks in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory.
Below, I happily share an excerpt from a typical newspaper (from the Atlanta Constitution, of all places!) report of the ceremonies:
November 7, 1897
PRIESTS FORM A G. A. R. POST
The Most Unique Organization of Old Soldiers in the World
All Did Gallant Deeds
Notre Dame, Ind., November 6.—In no country of the world is there to be found a more interesting and unique aggregation of battle-scarred veterans than those forming the very latest post to be added to the Grand Arniy of the Republic, which will be known as Post 569, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Indiana. The commander of the post is the Very Rev. William Corby, by whose consent the story of its conception and formation is made public.
The members of the new post are all brothers and priests of the Order of the Holy Cross of the University of Notre Dame. In all the members number only eleven, but among them are men who have won imperishable fame and honor and whose records are the most renowned of the war. In the autumn of life, with the days of battle, bullets and bayonets long since passed into a mere memory, these old veterans have suddenly awakened in the quiet of their university home to the fact that there is a forgotten band of sympathy between them. All had gone to the front in the sixties and fought valiantly and with distinction. What more appropriate than that they should organize themselves into a post of the Grand Army? A meeting was called and arrangements made for the formal mustering in of the new post with a fitting amount of enthusiasm.
At 7 o'clock of the evening of October 5th the priest post was declared a part of the Grand Army, amid much cheering, speechmaking and flag-waving. The immense concourse of people who gathered to cheer the soldier priests saw under the folds of the flags that were draped on the platform a collection of as splendid specimens of humanity as ever paced the ranks of a veteran army. In the center beamed the genial face of post commander, the Very Rev. W. Corby, once chaplain of the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, known in war times as the "Irish Brigade."...
To the right of the brave old chaplain was brother W. A. Olmstead, formerly lieutenant colonel, Second Infantry, New York Volunteers, and colonel of the Fifty-ninth New York Veteran Volunteers. He is the surgeon and adjutant of the new post...
To Commander Corby's left sat Peter Paul Cooney, chaplain of the post. Father Cooney was formerly chaplain of the Thirty-fifth Indiana regiment, followed the fortunes of the regiment through the war...
Next to Father Cooney sat Brother John Chrysostom, a stalwart, white-bearded old soldier, whose comrades of the army knew him by his fighting name of Mark A. Wills, of the First Company, Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers...he served all through the war and took part in many of the fiercest battles.
At the other end of the front row sat the grave and scholarly-looking face of Brother Leander was seen. Officers and men who are living will know him as James McLain, of the Twenty-fourth Infantry, United States regular army. Brother Leander is the only member of the post whoas a soldier by profession when the war broke out.
In the rear rank stood Brother Benedict whom the gunners of the First Pennsylvania Artillery knew as James Mantels, a brave and gallant soldier. Next to him stood Brother Ignatius, who before he retired from the world, was known as Igntaz Mayer, and as such participated in many a hotly contested charge with the boys of the 157th Pennsylvania regiment...
He was flanked on the platform by Brother Raphael, a priestly looking man who in his younger days was a dare-devil soldier of the One Hundred and Thirty-First Pennsylvania regiment. The white beards of Brother Cosmos, formerly Nicholas A. Bath of the Tenth Maryland Regiment and Brother Eustachius, once known as John Mclnerny, of the Eighty-third Ohio regiment, completed the line.
Telegrams of congratulations from all over the country were read after the cheers that greeted the mustering in of the new Post had subsided and souvenir tin cups were distributed around when the exercises closed in memory of the days when hard tack was considered a dainty and tin cups were deemed a luxury.
After the enthusiastic ceremonies were over the soldier priests returned to the quiet of tbeir university home, but not to be allowed to forget the mustering night. They have been reminded of it by the receipt of letters and telegrams from every part of the continent; letters from old comrades of whom the quiet-living priests have long since lost sight; letters of congratulation and messages of warm esteem from the members of the fast dwindling army that is bound by the unbreakable chain of campfire comradeship. It will be long before Notre Dame resumes its plain life again.
The Archives of the University of Notre Dame (here) still maintain the records (here) of the unique GAR Post, including handwritten minutes, correspondence, clippings, and photographs, all used in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory.