Such a exhibition will probably never again be seen on this Continent. It was a perfect ovation to our returning heroes, such as the old Romans gave their victorious legions as they marched home from glorious conquest.
-The Xenia Sentinel [Ohio], May, 26, 1865
On May 23-24, 1865, the victorious armies of the United States embarked on their final military march on the streets of the nation's capital. The armies of east and west, over 145,000 men, marched in review to a throng of bedazzled spectators and a group of distinguished guests. Federal troops from three field armies formed near Capitol Hill and awaited marching orders. At 9:00 am on May 23rd, a signal gun fired a single shot and the process began. Major General George Gordon Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, led an estimated 80,000 men (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) from the US Capitol proceeding northwest on Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House.
At the reviewing stand, located near the present-day Treasury Building and World War I Memorial, General Meade dismounted and saluted the dignitaries, including President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Major General William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. The Victor of Gettysburg was pleased with the performance of the Army of the Potomac, who marched handsomely during the review. Secretary of War Stanton was eminently proud of the victory parade, noting: "You see in these armies, the foundation of the Republic: our future railroad managers, congressmen, bank presidents, senators, manufacturers, judges, governors and diplomats; yes and not less than a half dozen presidents." Stanton's vision of the future proved to be prophetic. The Army of the Potomac review lasted six hours. In that time, 29 regiments of cavalry, 33 batteries of artillery, and 180 regiments of infantry participated in the Grand Review.
The Heroes of the Republic
The following day, the Grand Army of the West (Army of the Tennessee and Army of Georgia) commanded by Major General William T. Sherman conducted their final march. Civilian spectators, who were accustomed to seeing elements of the Army of the Potomac, were thrilled and curiously fascinated to see the men that comprised the western armies. Sherman was concerned that his ragtag troops could not match the spit and polish of the eastern soldiers, remarking to General Meade: “I’m afraid my poor tatterdemalion corps will make a poor appearance tomorrow, when contrasted with yours.” Prior to the parade, Sherman issued specific orders for the men to shine their brass and bayonets, and drill in preparation for the review.
The western soldiers did not disappoint their commander. At 9:00 am on May 24th, General Sherman, accompanied by Major General Oliver O. Howard and staff, led the review down Pennsylvania Avenue. They soldiers were greeted with hearty cheers from the viewers and a band struck-up "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Uncle Billy's troops, 65,000 strong, marched to a hero's welcome. The last soldiers passed the reviewing stand at 3:30 pm. The Grand Review of the Armies was over.
The March Continues
No colored troops were engaged in the review. A number of citizens from this place, went on to Washington to witness it.
-North Branch Democrat [Tunkhannock, PA], May 31, 1865
The Grand Review of the Armies marked the final marched for over 145,000 soldiers. Over the next two weeks, all the volunteers troops were mustered out of Federal service and returned home as civilians. What now?
A newspaper account provided an insightful perspective of the review and its aftermath:
The army marched through Washington and then, as an army, disappeared forever, absorbed into the body-politic, a million men of war turned men of peace in a single day.
However, tens of thousands of soldiers remained on active service, notably United States Colored Troops (USCT). Many were transferred to the Texas-Mexico border under the command of Major General Philip H. Sheridan and missed the Grand Review. Two Camp Nelson units, the 114th and 116th US Colored Infantries remained in the southwest until 1867. Other USCT regiments, including the 107th US Colored Infantry, organized in Louisville, Kentucky, performed garrision duty in the Defenses of Washington, DC, until 1866.
Last updated: May 24, 2022
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