the last battle of the Civil War took place in 1935 in Amarillo,
a city that had not even existed in the 1860s.
No rifle balls whizzed through the air, but fast talking by a young
Yankee newspaper editor and the resulting change of attitude on
the part of an aging Confederate veteran led to a peaceful gathering
of old soldiers who had fought on both sides. Held at Gettysburg
in July 1938, it proved to be the last reunion of the Blue and Gray.
conversation that made the reunion possible happened on Sept. 2,
1935 in the lobby of the Herring Hotel, then Amarillo’s
largest and fanciest accommodation. The Panhandle city was hosting
the 45th annual reunion of the United Confederate Veterans.
The UCV normally met in June, but that year’s gathering had been
delayed because the organization had been having trouble finding
a city willing to sponsor the event. Finally, the Amarillo Chamber
of Commerce stepped forward to invite the old Confederates to their
bustling city. Not only that, the chamber ponied up $14,000 to support
The investment paid off.
“For three days, the aging veterans, and their legion of friends
and admirers throughout the Southland, streamed into the city, and
a capacity crowd filled all hotels,” Gettysburg Times editor Paul
businessmen enjoyed the merry ca-ching of their cash registers,
Roy faced a serious problem.
Only once had veterans of the North and South met together in peace,
and that had been in 1913 to mark the 50th anniversary of the decisive
Battle of Gettysburg. That bloody engagement, later made even more
famous by President Abraham Lincoln with his 272-word address, had
turned the war in favor of the Union.
Now Pennsylvania wanted another, larger reunion in 1938. If that
happened, everyone realized it would be for the final time. Seven
decades had passed since the conflict ended, and old soldiers died
The trouble for Roy, and everyone else advocating the reunion, was
that the man who headed the UCV adamantly opposed it. Unreconstructed,
he still wasn’t over the war.
Roy arrived at the Herring to find the lobby “jam-packed” and a
“bedlam of confusion – of talk, laughter, and music.” Confederate
banners hung from the mezzanine railing and gray-headed, gray-bearded
Rebels, men who had killed and seen their comrades fall, mingled
surrounded by people with smiles on their faces.
If many of the old soldiers had not moved beyond their enmity for
the North, the federal government had. The U.S. Marine Corps Band
had traveled to Amarillo to entertain all, and when the sharply
dressed men in blue struck up “Dixie,” the veterans cheered and
let loose with Rebel yells.
One man stood out in the crowd. Tall, ramrod straight and with well-groomed
gray hair, he looked in charge and he was. His name was Harry Rene
Lee, but to all the other old soldiers, he was Gen. Lee, UCV commander-in-chief.
“Possessing a striking personality, and an inflexible will that
knew no quarter, Lee dominated the organization,” Roy wrote. “Although
ruthless when dealing with malcontents, and so-called reactionary
groups, he was a tireless worker in behalf of pensions and other
benefits for worthy Confederate veterans.”
At the 1934 UCV gathering, a delegation from Pennsylvania had first
proposed a Blue and Gray reunion. Then the organization’s adjutant
general and about to take over as its ranking officer, the bull-headed
Lee would not even discuss the possibility. “Tell them to go to
hell,” he told reporters.
As soon as Roy saw the chance, he walked up to introduce himself
to the “General.” Before the Keystone State editor could say his
name, Lee interrupted to pronounce “no, emphatically and positively,”
to the notion of his organization meeting with “those damnyankees.”
Lee then touched off a volley of verbal abuse. Hearing the invective,
other old rebels gathered around to enjoy the show while adding
their own sneers and jeers.
When Lee had emptied his figurative artillery, Roy wisely said he
understood how he felt about the North. Even more astutely, the
newspaperman did not try to argue the point. Instead, he politely
asked if he could just make his case.
Ever the Southern gentleman, Lee agreed to listen so long as Roy
didn’t take too long.
Talking fast and sweating profusely, Roy told Lee about the 1913
Gettysburg reunion and that the Pennsylvania governor at the time
had invited the old soldiers from both sides to return 25 years
later. Trying to stay calm, Roy then outlined the grandiose plans
for the 75th anniversary.
Suddenly, Lee moved closer and slapped Roy on the back.
“Why in the hell didn’t you say that before? Of course I’m for the
reunion,” the general said loud enough for everyone to hear. “We
should get together. We should be friends. Come, let’s go have a
By the summer
of 1938, only 8,000 or so Civil War veterans still lived. Of those,
1,845 made it to Gettysburg – 1,359 former Union soldiers, 486 old
One man who did not was Gen. Lee. He had died at 90 in Nashville
on March 28.
© Mike Cox
- Dec. 11, 2013 column. Published March 9, 2014
More "Texas Tales"
Related Topics: People
| Columns | Texas
Town List | Texas