“We Have Drank from the Same Canteen”

Veteran Company A, the Civil War, and Reconciliation in Kansas City

By Amy Laurel Fluker

Amy Laurel Fluker is Assistant Professor of U.S. history at Youngstown State University in Ohio. This blog provides further insight into her recently published book, Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri. As Missouri’s Civil War generation constructed and competed to control Civil War memory, they undertook a series of collaborative efforts that paved the way for reconciliation to a degree unmatched by other states.

More than twenty years after the conclusion of the Civil War, many Americans still struggled to put the conflict behind them. In Kansas City, this posed a significant problem. As the turn of the century approached, Kansas City was on the verge of tremendous demographic and economic development.[1] Wartime divisions, however, remained pronounced. Recognizing that those divisions threatened the growth of their city, white veterans looked for ways to encourage reconciliation. This was a particular priority for the men of Kansas City’s Veteran Company A, Third Regiment, Missouri National Guard.

Formed in 1881, Veteran Company A held the unique distinction of being the only National Guard unit in the country formed entirely of Civil War veterans—honorably discharged Union veterans, to be specific. Between 1881 and 1899, Company A enrolled a total of 249 men.[2] In 1895, they reported 90 members with an average age of 53.[3] In addition to their regularly enrolled members, they also extended honorary memberships to several Confederate veterans—including local Confederate hero Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby.[4]

“All animosity and unfriendly feelings that may have hitherto existed between the soldiers of the northern and southern armies is rapidly vanishing into mist so far as Kansas City is concerned.”

Veteran Company A fraternized with former Confederates in other ways as well. They invited the local chapter of the United Confederate Veterans to share their headquarters and regularly held joint Memorial Day observances with their one-time enemies.[5] These efforts, according to The Kansas City Times, had done more to speed the eradication of wartime hostilities than anything else. It said: “All animosity and unfriendly feelings that may have hitherto existed between the soldiers of the northern and southern armies is rapidly vanishing into mist so far as Kansas City is concerned.”[6]

Despite having served in opposing armies, the men of Veteran Company A related to ex-Confederates because of their shared experiences as combat veterans. Whatever resentments they may have harbored, they identified as fellow survivors of a terrible war. In the headquarters of Company A, Union and Confederate veterans expressed their camaraderie by drinking together from an unusual ceremonial canteen. This canteen had dual spouts, so two men could drink from it at the same time. Its design was inspired by a popular wartime poem by Private Miles O’Reilly entitled “We’ve Drank from the Same Canteen.” “There are bonds of all sorts in this world of ours, . . .” O’Reilly wrote, “But there’s never a bond, old friend, like this—/We have drank from the same canteen.” The poem continued:

We have shared our blankets and tents together,

And have marched and fought in all kinds of weather,

And hungry and full we have been;

Had days of battle and days of rest;

But this memory I cling to, and love the best—

We have drank from the same canteen. [7]

“That canteen . . . holds mighty nigh a gallon of whisky, and Captain Taylor . . . and I have drank out of it together very nicely.”

Whenever Veteran Company A entertained ex-Confederates, drinking from the ceremonial canteen served both as a reminder of past hardships and as a symbol of their new-found friendship. It must be said, however, that the contents of the canteen also played a role in facilitating reconciliation. After sharing a swig with Company A’s commanding officer, Henry J. Taylor, Confederate veteran Stephen C. Ragan observed: “That canteen . . . holds mighty nigh a gallon of whisky, and Captain Taylor . . . and I have drank out of it together very nicely.”[8]

The goodwill Veteran Company A cultivated between Union and Confederate veterans in Kansas City provides a small glimpse into how Missourians attempted to reconcile with one another in the aftermath of the Civil War. The friendships these men struck up were not always easy and bitterness certainly remained. At the same time, however, whenever Union and Confederate veterans drank from the same canteen, they fostered economic and political alliances which served to unify and strengthen their city at a critical moment in its development.


[1] James R. Shortridge, Kanas City and How It Grew, 1822-2011 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012), 29-60; Lawrence O. Christensen and R. Gary Kremer, A History of Missouri, vol. 4, 1875-1919 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 89-90.

[2] Kansas City Journal, August 13, 1899.

[3] Kansas City Daily Journal, June 28, 1895; Kansas City Daily Journal, September 10, 1895.

[4] Kansas City Daily Journal, January 13, 1895; Kansas City Journal, February 14, 1897; Kansas City Journal, August 13, 1899.

[5] Kansas City Journal, August 13, 1899.

[6] The Kansas City Times, March 22, 1891.

[7] John D. Billings, Hard Tack and Coffee (Boston: George M. Smith & Co., 1887), 223-224.

[8] Kansas City Journal, January 30, 1899. See also The Kansas City Times, November 2, 1895.


Images:

Composite photograph, Veteran Company A, 3rd Infantry, National Guard (1895), Charles C. Bell Photograph Collection, 1863-1927 (P0657), The State Historical Society of Missouri.

The image of the canteen is from the Kansas City Journal, January 30, 1899, p. 3.


Forthcoming Event

Amy Fluker will be giving the Fall Lecture at 1:30 p.m. on November 7 at the State Historical Society of Missouri virtual annual membership meeting. Her talk will detail the efforts of Missouri’s women, both Union and Confederate, to commemorate the Civil War, with a particular focus on the Department of Missouri’s Woman’s Relief Corps and the Missouri Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Fluker’s presentation is based on her new book, Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri. The program is free but registration is required: https://umsystem.zoom.us/webinar/register/2016021006027/WN_6pyocD1KSf2FBFX5Sfa63A?mc_cid=9f82070abf&mc_eid=8a11f071e0

3 Comments

  1. […] University of Wisconsin Press, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, University of Toronto Press, University of Missouri Press, Bucknell University Press, University of Manitoba Press, and Amherst College […]

    Like

  2. […] University of Missouri Press @umissouripressAmy Laurel Fluker is a first-time author whose blog about Kansas City’s Veteran Company A provides further insight into her recently published book, Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri, on Civil War memory and the collaborative commemoration efforts undertaken in Missouri. […]

    Like

  3. […] University of Missouri Press: Amy Laurel Fluker is a first-time author whose blog about Kansas City’s Veteran Company A provides further insight into her recently published book, Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri, on Civil War memory and the collaborative commemoration efforts undertaken in Missouri […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s