The Great Peace Invasion
During the War Between the States Atlanta’s militia company, the Gate City Guard, had greeted Union troops with the open arms of battle. In 1879 the “reconstructed” Gate City Guard visited Northern units it had fought against during the War and were welcomed with the open arms of friendship. This reconciliation tour of the North became known as:
The Great Peace Invasion
By John C. Whatley
Atlanta’s Gate City Guard originally organized as a militia company in 1855 to assist the police force of Atlanta. With the outbreak of the War Between the States, the Guard volunteered its services to the State of Georgia, becoming Company F of the 1st Regiment of Georgia Volunteers (Ramsay’s). Mustered into Confederate service, the Guard was initially sent to Pensacola, Florida, to serve under Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Reassigned to Virginia, it participated in the Battle of Carrick’s Ford and the Cheat River campaign under General Robert E. Lee. Later the Guard joined General Stonewall Jackson for his advance on Hancock and Romney, Virginia. After its year of service expired, many of the old company joined the 9th Georgia Light Artillery Battalion commanded by Major Austin Leyden, a former lieutenant of the Guard, and served in the Army of Northern Virginia through Appomattox. After the War the members returned to Atlanta to rebuild their lives.
In 1870 many of the old members reorganized the company with younger recruits, electing Major Leyden as its captain. After reorganizing, though, it was found that, under the Federal Reconstruction Statutes, no State military organizations were permitted or recognized in the former rebellious States. The company continued in limbo until July 1876 and the end of Reconstruction, when it reorganized permanently.
Comprising only 30 troops at that time, the Guard immediately began to expand with new recruits. Major Leyden initially presided over the reorganization, but resigned to devote more time to his growing business interests in Atlanta. The Guard then elected Joseph F. Burke of Charleston, South Carolina, its captain by unanimous vote on March 21, 1878.
Burke openly stated he believed that the South was right to secede to maintain local self-government. At the outbreak of the War Between the States, he belonged to a corps of cadets in the South Carolina First Regiment of Rifles, and took part in the firing on the Star of the West on January 9, 1861. He also participated in the bombardment of Fort Sumter and other battles. But with the military settlement of the War, he followed Robert E. Lee’s admonition to go home and become a good citizen.
When he became commander of the Guard, he determined to visit his home town of Charleston and take the Gate City Guard with him. A week of military encampment at the historic city would give the Guard another taste of camp life and military discipline, and also allow them to visit a celebrated locality. This proposed visit was warmly received by the members of the Gate City Guard, and by the public of Atlanta generally. Burke invited Governor A. H. Colquitt, a former Confederate general, to go with the Guard as its guest. Governor Wade Hampton of South Carolina, another former Confederate general, granted Captain Burke’s request for permission to march at Charleston and issued an invitation to visit Columbia as well. This successful meeting of the Georgia and South Carolina militias became a mere prelude to the future.
Following the successful encampment in South Carolina, Captain Burke announced another undertaking, a friendly invasion of the North. Sectional prejudice at that time formed the stock in trade of many Northern politicians, called “waving the bloody shirt.” But Captain Burke believed that such sentiments were not representative of the majority of people of the North, whether civilians or soldiers. He believed that a representative military organization, comprised of men who had faithfully defended the Confederacy, would do valuable service in restoring the Union. He claimed that a Union pinned together by bayonets would be worse than no Union at all.
In 1879 Burke planned the “Northern Tour” in which the Guard would visit Northern cities, dressed in their blue uniforms and bearing the United States flag, and test the temper of the Northern people. Georgians, at least, were reconstructed, were willing to let bygones be bygones, and would bury the “bloody shirt” with all its bitter memories.
The friends of the Guard were divided as to the opportuneness of this visit. Some pointed out that no such movement with the same unselfish and patriotic purpose had ever been undertaken by the military. It was argued that the time was not ripe for such an undertaking, that sectional feeling was yet deeply rooted, and the Guard might find themselves received with chilling courtesy or open hostility. Governor Colquitt and others, however, advised the fraternal mission proceed, pointing out the historic importance of the undertaking.
As the Rome Tribune of September 30, 1879, reported: “[The Gate City Guard] is making preparation for their visit to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven, Hartford, Boston and Lawrence, Mass., and other cities. The undertaking has assumed a national character, and the grandest receptions await them in all these cities on their route, beginning at Washington by President [Rutherford B.] Hayes. Their private car is being refurnished and will go with them to Boston and return. … The visit is calculated to have excellent effect in promoting a feeling of fraternity between the sections of our country, which is the prime object of the tour.”
An Atlanta Constitution reporter called on Burke, asking for details of the tour. “At Washington we will be the guests of the Washington Light Infantry. President Hayes, if he should be in Washington, will also give us a reception. In my conversation with him a few weeks ago, he spoke very kindly of the Atlanta people, of their hospitality, thrift and enterprise, and dwelt at some length on the good effect our visit to the North would have in promoting harmony and fraternal feeling between the extreme sections of the country, and expressed much pleasure at the prospect of meeting the military and civil representatives of Atlanta in Washington. … The object of the trip is to observe the militia systems of Northern States and at the same time to promote, as far as possible, harmony and good feeling between the people of both sections of our country.”
At departure the Guard marched through applauding crowds of enthusiastic Atlantans down to their special railcar. With many “God speeds” and benedictions from loved ones, the Guard began its trip to Washington. At Belle Isle, Virginia, however, the Guard’s train was unexpectedly halted by a delegation from the Richmond Light Infantry Blues, headed by Gov. John S. Wise and a large number of officers, who entertained them with a luncheon and speeches.
The Washington Post reported on the Guard’s arrival in Washington: “It is doubtful if any visiting company of military ever met with the reception that was accorded the Gate City Guard, of Atlanta, Ga., by the Washington Light Infantry and citizens on their arrival last night, en route for the North. … The Gate City Guard numbered forty men, nearly all of whom were young and of splendid appearance, wearing a blue uniform with canary color trimmings, white crossbelts, blue dress-coats and stiff hats with drooping plumes. … As they appeared on the depot platform, [they] were greeted with loud cheers by a large mass of citizens in attendance. … From the depot all along the route, the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. When the two companies entered Sixth Street, they were surrounded by a concourse numbering several thousand persons, who participated in the street demonstration, affording the Southerners a mammoth escort. In addition to the generous excitement there was a fine display of pyrotechnics. The scene on the line of march was exceedingly brilliant; various colored lights, Roman candles, crackers, bombs and other fireworks being discharged at every point. … During the march the visiting troops performed a number of military maneuvers with a precision that won round after round of cheers. At the armory other evolutions were gone through, after which Col. [W. G.] Moore [commander of the corps], in a neat little speech, welcomed the Southern troops, to which Capt. Burke responded, stating the purpose of the Guards’ visit, and making an appropriate allusion to the beautiful United States flag which they brought with them.”
“It was only by special and earnest request that Capt. J. F. Burke consented to give a public drill,” reported the Washington National Republican, “as it was the desire of the members, while on their tour, to avoid, if possible, the notoriety that would probably result. The continued cheers by the thousands who witnessed the drill, the waving of handkerchiefs by the hundreds of ladies from the balconies and windows, as each movement was faultlessly executed, must indeed have been appreciated by the Guard. Nothing has ever been seen like it in this city. The whole line was more like mechanical figures than human beings.”
The Washington Post reported the next day that “At 10 o’clock in the morning, clothed in fatigue uniforms, the strangers were attended to Mount Vernon by a committee of the Light Infantry. … Having thoroughly canvassed the historical attractions at the tomb of the immortal Washington, the troops returned to the city, and repaired to the armory of the local military. At 4 o’clock, P.M., [they were] escorted by two companies of the Washington Light Infantry, one in full dress, and the other in fatigue uniform. … On the march from the Opera House to the depot, the Avenue was again brilliantly illuminated with a continued shower of pyrotechnics, and the Atlanta Military left the National Capital as they were welcomed, in a brilliant and illuminated enthusiastic ovation, in which the citizens vied with the military to make it a success.”
The Baltimore Sun reported on the arrival of the Guard there: “Never before, perhaps, in the history of Baltimore, was a more cordial and general welcome extended by its citizens to a visiting military organization than that which received the Gate City Guard, of Atlanta, Ga., yesterday. ... At 9 A.M. Company B, of the Fifth Maryland Regiment, with 75 men in line, … assembled at the armory on Howard Street, in full regimentals, [and] preceded by the band and drum corps, marched to Calvert Station. Here Capt. Burke, of the Guard, was introduced by Lieut. H. E. Mann, of the Fifth. The Guard marched out of the depot [and] were received with a marching salute. The Georgians marched with the precision of veterans, and their well-executed maneuvers on the way elicited warm applause from the dense throng of spectators. …
“At 2:30 P. M., a banquet was served to the visiting military. … Capt. Burke, in response to calls from the company, made an excellent speech. … Touching upon politics, Capt. Burke said the Georgians are fully reconstructed, they believe the war is over. The Guard comes to the North that they may meet their fellow-citizens there and seal the bonds of friendship more strongly still. It was contrary, he knew, to military usage for a company to carry a flag, but he had suggested that the Guard should carry the Stars and Stripes, which they had won at Rome, Ga., last July, if for nothing else than at least to show it to the people of the North and reintroduce them to the flag of their forefathers.”
The Baltimore Daily News noted that “As the Guard passed in parade along our streets their precision of step and soldierly bearing elicited general commendation, but whenever they performed any evolution or executed a command, all of which were done as by one man, the enthusiasm knew no bounds – the multitude broke into long-continued applause. One feature was especially noticeable, which was the gentlemanly appearance and deportment of the members.”
On October 10, 1879, the Guard arrived in Philadelphia, “under escort of a committee of the State Fencibles” according to the Philadelphia Press. “Cheer after cheer went up from the crowd. The battalion of Fencibles were drawn up in line on Broad Street, and they saluted the visitors with military courtesy, after which both organizations were drawn up in line. … The marching of the visitors was perfection itself, while the maneuvers were admitted by those versed in military matters to be really astonishing. Both organizations were heartily applauded all along the route.”
The Guard went into a room of the State House, where sat the table on which the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Captain Burke, asked for a few words, said, “[W]hen you spoke of the table upon which was signed the Declaration of Independence, I thought of the Stars and Stripes, which we have brought with us to testify that it is our wish to cement together the lately divided sections of our country. … Nevertheless we have brought the ‘Stars and Stripes’ with us, for we could not resist the temptation of introducing you to the flag of your forefathers (great laughter); that glorious banner that is destined to float forever over the greatest government the world ever saw. It will never be trailed in the dust, for if we of the South were unable to pull it down, nobody else can (great applause). I accept your invitation to renew our political vows over the table of the Declaration of Independence, and we pledge our fealty to the Constitution of our fathers.”
“There is a ring of true statesmanship about that visit [of the Gate City Guard] that politicians can not ignore,” wrote the Philadelphia Evening Paper. “It was a happy thought, and we are glad that our people welcomed them so heartily. They are certainly a fine body of young gentlemen.”
On October 11, 1879, the Guard arrived in New York, “and were warmly received and entertained by the Seventh Regiment,” reported the New York Herald. “After the customary military etiquette the Seventh, headed by Grafulla’s band, led the Georgians up Courtland Street to Broadway, amid the plaudits of the thousands who lined the sidewalks to view the pageant and welcome the Southerners. … [T]he police had all they could do to keep the plaza clear when the drums and cornets in the distance told of the columns’ approach.”
Colonel Emmons Clark, commanding the Seventh Regiment, welcomed the Guard, saying, “I assure you, Capt. Burke, the kindly feelings evinced by your most praiseworthy visit are heartily reciprocated by us all.” Captain Burke reflected on “how speedily and peacefully our differences would have been adjusted had they been left to the citizen soldiers of our common country (applause). … Here on Northern soil the sons of those who were estranged in deadly conflict but a few years ago, meet and embrace in the bonds of fellowship – united once more under the same roof – breaking bread at the same table; it is a grand subject, this glorious re-union and the fraternal mingling of two great sections of our country.”
“The reception of the Gate City Guard at the armory of the Seventh Regiment was one of those open, generous affairs that only soldiers can give, and which must be seen to be appreciated,” continued the Herald. “Then followed, at the request of the officers of the Seventh Regiment, the exhibition drill of the Gate City Guard, which astonished and delighted the members of the Seventh, who cheered the skillful execution of many evolutions to the echo. The precision and accuracy of the strangers was certainly marvelous, and were characterized by some of the veterans of the Seventh as unequaled by any visiting corps. … [T]he armory fairly rang with the plaudits of the Seventh.”
Lieutenant William Sparks of the Guard, asked about the parade on Broadway, replied: “I was somewhat doubtful of our visit to Philadelphia, until after we arrived there, because the political feeling in that city had been strongly antagonistic to the South, but when I found that our mission of reconciliation was understood and so warmly appreciated, I felt that New York would understand the purpose of our visit at once.” To which the New York Sun opined that “The visit among us of the Gate City Guard will do more to bring about an understanding between North and South than the legislation of a century.”
The Guard arrived in Hartford, Connecticut “amid the cheers of a large crowd and a salute of thirteen guns … and were escorted to Bushnell Park, where they were received by the historic Putnam Phalanx with military courtesies,” reported the Hartford Times. “Prominent among the decorated buildings was that of the Times . . . [where] stood a large figure of the ‘Goddess of Liberty,’ her hand stretched forth toward the South, bearing a branch of palm. Above this, surrounded by flags and festoons of red, white and blue, was the inscription: ‘The Only Arms Today – Open Arms.’ ”
At a banquet given by the Putnam Phalanx, Captain Burke was asked for a few words: “We have come here to clasp hands as did our fathers in the days of the revolution, when faith, truth, hope and liberty in a common cause, struggled and triumphed together. We come divested of the pomp and circumstance of war, bearing with us the Stars and Stripes. The flag that is ours, the emblem of our power, destined to float over a great nation and a brave people (applause). We are here united as a common people and have broken bread together. It is a noble sight; we are here to grasp your hands in fraternal feeling (applause).”
An expected guest had to send his regrets: “I am glad to add my voice to yours in welcoming the Georgians to Hartford. Personal contact and communion of Northerners and Southerners over the friendly board will do more toward obliterating sectional lines, and restoring mutual respect and esteem than any other thing that can be devised. S. L. Clemens [Mark Twain].”
The Hartford Travelers Record noted that “The Gate City Guard took possession of our city without firing a gun – but they conquered our hearts and we surrendered. Friends of the South, we can never quarrel again with those for whom Captain Burke so feelingly spoke in his address.” The Hartford Times reported: “Short as the visit was, it was fraught with cordiality and good feeling. It showed the Southerners that the ‘Yankees’ were ready with open arms to give them a hearty welcome, that all differences of the past were buried. It is greatly to be regretted that the company was compelled to go so soon, but the friendships formed last night will prove lasting ones.”
The next stop was Boston, where the Boston Daily Advertiser reported: “The Gate City Guard of Atlanta, Ga., one of the crack military organizations of the South, for whose advent here much had been arranged by the city government, military organizations and private citizens, arrived in this city yesterday [and] were received at the station by … the Boston Light Infantry [and] the Infantry Veterans Association. … The company is composed of veterans of the Civil War and young men, sons of Confederate veterans.”
The mayor welcomed the Guard “[not] as citizens of Georgia, but as citizens of the United States – having the same government, recognizing the same flag, and sharing the same political destiny. We interpret this visit on the part of our guests as an assurance that all hideous recollections of the fraternal strife and discord which have so recently reddened and polluted their part of this great country are to be buried in perpetual oblivion, as an assurance of our reconciliation and amity never to be again disturbed (applause). … We are one people, all interested, share and share alike, in the common prosperity and glory (applause). Do not let the politicians and office-seekers make you believe that anything can come between the people of this great country, and prevent unity of heart, so essential to political unity (applause). … I most heartily endorse the fraternal purpose of our visitors from Georgia and I bid them God speed on their patriotic mission.”
The Boston Globe noted that “Capt. Burke confesses that when he set out on his tour he had misgivings as to the temper in which a Southern military organization would be received. … But in the case of our Atlanta visitors this misapprehension of Northern sentiment has been dispelled. The words of Capt. Burke should be pondered by the organs of animosity in this section; that ‘the people of this country bear no ill-will toward each other by reason of State boundaries or a deplorable past, and only subtle schemes of designing men can keep the people of both sections from that union and fraternization which we all so ardently desire.’ ”
The Lawrence Daily Eagle editorialized that “Since the war of the rebellion, a Southern militia organization under arms has not been witnessed in our streets ’til now, and to see such again, marching under the old flag, on a mission of patriotic fellowship, is certainly a distinguished sight, and our citizens and soldiery did just right to give them a hearty welcome. A better acquaintance with the people of the North will do great good, and though the magnanimity shown to them by us is unparalleled in history, it is an omen of our advanced civilization.”
After this the Guard was recalled to Hartford, Connecticut, where they were lavishly entertained, then escorted to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where the 21st Regiment hosted a tour of Vassar College and Eastman College.
Arriving back in New York, it was time for the Gate City Guard to return to Atlanta. As its train made its way southward, the Washington Light Infantry, fearing the Guard would be worn out, stopped the train and provided a luncheon at the depot. At Charlotte, N.C., they were again stopped by the citizens and the military. Here again they were feasted and congratulated on their tour of the North. The Guard was met in Atlanta, after an absence of nearly three weeks, by the citizens and the company of the Guard who could not go on the Northern tour.
“And thus ended one of the most patriotic and successful military expeditions ever planned and executed in time of peace,” recorded The Chronicles of The Old Guard. “The movements of the Guard from place to place on its grand tour of reconciliation had been closely watched by the people and press of the South. Dixie reached every round of applause accorded to her representative sons, and felt pride in the general acclamations of welcome that greeted the Gate City Guard on Northern soil. And this conciliatory movement proved the forerunner of a wave of fraternal feeling that swept over the Union.”
This was the beginning of many joint enterprises between militia units of the North and the South. Eventually the United States abandoned the militia system and replaced it with the National Guard. The Governor of Georgia ordered all State militia units to join the Georgia National Guard, but the Civil War veterans in the Gate City Guard decided they were too old for active service. In 1893 they withdrew from the Gate City Guard and formed the Old Guard Battalion of the Gate City Guard, which is still part of the Georgia State Militia and a member of The Centennial Legion of Historic Military Commands. The Gate City Guard is today part of the Georgia Army National Guard.
Burke was elected colonel of the Old Guard Battalion and served until 1914. At his death in 1927, he was buried in Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery, his mausoleum still maintained by The Old Guard.
In 1909 it had been suggested at the annual meeting of the Gate City Guard that a monument be erected in the city commemorating “The Great Peace Invasion” of 1879. A committee was appointed to carry out this project, which eventually became a committee of The Old Guard. Subscriptions to cover its cost were enthusiastically bought up by the citizens of Atlanta.
On October 10, 1911, the Peace Monument was dedicated. The ceremonies were attended by the Northern units visited during the “Mission of Peace” with a day-long parade and feasting. The two-story monument, refurbished in 1996 for the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, still stands at the 14th Street entrance to Piedmont Park in Atlanta, and is rededicated each year by The Old Guard.
Atop the monument is a statue of the Angel of Peace holding an olive branch who tells a Confederate soldier about to fire his weapon that “Peace is proclaimed.” The front tablet on the base of the statue states: “The Gate City Guard under the command of Captain Joseph F. Burke desiring to restore fraternal sentiment among the people of all sections of our country, and ignoring sectional animosity, on October 6th, 1879, went forth to greet their former adversaries in the Northern and Eastern States, inviting them to unite with the people of the South to heal the nation’s wounds in a peaceful and prosperous reunion of the states. This ‘Mission of Peace’ was enthusiastically endorsed by the military and citizens in every part of the Union, and this Monument is erected as an enduring testimonial to their patriotic contribution to the cause of national fraternity. Dedicated October 10, 1911 by Hoke Smith, Governor of Georgia, and Simeon E. Baldwin, Governor of Connecticut.” The east tablet contains the list of the military organizations involved, which include those the Gate City Guard visited during its Great Peace Invasion in 1879.
John C. Whatley is a retired field artillery officer and formerly a lieutenant colonel in The Old Guard, serving as Commander of the Color Guard. He and the Color Guard participated in the burial of the Hunley crew in Charleston. He is also the author of The Typical Confederate series, and over 200 other by-lined WBTS articles published in newspapers and magazines. As a reenactor, he commands the First Regiment of the Georgia State Line, and speaks to historic organizations about the Confederate soldier..