At war's end, Union troops assembled in Washington, D.C., for a "Grand Review of the Armies" on May 23-24, 1865. It was a formal occasion for citizens, politicians, and officials to honor the soldiers before they returned home. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Fitch of the 21st Wisconsin Infantry recalls how the joyful mood of the crowd contrasted starkly with the somber soldiers marching with indifference and automatic maneuvers.
Those who served in any three of the years of that war, who engaged in any of the battles of either the armies of the Potomac, the Cumberland, or the Tennessee, had then no inclination to study the comparative analysis of the war, or the proper bearing it had upon our country and race. These were too near to it to see anything but the raw facts. The glitter of gun barrel and sword, the red carnage of the field, the terrible echoes of its artillery, were yet close realities to them.
At the muster out in 1865, the nerves of the soldiery had not recovered from their tremor of the battle charge. "The pomp and circumstance of war" had lost their effect, by being repeated too often. For instance, in the grand review at Washington, the soldiers of Sherman's army were so little impressed by it that they did not go to see the Army of the Potomac pass down Pennsylvania Avenue. The second day, when the Army of Georgia passed in review under a canopy of flags flying everywhere, between two rows of admiring humanity stretched for a mile on either side, they did it in perfunctory silence. They heard with indifference the cheers at their own automatic maneuvers.
To them, this magnificent display which so impressed the thousands who had not been in the war was merely the last ordered duty in a long, arduous and deadly struggle in which they had triumphed and from which they were only too glad to get away.
Source: Fitch, Michael H. "Echoes of the Civil War as I Hear Them." (N.Y.: R.F. Fenno & Co., 1905), pages 344-345.
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