Sunday, December 9, 2007

Grand Army of the Republic "Death Badge"

The following article was purchased in "The Veteran", Volume 20, #1, July-Sept., 2006, pages 1, 3, and 11.:

This is not a G.A.R. Badge

by George G. Kane

For more than fifteen years, a degree badge of a Masonic organization has been masquerading as a badge of the Grand Army of the Republic. In the 1960’s, the centenary of the American Civil War jump-started the fairly dormant collecting of memorabilia from that war. In 1990, Ken Burns PBS miniseries “The Civil War” also helped to popularize civil war collectibles. Between these two events, a small badge emerged that no one could identify. Because it had an all-black ribbon, it was thought to have something to do with funerals. The Maltese cross pendant had no hint to its origin. Only the US seal in the center with its eagle and “E Pluribus Unum” inscription gave any hint to its beginnings. The use of the seal seemed to point towards its use by a military society. The misidentification of this badge gained steam as two small booklets on civil war veterans’ memorabilia were published. In 1990, Brad Long, pastor of an Illinois parish, noticed that no collectibles book had ever been written about the Grand Army of the Republic. Rev. Long made an attempt at creating an all-encompassing listing of the various facets of this civil war fraternity, producing a 40-page booklet, “Collecting Grand Army of the Republic Memorabilia.” The booklet was designed with the beginning collector in mind.

Common examples of badges, books, uniform regalia, postcards, photos, and stamps illustrated the various segments of GAR memorabilia. Unfortunately, a time bomb lurked in the pages of this booklet. On page 34, a small badge with a black ribbon and a Maltese cross was pictured. On the opposite page, Rev. Long labels this badge as the “Death Medal”. His description of the medal states, “The medal is perhaps mistaken for a Masonic Order or VFW device. The medal was usually given to the widow or surviving family upon the death of a GAR member. When family members were not available, the medal was buried with the veteran. … This medal was also used extensively by non-GAR fraternal organizations.” Although he gives an extensive bibliography, no provenance is ever given on the history of this badge. Soon after the publishing of this book, Rev. Long attended the Civil War Show in Ashland, Ohio, were various dealers and collectors informed him that this badge was Masonic and not GAR. In 1992, Reverend Long published a second edition of this book with a weak attempt to correct the badge description. The photo of this badge, unfortunately, remained in the book.

The description was changed to:
“This is not an official badge. Likewise, it was not standardized but some departments and more than a few posts within the GAR made use of them. Its purpose was to be respectfully submitted to the surviving widow or family members of the veteran. This is little doubt the origin of this badge can be traced to other fraternal organizations, to include, but not limited to, the Masonic orders.”
For some reason the Reverend decided to blur the origin rather than declare it totally Masonic and having no GAR usage. Both editions of his book sold out, 1,000 copies for each edition.
A year after Reverend Long’s first edition, a second author published a similar book. The result was a 33-page booklet by the retired founder of the Dixie Gun Works of Union City, Tennessee. Turner E. Kirkland had founded Dixie Gun Works in 1954 and it had become the largest producer of black powder gun supplies, parts and reproduction guns in the world. Kirkland was an avid collector of Confederate veteran memorabilia. He also collected medals and badges of Union civil war veteran societies. In 1991, Kirkland photographed pieces in his massive collection and created a booklet, which he entitled, “Civil War Veterans’ Organizations, Reunions, and Badges.” The book has been selling ever since. Unfortunately, the book has errors of fact and omission throughout the book. At one point Kirkland describes the GAR seal in the center of the GAR star as having the “likeness of a Union and a Confederate soldier shaking hands with a Confederate and a Union flag in the background and two children kneeling in front of the two men.” Yikes!!!!
On page 21 is illustrated four Malta Jewels, similar to the one pictured on the front page of this issue of the Veteran. The following is Kirkland’s description of the badge:
“Four Gold Edged Union Medals with black ribbon given to a soldier’s family upon his demise. This practice was not standardized in G.A.R. and varied by region of county and/or by department. Some feel areas with heavy Masonic population influenced this medal.”
It seems strange that Kirkland and Long, in his revised edition, both use the words “was not standardized” in their description of the badge. It appears that Rev. Long in the interim between his two editions had read Kirkland’s book. Unfortunately, Turner Kirkland died in 1997. He never gave a reason for classifying these badges as GAR badges. He doesn’t use the term “Death Medal”, so I assume he didn’t see Long’s book. Rumors state that Mr. Kirkland purchased a number of G.A.R. collections. Within these collections he found Malta Jewels and assumed that there was a relationship between the badge and the G.A.R. This was probably the only known case of “guilt by association” perpetrated upon a civil war society and a badge. Multi-war Collections of badges often have badges of competing societies. GAR members often were members of the UVL, UVU or even the Knights Templar. Below is the GAR Chaplain in Chief for the years 1913-14. Horace Merwin Carr has a GAR Officer’s badge, a MOLLUS badge, and the Malta Jewel. He obviously belonged to all three societies. This begs the question; why would he be wearing the “Death Badge” if he didn’t die for ten more years? Obviously its because he belonged to the Knights Templar and this is his 2nd degree badge, the Malta Jewel.

Just when you think its over, a third book, “American Society Medals” by Bishop & Everitt lists the Malta jewel as the “GAR Death Badge”. Lee Bishop told me he used the Long book as the source for his information. He promised a retraction in a second edition, but none has ever been published.
Now that we know what this badge isn’t, lets discover its true calling. In reality, the badge has a closer relation to the “DaVinci Code” than it does to the Grand Army of the Republic. The badge is the second degree of a Masonic order called the Knights Templar. The first degree of the Knights Templar society is the Order of the Red Cross. The second is the order of Malta. The third degree is the Order of the Temple. More information on these degrees can be found at the web site:

This badge can be bought at any number of Masonic Supply Web Sites. Try
For other sites just google “Malta Jewel” on your computer. Because the island of Malta is called the “Jewel of the Mediterranean” you may get a number of hits on tourism on that island.

Knights Templar Officer with Malta Jewel

Above is a photo of a Knights Templar Officer from the 1920’s. Notice the Malta Jewel on his left chest. 19th Century KT Officers wore the badge just below the center of the collar. The fore and aft cap on the table was standard issue for KT uniforms. The large red cross is found on most KT regalia.
Most defenders of the term “GAR Death Badge” state that it is a multi-fraternity badge. What other badge is used by more than one Society? If this is truly the “Death Badge”, then why is there photos of members wearing this badge? Shouldn’t they be dead?
I looked on e-Bay today. Sure enough, there were two Malta Jewels for sale, both with the title “GAR Mourning Badge.” One of the badges had two bars at the top of the ribbon. The two bars identify the commandery from which this jewel was presented. Commandery is the local unit of various Masonic lodges.

Notice the two crosses on the top bar. As we had noted before, the cross is a constant in KT regalia. Although a search on failed to find this commandery, a number of Commandery No. 22’s were found in other locations, all lodges of the Knights Templar. The G.A.R.’s local unit is the Post!!!!

It appears that despite evidence to the contrary, this badge will always be misidentified. Part of the reason is money. Most dealers know that they can get more money for a G.A.R. piece then they can for a Masonic piece. Until we can reach the entire badge collector fraternity with the cold hard facts, it appears this error will persist. When you see this badge presented as a G.A.R. badge, please let the owner know the facts. Photocopy this article and give it to them.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Civil War Veterans Historical Association

The CWVHA is a group of collectors of Civil War Veterans’ memorabilia. Although regimental and other Civil War military fraternities are represented, a large section of the Association membership specializes in GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) or UCV (United Confederate Veterans) material. This organization was founded in 1987 and meets annually at the Ohio Civil War Show in Mansfield, Ohio. The show is held the first weekend of each May. The group reserves a section of adjoining tables for displays and selling purposes. This is the largest display of GAR & UCV materials in the world. This year the show will be held on May 5-6, 2007. Our guest speaker, Robert E. Yott, a fellow member of our organization, has recently published a book, From Soldiers' Home to Medical Center, A glance at the 125 years History of the Bath Soldiers Home, that will be the subject of his talk.

If you are interested in joining the organization, please complete the application below and send with a check for $15, made out to the “CWVHA”, to:
Dave Aeberli, Treasurer
9372 Almar Place
Pittsburgh, PA 15237-4872

Annual Dues are payable in May. All members receive the CWVHA newsletter, four times a year. It’s a valuable reference to collecting.

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