Founded April 15, 1865, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) was the nation's first Civil War veterans organization. The founders of the Loyal Legion drew their inspiration for the structure of the Order from the Society of the Cincinnati.
Nearly twelve thousand Union Civil War officers became MOLLUS members. At its peak, MOLLUS counted practically every prominent veteran federal officer among its ranks. Original Companions Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley served as Presidents of the United States.
In recognition of his profound influence regarding the founding and the principles of the Order, Abraham Lincoln was enrolled by Special Resolution, April 15, 1865.
With the aging and passing of the Original Companions, MOLLUS membership requirements were eventually broadend to allow descendants of eligible officers to join the Order as Hereditary Companions.
The contemporary MOLLUS is a nonprofit patriotic, historical and educational society dedicated to preserving and promoting the memory of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War through ongoing programs, special events, scholarship, and other activities.
The Pennsylvania Commandery is the oldest and largest commandery within MOLLUS.
Lineal male descendants of commissioned officers, or those later commissioned, who served in Union forces from 1861 to 1865 are eligible for membership. Hereditary membership is also open to lineal male descendants of a sibling of such officers after the applicant's eighteenth birthday. Associate membership is available to men not eligible for Hereditary membership.
Membership Categories and Eligibility
Eligibility requirements for the various categories of membership are as follows:
Hereditary — Lineal male descendants, age eighteen years or older, of a commissioned officer in the United States Army, Navy or Marine Corps who served during the Civil War, or lineal male descendants of a sibling of any such officer.
Associate — Men age eighteen years or older who are not known to be eligible for Hereditary membership. Associate members may vote and serve on committees, but may not hold office.
Junior — Lineal male descendants, age seventeen years or younger, of an eligible officer or of a brother or sister of an eligible officer. Junior Companions may not vote or hold office.
NOTE: The piece below was written by T. Ellwood Zell, one of
founders of the Loyal Legion, shortly before the twenty-fifth
anniversary of the Order's founding. This article offers an
interesting insight into the early days of MOLLUS.
THE ORGANIZATION OF THE LOYAL LEGION.
The Military Order of the Loyal Legion dates its institution, or rather its inception, from that memorable day in the gloomy history of the Civil War, April 15, 1865, the day of the death of Abraham Lincoln.
The news of the assassination reached Philadelphia late on the evening of the 14th. On the 15th, three gentlemen, who had served in the army during the war, met in the office of the writer, on Sixth Street, near Chestnut. The propriety of some action on behalf of those officers of the army and navy who were then in Philadelphia, and the organization of an association to perpetuate the recollections of the day and of the war, were discussed, and it was determined to issue a call for a meeting. In response to this a large reunion of those who had served in the Rebellion was held on the evening of the 20th, on Walnut Street, near Third.
At this and subsequent meetings arrangements were made for participating in the obsequies of the late President, and a committee was appointed to organize a permanent association. This, then, may be said to have been the birth of the order.
A portion of this committee commenced its work immediately and in earnest. One after another, however, of the members composing it dropped off, some never appeared, leaving for a time, as its active working members, the gentlemen whose names are now found at the commencement of the present register of Pennsylvania Commandery.
Many hours of serious thought and labor were given to the formation and mode of organization, much of the work being done in the office previously alluded to, and largely by those gentlemen.
A constitution and by-laws were prepared, but not put into print until August of this same year. Subsequent meetings were held at the Hibernia Fire Company's house, on Evelina Street below Third, near Spruce. This was one of the remaining old and respectable fire companies of Philadelphia which had not then retired with the advent of a paid fire department. The hall of this company had generously been placed at our disposal. Other meetings were held in the Supreme Court-room, in the right wing of Independence Hall, Chestnut Street above Fifth, where they continued to be held for some time.
We now numbered about thirty members, some of whom lost interest, and from time to time fell off.
Prior, however, to this period a large meeting was held at the southeast corner of Sixth and Chestnut Streets, in the room where the first Senate and the first House of Representatives of the United States assembled, where George Washington had been inaugurated first President of the United States, March 4, 1793, and where, on March 4, 1797, John Adams, the second President of the United States, had also been inaugurated.
This meeting was held May 31, 1865, and was called by our committee. The following is the call:
"A meeting of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States will be held at the county court-house, Sixth and Chestnut Streets, on Wednesday evening, May 31, 1865, at eight o'clock. All officers and ex-officers of the army, navy, and marine corps interested in the establishment of an organization founded to perpetuate the memories and associations of the present war are invited to attend.
"Signed, by order,
"Sam. B. Wylie Mitchell,
The writer was called to the chair, and for the information of those assembled gave the history of the Loyal Legion, and requested the secretary to read the Constitution and By-Laws, after which twentyone gentlemen asked for membership.
After the final adoption of the Constitution and By-Laws, the first Commander elected was Major-General George Cadwalader, U.S.V., of Philadelphia, November 4, 1865; he cordially entered into the plans of organization. He retained his position as Commander of Pennsylvania Commandery, and acting Commander-in-Chief, until his death, February 3, 1879.
His successor was Major-General Winfield Scott Hancock, U.S.A., elected Commander June 5,1879; he retained the office until his death, February 9, 1886. Until the formation of the Commandery-in-Chief, in 1885, Pennsylvania Commandery had been acting Commandery-in-Chief.
At the commencement our little committee labored diligently, working in thorough harmony, ever keeping in memory the day and event upon which its inception rested, and thus keeping the organization intact from that memorable day, April 15, 1865. Since then the Constitution and By-Laws have been somewhat revised, and doubtless improved, yet the basis of the organization remains to this day the same.
In looking over my original copy of the Constitution and By-Laws, I see many memoranda, erasures, and addenda, showing that our work was not done hastily, nor without considerable deliberation, and often overheated debate, as we had some active, hot-headed brains among us.
It had been the aim of the early members to retain among the chief officers representatives of the regular and volunteer service, as well as of those of the army and of the navy. This has been generally adhered to.
The first Commandery instituted was in 1865, under Pennsylvania Commandery, acting as Commandery-in-Chief, with head-quarters of the new Commandery at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to be known as Pennsylvania Commandery, No. 2. This organization, because of the almost immediate scattering of the officers and members composing it, was never perfected, hence does not appear upon the register.
The next, or rather the first, Commandery instituted after that of Pennsylvania was that of the State of New York, in 1866.
At a meeting of the Commandery, held May 17, 1865, the following preamble and resolutions were carried, viz.:
Whereas, It is the intention of this organization that hereafter every candidate for membership shall be subjected to the ordeal of a special committee of investigation, and afterwards to a strict ballot; therefore,
"Resolved, That, actuated by a spirit of honor and fair dealing towards those who may present themselves for membership, we hold it but just and proper to submit ourselves to the test of the ballot.
"Resolved, That in the event of three black balls appearing against an individual, it shall be considered as an expression of the opinion that the best interests of the organization will be promoted by the immediate withdrawal of said party."
This was carried unanimously, and the secretary and treasurer acted as tellers. It was agreed that, as the name of each candidate would in turn be called, he would withdraw from the hall, hat in hand, and those remaining proceed to ballot. A committee was appointed to inform gentlemen, on behalf of the meeting, of the result of the balloting. Under this ballot about a score of gentlemen were elected. The secretary was instructed to notify those who had been dropped, and to return them the amount, if any, of their subscription. I well remember the appearance of each man as he left the hall, hat in hand. It is needless to say that some never returned.
On the 22d of February, 1866, at noon, a celebration in honor of the day was held in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, opened by prayer by the Rev. Matthew Simpson, D.D., Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, followed by an oration by Companion Major-General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, of Maine, late commanding First Division, Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, followed by a poem by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Graham Halpine, of New York, late Assistant Adjutant-General of United States Volunteers, well known by his nom de plume of "Miles O'Reilly." The celebration was a great success, the vast auditorium of the Academy was filled, and the order was brought well and favorably before the public.
The order is to-day composed of eighteen Commanderies organized, and membership, October 31, 1888, as follows:
1. Commandery of the State of Pennsylvania.—Instituted April 15, 1865.
Head-quarters, Philadelphia. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 699
2. Commandery of the State of New York.—Instituted January 17, 1866.
Head-quarters, New York City. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 689
3. Commandery of the State of Maine.—Instituted April 25, 1866.
Head-quarters, Portland. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 76
4. Commandery of the State of Massachusetts.—Instituted March 4, 1868.
Head-quarters, Boston. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 662
6. Commandery of the State of California.—Instituted April 12, 1871.
Head-quarters, San Francisco. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 541
6. Commandery of the State of Wisconsin.—Instituted May 15, 1874.
Head-quarters, Milwaukee. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 175
7. Commandery of the State of Illinois.—Instituted May 8, 1879.
Head-quarters, Chicago. Membership, October 31,1888 . . . . . 318
8. Commandery of the District of Columbia.—Instituted February 1, 1882.
Head-quarters, Washington. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 428
9. Commandery of the State of Ohio.—Instituted May 3, 1882.
Head-quarters, Cincinnati. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 531
10. Commandery of the State of Michigan.—Instituted February 4, 1885.
Head-quarters, Detroit. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 172
11. Commandery of the State of Minnesota.—Instituted May 6, 1885.
Head-quarters, St. Paul. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 219
12. Commandery of the State of Oregon.—Instituted May 6, 1885.
Head-quarters, Portland. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 71
13. Commandery of the State of Missouri.—Instituted October 21, 1885.
Head-quarters, St. Louis. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 196
14. Commandery of the State of Nebraska.—Instituted October 21, 1885.
Head-quarters, Omaha. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 113
15. Commandery of the State of Kansas.—Instituted April 22, 1885.
Head-quarters, Leavenworth. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 189
16. Commandery of the State of Iowa.—Instituted October 20 1886.
Head-quarters, Des Moines. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 88
17. Commandery of the State of Colorado.—Instituted June 1, 1887.
Head-quarters, Denver. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 70
18. Commandery of the State of Indiana.—Instituted October 17, 1888.
Head-quarters, Indianapolis. Membership, October 31, 1888 . . . . . 23
Total . . . . . . . . . . 5260
It will be seen from the above membership the prosperous condition of the order. Nor is it simply in numbers that the Loyal Legion is successful, for the material is of the best. Let us strive to maintain our high reputation, and render ourselves worthy of the eulogistic words of our late lamented Commander, General Philip H. Sheridan,—"A society the most distinguished and intelligent in this country."
T. Ellwood Zell,
Late Lieutenant-Colonel, U.S.V.
United Service, a Monthly Review of Military and Naval Affairs
Volume I., New Series—No. 2
L. R. Hammersly and Co., Philadelphia
pages 179 to 182