One of the things that strikes a person when walking the canyon-like street of Lower Manhattan are the sidewalk plaques commemorating the ticker-tape parades held over the years. Such parades stretch back well into the nineteenth century. Ticker-tape itself is a thing of the past, but such parades are still very much a part of present day New York City life. They are held, for instance, when the Yankees win the World Series. I remember being in New York City for the first time in June 1990 and witnessing the parade for Nelson Mandela. Those who know the War of the Rebellion know the importance parades played in the history and remembrance of the conflict. The Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865 put an exclamation point on the Federal victory, emphasizing that the war was over and the Union preserved. Twenty years later, in 1885, Winfield Scott Hancock, working from Governors Island, quite consciously organized General Grant’s funeral to serve the reconciliation cause. That is why Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph Johnston served as pallbearers along with William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan.
Today, 30 September, marks another of the landmark New York City parades, even if no one remembers it anymore: it was one this day 114 years ago that the masses turned out to salute Admiral George Dewey after his victory at the the Battle of Manila Bay. Masses is the correct word; a full two million people lined the streets to pay their respects. It was not just New Yorkers either; as the stereograph above shows people came from across the country. John Philip Sousa’s band led the procession.
Teddy Roosevelt understood the importance of these types of gatherings. He had, after all, witnessed Lincoln’s funeral procession from his bedroom window as a young boy. Dewey’s most prominent admirer was the Rough Rider himself. Teddy had ridden the popularity he had earned on San Juan Hill the year before all the way to the governors mansion in Albany. Roosevelt had good reason to be in Manhattan for Dewey’s moment in the sun; it was his machinations as Assistant Secretary of the Navy that had put Dewey in charge of the Asiatic Squadron to begin with. Admiral Dewey, aboard the Olympia, unexpectedly arrived in New York City two days early, and was left to cool his heels on the ship, which he seems to have taken in stride. It was a Who’s Who of prominent military men, including Wesley Merritt and Nelson Miles. For whatever reason the Grand Army of the Republic did not officially send a contingent, though Oliver O. Howard did organize a few thousand old soldiers, including members of Duryea’s Zouaves, to march.
These are the types of stories I am looking forward to telling when I start at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in October.