Historic Reunions of
Union and Confederate
Annual meetings of the Aztec Club in the latter part of the 19th century were notable for
they were attended by a galaxy of stars of Civil War fame, both Union and Confederate. As young men, they were bonded tightly
by their experiences during the Mexican War, as only its mutual hardships and shared dangers could instill.
A short dozen years later, as generals of the Union and Confederate armies, they bore arms against one another.
This return to the battlefield against one another, and their subsequent reunification after the War's end,
illustrates how unique the Aztec Club really is. Their bond, stronger than if they had been biological
brothers, gives more profound meaning to the time-worn description of America's Civil War as a war of
"brother against brother".
West Point's class of 1846 was the most impacted, producing ten Confederate generals and twelve Union generals. The youthful bonds that developed between them as cadets, and fellow West Point graduates, were cemented by the maturing experience of war, not once but twice.
Examples include those of George B. McClellan and Pierre G. T. Beauregard, both members of the Aztec Club serving together on General Winfield Scott's staff in Mexico, who led opposing armies during the Civil War. Aztecs Ulysses S. Grant and Simon Bolivar Buckner battled at Fort Donelson.
In 1847 Captain Robert E. Lee, also a member of the Club, commended a red-whiskered young Lieutenant, Ulysses S. Grant, on his initiative and daring in battle. After the American assault at Mexico's San Cosme Gate, Lieutenant John C. Pemberton was dispatched by General William J. Worth to bring to him the officer whose little command bluffed the larger opposing Mexican forces into a state of confusion. Pemberton, another Aztec and later a Lieutenant-General commanding the Confederate defenses at Vicksburg, returned to Gen. Worth with the young Ulysses S. Grant.
As young lieutenants in Mexico, Winfield Scott Hancock and James Longstreet fought side by side in the Battle of Churubusco. Sixteen years later Longstreet's corps attacked Hancock at Gettysburg, two more members of the Aztec Club whose paths crossed many times. The experiences these young officers had in Mexico created a bond between them that even in war could not be forgotten.
When Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, commanders of opposing forces during the War of the Rebellion, met face to face at Appomattox Court House that eventful day their conversation began with reminiscences of Mexico. While the crowd of generals grew outside, both Union and Confederate, it was remarkable how quickly they were likewise interested, not in war or peace, but in catching up on old times. Many were members of the Aztec Club, too, as was one of the last to arrive that day, Cadmus Wilcox, one of Lee's most trusted generals. Wilcox had been best man at Grant's wedding.
Following the Civil War, Lee, rather than accept any one of a number of lucrative proposals, instead devoted the remaining five years of his life as President of Washington College, educating young men to help rebuild the South. Grant became President of the United States not to play the role of victor, but of healer.
They, along with numerous others, recognized yet another burden had been placed upon them - that of bringing the war-torn country back together again. As a nation divided sought a path toward post-war reconciliation, they led by example. The bond even stronger than before, they came together again, to perpetuate the unique bond they shared. The Aztec Club grew and thrived as it evolved from a military society into the hereditary one that exists today. Our web site is full of interesting, yet little known facts about these men.
Imagine Sam Grant, with "Cump" Sherman and Joe Johnston at his side, and thirty other generals of the former Union and Confederate armies, traveling together by railroad car seeking conviviality and renewing of bonds of friendship. This actually occurred in 1881 when, as members of the Aztec Club, the group journeyed on an outing together, one of several in which Grant participated while serving as President of the United States.
In this portion of our web site, you will see photographs and read about some of these meetings.