Bill's Speech at the SUVCW Camp #2 Installation, 2012 (Department of Michigan)
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
Department of Michigan
Israel B. Richardson Camp # 2
Speech by Camp Commander Bill Nash, January 26, 2012:
Brothers, I want to thank you all for being here tonight at this most important meeting. Commander Shaw-thank you specifically for your presence and participation. I want to thank also the brothers both elected and appointed this evening for your willingness to serve in the various capacities for which you have pledged your commitment. Many of you have held positions within the Camp previously. Your continued service is deeply appreciated. Finally, I want to thank the entire membership of Camp 2 for remaining on the rolls, paying your dues, attending the meetings, and for the many things done in service to the Order that go unsung. Great job gentlemen!
The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War as an organization is very concerned at this time about its “vision.” This is only right. The Scriptures remind us that “without a vision the people perish.” The vision for the SUVCW has to do, in part, with the question of where does the Order see itself going in terms of strategies to fulfill its mission to perpetuate the memory of the Grand Army of the Republic and those who served honorably to save the Union 1861 to 1865. It also has to do with making that history relevant with what is happening to today. Does the record of our Union ancestors mean anything to the “average Joe citizen” of 2012? Fortunately, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is upon us and presents unique opportunities for increased public awareness and making that connection. And with making the connection comes more opportunities for growth. We all know that if our Order doesn’t grow it will die. The Grand Army of the Republic was unique in that its membership could only decrease as our ancestors passed away. When the last Union veteran Albert Woolson died in 1956, the G.A.R., as it was known, was done. However, the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War always has the potential for growth as generations of males descending from Union veterans continue to be born. But the word must get out! Referring to the Scriptures again, the Bible, speaking about the Gospel, says “how shall they hear without a preacher?” Brothers, we are the “preachers” of our “good news” –that is what the word “gospel” means. The good news is that our country is worth saving and is “the last best hope on earth”, its Constitution is its bedrock and must continue to stand, and that freedom is the fruit that will continue to grow as long as the United States of American exists. This gospel was severely threatened 150 year’s ago-resulting in the Civil War. Here’s the connection: just as our Union ancestors stood in the gap then to preserve the nation, so our nation today needs patriots to preserve what they preserved. We as brothers together have made the commitment to do so. Our continued membership is a testimony to our commitment. Everything we do in and for the Order is further testimony-whether we are participating in Memorial Day observances, headstone dedications, programs in schools, various speeches, lectures, and presentations, or marching in a parade-it’s all part of our cause-our mission-our legacy-our “good news.”
We, brothers, must remember the sacrifices as our Union ancestors made for the “good news.” They risked all. Thousands gave their lives. I think of my Union ancestor second-great cousin, William A. Nash. He enlisted at age eighteen. He never made it to age nineteen. He died within six months service in the mounted infantry. What were his dreams? And what might he have accomplished had he lived? Like so many young men, of all times, I’m sure he longed for adventure-to get off the farm-to see more of the world. But it was not meant to be. And that story was repeated countless times among our nation’s families during the war. Of those soldiers who did make it home, having survived, many had to start their lives over again. The war had changed everything for them. Civil War author Bruce Catton once remarked that following the war, there was hardly a city, town, or village, that didn’t have a family impacted by it-either by the death of one of its males or by a male returning home sick or maimed. Another one of my Union ancestors-second-great grandfather Matthias “Matt” Judd joined the service as a spry 21 year old male and was discharged less than two years later physically wrecked from exposure to inclement weather. He would eventually receive a pension for his disability, but he lost the vigor of his youth. His service came at a high price. We as Sons of Union Veterans cannot permit our ancestors to have struggled and sacrificed in vain.
A friend recently gave me an old tattered scrapbook she bought for a dollar at a garage sale. Its pages were frail and yellowed. There was no date in it to indicate when it had been put together. My guess is it was from the 1920’s or 30’s. There was no signature of its owner. It contained cut-out newspaper clippings that were glued on each page. The clippings were about the history of the 120th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. It was interesting enough. However, what really caught my eye was one of the little book’s last pages where there was a clipping entitled “The Little Bronze Button of the G.A.R.” by Private Dalzell. I think the book was probably put together by a Union Civil War veteran who served in the aforementioned unit. I will now read you the article in its entirety. I think it says it all:
THE LITTLE BRONZE BUTTON OF THE G.A.R.
By Private Dalzell
“Every day it passes by you. You see it-the little bronze button of the G.A.R. proudly worn on the lapel of the grey-haired veterans, growing fewer and fewer every day. You see the old man totter along on cane or crutch, quietly, modestly, but with the air of a prince of the royal, loyal honor of America. Are you sure you know and interpret fully the significance of that button- that modest little badge of patriotic service? Perhaps you do. Perhaps you don’t. If you do not, ask him. He knows what it means now. Fraternity, charity, loyalty; and wherever he sees it he recognizes in its wearer a brother. It symbolizes all he knows or feels of a comradeship born in the fires of battle-welded, cemented by a fraternal devotion no pen ever defined.
It means a lot more to him than you thought. All there is of America, past, present, and future, brazen in that button. At its talismanic touch the gates of the port fly open and the old days come back, with all their holy memories. No knight of chivalry, no soldier of Tancred. Richard the Lion-Hearted, Godfrey or any other hero of the Crusades, or the War of the Roses, ever had emblazoned on his shield, or wore later on, on coats of arms, or later still, transmitted with heraldry a prouder badge of honor and knighthood than this little bronze button. That button no man can wear who was coward or laggard when his country called. It rolls back the curtain of time until you can see the transcendent vision of hosts of men in blue fighting to save the life of the nation. And they saved it. All it is or can be you owe to these men who wear the insignia of American royalty-the only aristocracy of America.
You cannot buy it any more than you could buy a seat in heaven. Its value is above gold, silver or precious stones. It was bought with blood, the best blood that ever flowed in human heart or vein. Young man, take off your hat when and wherever you see that button until the last Boy in Blue is in his grave.”
With just a little research I discovered that the author of the article “Private Dalzell” was one James M. Dalzell (1838-1924), a prolific writer who stirred hearts with his pen about Civil War soldiers and the War. Perhaps more importantly, he was a Union veteran himself having served honorably as a private in the 116th Ohio-so he wore the G.A.R. button himself.
In this new year of 2012, let us keep the picture of the button in our mind’s eye knowing what it represented in its day while remembering what the Boys in Blue did, sharing the mission of our Order, and giving out the “good news” at every opportunity to all who will listen. With that, we will help fulfill the vision that will continue to guide us into the future.
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