“The Little Bronze Button of the G.A.R.” by Private Dalzell


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. The following the article in its entirety. I think it says it all:



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.

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