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Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War

Past National Encampment Report of
Commander-in-Chief Keith G. Harrison

1995 - 114th National Encampment
Columbus, Ohio


National Officers, Delegates and Brothers to the 114th National Encampment of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War:

I am honored and pleased to present to you my year-end report. I will not, however, bore you with a description of all my various travels which have been numerous and most enjoyable (a listing follows this report anyway), or on how much of my own money that I have spent conducting the Order's business. Both of these come with the territory of being Commander-in-Chief and need not be elaborated on at this Encampment. Rather, I wish to present to the Encampment a status report on items which are of much greater importance to our Order. By initiating this, it is my hope that similar type and more informative "State of the Order" reports will be provided by Commanders-in-Chief in the future. With that said, I am pleased to report that the state of the Order is excellent and improving on a daily basis. In addition, our membership continues to grow and the Order is financially sound.

As I began my year as Commander-in-Chief, I had outlined a vision which I wanted to see our Order pursue. As an Order we have always tried to emulate the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in many of our actions and deeds. I felt, however, that we had been emulating the declining rather than the productive years of the GAR. Most of us were not around when the GAR was in full bloom and so never had the opportunity to observe first hand the vigor and vitality of that organization. Before the GAR ranks were filled with a few tired old veterans resolved to the fact that their organization was dying, it was a large, highly visible, enthusiastic and energetic organization filled with young men with unconquerable dreams.

I believe that if we as an Order are to fulfill what the GAR created us to fulfill, we must first change how we view ourselves as an Order. The SUVCW was created to be a perpetual organization, forever living on as successive generations of sons are born. It was intended to be vibrant, innovative and effective in its dealings. It was intended to be an organization which would emulate the GAR not during its waning years but during its height of influence. I felt, therefore, that it was important for our Order to once again become visible and active in our local communities and in our states. As a consequence, early on in my tenure as Commander-in-Chief, I advocated a need for our Camps to get out and promote, on behalf of the SUVCW and the GAR, local Civil War-related and also non-Civil War-related community projects and to begin to work more closely with our contemporary veterans' organizations. It will only be through this type of visibility that we can and will succeed in keeping the significance and the memory of the GAR alive and, most importantly, in the eyes of the American public. I am pleased to report that with the institution of Juniors into our Order (our investment in our and the GAR's future); the continued decrease in the average age of our membership; the continued increase in members, Camps and Departments, and the directly related increase of Sons' initiatives and activities throughout the country; my vision for the Order is becoming a reality.

Another major goal for this year was to begin the process of streamlining, simplifying, and hopefully, making more effective and efficient the workings of the Order. This has taken several forms throughout the past 12 months with, in particular, my strong advocacy for the elimination and replacement of the Order's past dependency on "word of mouth" and "recollection" type of operation, with one which is more dependent on the use of the Order's Constitution and Regulations (C & R) and the National, Department and Camp job descriptions. The overall purpose of this goal was to develop a system within the Order which when operating correctly could sustain periodic setbacks (such as Banner Editor changes, for instance) without causing the operation of the Order to come to a screeching halt as had happened so all too often in the past. Other components comprising this goal also included: institution of quarterly reporting by National Officers and Committees; computerization of the Order and the subsequent improvement in the Order's internal communications; National review of Department and Camp-at-Large bylaws; and the streamlining of the Order's procedures to organize new Camps.

The Order has made considerable progress in attaining this goal. For instance, in terms of the quarterly reporting, I am very pleased to report that the practice was met with almost 100 percent success by your elected and appointed National Officers and Committee chairs. This has afforded the Order the flexibility to respond and make needed adjustments to changing circumstances throughout the year rather than waiting until the end when it was either too late to take advantage of favorable circumstances or too late to correct problems.

A second area of improvement was the Order's greater reliance on the C & R. All too often in the past, Camps, Departments and the National Organization have floundered for lack of consistent advice. Two reasons have accounted for this. First, advice at the Camp, Department and National levels has been sought from far too many brothers rather than from appointed counselors whose job it is to research and provide such advice and second, many of the appointed counselors either did not have or, more commonly, had but chose not to read or refer to the most recent copy of the C & R. In order to help correct these problem, I have pushed throughout this year for all National, Department and Camp officers to obtain and read the most recent copy of the Order's C & R and to not take or offer advise without first checking to see what is said about the issue in the C & R. As an organization, we can no longer depend on how something was done five, ten or twenty years ago. As our C & R changes, so too should our application of its provisions. While we have greatly improved in this matter, it has not been to the degree to which I would have preferred. We still have far too many Camp, Department and National officers who have not read the C & R and we still have far too many Brothers in the Order who chose to offer advice based solely on their past office holding experience and tenure in the Organization rather than based on what is written in the C & R. To them, I offer the following: (1) if you are a Camp, Department or National Officer it is your duty and responsibility to obtain and read the C & R and (2) if you are, in particular, the Camp, Department or National Counselor or Commander, it is your duty and responsibility to obtain and thoroughly study the Order's C & R and to refer to it prior to rendering decisions. To do otherwise would be a disservice to your Order and will only result in holding back and hindering rather than helping the brotherhood.

Directly related to a greater use of the C & R has been my push this year to have each Department and Camp-at-Large bring its current by-laws into compliance with the Order's C & R. The Department and Camp-at-Large bylaws reviews were requested and were seen as necessary in order to ensure that the Departments and Camps-at-Large were keeping pace with the National Organization in terms of operational changes affecting how the Order functions and also to help reduce the number of unnecessary and often fraternally damaging misunderstandings and misconceptions which tend to surface each year within the Order. Outdated (in some cases by 10 to 40 years) bylaws have cause innumerable problems for the Order and will only provide a disservice to our many new members who seek to learn and work within the Order.

I am pleased to report most of the Departments and Camps-at-Large have complied with my request and most of the bylaws have been reviewed. The Departments and Camps-at-Large who had noted problems will now need to amend their bylaws at their Department Encampments and annual Camp-at-Large meetings next year to bring them into compliance with the C & R. Pursuant to Section 3, Article III, Chapter III of the Order's Regulations, those few Departments and Camps-at-Large who chose not to comply with General Orders #1 (Item #8), #2 (Item #9) and #4 (Item #6), Series 1994/1995, forfeited their representation at this National Encampment and will continue to forfeit their representation at subsequent National Encampments until compliance to the 1994/1995 General Orders is met.

Probably one of the largest changes to our Order this year has been its dramatic increased use of computers and electronic communications. It has really only been during the last three to four years that our Order has even begun to use computers to assist it in its operation; however, we have made great strides in these few years. I strongly advocated this year for an even greater use of such tools in the daily operation of our National Organization and in the operations of our Departments and Camps. As just one example of the strides made this year within the National Organization, the following National elected and appointed officers are now communicating electronically:

In addition, many Department and Camp officers and members are also now on-line and can obtain needed information, instructions, clarifications, literally in a moments notice, and have done so this year. As a consequence of this much improved form of communications, correspondences have greatly increased. As one example, I have processed over 2,100 pieces of correspondence this year alone; with approximately 85% being electronic or e-mail. With this technology I have been able to either answer or refer the correspondence to the appropriate National Officer for response almost immediately upon my receipt and to copy my other key elected and appointed officers into my response at no extra cost to the Order. I foresee this type of communication continuing to increase in volume in the next several years and affording the Order, for the first time in its history, the opportunity to ensure consistency and continuity between Commander-in-Chief's administrations.

Other areas where computerization has successfully entered and improved our Order include: our membership mailing list, our Order's national financial records, and the creation and processing of the Banner. In addition, we have begun to place on computer disk our various historical records, and, with this year, the beginnings of a computerized national graves registration program. One of the most significant areas where computers have advanced our Order has been in our recruitment program. During this year, two Brothers, on behalf of the Order, established a prospective member inquiry folder on America on Line and a home page on the World Wide Web. These electronic communication sites provide information on the Order and the e-mail and regular mail address of the Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief to write to for an application. As a result of these sites, millions of prospective members can now be reached. I fully anticipate that this area will grow at an astronomical rate also and will eventually become the Order's largest single source of membership inquiry in the future.

As a direct result of the Order's improved communications and adherence to and fulfillment of the job descriptions, the Order's growth has been dramatic this year. In terms of gross numbers, over 1,200 new members, 21 new Camps and one new Department were added to the rolls, representing the largest increase in recent history of the Order in all three categories. In addition, the ground work was laid this year for a minimum of five new Camps and up to three new Departments next year. I submit to you that this has not been a fluke or totally related to a resurgence of interest in the Civil War. Rather, it has taken place because the Order during the last four to five years has purposefully pursued a specific course of action and has purposefully sought individuals within the Order to carry out the plan who were committed to doing the job requested of them. The Order is growing geometrically and it is changing, and gone are the times of putting Brothers into National, Department, and Camp elected and appointed offices based solely on their tenure in the Order. In a similar vein, also gone are the times of retaining non-functioning Brothers in offices for the same reason. This growth will continue so long as we continue along the same path. Based on the above, and assuming that the Order can improve its member retention statistics, I will go on record as predicting that by the year 2000, our membership should easily surpass 10,000.

Along with the concerted effort of the Order to obtain new members, we also began this year a concerted effort to begin laying claim to abandoned GAR Post and SUVCW Camp monies which are rightfully ours. Contrary to regulations, many old GAR Post and SUVCW Camp property, records and monies were not forwarded upon their disbandment to their respective state and national organizations. In terms of the monies contained in checking and savings accounts, most ended up reverting to the escheats division or department within the state in which the Post or Camp was located. The process of locating and acquiring our rightful monies, unfortunately, was not considered, along with many other critical issues, a priority by this Organization's leadership in the past. This was changed this year. As the legal heir of the GAR, the SUVCW has an obligation to lay claim to these monies.

I am pleased to report that the National Organization has recovered this year alone just over $22,000. I strongly encourage Departments to actively explore the possible existence of such funds in their respective state(s). The National Organization will continue to initiate inquiries into those states without an existing Department. It is important to keep in mind that this program is a long term project and may take some extra time and paper work. The benefits, however, will be worth it.

During the year, I have had the pleasure of presenting several awards. The categories for the awards included work on behalf of the Order to further the memory of the GAR and recruiting. The following 12 Brothers were designated as National Aides and presented with a certificate noting same for their dedicated work in furthering the memory of the Grand Army:

During the same period, I have had the pleasure of conferring certificates and National Aide status on the following 35 Brothers for their membership recruitment activities:

In addition to the above Brothers receiving awards, I was also fortunate to present a certificates of merit to the following non-members for their service to the Order and the memory of the GAR:

The Order also made in-roads this year in terms of fraternal relations with its representation at the Sons of Confederate Veterans 100th Reunion and presentation to that body of a resolution to jointly organize and commemorate in 1999 the 50th anniversary of the last Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans and the last Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic; its work with the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War to have them consider a resolution this year to again meet nationally with the Allied Orders; and its first time ever attendance at the National Congress of the Daughters of the Union.

I have highlighted only a few of the programs and projects where considerable progress and/or improvement has been made this year by your officers and committees. In addition to these, the Order has made considerable progress in its project to eventually acquire a National Headquarters, its history book project, its national graves registration program, its GAR Highway signage program and it revision of several forms, most notably, membership cards, for use by the Order. Later reports from National Officers and Committees will elaborate further on these and many more programs and projects which have been undertaken this year.

Overall, it has been one of the most productive years in recent history for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Such productivity, however, has required the commitment of many Brothers. I wish to thank all the elected and appointed National Officers and the members of the Standing and Special National Committees for all their dedicated and productive work this year. The Order has grown dramatically both in numbers and organization because of your work. As I indicated at the beginning of my term as Commander-in-Chief, I believe that I have had the best team of officers and staff ever to be produced from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to date.

In conclusion, let me state that I believe this year marked the beginnings of an evolution, a renaissance, within the Order from an organization operating mostly on the personalities of a select minority to a intricate, team-based organization operating more interdependently through communications and dependently on the written word of the C & R and, therefore, better reflecting the will and desire of the majority of the membership as exemplified through the National Encampments. The evolution, the renaissance to which I speak has really only just begun and will not be fully realized by our Order for many years to come; however, the process has begun and cannot be reversed so long as we as an Order continue to acquire new members and elect and appoint qualified and interested Brothers to fill all positions at the Camp, Department and National levels, and so long as we remain cognizant of and actively work together in fraternity, charity and loyalty to fulfill all the responsibilities and charges given to us by the Grand Army of the Republic.

In Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty,
Keith G. Harrison

Attachment 1: List of Activities 1994 - 1995