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Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War

Past National Encampment Report of
Commander-in-Chief Richard D. Orr

1998 - 117th National Encampment
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
August 7, 1998


Brothers, it has been a distinct honor and privilege to have served our Order as Commander-in-Chief this past year. Today, I come before you to report on the state of our Order. I can without hesitation say that the state of the Order is great. As we progress through this encampment, you will hear of the many accomplishments, advances, and improvements which you have brought about this past year.

Financially, we are sound. However, we need to remain diligent in shepherding our finances to maintain a solid foundation. As you will hear, we have inducted nearly 1000 new members. Today our membership stands at 5600 -- a 12% increase over last year. But the inability to retain members continues to plague us. The result has been very little gain in total membership. We must find a solution to this problem. However, the solution lies with the local camps. Neither the National Organization nor the Departments can sustain membership if the camps do not welcome new members and have activities to keep them interested.

With the chartering of the Department of Kentucky, we now have 26 Departments. This is more than at any time since 1922. Only the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina are not served by a Department. Brothers are working hard to form Departments in some of these states. I wholly expect the Department of Washington to be reactivated during the ensuing year and with the chartering of the third camp in Virginia, we may soon see the Department of Virginia formed out or the Department of Maryland.

At the beginning of the year, I laid out a plan to initiate three major projects. I can report to you that two of those projects have progressed far beyond what I thought we could accomplish this year.

Under the leadership of Brother Kent Armstrong, the Civil War Monuments and Memorials Project has developed and implemented a database for the collection of information on all Civil War Memorials and Monuments. Now it is time for the Departments and Camps to begin the systematic survey of all Civil War Memorials and Monuments. While at the National level, we need to solicit the assistance of other organizations in gathering the information needed and then begin taking the steps necessary to protect and preserve these monuments. We also should seriously consider sharing the database developed by the committee for other organizations to use as a framework for similar projects related to other eras in our Nations history.

The Graves Registration Project under the leadership of Brother Leo Kennedy has mirrored the success of the Memorials and Monuments. They have re-designed, developed and implemented a database for gathering burial information on all Union veterans. As with the monuments, the Departments and Camps must now step forward and collect the necessary information. We need to seek the aide of other organizations in gathering this information.

Once sufficient information has been gathered for both of these projects, we need to move forward with making these searchable databases on our web site. We also need to make the basic database skeleton and reports available to each Department and Camp as a compiled executable file. This will permit each camp and department to run the program without purchasing the software package.

The GAR Records Project has not progressed as much. There have been a variety of reasons most notably were family difficulties encountered by the chairman. But I take the responsibility for the lack of progress. I choose not to ask the chairman for his resignation when it became apparent that health problems of a family member were going to inhibit his ability to lead the committee. Considering all else that was happening in his life, I did not think it was the fraternal thing to do.

Many of the Committees have been hard at work. The Americanization and Education Committee, lead by Brother Greg Meirka, has developed a plan for actively working with schools throughout the country to educate children about the Civil War. This plan will be presented to you for your consideration.

The Special 1999 GAR Committee, chaired by Brother Gary Gibson working with the 1999 National Encampment host committee, lead by Brother Ed Kreiser, have developed a number of activities to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The Military Affairs, Constitution and Regulations, Program and Policy, Membership, Per Capita Tax Methodology, Membership Process Committees, Communications and Technology, National Headquarters Staffing all will be presenting major items for your consideration.

Much time and energy has been expended this past year in an attempt to resolve the issues surrounding the GAR Hall in Gettysburg. In the fall of 1988, Gettysburg Camp 112 with the concurrence of the Pennsylvania Department transferred ownership of the GAR Hall to Historic Gettysburg Adams County, Inc. HGAC is allegedly a historical preservation organization. The deed transferring the property contained several restrictions. Through apathy, inattentiveness and purposeful actions of a few Camp officers, HGAC was able to ignore the restrictions and change the Hall from a GAR Hall into nothing more than a community meeting room. When it became apparent that there was a concerted effort to destroy the Camp, the Pennsylvania Department intervened. New officers were elected and installed and new members recruited. The Camp is now one of the most active in the Order. The new members realized the disservice and dishonor to our ancestors which had been done by HGAC. They proceeded to demand adherence to the restrictions in the deed. Over a period of two years the Camp and the Pennsylvania Department attempted to reach an amicable settlement with HGAC. Last summer a tentative agreement was reached. However, HGAC's board of directors unilaterally changed the agreement, approved the changed agreement and sent it to the Camp. The Brothers of the Camp rejected the modified agreement as it was not what had been agreed to by those representing the camp in the discussions. HGAC told the Camp members to take it or leave it. At this point, the Camp and Pennsylvania Department requested the assistance of the National Organization. A series of letters was exchanged between myself and the president of HGAC. They consistently refused to meet with us and discuss our differences. In late April, I received a letter demanding that we agree to binding arbitration. The Council of Administration unanimously rejected this proposal. A response was sent which included a draft consent decree containing our proposal to settle all issues. A response was requested by June 30, 1998. As of today no response has been received. We now must make a decision. Do we drop the matter or do we proceed with legal action. If we simply drop it, we are sending a very loud and clear message that our bark has no bite behind it. We have consulted with a number of attorneys including our own legal staff and a law professor. All are in agreement that our case is very strong and in all probability we would prevail at trial.

This Encampment is the ultimate authority of the Order. Decisions made here will impact upon us for years to come. You set the foundation upon which the National Officers, Departments and Camps must build. There is no appeal from your actions and only another National Encampment can change those actions. This is your opportunity to determine the direction we will follow. Will we move forward or backward. Those are the choices.

Will we continue to attempt to use only volunteers on a part-time hit or miss basis to conduct our business or will we take on a more professional look with part-time or full time paid staff?

Will we continue the confusing process of changing the point of contact -- address -- for the Order each year or will we exhibit stability with a consistent point of contact or a National Headquarters?

Will we continue to have a decentralized unmanageable membership information system or a centralized system?

Will we continue to have a bottom up or a top down system of direction for the Order?

Will Departments continue to function for the purpose of assisting camps or become an overlord to camps; dictating to the camps who their officers may be?

These are but a few of the decisions you will be required to make at this encampment. While I have stated these questions in simple terms, there are no simple answers. Several of the questions are interrelated and require complex answers.

The improvements made to the management of the SUVCW over the past 10 years have resurrected the Order. We are having an impact in the communities which we serve. Our voice is being heard and heeded. When we object to the sale or removal of GAR memorials, people are taking note and listening. And we are winning.

The Department of New Jersey in cooperation with the New Jersey State Archives and the New Jersey Civil War Heritage Association is working to preserve and display the 141 Civil War flags in the state collection. They have also recovered a treasure of GAR memorabilia from a fire hall in Trenton. The artifacts will be displayed in a museum being built in an armory.

Oliver Tilden Camp, in addition to their sponsorship of the Grant Tomb Ceremonies each year, is deeply involved in the development of the Greenpoint Monitor Museum. The Greenpoint Monitor Museum is dedicated to preserving the site where the USS Monitor was constructed, commissioned and launched.

The Col. George Willard Camp #154, Albany New York successfully recovered not one but two eagles stolen from the grave sites of Col. Elmer Ellsworth, the first Union officer killed in the War and Brig, Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr. Col Ellsworth's eagle was located in a Sagamore, Mass. Antique shop and Gen. Von Steinwher's eagle was found at the Atlantic Auction Gallery. Both have been returned to their rightful place at on the monuments of these officers.

Bro. Charles Davis, Graves Registration Officer, Department of California and Pacific discovered an ignored and unenforced California law which requires the Board of Supervisors of each county in California to provide for the maintenance of all veterans' graves. He has brought this matter to the attention of the Legislative Counsel on Veterans Affairs and the California Senate.

The Department of Pennsylvania has worked closely with state Representative Reedshaw on the drafting of legislation and the formation of a commission on the Pennsylvania Monuments at Gettysburg. Because of the efforts of the Department and the support given to Representative Reedshaw's bill, the Department now has a permanent seat on the commission.

Twice during this past year, the sale of surplus state property was stopped when an objection was filed with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services over the inclusion of a cemetery plot containing 332 Union veterans graves in the proposed sale. The sales agreement did not require maintenance of the cemetery as a cemetery nor public access. Objection of the terms of the agreement was based on existing state law which designates this cemetery as a historical cemetery and since the state owns it, it cannot be sold for development.

It was reported in a number of Pittsburgh area newspapers that during the course of an investigation of an alleged theft of materials from a local organization records from four GAR posts were included with recovered items. I sent a letter to the District Attorney with a copy of the Deed of Conveyance from the GAR stating that without making any accusations as to how the organization came to possess these items, they were our property. I further stated that Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall Library was designated as the repository for all GAR records from Allegheny County and requested that when released from evidence the records be forwarded there. Last week I received a telephone call from the District Attorney for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania during which he assured me that after reviewing the documents submitted he determined they are our property and will have all the GAR material taken to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall when it is released from evidence after the trial.

Earlier this year the Director of Public Works for Hutchinson, Kansas telephoned me. There is a GAR monument in the center of the town with two captured Confederate cannon tubes. One it the only known surviving piece from a foundry in Louisiana. A collector had offered the city a rather large sum of money for the tubes with the promise to replace them with replicas. A search of ownership by the solicitor revealed that the monument is jointly owned by the city and the GAR post. He also advised them that we were the rightful owners of the GAR's interest in the monument. I refused to give permission to sell the tubes which they expected. An agreement was reached that the tubes would be moved and displayed in a more secure setting with replicas being placed on the monument. At that point I referred the matter to the Department of Kansas to negotiate the details.

The point of all this is that our voice is not only being heard but sought out. We are being recognized as the legal heir to the Grand Army of the Republic. We are now being asked for our assistance in getting legislation passed. Our positions on issues are being sought by politicians at the local, state, and national level. This reawakening has made one thing is very clear, the need to move the management of the SUVCW from the 19th century to the 21st century. We cannot continue to manage our day-to-day affairs in the same manner as we did in the 1880's. We must have the ability to foster these political connections while remaining non-partisan. We must adapt modern management techniques and methodologies. We must do this while maintaining our allegiance to the principles upon which we were founded and the principles of our forefathers. In one respect, we are fortunate because those principles transcend the centuries and are as valid today as they were 117 years ago. This makes change less cumbersome. Change we must or we will be left to the ages ourselves as the GAR has been.

We can no longer rely solely on volunteers to meet our needs. The time has come for us to seek the assistance of professional consultants. No member has the time necessary to cultivate the political relationship required to take full advantage of this renewed recognition. We stand at the threshold of a new opportunity to influence subjects of great interest to us. We cannot and must not let this opportunity slip away.

As I have traveled across the country this year I have been greatly encouraged by the tremendous amount of work being done by camps and departments. I commend all those who are actively meeting our obligation to keep alive the memory of the GAR -- grave restoration, grave remarking, rededication ceremonies, cleaning, restoring, preserving monuments, saving GAR records and memorabilia, Memorial Day activities, participation in Remembrance Day, Lincoln Tomb Ceremonies, Grants Tomb Ceremony, Lincoln Memorial Ceremony and so many more activities. We are doing an enormous number of things. Those camps which are not participating need to become involved. You need to make your presence know in your community. Meet you obligation to be the voice of the Union veterans. If we do not speak for them who will. They are our ancestors and we are the only representative they empowered to speak on their behalf. We cannot fail them. We must strive to increase our visible image in each community.

I have also seen something which I find most troubling. So wearisome that I began doing something I never thought I would -- counting the days until I was no longer the one who had to address this issue. An issue which has take far too much time. Time that could have been expended on meaningful issues. A dramatic decrease in the practice of one of the principles of our Order -- fraternity, fraternalism. Rather than attempt to resolve differences, rather than accept differing opinions, far too many Brothers are resorting to our internal form of litigation -- filing charges against another brother. Most of these cases are over petty issues and are for the most part personality differences. The inability of Brothers to settle these matters in a fraternal manner is offensive and disgusting. Some are the result of SUVCW politics within the camp or department. It was because of this type of behavior I was forced to take disciplinary action against a sitting Department Commander. We must find the resolve to settle these differences in a fraternal amicable manner. We are all volunteers. Good leaders earn the respect of those they lead and obtain compliance with their directions through that respect not by demands and threats of punitive action. No one wins when it becomes necessary for disciplinary action to be taken. We need to learn to accept the fact that no one wins all the debates and any differences in opinion should be left in the meeting rooms not carried beyond. When the debate is over, the vote taken, regardless of the outcome, accept the decision of the body and leave the meeting supporting that decision.

As I prepare to leave office, I want to express my appreciation for all the hard work of the National Officers, Committee chairmen and committee members. Any success we have had is because of your dedication to this Order and your work. Without you, nothing could have been accomplished.

I have a number of recommendations. Some of which I know are controversial and are designed to solicit debate and determination of the directions we will travel.


  • August 6-10, 1998, National Encampment, Utica NY
  • August 10, 1997, Council of Administration Meeting, Utica, NY
  • August 23, 1997, Testimonial Banquet for Glenn Knight, Pennsylvania Department Commander and Beverly Knight, Pennsylvania Department Aux. President, Lancaster, PA
  • September 5, 1997, Pennsylvania State Veterans Council Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • September 12, 1997, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • September 14, 1997, John T. Crawford Camp meeting, Freeport, PA
  • September 17, 1997, 135th Anniversary Federal Arsenal Explosion, Lawerenceville, PA
  • October 10, 1997, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • October 12, 1997, John T. Crawford Camp meeting, Freeport, PA
  • October 15, 1997, Sewickley Roundtable, Sewickley, PA
  • October 17-19, 1997, MOLLUS convention, Richmond, VA
  • October 25, 1997, Testimonial Dinner, Cranberry, PA
  • November 7, 1997, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • November 15, 1997, Remembrance Day, Gettysburg, PA
  • November 16, 1997, Council of Administration meeting, Gettysburg, PA
  • December 7, 1997, John T. Crawford Camp Christmas Dinner, Kittaning, PA
  • December 12, 1997, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • January 9, 1998, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • January 11, 1998, Gettysburg Camp 112 meeting, Gettysburg, PA
  • February 12, 1998, Lincoln Memorial Ceremony, Washington, DC
  • February 13, 1998, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • February 21, 1998, Department of Michigan mid-winter meeting, Lansing, MI
  • March 7, 1998, Council of Administration meeting, Sharron, PA
  • March 13, 1998, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • March 28, 1998, Appomattox Day Dinner, Reading, PA
  • April 4, 1998, Department of Rhode Island Encampment, Providence, RI
  • April 10, 1998, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • April 15, 1998, Lincoln Tomb Ceremony, Springfield, IL
  • April 24-26, 1998, Department of Maryland Encampment, Frederick, MD
  • May 8, 1998, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • May 9, 1998, Washington Camp 120 Memorial Services, Washington, PA
  • May 24, 1998, Memorial Day Services, Gettysburg NMP, Gettysburg, PA
  • May 24, 1998, Memorial Day Luncheon, Gettysburg VFW Post, Gettysburg, PA
  • May 30, 1998, Memorial Day Services, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA
  • May 30, 1998, Memorial Day Services, Northside Catholic Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA
  • May 30, 1998, Memorial Day Services, McKeesport Cemetery, McKeesport, PA
  • June 6, 1998, Hiliard High School Commencement, Hilliard, Ohio
  • June 12-14, 1998, New York Department Encampment, Ithaca, NY
  • June 19-21, 1998, Ohio Department Encampment, Alliance, OH
  • June 25-28, 1998, Pennsylvania Department Encampment, West Middlesex, PA
  • July 10, 1988, Davis * Camp meeting, Pittsburgh, PA
  • August 5-9, 1998, 117th National Encampment, Harrisburg, PA
  • Richard D. Orr
    Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
    Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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