Grand Army of the Republic
William Alexander Ketcham
Commander-in-Chief
1920 / 1921



From the Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana, December 27 1921, Page 1, Column 1

William A. Ketcham, past commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), formerly commander of the department of Indiana, twice attorney-general of Indiana and the bearer of other honors, died early today a this home, 4108 North Capitol avenue. He had not been in the best of health since the G.A.R. encampment in Indianapolis, at which his duties as commander-in-chief came to a close, but the illness ending in his death lasted only a few days.

The cause of death was acute indigestion. Mr. Ketcham was apparently in his usual health late Saturday. Early Sunday morning he became ill of indigestion but had apparently recovered Monday. Shortly after he arose from bed, early today, he fell and was dead by the time aid arrived.

Those who knew Mr. Ketcham well will believe that his death was much as he would have chosen that it should be. A long term in inaction, attended by weakness would have gone hard with his iron courage and unconquerable will. As a soldier in his youth, as a G.A.R. force from the time it was organized, as department commander and as national commander, Mr. Ketcham was courageous warrior, beloved of his comrades and necessarily respected by them that he fought.

A Picturesque Figure. As a citizen he displayed the same tenacity and the same prompt rebellion against whatever he thought was wrong that had characterized his services in the army. His rugged honesty was characteristic as obvious as his readiness to battle where a principle was, as he believed involved. In all he was picturesque figure, reminiscent of earlier times, when courage at least in its outward manifestations, was amore considered, If not more admires, than it now is. His stalwart citizenship cast its direct influence in Indianapolis, for he loved here all his life, yet in his official duties the influence was radiated to a much wider field.

Life Spent in Indianapolis. Mr. Ketcham was born January 3 1846, in Indianapolis, and lived in this city his entire lifetime. He was married on June 25, 1873, to Miss Flora McDonald, daughter of Judge David McDonald. He is survived by the widow, six daughters, Miss Flora Ketcham, Dr. Jane Ketcham and Miss Lucia Ketcham, living at home: Mrs. Robert L. Dorsey, 4466 Guilford avenue, Miss Lilla Ketcham, Eureka, Utah, and Miss Dorothy Ketcham, Chicago; one son, Henry C. Ketcham 2120 North Pennsylvania street; a sister, Miss Susan M. Ketcham, New York city, and a brother Frank M Ketcham, Irvington.

Bar Association to Meet. A joint meeting of the State and the Indianapolis Bar Associations to formulate a statement of the high esteem in which Mr. Ketcham was held will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. in the supreme court room a the state house. Larz Whitcomb, president of the local bar association, said today. Mr. Ketcham has been president of both associations, and was a charter member of the Indianapolis association. He was long a member of the American Bar Association. Charles M. McCabe, of Crawfordville, is president of the Indiana Bar Association. Mr. Ketcham was elected national commander of the G.A.R. at the fifty-forth annual encampment of the army in Indianapolis on September 24 1920. He served until the fifty-fifth encampment, which also was held in Indianapolis, and retired from office on September 29 1921. He was succeeded by Lewis Pilcher of Brooklyn, N.Y. As national commander of the Grand Army he was called on many times to speak for the veterans organization on topics of national importance and his addresses were always filled with uncompromising advocacy of Americanism. From 1915 to 1920 he was national judge advocate of the G.A.R. in 1907 and 1908 he was commander of the department of Indiana, G.A.R.

R.W. McBride, senior vice commander-in-chief of the G.A.R. sent telegrams announcing Mr. Ketcham's death to Lewis S. Pilcher of Brooklyn, N.Y., commander-in-chief of the G.A.R. and to Cola D. R. Stowitz of Buffalo, N.Y. adjutant-general of the organization.

His Only Political Office. In 1894 and again in 1896, on the Republican ticket, Mr. Ketcham was elected attorney general of Indiana. This was the only elective political office he ever held; although he was county attorney of Marion county form 1884 to 1886. During his term of office as attorney general afterward, by special employment, he represented the state in many important cases. Among the most widely-known fights waged during his administration were the railroad tax cases, the express and telegraph cases, the fee and salary cases, the prize-fighting cases, the Roby horse racing case, the cases sustaining the constitutionality of the indeterminate sentence law, the case of the state against the Ohio Oil Company, a branch of the Standard Oil Company, preventing that company from wasting natural gas to get to the underlying oil, and others, all of which he won for the state.

In the protracted case of the state against the Vandalia Railroad Company to collect taxes for the school fund, he was appointed attorney by the legislature in 1897. This case continued nearly ten years, and was finally decided against the state.

Sent Letter to Mass Meeting. One of the most recent public acts of Mr. Ketcham was his sending of a letter to men in charge of a mass meeting at Tomlinson hall a few weeks ago protesting vigorously against the stand of two members of the board of the county commissioners against the war memorial plaza project. It was written by him while he was confined to his bed by illness. Cheers sounded forth through the crowded hall as the letter, couched in the unmistakable term's characteristic of Mr. Ketcham, was read.

Captain Ketcham always stood as the able and militant guardian of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. He was a member of the board of control of the Monument for twelve years. To him is typified the sprit that held the nation together in the days of "61 to "65 and he did not propose at any time to permit the slightest desecration. There was no more ardent patriot than Captain Ketcham and he did not propose to have anything done that would in the least mar the beauty and the stateliness of the Monument, and he made a successful fight too.

Opposed Wirz Memorial. At the encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Minneapolis, Captain Ketcham presented protest that the Daughters of the Southern Confederacy should not erect a monument to the memory of Captain Wirz, "the monster of Andersonville." He took as a basis for his scathing speech which was in tone similar to many of this hot and frank speeches on this occasion a "Personal Recollections" read before the Indiana Commanery Loyal Legion, by Dr. Green V. Wollen of Indianapolis, who, when assistant surgeon in the 27th Indiana regiment was confined in Libby Prison, at Richmond, VA while Wirz was in command As a surgeon he was called by Wirz to attend a woman in the prison, the wife of a Union soldier, on whom Wirz had committed an assault. The woman died from the shame and ill treatment, and it was supposed that her body was thrown into the James River.

Always Spoke His Mind. Plain speaking was one of the characteristics of Captain Ketcham. If he had convictions on any public question he did not hesitate to express them in the most public places and regardless of the amount of opposition his pronouncement might for the moment create. A speech he made at Boston not many months ago in which he scored agitators of the Irish question in this country is an illustration. His speech that time needed no interpretation, although it was made in a place where there were many of the class he was criticizing.

In the great Americanization meeting in the Cadle tabernacle in Indianapolis not long ago Captain Ketchem although he was not billed as the headliner, proved to be probably the foremost figure a the meeting. A little catechism on patriotism conducted by Captain Ketcham and another veteran proved to be a high point of the evening program. The Americanization meeting was held at a time when it was apparent that considerable propaganda of a pernicious kind was being promoted and the apparent satisfaction Captain Ketcham gained in stepping on the propaganda was a subject of comment by many who watched his appearance on the platform.

Last Address to the G.A.R. At the last national meeting of the G.A.R. in Indianapolis, Captain Ketchem, as national commander, made an annual address that breathed the spirit of militant patriotism. His address which was vigorous and of the fighting kind, was in tone with his whole career as a citizen. In that address he summoned the forces of the Grand Army of the Republic to assail the insidious things that gnaw at the vitals of free government. A reporter writing of the speech at that time said: "In those passages that dealt with the skulking foes of established government, the speech took on the tone and emphasis of a battle cry. Mr. Ketcham made a plea for the sanctity of Memorial Day and urged the Grand Army members to cast their influence against the erratic and fitful tendencies of the times."

Anchored to Landmarks. In that address Mr. Ketcham said: "The world is topsy-turvy, and it needs our conserving strength and influence. Pacifism has gone into discard and is no longer to be feared, but Bolshevism, I.W.W.-ism all the aftermath that so frequently follows in the wake of war still confront the nation, and we now, as ever before, must hold fast to the ancient landmarks and see to it that all of these plagues that threaten so mightily shall be rendered harmless."

Mr. Ketcham also referred to the Ku Klux Klan, which he condemned in no uncertain terms. "We note with astonishment and indignation the recrudescence of an organization that half a century ago carried with it so much of terror and inflected so much shame on the communities where it held forth, is again seeking to be revived in the morning of the twentieth century, as it died in the evening of the nineteenth." Said Mr. Ketcham. "It may be that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,' but I should be loath to see a rose on a maiden's breast substituted by a flower, however beautiful and fragrant it might be, that is went by the name of the "skunk lilly."

Disgrace to Great State. "If it be true that the Ku Klux Klan recently incorporated under the laws of a state, however great and splendid in its history, that in its earlier days sought to imprison a minister of the gospel in violation of the Constitution of the United States because, forsooth, he persisted in carrying the message of the lowly Nazarene to the poor Indian, that in later years permitted prisoners by the thousands to starve in the midst of plenty and within but a few miles of the garden spot of the world, so much the more of shame to that state, and while we scant influence where such a thing might be done, we should see to it that any organization with so offensive and discredited a name, should not be permitted to invade state lines where we still have influence and strength, and with all the power that remains in us, because of our past history, standing and achievements, we ought to set our faces like flint against all the evils of the modern day that are threatening-- Bolshevism, I.W.W.-ism, anarchy, Ku Klux Klan's and whatever their name may be -- that tend to throw a blight on the fair name of the land that we saved and still love, and so, standing as we do, in the shadow and nearing the end let our last efforts be, as were our first, to see to it that this land may be kept clean, free and pure."

His Boston Speech. Captain Ketchem's speech in Boston in which he had something to say about what was called the hyphen group was made in April 1921. He was in Boston to attend the encampment of the Massachusetts G.A.R. and spoke at the Statehouse. So vigorous were his remarks that more than forty members of the legislature signed a statement expressing resentment against his address. The statement of resentment apparently never caused Captain Ketcham any worry. In his address to the legislators he urged them to see to it that what was won on the battlefields of France is not lost in this county. He said: "We do not want German-Americans, Irish-Americans or Russian-Americans but just plain, every-day Americans." Mr. Ketcham boldly added that he knew he was speaking in a city in which there were more Irishmen than in the city of Dublin.

Captain Ketcham's address in Boston was in line with an earlier address he made before the Service Club in Indianapolis at the Hotel Lincoln in March 1921. A the Service Club meeting he denounced the Von Mach pro-German meeting in New York, the pacifist doctrines of Oswald Garrison Villard and asserted that Donald O'Callaghan, lord mayor of Cork, should not be permitted to speak in any public building in Indianapolis.

"The Von Mach meeting in Madison Square, New York," he said, "was a disgrace to the greatest city in the greatest land in the world. Shame to the police force, which gave protection to such a meeting. More shame to the city administration which authorized police to stand by during such unpatriotic utterances."

Dialogue at Tabernacle. The dialogue at the Americanization meeting at the Cadle Tabernacle was between Captain Ketcham and Dr. W.L. Heiskell. "Are any of the boys here that I can command: is Dr. Heiskell here?" asked Captain Ketcham in stentorian tones as he finished his prepared address. Dr. Heiskell, his long white locks flowing about his shoulders, arose and the expectant audience was silent. "Answer me one question." On what rests the hope of the republic? The veteran doctor turned to the assemblage, bowed his head in thought for a moment and then in a voice that quavered, he shouted: "One country, one language, one flag!" The vast crowd went wild with enthusiasm and cheered and cheered, clearly marking the patriotic dialogue as one of the big points of the evening's celebration.

Born in Indianapolis. William A. Ketchem was born in Indianapolis on January 2 1846, the son of John L and Jane (Merrill) Ketchem. The father was a native of Kentucky, and was one year old when the family removed to the territory of Indiana, where he was reared and educated, and where he prepared himself for the profession of the law. He took up his residence in Indianapolis in 1834, and became one of the leading members of the bar of this city, where he continued to live until his death in 1869.

Attended School in Germany. The mother was born and raised in Indiana, a daughter of Samuel Merrill, who was the first treasurer of the state and first president of the Madison & Indianapolis railroad. Mr. Ketchem attended the schools of Indianapolis as a boy and until 1859, when he was sent to Germany where he continued his studies until 1861. He then returned home and shortly afterwards was matriculated in Wabash College, where he continued his studies for two years. He was a member of the junior class in this institution when in 1864, he laid aside his studies to tender his services in defense of the Union. He enlisted as a private in Company A, 13th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and after nine months of service as a private he became a lieutenant and was assigned to Company E of the same regiment. Later he was placed in command of Company C, retaining the same rank. In May, 1865 he was commissioned captain of Company I , of the same regiment and it is worthy of note that he assumed this office when only nineteen years old. His regiment was part of the 10th corps of the Army of the Potomac in the battle of Cold Harbor.

He served with his company in the engagements at Bermuda Hundred and around Petersburg and Richmond. Thereafter he accompanied his regiment to North Carolina and assisted in the attack on Ft. Fisher, after which the command remained in that state until the close of the war. He was mustered out in September 1865, and received his honorable discharge. So great had been the exodus of patriotic students from Wabash Collage that class associations had been broken up and students had become widely scattered.

Graduated at Dartmouth. On returning home, therefore, Capt. Ketcham entered Dartmouth Collage, in which he graduated as a member of the class of 1867. He then returned to Indianapolis, where he began the study of law under his father and Judge David McDonald. He was admitted to the bar in December 1868. He then became associated in practice with his father and Major James L. Mitchell.

His father died shortly afterward, and was succeeded in the firm by Horatio F. Newcomb who retained his connection therewith until his appointment to the bench of the superior court two years later. In 1876 Mr. Newcomb again became a member of the firm with which he continued for the ensuing four years. When Major Mitchell was elected mayor of Indianapolis in 1872, Captain Ketchem associated himself in practice with Judge Solomon Claypool under the firm title Claypool, Claypool and Ketchem.

Strong Law Firm. This alliance continued until 1890 and the firm gained prestige as one of the strongest in the state. Since 1890 Mr. Ketchem had conducted an individual practice. He was long known as one of the strongest trial lawyers in the state and was concerned in a large number of important litigations in both the state and federal courts.

From the time of attaining his legal majority Captain Ketcham had been unswerving in his allegiance to the Republican Party in whose cause he rendered most effective service. In 1894 he was elected attorney general of Indiana, and in 1896 he was chosen as his on successor, having been renominated by acclamation.

Service Praised. Concerning his administration of these important offices, the following pertinent statements have been made: "In the office of attorney general Captain Ketcham was called on to conduct on behalf of the state an unprecedented amount of litigation in the highest courts. Among the very important cases may be mentioned those involving the constitutionality of the statutes taxing railroads and those taxing telegraph and express companies---laws which were attached with great vehemence by the lawyers retained by these corporations. The constitutionality of the statutes was finally sustained by the Supreme Court of the United States, before which the questions were duly argued by Attorney General Ketchem and others.

Laws Successfully Defended. "The law governing the management of the prison board and one providing for intermediate sentences of convicts were also attacked and successfully defended by (Attorney) General Ketcham. He was instrumental in breaking up the gang of gamblers that inaugurated winter racing, prize fighting and other vicious or swindling entertainment at Roby, this state.

"Perhaps his crowning achievement was the fight he made on two apportionment laws of this state enacted respectively in 1893 and 1895 alleging that they were unfair and unconstitutional. In the Supreme Court he succeeded in having both of them set-aside after masterful argument establishing their repugnance to the spirit of the constitution. These decisions stand as a menace to any political party in the state that may seek hereafter to make one man more powerful than another because of his politics in fixing the basis of representation. Absolute fairness and equality are now required."

Nicholson Law. The constitutionality of the Nicholson law governing the sale of intoxicating liquors was assailed during his incumbency of the office of attorney general but the law in all its parts was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Captain Ketcham always evinced the deepest appreciation of the honor and dignity of the profession of which he was an able representative. He was a close observer of the unwritten code of ethics and his course as a practitioner was marked by inflexible integrity and honor with complete avoidance of those professional lapses all too frequently made for the sake of personal gain. Of him it was said: "He believed in the strict impartial and vigorous enforcement of the law. He is also so constituted as to question the good citizenship of any man who either joins a mob to usurp the function of the courts or who seeks to shield others guilty of such offense. Above all he condemns the lax administration of justice by the courts and others charged with execution of the laws and the disposition sometimes observed in such officials to excuse or palliate gross and willful violations of the law."

His Record in Office. Mr. Ketcham retired from the office of attorney general November 21 1898. He was succeeded by William L. Taylor, of Indianapolis.

After four years of lights and shadows and with some successes and few failures." Mr. Ketcham said, "I retire to make way for an abler man. In my four years as attorney general I have aged about ten years, but when I have get back to the practice of law, I hope to show those lawyers that I still have some vitality left."

The retiring attorney general pointed with pride to several of the cases, which he had fought out during his term. One of these was against the Patton Company, which had a contract with the state at the State Reformatory at Jeffersonville. Long and tedious litigation was involved but finally the state recovered $33,000. The other victory, which Mr. Ketcham mentioned was the recovery of about $32,000 by the state form the C. &E.I. railroad, he suit was against the railroad for failing to pay incorporation fees.

Church Affiliations. At the time of his birth his parents were members of the Second Presbyterian Church, of which Henry Ward Beecher was then pastor, and by whom he was baptized. On the colonization of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, his parents became connected with that church, and with it he was connected as a member from the year 1869. His wife, originally a member of the First Presbyterian Church, after marriage united with the Fourth.

His Social Affiliations. Mr. Ketcham was member of the Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia Club, the Indianapolis Literary Club, of which he was once president, the Fourth Presbyterian church, the Indiana commandery of the Loyal Legion, and the Wabash Collage Alumni Association. He received the degree of LL.D. from Wabash College in 1894 and from Dartmouth College in 1917.

---*****---

Notes: Courts and Lawyers of Indiana, Leander J. Monks 1916, Vol. 1, Pg 58, Vol. 2, Pg 399, Vol. 3 Pg. 1146, 1262
Special Collections, S2469 Ketcham Family file. Letter from Europe 1859 Aunt Kate (Catharine Merrell)
Bench and Bar, Indianapolis 1897, Photo
27th National Encampment, Indianapolis 1893, Photo Page 39 I973.7 I 385p No. 3
History of Indiana Volume 4, I977.201 M341rh
Department Commander N 5-24-07 P1, C1
Indianapolis Star 8-10-1909 Page 1, Column 3
Failed to be elected C-in-C Indianapolis Star 8-13-1909 Page 1, Column 3
Indianapolis News 6-8-11 Page 6, Column 5
Indianapolis Star 6-21-1917 Page 10, Column 2
Elected GAR C-in-C, Indianapolis News 9-24-1920 Page 1, Column 1
Indianapolis News 9-27-1921 Page 1, Column 7
Death, Indianapolis News 12-27-1921 Page 1, Column 1
Alphabetical Civil War Muster rolls, at the state archives. Roll 23
Born 1-2-1846 Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana
Died 12-27-1921 Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana
Indiana Veterans Grave Registration File, Marion County, Buried 12-30-1921, Grave 24, Lot 35-37, Section 3, Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana.
Capt. Ketcham, William A, Company I 13th Indiana Volunteer Infantry
Enrolled 1 May 1865 at Raleigh, NC by Governor O. P. Morton
Muster in 1 June 1865 at Raleigh, NC age 19
Muster out at Raleigh NC September 5th 1865.
Submitted December 27 2000 by: Stephen Bruce Bauer, Department of Indiana Signal Officer 2412 North Saturn Drive, Indianapolis, IN 46229-1152 suvcwsb2@worldnet.att.net

Submitted by:
Stephen Bruce Bauer
Signal Officer
Department of Indiana
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
December 27, 2000

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