Grand Army of the Republic
William Washington Nixon was the only Kansan to serve as the National Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, having been elected to that post at the Seventy-fourth National Encampment at Springfield, Illinois in 1940. He was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel and Jane (Steele) Nixon. The day was Washington's Birthday, February 22, 1846, a fact that gave him his middle name. Because of his age, William did not enlist until January 30, 1864, as a private in Company I, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. He arrived in Grant's army just before Cold Harbor, and served at Petersburg. Nixon was stationed at Farmville, Virginia, at the time of Lee's surrender, and was discharged at Philadelphia on January 29, 1866.
Nixon made one visit to Kansas before settling here for a lifetime. In the Spring of 1866 he and three other young veterans made their way by water from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Kansas City, then on to Topeka. But Nixon backtracked to Iowa where he remained until 1869, when he returned to Pennsylvania. There he married Sarah Hope at Mansfield, Pa., on July 20 of that year. The couple moved to Iowa, starting a family. They settled in Jewell County, Kansas in 1879, on a farm in northeast Buffalo Township - a son still farmed it at the time of Nixon's death in 1944.
Sarah Nixon died on April 1, 1884. William remarried on June 11, 1885 to Maria E. Jones at Bridgeville, Pa. She died in 1927. With both wives, he had a total of eight children. William retired to a home he purchased in Jewell in 1903. His interest in the Grand Army of the Republic was very strong. He joined in 1880, a member of the S.R. Deach Post No. 58 of Jewell, Kansas. At its strongest, the Deach post had 154 members. Nixon would be their last member. He was the Commander of the Department of Kansas in 1934-35, and again in 1943. He attended encampments and reunions faithfully, including the 75th reunion at Gettysburg in 1938.
His election in 1940 meant that he would preside over the Seventy-Fifth National Encampment in 1941 at Columbus, Ohio. But his service would not end there. Longevity meant serving in other positions, and at the time of his death he was the National Judge Advocate General.
On the completion of his term as National Commander, a reception was held in his honor at the Memorial Building in Topeka, on April 5, 1941, as well as a parade and dinner at the Hotel Kansan. Martin Phillips, the commander of Capitol Post No. 1 of the American Legion, was master of ceremonies, while Mrs. Grace Wanner, the president of the Woman's Relief Corps and secretary of the Grand Army of the Republic, both Department of Kansas, made the arrangements. Five other Kansas Civil War veterans were present: J.P. Fair of Mankato; W.E. Applegate and George Ellis of Topeka; Charles Wingrove of Clay Center; and A.T. Williams of Chapman. An address was delivered by the Honorable William A. Smith, a justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, who represented Governor Payne Ratner.
Among the gifts presented to Nixon was a copper plaque described as bearing his war record. This may be the plaque placed along his military gravestone, which actually commemorates his term as National Commander. He also received a silk lounging robe and an album containing prints of famous paintings.
William Washington Nixon died at his home in Jewell on March 17, 1944, at the age of 98. The services were held at the Methodist Church in Jewell. The American Legion presented a full military funeral at the Wallace Cemetery. The tributes summed up his life - farmer, banker, good neighbor, devout Christian, ideal father, kind friend, brave soldier, the patriot and patriarch of Jewell. He was the last soldier of Jewell County.
At the time of the 1941 reception he commented on what he thought about the war then raging in Europe. "There's nothing today that compares with the Union Army. It's just a machine fight now - a war of machines. They aren't doing any real fighting. I wish the world were at peace."
Submitted January 30, 2005 by:
Prepared by Blair Tarr
Old Abe Camp 16
Dept of Kansas
Jewell County Republican, April 10, 1941 and March 23, 1944
Topeka Capital, April 5, 1941
Journal of the 62nd National Encampment of the Woman's Relief Corps, 1944
Proceedings of the 78th National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, 1944.
Comments to: SUVCW National Webmaster
Last Updated: (KAP)