Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, May 27, 2007, pg. 15
As we approach Memorial Day, we are reminded of its origins immediately following the Civil War, when the graves of fallen Union soldier comrades were decorated with flowers. Decoration Day was the original name for this national holiday, and it used to be celebrated on May 30 of each year.
Our country’s Union Civil War soldiers were organized into a veteran’s group called the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR for short. Begun in 1866, this organization dealt with matters concerning Civil War veterans, such as pensions, widow benefits, caring for sick and needy veterans, and other concerns. The Decoration Day observances were a highlight each year. GAR posts were established across the country, including here in Albion. The GAR was a strong political force in our country as many of its members became leading citizens in the communities in which they lived.
Each year the GAR elected a national Commander-in-Chief who headed the entire organization. This was a highly honorable and respected position of leadership for those who held that office during the existence of the GAR. That great honor was bestowed upon Albion’s own Dr. Washington Gardner (1845-1928), who served that office with distinction in 1913-14.
Gardner, of course, had a highly distinguished career following his return from the Civil War, including that of Michigan Secretary of State 1894-99, and as our U.S. Congressman from 1899 to 1911. Our local high school was named in his honor in February, 1928, and that building which now houses elementary and middle school grades still bears his name today.
In September 1914, the National Encampment (i.e., reunion) of the GAR was held in Detroit. A spectacular parade was held on September 2, in which Gardner led the thousands who attended. One newspaper column reported, “Then came the figure on whom all eyes rested with respect. On a strapping prancing horse, Commander-in-Chief Washington Gardner, his black hat in hand, and his snowy hair glistening in the sunlight, was a picture of his beautiful old age as he rode ahead of his staff.” The Detroit News featured a huge front-page photograph of the parade, with Washington Gardner making headlines. Gardner was succeeded by David Palmer of Iowa for the 1914-15 GAR year.
Issued for that National Encampment in Detroit was a special representative’s badge. It measures 142 mm. long, with a yellow ribbon attached. The badge consists of four parts. At the top is a bronze eagle, clutching crossed cannons and a sword, with cannonballs below. The next section is brass, which begins with the gold-plated lettering “REPRESENTATIVE.” It is followed below with two flags pointing outwards. A circular area below bears the red, white and blue letters, respectively, GAR. Around this is the legend “48th National Encampment Aug 31-Sept 5,” with the year “1914” below.
The third section consists of a pewter crescent-shaped depiction showing settlers arriving by boat, and the founding of Detroit. The legend reads, “July 25th 1701 Detroit.”
Of special interest is the fourth section, or bottom, of the badge. It consists of a beautiful 40 mm. diameter copper/brass medal featuring the image of Washington Gardner, facing right. The legend reads, “Hon. Washington Gardner Commander-In-Chief G.A.R.” The reverse is blank except for the bottom on which is printed in small letters the name of the minters, “Bastian Bros. Co. Rochester, N.Y.”
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of this badge which honors Albion’s most distinguished citizen in its history, the Hon. Washington Gardner.
Washington Gardner's Badge from the 1914 National Encampment in Detroit
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic