I was elected Commander of the Department of Missouri, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, for the 2016-2017 administrative year and re-elected for the 2017-2018 administrative year. As part of my responsibilities, I wrote a letter to the Department every quarter which was published in the Department’s newsletter, The Missouri Unionist. Below is the fourth such letter.
25 Mar 2017
Brothers of the Department of Missouri,
This is my fourth letter and final quarterly letter to you in the Missouri Unionist as your Department Commander. It is hard to believe the administrative year has flown by so quickly, and while there is still a little over two months left in my term, it doesn’t seem too early to be somewhat reflective. This has been an incredible experience, and I appreciate the opportunity you have provided me to serve in this position.
For those who have not yet been involved in our Order at the Department level, I encourage you to start representing your camp at the two annual Department business meetings and the Department Encampment. Local camp involvement and activities remain at the heart of our “bottom-up” organization, but there is additional benefit to be gained in fraternal relations as we meet and form friendships with individuals from other camps across the state (and occasionally across the nation) who share our devotion to the purposes entrusted to us by those who came before. I hope to see many of you at the Vicksburg Monument rededication in May and the Department Encampment in June.
While discussing the James B. Eads “outstanding camp” award at the Department level, I noticed that camps were having trouble meeting some of the requirements, including having at least 25% of members involved in the SVR. The Sons of Veterans Reserve offers the opportunity to wear the Union blue and participate in a variety of ceremonial functions. There are several SVR units in the Department where your members can join for about $5 per year. Even if you don’t yet own a uniform, your membership is welcome and requested!
Another Eads award requirement of having at least one representative at the Department business meetings should be manageable, as the Department only meets three times per year, and your members can take turns representing your camp at the meetings. Those camps having trouble providing at least a single representative to Department meetings should look towards recruiting new members to fulfill that need. Recruitment of new members should always be a central goal of each and every camp.
Always discuss and reflect on how your camp can provide a valuable experience to new members. Even as we serve to further the mission of the Order we must realize we are competing with a plethora of volunteer opportunities which vie for the attention of our current and potential members. Do not let your camp stagnate, but rather continue to provide experiences of value even as you lead your members in the service of the Order. Fresh faces are the key to sharing leadership responsibilities and avoiding burnout! Recruit! Recruit! Recruit!
As I reflect on the American Civil War and how I would articulate its continued relevance, many of the same things probably come to my mind as they do yours. I think of course on the importance of preserving history and learning from it, the necessary preservation of this Union, representative democracy and the continued threats upon it, the emancipation of the enslaved, and the evil of human enslavement. I also think of the mercy bestowed on a conquered foe, the respect shown by the victor for the valor, cunning, and character of men caught up by convictions or circumstances in an opposing force, and the gentle ironies which derive from descendants who increasingly find their ancestors served on both sides of the picket line.
A couple of quotes from President Abraham Lincoln come to mind again and again, both applicable within the context of this Order and outside of it. The first is: “If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.” The second quote is “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” These sentiments are acted out repeatedly by Union players: the team of rivals transformed into some of Lincoln’s greatest friends and admirers, the lenient surrender terms and respect paid to Robert E. Lee and his defeated force at Appomattox, the joint reunions of Union and Confederate veterans, and the purposeful last words of Secretary of State William H. Seward compelling people to “love one another.” I believe the American Civil War endures in our collective thoughts in part because it is a moving story with compelling characters that speaks to many aspects of the human condition. And one of its surprising motifs is kindness.
God bless this Union, our ancestors and their comrades who fought for it, and those who understand the enduring value of their sacrifices.
In Fraternity, Charity, & Loyalty,
Randal A. Burd, Jr., DC
Commander, Department of Missouri
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War