Major A. B. Watson and his wife, Mrs. Watson
A. B. WATSON POST, G. A. R.
OFFICERS FOR 1913
Commander - W. T. Johnson
Senior Vice Commander - C. R. Stewart
Junior Vice Commander - L. D. Westcott
Adjutant - C. H. Fox
Quartermaster - Ed. H. Stein
Surgeon - D. L. Drake
Chaplain - R. H. Lee
Patriotic Instructor - J. T. Allcott
Officer of Day - H. C. Nichols
Officer of Guard - George L. Antisdel
Sergeant Major - D. Z. Kline
Quartermaster Sergeant - C. S. Wilson
Grand Rapids Herald - 26 October 1913
In setting on the date, November 12, for the celebration of the silver
anniversary of the founding of Amasa B. Watson post, No. 235, convenience had to
be consulted. In consequence of which, the actual date of celebration doest not
just fall upon the anniversary, which is November 15. However, the approximation
is as good as coincidence, and spirit and a very lively enthusiasm promise to
mark the festivities.
At 5:30 o'clock on the afternoon of the 12th, the members of Watson post, together with their invited guests, will assemble for a banquet at the Pantlind.
There will be informal addresses, which will be called for by Toastmaster William T. Johnston, who is the commander of the post. And following this banquet a large public meeting will be held in Powers' theater, to which the public will be cordially invited. At this meeting there will be formal addresses. Although at this time the definite program has not yet been arranged, it is stated that the principal speaker will be Washington Gardner, present commanded-in-chief of the national G. A. R. It is the desire of the committee in charge also to have Governor Ferris present if possible, as well as Senator William Alden Smith and Department Commander Frank Chase. Wurzburg's band of 40 pieces will furnish an appropriate program.
This meeting will celebrate, with exercises fitting the occasion, the twenty-fifth, or silver anniversary, of the organization of this G. A. R. post. Commander Johnston states that it is the great desire of the post to bring the G. A. R. before the people in a manner never before achieved, and to show just what sort of work this great organization is doing. This will be the theme of Mr. Gardner's address, whose words will be directed, not primarily to the veterans before him, but to the people of the community, in whose breasts a new interest, it is hoped, will be aroused.
"I am sorry to say that we have always been handicapped in our work here," declared Mr. Johnston, "because of the proximity of the Soldiers' home. This worthy institution is demeaned by a very small percentage of its inmates - old soldiers who bring disgrace upon it and the orderly and upright who live within its walls. Whenever an old soldiers is indiscreet or gets into any trouble, through one cause or another, the fact promptly becomes heralded; and each of these recurring instances militates against the integrity of the whole, in the public eye. Thus when we begin to talk about the Grand Army of the Republic, the first thing that pops into most people's minds is this or that affair in which this or that old veteran has been known to be mixed up. This is not as it should be, and the unfair part of it is that the trouble is made by such a mere minority. G. A. R. work in other communities, where there is no Soldiers' home, is not thus hampered, and it is our desire to bring the great work of our local organization before the public in such a manner that a new regard will be created. This is the prime object of the celebration."
And Mr. Johnston likewise very sagely points out that for the young people of
the community, the rising generation, nothing is actually known of the Civil
war, and what it meant, except as they are informed through tradition. Unless
the nobility and magnitude of these traditions be kept up, the struggle which
meant so much to the Union may gradually sink entirely out of mind and of heart.
Today this memory lives, in a way not to be equaled by mere history text books.
For the actual participators are among us, to remind, to revive to instruct.
The beginnings of the G. A. R. organization in this state are hazy. No trace can be found, says one of the publications of the Watson post, of the early history of the G. A. R. in Michigan.
However, we know that a provisional department for Michigan was formed some time in 1867, and later a permanent department; and that in May, 1868, William Humphry was elected department commander. But this department organization seems to have died out in a year or two. On April 3, 1878, special order No. 8 from national headquarters appointed C. V. R. Pond provisional department commander, and on January 22, 1879, Commander Pond assembled the post commanders and delegates at Grand Rapids and formed a permanent department, of which he was elected department commander.
But the past history of Watson post is by no means uncertain. The books have been carefully kept, and a complete record remains. This post was organized November 15, 1888, by virtue of a charter granted by the department of Michigan, dated October 24 of that same year. There were 27 charter members, of which 13 have since died, and six been transferred to other departments or posts. Just eight of the charter members are yet living to celebrate the silver anniversary. William H. Harston was elected the first commander, who served two years and was followed by William T. Johnston, the commander today. Besides these two, the following are the men who have served in this capacity from the time of organization down to the present time: Daniel Z. Kline, John Knowlen, Charles S. Wilson, Nelson H. Walbridge, James M. Wood, Charles M. Runyan, John Whinery, Charles H. Fox, Roswell H. Lee, George R. Phillips, William Walker, Edward H. Stein, James S. French, Buy Chapman, George W. Osborn and J. K. Richmond. Mr. Johnston has served a number of times and for several terms.
Today there are 138 members in Watson Post. Elections are held at the annual meeting, the first Thursday in December, and the new officers are mustered in at the first regular meeting in January. Regular meetings are held twice a month, the first and third Thursdays, in the home bought about five years ago by the A. B. Watson W. R. C., No. 171, at 1107 Sheldon avenue. This W. R. C., or Women's Relief Corps, is an auxiliary of the post, and was organized March 9, 1889. The silver anniversary of the W. R. C. will be held next March.
It is interesting to note the wide representation which the Watson Post enjoys. Upon its membership roll are represented 11 states beside Michigan: New York, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Jersey, and California. Then there are no less than 92 regiments represented, five batteries and four men of war.
Although it is felt the objects of this post are not generally understood, they are quite plainly stipulated in the by-laws. The purpose of this organization is not merely that of social pleasure and for the repeating of army stories, however much all this may enter into the life of the post. Section 2 of the by-laws reads as follows:
The objects to be accomplished by this organization are:
To develop and strengthen true fraternity by useful instruction, just respect
and loyal friendship among the members.
To demonstrate a fraternal charity, by visiting the sick, relieving the suffering, encouraging the despondent, and giving material aid to the needy.
To encourage a more abiding loyalty to the Union and the constitution, love and respect for the flag, and veneration for the memory of those who died that the nation might live; by a systematic teaching of patriotism in the public schools, by urging the citizens and children to a more general observance of Memorial day, by demanding "honor and purity" in public affairs, and by our efforts at all times to perpetuate the memory and history of our nation's dead; and in every way to carry out the provisions of Article 2 of the rules and regulations of the Grand Army of the Republic, which reads:
1) To preserve and strengthen those kind and fraternal feelings which bind
together the soldiers, sailors and marines who united to suppress the late
rebellion, and to perpetuate the memory and history of the dead.
2) To Assist such former comrades in arms as need help and protection, and to extend needful aid to the widows and orphans of those who have fallen.
3) To maintain true allegiance to the United States of America, based upon a paramount respect for, and fidelity to, its constitution and laws; to discountenance whatever tends to weaken loyalty, incites to insurrection, treason or rebellion, or in any manner impairs the efficiency and permanency of our free institutions; and to encourage the spread of universal liberty, equal rights and justice to all men.
Watson post has attended three national encampments, at Detroit, at Washington and at Pittsburg. Always when the post departs to visit functions of this or similar nature, full uniform is the rule, and colors are proudly born. Commander Johnston is sponsor for the statement that the Watson Post is the best equipped post in Michigan, and that it has the finest "colors."
Watson Post owns lots in Oak Hill cemetery, where members are buried. The original holding of the post dates back to Civil war days, when many "unknown" were buried on that spot. This was at the time when the recruits marched to the front and the hospital records went along. In several instances no record was left of either name or regiment, so that many of those who died in camp prior to the leaving of the troops could not later be identified. When Watson Post obtained tthis lot plain wooden markers were put up, with whatever identification was possible at that time. Sometimes it would consist merely of the first name. Sometimes the regiment or company only. After the war the government was petitioned for stone markers, which, after considerable delay, were obtained. These were set up in place of the wood slabs. Later the common council was petitioned for three more lots, and these were added to the original post lot.
On Decoration day it is the duty of Watson Post to decorate the graves, not alone those which lie just within this special precinct of Oak Hill, but in St. Andrews Catholic cemetery as well. It has long been a custom, also, to hold exercises at the public schools on this day - exercises of a patriotic order, at which many old soldiers participate.
Back of the post, and supporting it with the deepest sympathy and generosity, is the widow of the man whose name the post bears, Mrs. A. B. Watson. Prior to organization, the men who were desirous of forming such a society, called upon her to ask her permission to name it after her late husband, who was held in much universal respect. No post, it is explained, may be named after dead army officers. Mrs. Watson was much pleased with the proposition, and from that very moment her hearty support was enjoyed.
It is largely to her munificence that the post owes its remarkably successful career. It has never been hampered through a lack of funds. Indeed, it has always bee the good fortune of the organization to find itself too plentiful stocked. Mrs. Watson, in her broad sympathy and the steadfast devotion to the memory of her husband, has desired the affairs of the post to be conducted on the most splendid scale possible. The result has been a succession of triumphs for Watson Post. When there is to be music it must be the best and the largest band that can be procured. If there is to be a banquet it must be the finest that chefs can provide. In this respect the post probably holds a unique position, and it is a position of which the members are one and all very proud.
The coming celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary will be one of the most brilliant in the history of the post, as it will be one of the most important gatherings. Patriotism will burn even more brightly, and it is the earnest which of the commander that the public respond and join in the festivities, gaining thereby a higher and more vital interest in the Grand Army of the Republic.
Commander William T. Johnston of the post, has placed in our hands the following material regarding the life of Amasa B. Watson, which we take pleasure in bringing to the public notice by way of tribute to the memory of a wise and generous citizen: Such men as Major Watson have contributed much toward the material prosperity of the state, and their services are entitled to honorable recognition and praise along with the achievements of statesmen and authors who have labored in other fields. His record, without a blemish or flaw, lies open to the sight of all men, while it was the privilege of but those who touched him most intimately to fully know the great heart and strong nature of the man.
As the falling of the sturdy oak that has witnessed the growth to maturity of surrounding forest trees, leaves a vacant place which none can fill, so the loss of a man like Major Watson deprives family and associates of a grand nature, within whose beneficent shadow it was good for all to dwell.
Major Watson was born in Worchester, Vermont, February 27, 1826. His parents were Oliver and Ester Brown Watson, and in his youth he received such educational advantages as were afforded by the district school and village academy. Even while a boy, the traits that distinguished him in after life are said to have been strongly marked; and at an early age ambition urged him to leave the paternal roof for the opportunities of the wider world, and to seek the fortune that there awaited him. Accordingly we find him in Glen Falls, N. Y., where he acquired a taste for the lumbering industry, which proved to be the great occupation of his life.
Endowed with good health, keen business ability, and of strictly moral principles, here he made substantial and trusty friends, who saw in him a. capacity for managing larger interests, which they were developing further west; so at the age of 27 he went to Newaygo, Michigan where more extensive lumbering operations were being undertaken, and in June, 1853, participated in the organization of the Newaygo Lumber company, in which he represented eastern capital. Pine lands were purchased in large tracts, a saw mill was erected, and the company soon became one of the most extensive lumbering concerns in the west.
The outbreak of the Civil war found Mr. Watson, like hosts of others, engaged with business projects; but the rising tide of excitement and patriotism soon carried him into his country's service. On August 19, 1861, he was commissioned major of the Eighth regiment, Michigan Volunteer Infantry, and assigned to duty in Gen. W. T. Sherman's expedition to Port Royal, N. C. The regiment participated in some very severe engagements. At the battle of Coosaw Ferry, S. C., which took place on New Year's day, 1862, the Seventy-ninth New York regiment had reached the ferry without a contest; but when the Eighth Michigan marched toward the same spot, a field battery of two guns opened a brisk fire of shells upon them. The regiment kept on the march, however, until tow men had been wounded by the bursting of the shells, when, having reached their front, the First and Tenth companies (A and B) were deployed as skirmishers and ordered to charge the battery. These were followed by Company F, the whole under the command of Major Watson.
The men advanced steadily and with perfect coolness against a constant fire of shell, which burst continually among them but without in the least checking their advance. They approached so near that it was easy to hear the voices of the rebel officers, while it was impossible to see the foe. Thus being warned by the commands overheard, the boys would drop to allow the shells to pass over them and then fire. And when a hand-to-hand conflict became almost imminent the Twelfth South Carolina Infantry sprang out on the right and left of the artillery and poured in a strong volley of musketry along the lines, Major Watson being one of the first to be wounded, receiving a ball through the thigh. He was removed to an adjacent farm house, where his wound was dressed. Good health and manly pluck worked wonders with the resolute major, and he was soon able to be removed to his home in Michigan.
Upon his recovery he reported for duty and participated in the battle of James Island June 16, 1862, where his horse was shot in the neck and instantly killed; but the more fortunate rider escaped unharmed. On September 10,1863, he resigned his commission and was honorably discharged. Soon after he again became interested in the lumber business by purchasing an interest in a mill at Muskegon. He took charge of the sales of the manufactured product, and for this purpose removed his family to Chicago. They were in that city at the time of the great Chicago fire, but escaped without serious loss.
The major had been well known in Grand Rapids in business circles since first coming to Michigan, and in 1873 he settled here permanently. He erected the fine residence on Fulton street, at that time considered one of the most pretentious in the state. He became much interested in the manufacturing industries of the city, in which he utilized his business generalshi0p and large fortune to good advantage. Many of these industries today owe their success to the impetus they received from the fertile brain and large faith of Major Watson.
His connection with banking interests was also of an enduring and beneficial nature. He was one of the chief moving spirits in bringing the Fourth National bank into existence, and was a member of the first board of directors. For several years he was its president. He was also interested in the Kent County Savings bank. At the time of his death he was vice-president and a director of the Grand Rapids Street Railway company, and was largely interested in the Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw Railway company, as also the Grand Rapids Brush company, the Grand Rapids Fire Insurance company, the Grand Rapids Electric Light and Power company, as well as several furniture concerns.
In politics he was ever a staunch Republican, and, though preferring to labor just in the ranks, was given an opportunity of refusing such nominations as mayor, governor and United States senator nominations, which were considered to be virtually as good as elections. Upon his death the Kent County Republican club, of which he was first president, adopted a resolution eulogizing Major Watson, styling him "patriotic citizen, warm-hearted friend and true American". In December of the year 1888 he became a companion of the first class of the Michigan commandery of the military order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, the only order to which he ever became attached.
As part of the funeral obsequies, following the sudden death of Major Watson in 1888, Dr. Fluhrer voiced the following solemn tribute:
"An old German saying has come down to us, that a man makes three kinds of friends in this world - the gains he accumulates, the hearts whom he loves and his good works. The wealth is the first to leave him when death lays its hand upon the form. The loved ones go to the tomb, turn from it, and pass to their homes. But his good works follow him through all the years, praising his name, and making hallowed his memory. So let it be with him".
Created: 19 Dec 2010