Sons of patriots abounded in Braidwood

Sandy Vasko

    Of all the many social and political organizations that existed in Braidwood in 1886, one stood out as having the youngest most active members. This week we will look at the Sons of Veterans and their role in Braidwood society.
    It must be remembered that during the Civil War, Braidwood was just a flat, open, boggy prairie with only a few hardy residents scratching their living out of the poor soil.
    That means that Braidwood cannot point out the names of men she sent to war. Wilmington on the other hand had her first veteran reunion three months after the war, and was immediately active in veteran's affairs.
    But that does not mean that no veterans lived in Braidwood. To the contrary, many of Braidwood's earliest citizens were civil war vets, but most of them kept their loyalties in the town's they were mustered out of.
    We do know that there was a chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization limited to Civil War vets, in Braidwood.  
    In 1881 the GAR formed the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America to carry on its traditions and memory long after the GAR had ceased to exist.
    Membership was open to any man who could prove ancestry to a member of the GAR or to a veteran eligible for membership in the GAR.
    In later years, men who did not have the ancestry to qualify for hereditary membership, but who demonstrated a genuine interest in the Civil War and could subscribe to the purpose and objectives were admitted as Associates.
    In September of 1885 a reunion of the 100th Illinois Voluntary Infantry was held in Wilmington. Five of the attendees were from Braidwood.
    We read, “It is quite likely that the Sons of Veterans from Bloomington, 60 strong and in uniform, will attend the coming military reunion in this place. An effort is being made in this city and in Braidwood to organize a similar society and if the move is a success it will be “mustered in” on the above named occasion.”
    In October 1885 we read of the Wilmington chapter visiting Braidwood, “On Tuesday evening the Sons of Veterans in this and other towns attended an enjoyable skating party, dance, and oyster supper in Braceville. About 20 couples were there, and nearly all were non-residents. When intermission was had for supper the proprietor of the hall locked the door, putting a sudden stop to the festivities.”
    However, the Braidwood chapter was not organized until January of 1886. We read, “Braidwood is to have a camp of the Sons of Veterans, to be named after the late Major Wakefield of that place. Quite a goodly number of names are on the roster already, and there should be more.”
    This group was trained and educated, not just a social group. We read, “An advisory board, comprising Capt. Lines, R. Huston, Jacob Miller, and M. N. M. Stewart, has been appointed for Wakefield camp, Sons of Veterans, of Braidwood. Rev. Allen will address the Sons of Veterans here on the 16th inst., upon the causes of the late war. The observation of Memorial Day here will be discussed immediately after the address.”
    It wasn't only book learning either. In 1886 we read, “The Sons of Veterans of this place have received twenty-five muskets this week, and are to have accoutrements, etc., in a few days. A parade on Memorial day will probably be made by the organization named.”
    In 1886 the group took over the Memorial Day celebrations in Braidwood. Up until then, the services were sort of spur of the moment.
    That year May 30, the official Memorial Day, fell on a Sunday. Since celebrations or even parades were frowned upon on the Sabbath, the observance of Memorial Day fell on May 29.   
    We read the following, “Arrangements are going on nicely for the observance of Saturday, May 29th, as Memorial Day. Robert Huston will be president of the day; Wm. Mooney, orator; Rev. Allen, chaplain, and Capt. Lines chief marshal, with Frank Munn and James Burrill as aids. A parade including old soldiers, Sons of Veterans, the city officials, fire department, civic societies, schools, etc., will be had in the afternoon, during which businessmen will be asked to suspend trade.”
    The reviews of the celebration all said what a great, patriotic day it was.
    However, the immigrant population did not participate in this celebration so the crowds did not reach the 2,000 level as they did during the Italian picnics.  About 500 people participated in the parade, during which, the businesses closed their doors, and after which, they all opened up for business again and the paraders went home to supper.
    The Sons of Veterans would be called on every year from then on to run the celebrations.
    It also must be mentioned that unlike the Grand Army, the Sons of Veterans is an active organization to this day, as an all male group.
    One of their projects is locating and keeping track of the gravesite of every Civil War veteran.