Sons of Union Veterans
Kent L. Armstrong was elected to serve as the 117th Commander-in-Chief of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) at the organization's 122nd National Encampment, held at Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky on August 7 - 10, 2003. He is the fifth Commander-in-Chief elected from the Department of Michigan since the SUVCW was organized in 1881.
Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Armstrong was born in St. Johns, Michigan on October 12, 1951, the elder of two sons (Kent and Kirk) born to Jessie E. ("Pat") Patterson Armstrong and the late Woodrow Wilson ("Woody") Armstrong. A life-long resident of DeWitt, Michigan, C-in-C Armstrong is a graduate of DeWitt High School and Michigan State University. His interest in the "War of the Rebellion" began at an early age, when the centennial observances of the American Civil War began in 1961. Some of his favorite memories are those made during his first trip to Gettysburg at age 13.
Brother Armstrong learned of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) through his own community's history (the George W. Anderson GAR Post 58 having been organized at DeWitt in 1882. George Anderson was a DeWitt resident who marched off to war with the 23rd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Private Anderson was taken prisoner at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee in December of 1863 and later died of starvation at the Andersonville prison in Georgia where he rests in grave number 2546 of the National Cemetery there. Thus, when 24 Union veterans who lived in or near DeWitt chartered their own Post of the GAR, they named it in honor of Anderson's memory in the community. George Anderson's former home in DeWitt still stands on property that is immediately adjacent to Brother Armstrong's residence.
Brother Armstrong joined the SUVCW through the Governor Austin Blair Camp 7 in Jackson, Michigan in 1992. His eligibility is through his Great, Great Grandfather, John Tait, who served as a Sergeant in Company G of the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Sgt. Tait was killed-in-action on April 30, 1863 during the Chancellorsville Campaign and is buried in grave number 2162 at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
To help honor the memory of his ancestor's regiment, Brother Armstrong garnered the cooperation of his state legislature in 1993 to name Highway U.S.-12 (in Michigan) as the "Iron Brigade Memorial Highway." The legislation also directed the state Department of Transportation to provide signage along the roadway (the route of U.S.-12 links the home states of the Iron Brigade's infantry regiments - 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin; 19th Indiana; and 24th Michigan). The States of Indiana and Wisconsin have made similar designations for U.S.-12 and it is hoped that the State of Illinois will also do so in recognition of an Iron Brigade regiment (24th Michigan) having led the military Honor Guard of President Lincoln's funeral in Springfield. Brother Armstrong submitted a design proposal for a special historical marker (honoring the Iron Brigade and 24th Michigan Infantry) to be installed at the I-94 Welcome Center near the western end of U.S.-12 in Michigan. Once approved, installation and a dedication ceremony took place in October of 1994. A similar marker was installed and dedicated in 1995 at the eastern end of U.S.-12 in downtown Detroit, on the site where the 24th Michigan Infantry received its regimental flag before marching off to war in 1862.
Another 1995 project for Brother Armstrong was to gain permission to organize a new local chapter of the SUVCW to serve Clinton County, Michigan. The Camp opened in July, with fifteen Charter Members, Kent being elected as Commander. The new Camp (George W. Anderson, 58) was named and numbered in honor of DeWitt, Michigan's GAR Post. During Kent's terms as Michigan's Junior and Senior Vice Department Commander, he organized eight more Camps and was recognized two years consecutively for having recruited the most new Brothers into the Order, nationally. He also served as Michigan's first Department Civil War Memorials Officer. Brother Armstrong was elected to two terms as Department Commander and served as a co-organizer of the National Encampment that was hosted by the Department of Michigan in 2000.
Brother Armstrong became a Life Member (#426) of the National Organization, SUVCW in 1996. He approached the National leadership that year with the idea of a special committee, tasked with the coordination of inspecting and recording the condition of GAR Monuments and other Civil War related memorials across the country. Attention would then be focused on securing repair or restoration of those memorials found to be in immediate need. He accepted appointment as chairman of the new special committee, which was eventually named the National Civil War Memorials Committee and designated as a standing committee of the Order. Kent was re-appointed to this post during the next two national administrative years. To "practice what he preached," he helped raise several thousands of dollars for the restoration of GAR Memorials.
In 1999, Brother Armstrong was elected to the National Council of Administration as well as appointed to serve as National Chief-of-Staff. He was also elected that year to serve as the Junior Vice Commander of the Central Region Association. He was subsequently elected as regional Senior Vice in 2000, and Commander of the Central Region Assoc. in 2001. Kent was also elected as the SUVCW's Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief that year.
Having been elected as Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief, Brother Armstrong enjoyed serving as both Publisher and Editor of The BANNER during the 2002-2003 administrative year. In addition to having chaired the National Committee on Civil War Memorials his other various national level committee assignments have been with the Committee on Constitution & Regulations and included serving as chairman of both the Committee on Membership and the Committee on Program & Policy.
Another important cause supported by C-in-C Armstrong is the conservation of original flags that were carried by Union regiments during the Civil War. He is a member of the State of Michigan's Civil War Battleflags Task Force and has raised several thousands of dollars toward the professional care for Michigan's Civil War banners. He also raised $1,000 to initiate a matching funds effort toward conservation of the famous Iron Brigade Banner under the care of the state of Wisconsin.
While a Civil War re-enactor, Brother Armstrong honored the memory of the Iron Brigade and Michigan's 24th Infantry. He is a Past Captain and Past President of the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Inc.
Brother Armstrong has been employed by General Motors Corporation for over 26 years, beginning his career with the Fisher Body Division assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan. He is a "skilled-trades employee" (Journeyman Millwright) responsible for installation and maintenance of mechanical conveyor components.
C-in-C Armstrong has been married to his High School sweetheart, the former Judy Jackson, for over 32 years. Having fourteen Civil War ancestors of her own, she is very supportive of his work with the SUVCW. They raised one son, Douglas (32), and one daughter, Nicole (30). Currently, they are the proud grandparents of Douglas and Pennie (Bradshaw) Armstrong's daughters, Ashleigh (3), and Emma (2).
Past Camp Commander Douglas Armstrong is also very active in the SUVCW, serving as the Department of Michigan Civil War Memorials Officer for several years. He was recognized at the 2001 National Encampment with a Meritorious Service Award for his work to restore the GAR Memorial (with two cannon) at Ovid, Michigan. Douglas pinned the C-in-C Badge on his father's coat during the officer Installation process at the 2003 National Encampment. He was assisted by another Michigan Brother, "Real Son" Edward Blakely, whose father, Egbert, served in Company E, 10th Michigan Cavalry. The Installation Officer was PC-in-C Keith Harrison, who had also installed Kent as Commander at the Camp and Department levels of the Order.
C-in-C Armstrong wishes to express his sincere respect and gratitude toward his stepfather of 25 years, Walter Kaufman, Jr., whose help has always been there with any project.
Brother Armstrong dedicated his year in office to the memory of his Great, Great Grandfather, John Tait (Sergeant, Company G, 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1862-1863), and to his father, Woodrow W. Armstrong (Master-Sergeant, HQ, 5th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Corps, Southwest Pacific Area, 1942-1945).
C-in-C Armstrong proudly officiated over the SUVCW's 123rd Annual National Encampment, held at Cedar Rapids, Iowa (August 12 - 14, 2004) and was presented with the Past Commander-in-Chief Badge by his wife, Judy.