Israel Bush Richardson Memorial Tribute Ceremony
Oak Hill Cemetery, Pontiac, Michigan
November 3, 2012
“… most Americans have no idea of the burden
that our armed forces and their families have carried ….”
So said a member of our Michigan National Guard a decade after 9/11 and deployments to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.
Israel B. Richardson shouldered that burden. In April 1861, within a fortnight of the first assault
on the Stars and Stripes, he volunteered his services to Michigan on behalf of the Nation.
As a West Point graduate and foreign war veteran, the 45-year-old farmer knew well what he was risking. His distinguished military record included two citations “for gallant and meritorious conduct.”
A country torn in two desperately needed Richardson’s devotion. Soon after, he was promoted to Brigadier General, United States Volunteers. The next year, on July 4th, Richardson attained the rank of Major General, U.S. Volunteers, the highest by a Michigander during the War.
Three months later, on the afternoon of September 17th at the battle of Antietam, while personally leading the Union breakthrough against Confederate forces at the Bloody Lane, Israel Richardson was struck down by hostile fire.
During the next 47 days, he lingered in hospital. His young wife – they had been married less than 18 months – stayed by his bedside in forlorn hope of nursing him back to health.
One hundred fifty years ago this very evening, at half past seven o’clock, Israel B. Richardson breathed his last. Frances was left alone to care for their 7-month old child.
Richardson’s interment brought out “an immense concourse” of fellow citizens to pay their solemn respects. The “slow, measured tread of the procession, the solemn dirges of the band,
the sullen booming of the cannon” -- served as melancholy requiem on that 11th day of November.
Those he had led into battle also keenly felt the loss. One soldier “summed up the rank-and-file opinion in a letter home: … We are proud of his name; he was a brave man and one we shall always remember. I felt as if my best friend was gone when we got word that he was dead.”
He did not die in vain.
Founded on the Union victory at Antietam, the President of the United States soon decreed that enslaved Americans would throw off their shackles. Like “Fighting Dick” Richardson, they too would defend their flag. Within days, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, mustered in as the first all-black regiment in the Union Army. Together with their comrades from Michigan, they pressed on to final victory.
Richardson perished, but his sacrifice ensured the nation he fought for would not.
The question down to this day is: would remembrance of Israel Richardson – who he was, and what he did – perish also?
We are met here today, during this Civil War Sesquicentennial, to remember.
We are here to venerate “him who shall have borne the battle and his widow, and his orphan.”
The philosopher/theologian Ambrose of Milan said well, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.”
Today, we have fulfilled that duty. But our calling does not end this single afternoon. It remains for us, today, and tomorrow, and for ever more, to preserve memory of Major General Richardson and of his bereaved family – to cherish all who, like he, step forward in the holy cause of preserving and advancing liberty – and to uphold our undying responsibility on behalf of that great cause for which he gave the last full measure of devotion.