Mark J. Price

James M. Bradford wept when he recited the prayer.

How many times had he delivered it? How many friends had he lost?

Bradford, chaplain of the Buckley Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, composed the invocation for use in Summit County funerals of Union Army veterans.

“Comrade dear: Thy march is ended, all thy suffering here below. Go with angel guides attended to the throne of Jesus — go,” Bradford prayed over flag-draped caskets.

“For on that celestial camping ground thy bivouac is spread and there — there, dear comrade, you shall rest till the angel sounds reveille for the dead.

“For almighty God is fair and just to all those who may seek his aid. Then let us rely on his judgment. If we do, we need not be afraid.”

The Grand Army was passing before Bradford’s eyes. The Buckley Post, which was founded in 1867 in Akron with nearly 1,000 members, was named for its first commander, Lewis P. Buckley, a colonel in the 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry who died a year after organizing the chapter.

“When I first came here, Buckley Post had several hundred members,” Bradford told Akron Times-Press reporter John A. Botzum in 1932. “Now there are but 20 left and only a half dozen active. As chaplain, I have helped bury a lot of the boys. I shall never be able to tell just how many.”

Nearly 90 years old with dimming vision and impaired hearing, Bradford lived to socialize with his aged buddies at the Akron Armory. They swapped stories, played cards, reminisced about the old days and paid tribute to fallen comrades.

“War is hell,” Bradford said. “I hope the time will come when there will be no more wars on this earth. Yes, I went through hell once, but if I had my life to live over, and the flag was in danger, I would follow it to the end.”

He was born in Scotland in 1843 and emigrated with his family to Ohio when he was 3 years old. After the Civil War erupted in 1861, Bradford enlisted at age 18 in Company H of the 50th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in Cincinnati.

The Ohio boy fought for two years before being captured in 1864 by Confederates at Pumpkinvine Creek in Georgia and spending six months at the notorious Andersonville Prison.

“What a place that was,” Bradford recalled. “There were 35,000 of us on 18 acres of land and with no shelter. I was carried out on a stretcher and was taken to a hospital at Alexandria, Va.”

While convalescing, the soldier heard shouts in the streets of Alexandria: “Lincoln has been shot! Lincoln has been shot!”

“He was the greatest man that ever lived,” Bradford told Botzum. “We need a Lincoln today. But where can he be found?”

After the war, Bradford worked as a professional actor, sharing the stage with such 19th century luminaries as Edwin Booth, Lawrence Barrett and E.L. Davenport. He formed the Bradford Stock Company and toured North America, settling in Akron after performing at the Academy of Music downtown.

The Buckley Post became the center of his social life. He attended veterans meetings at the South Howard Street post, marched in parades on holidays and decorated graves on Memorial Day.

He regaled his pals with inspirational poems that he had written, including one of his favorite verses: “This old world seems full of trouble, and the outlook appears very drear. But, friends, it is only a bubble. Therefore, we have nothing to fear.”

Bradford’s mother had wanted him to be a preacher but she got an actor. She would have been proud when he found his calling as a chaplain and composed the Buckley Post’s funeral prayer, an invocation that other chapters adopted.

Tears streamed down his face when he recited it. As a Christian, Bradford believed he would be reunited with his buddies in heaven.

“I miss my many friends who have gone, but I feel confident of meeting them over there,” he said.

There were so many funerals that he lost track. By the 1930s, his social group had dwindled to a handful of men in their 90s.

“The Grand Army is passing,” he said. “There are but few of us left. Soon, soon we will all be gone. The flag, the flag — may it never come down.”

Bradford was 90 when he died of a stroke June 8, 1933, at the Hazel Street home of his daughter, Sophia Downs. Before the burial at Crown Hill, a handful of veterans gathered to recite the prayer that he had uttered countless times.

The bivouac was spread on the celestial camping ground. Another soldier’s march ended.

“The grave is but a passage to something better than can be found here,” Bradford once said. “I believe in almighty God. I know I am to see all of my dear comrades again.”

Copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of Lost Akron from The History Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or mjprice@thebeaconjournal.com.