By Dennis Morgan
ELGIN — In a solemn, brief ceremony Friday morning, the last native Antelope County soldier who fought for the Union during the Civil War was relieved of his command.
West Cedar Valley Cemetery was awash in sunlight and nary a breath of wind could be felt. The only sound was birds singing, setting the scene for a ceremony to honor William J. Bell.
Norman Weber, Nebraska Department Commander for Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), was joined by Max Bowman, president of the West Cedar Valley Cemetery Board. They stood side-by-side to honor the man who called Elgin home.
“We are here today to honor and forever mark the resting place of the last Union Civil War soldier of Antelope County.
“As all veterans are aware, a soldier cannot leave his post without being properly relieved. So William J. Bell, you are now relieved of your post. I have your command. Rest in peace.”
During the Civil War, Bell served in Company F of the 78th Indiana Infantry. He served from August of 1862 to October 1863.
According to Weber, wearing a Union wool vest and forage cap for the ceremony, Bell’s unit had 587 men. They spent most of their time in Missouri, doing guard duty, picket duty and chasing Confederate guerillas. Part of the unit was captured by Confederate soldiers and later returned to the Union as part of a prisoner exchange. In his unit, three died of disease, two men died of their wounds and two deserted.
After his time in the Union Army, Bell returned to Elgin and spent much of the remainder of his life here. He spent his last few years at the Grand Island Soldiers and Sailors home, Weber said.
Born November 14 1842, Bell died October 11 1942 at the age of 99 years.
He is survived by a son that lives in Canada and a daughter that is now in Omaha.
“Mr. Bell, we take this opportunity to thank you for all of your duty to your country,” Weber said, wrapping up the ceremony.
To view the ceremony, click the link. https://youtu.be/M3urVFKv0pc
For the rest of the story and more information on The Last Soldier Project, see this week’s Elgin Review.