Legacy of Last Man's Club lives on

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They left Augusta with great fanfare on the afternoon of June 27, 1916, with flags, horses and a cheering crowd of well-wishers more than 10,000 strong.

War was brewing along the Mexican border and the Richmond Hussars, Georgia's oldest cavalry troop, were called to duty.

"It was an occasion of profound solemnity," The Augusta Chronicle reported the following day. "The courts adjourned. Public and private offices were closed and many stores shut their doors."

The wide-eyed youngsters spent less than a year in Texas before President Woodrow Wilson committed the U.S. to the first World War -- and the Hussars -- reassigned as Company C, 106th Field Signal Battalion, shipped out for France.

The boys who left Augusta returned as men whose experiences would bind them for a lifetime.

A decade after the war ended -- on Christmas Eve 1929 -- several of the 123 survivors established the Last Man's Club with a pact to gather each year in Augusta. The meetings, they decided, would occur until the last man alive drank a lonely toast to his departed comrades.

It was a tradition that continued for almost six decades.

"Our intent was to carry on the memory of the Richmond Hussars," said club member Felton Davis during a 1985 interview with The Chronicle . "We'd sing, and they'd play taps for all those who'd died."

In its heyday, the Last Man's Club meetings were grand affairs held in the ballroom of the former Richmond Hotel. "We had a bugler and speakers and lots and lots of people," Mr. Davis said.

Over time, members died. Eventually, the practice of lighting a candle for each departed member was abbreviated to lighting a single candle festooned with the Hussars' insignia.

On Oct. 11, 1986, Mr. Davis -- a Valdosta, Ga., architect who graduated from Richmond Academy in 1916 -- attended the 58th and final reunion of the club. He was the only member present. Three comrades remained alive but were too ill to travel.

Alethia Nowell, an Augusta author and Academy of Richmond County historian, attended the club's final meeting.

"Felton had made me an honorary member of the Last Man's Club," she said. "I had gotten interested in doing research and he invited me to all their meetings."

During earlier meetings, the lengthy roll call for mostly deceased members would be answered with a repetitive, "Gone but not forgotten," she said.

Surviving members, she added, drank a toast to each departed colleague. "They didn't drink wine, though. If they had we'd all be drunk," she said. "It was just punch."

On Dec. 29, 1986, just two months after the last meeting, another of the surviving Hussars, Olin Streets of Augusta, passed away. Mr. Davis died May 4, 1987, at the age of 89. Member Guy Alexander, of Florida, died soon thereafter.

When Mr. Davis died, his will specified that remaining funds in the club's account be donated to Richmond Academy for use in the school's library.

So who was the last man? Although Mr. Davis was the president and last active member of the club, the last man to die was restaurant owner George Lenz, who -- according to his obituary in The Chronicle -- passed away June 17, 1989, at the Georgia War Veterans Home. He was 94, and his obituary briefly noted his Last Man distinction.

Today, the Last Man's Club and its grand reunions are largely committed to memory, and today's generation might not even be aware of its existence, save for a granite monument in the 200 block of Greene Street.

The marker, with a plaque naming all 123 members, was erected long ago to preserve the memory of the Richmond Hussars, even after the last of them had died.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com

CLUB TRADITION


"So stand to your glasses, steady;


We'll drink in our comrades' eyes --


Here's a cup to the dead already;


HURRAH for the next man that dies!"


-- Toast by Last Man's Club




THE HISTORY


The Richmond Hussars, formed in 1795, was the oldest cavalry unit in Georgia and also served as Augusta's National Guard.


It last saw action on the Mexican border in 1916, after which its members became Company C, 106th Field Signal Battalion and were sent to fight during World War I.


The Last Man's Club was formed Dec. 24, 1929, by the remaining members of the Hussars, who arranged to meet annually in Augusta for a reunion, and to toast departed members.


The last gathering was Oct. 11, 1986, when the only attendee, 88-year-old Felton Davis, drank a toast to his comrades during the club's 57th meeting. Three other members were alive then, but too ill to attend.


The last man to die was George Lenz, who was 94 in 1989.

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Teachercommentary 10/03/08 - 01:10 pm
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It is history like this that

It is history like this that makes us such a great country. We need to remember our past as we move forward into the future. This is still the best place in the world to live even though many do not treat it as such. God Bless America!

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