Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Life of Brig. Gen. Joseph Van Holt Nash, Pre and Post WWI Adjutant General of Ga.


By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Brig. Gen. J. Van Holt Nash in 1913. Georgia National Guard Archives.
Governor Thomas Hardwick announced the reappointment of Brig. Gen. Joseph Van Holt Nash as Georgia’s Adjutant General June 24, 1921 on the day he assumed office as the 63rd Governor of Georgia. Nash had previously served as adjutant general from 1913 to 1917 when he entered federal service for World War I. He was reappointed March 1, 1919 becoming only the second Adjutant General of Georgia to serve two non-consecutive terms (Brig. Gen. Daniel Newnan became the first in 1937). During his second term as Adjutant General Nash was described by the Atlanta Constitution as “One of the most prominent men in military affairs of the South.”[1]

Nash was born April 11, 1868 to Joseph Van Holt Nash Sr. and Margaret Nash of Petersburg, Va. The elder Nash was a successful merchant who had served as a major on the staff of Maj. Gen Fitzhugh Lee during the Civil War. The younger Nash was the second of five children and the oldest son.

The Nash family moved to Atlanta where Nash Sr. became the southern division manager of the American Book Company.[2] Nash Jr. was educated at Richmond Academy and enlisted in the Atlanta Rifles August 3, 1886 upon the unit’s organization and over the next five years would rise through the ranks to the position of first sergeant. He was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant Sept. 17, 1891 and promoted directly to captain July 5, 1892.[3] The younger Nash was by then in the employ of the American Book Company.

Nash married Josephine Hoyle of Atlanta Nov. 9, 1917. On August 29, 1894, their daughter Lida was born. Josephine died Sept. 3, 1895 leaving the grieving Nash to raise his daughter alone.

On May 13, 1898, following the United States declaration of war on Spain, Nash entered federal service at Camp Northen in Griffin, Ga. as captain of Company C, 2nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry.[4] One week later, the 2nd GVI advanced to Tampa, Fla. where it staged awaiting transport to Cuba. The 2nd was swiftly assigned to the Seventh Army Corps, commanded by former Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee with whom the elder Nash had served during the Civil War. Over the next two months, the 2nd was transferred from one brigade to another. The Georgians sweltered in the Tampa heat as U.S. troops landed east of Santiago Cuba and engaged the enemy at Las Guasimas June 24, 1898. The Georgians were still awaiting orders when Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders charged up Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill July 1.

Sketch of Capt. Nash. Sept 23, 1898. Atlanta Constitution.
More than three weeks later, on July 23, 1898, The Secretary of War directed the 2nd GVI be dispatched to Santiago Cuba, along with the 5th Maryland Volunteers and 1st Florida Volunteers. Two days later, land operations began in Puerto Rico and the 2nd GVI, still in Tampa, was ordered to proceed to Puerto Rico instead. By July 30, the regiments had yet to depart, and no further orders were issued for their movement. 

Hostilities ended August 12, 1898 following the destruction of Spanish naval squadrons in Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba and the successful persecution of the land campaign in Cuba. On August 18, the 2nd GVI finally departed Tampa. Rather than Cuba or Puerto Rico, the 2nd arrived August 21, 1898 in Huntsville, Ala. Nash and the volunteers of the 2nd GVI returned to Georgia and were mustered out of service in November along with the 1st GVI and Georgia Light Artillery. Of the regiments with which the 2nd GVI were brigaded at Tampa, only the 1st District of Columbia Volunteer Infantry reached Cuba where they saw service during the Santiago campaign.[5]

Nash left federal service and was appointed lieutenant colonel and Aide de Camp to the Governor of Georgia. For nearly fifteen years, Nash served at state headquarters as inspector general and assistant chief of ordnance before his appointment as Adjutant General January 1, 1913.[6]

In June, 1916, the Georgia National Guard was activated for federal service on the Mexican Border. Nash coordinated with the state and War department for the establishment of a training camp near Macon, which would be called Camp Harris. The Guard mobilized to El Paso, Texas in October and on Thanksgiving, Nash accompanied Governor Nathan Harris to view the troops.

Nash follows Brig. Gen. Walter Harris, commander of the Georgia Brigade and Governor Nathan Harris on Thanksgiving, 1916 to address the
assembled troops of the Georgia National Guard at Camp Cotton, El Paso Texas. Photo by Lt. Vivian Roberts, 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment.

With the March 1917 return of the Georgia National Guard, Nash was again involved in the establishment of a training camp which would become Camp Wheeler in Macon where the 31st Division would train for service in World War I.

The summer was not completely consumed by military affairs. On August 24, 1917 Nash’s daughter Lida married Lieutenant Robert Stuart Brown of Atlanta. In the coming war, Brown served with the 157th Depot Brigade at Camp Gordon. He left federal service in January 1919 as a captain.[7]

Nash himself entered federal service for World War I as a major Nov. 27, 1917 at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. He was initially assigned as a battalion commander with the 157th Depot Brigade at Camp Gordon before receiving his permanent assignment to the War Plans Division in Washington D.C.[8]

Returning home from Washington in 1919, Nash married Alberta Swift, widow of Frank Meador Smith.

On the evening of Oct. 20, 1922, Nash was riding in a car driven by Lt. Harry Heins of the Gate City Guards with Lt. H. M. Butler and Major Charles Cox, a future adjutant general of Georgia. The party was returning to Atlanta from a barbecue given by Maj. George Mallet, the state quartermaster. While en route, about two miles outside of Griffin, Heins moved the vehicle to the side of the road to allow another car to pass. The car’s tires caught loose dirt on the side of the road causing Heins to lose control of the vehicle which rolled over twice. Nash was killed instantly and Butler suffered fatal injuries. Cox was severely injured suffering a broken collar bone, three broken ribs and internal injuries. Heins, who was thrown clear of the vehicle was not injured.[9]

Atlanta Constitution Oct. 22, 1922. 

By order of the governor, Nash’s body lay in state at the Georgia capitol October 22. He was buried with full military honors Oct. 24, 1922 in Westview Cemetery, Atlanta.

The body of Brig. Gen. J. Van Holt Nash is born from the capitol by pall bearers of the Georgia National Guard. Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 24, 1922.


[1] ”Engagement of Lieut. Robert Brown and Miss Lida Nash.” The Montgomery Adviser, Aug. 24, 1917, 6.


[2] Franklin M. Garrett. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, 1880s-1930s. (Greece: University of Georgia Press, 2011) 794.


[3] Annual Report of the Adjutant General and Official Register of the National Guard for the Year 1920. (Atlanta: Chas. Byrd 1921) 134.


[4] Annual Report of the Adjutant General and Official Register of the National Guard for the Year 1920. 134.

[5] William Carraway ”The Georgia Volunteers in the Spanish American War.” Georgia National Guard History


[6] Annual Report of the Adjutant General and Official Register of the National Guard for the Year 1920. 134.

[9] “Cox Near Death Following Crash at Griffin, Ga.” The Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 22, 1922, 1.


  1. Please note that you have a date of death error. One paragraph starts off saying he died on October 20, 1920. The year he died is 1922.

    (His wife Alberta Swift was my grandmother.)


Blog Archive