|Successor||Woman's Relief Corps and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War|
|Formation||April 6, 1866|
|Founder||Benjamin F. Stephenson|
|Dissolved||August 2, 1956|
|Purpose||Social, literary, historical, benevolent|
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army (United States Army), Union Navy (U.S. Navy), and the Marines who served in the American Civil War. It was founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, and grew to include hundreds of "posts" (local community units) across the North and West. It was dissolved in 1956 at the death of its last member.
According to Stuart McConnell:
The Grand Army of the Republic, the largest of all Union Army veterans' organizations, was the most powerful single-issue political lobby of the late nineteenth century, securing massive pensions for veterans and helping to elect five postwar presidents from its own membership. To its members, it was also a secret fraternal order, a source of local charity, a provider of entertainment in small municipalities, and a patriotic organization.
Linking men through their experience of the war, the G.A.R. became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, supporting voting rights for black veterans, promoting patriotic education, helping to make Memorial Day a national holiday, lobbying Congress to establish regular veterans' pensions, and supporting Republican political candidates. Its peak membership, at 410,000, was in 1890, a high point of various Civil War commemorative and monument dedication ceremonies.
After the end of American Civil War, various state and local organizations were formed for veterans to network and maintain connections with each other. Many of the veterans used their shared experiences as a basis for fellowship. Groups of men began joining, first for camaraderie and later for political power. Emerging as most influential among the various organizations during the first post-war years was the Grand Army of the Republic, founded on April 6, 1866, on the principles of "Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty," in Decatur, Illinois, by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson.
The GAR initially grew and prospered as a de facto political arm of the Republican Party during the heated political contests of the Reconstruction Era. The commemoration of Union Army and Navy veterans, black and white, immediately became entwined with partisan politics. The GAR promoted voting rights for Black veterans, as many white veterans recognized their demonstrated patriotism and sacrifices, providing one of the first racially integrated social/fraternal organizations in America. Black veterans, who enthusiastically embraced the message of equality, shunned black veterans' organizations in preference for racially inclusive and integrated groups. But when the Republican Party's commitment to reform in the South gradually decreased, the GAR's mission became ill-defined and the organization floundered. The GAR almost disappeared in the early 1870s, and many state-centered divisions, named "departments", and local posts ceased to exist.
In his General Order No. 11, dated May 5, 1868, first GAR Commander-in-Chief, General John A. Logan declared May 30 to be Memorial Day (also referred to for many years as "Decoration Day"), calling upon the GAR membership to make the May 30 observance an annual occurrence. Although not the first time war graves had been decorated, Logan's order effectively established "Memorial Day" as the day upon which Americans now pay tribute to all their war casualties, missing-in-action, and deceased veterans. As decades passed, similarly inspired commemorations also spread across the South as "Confederate Memorial Day" or "Confederate Decoration Day", usually in April, led by organizations of Southern soldiers in the parallel United Confederate Veterans.
In the 1880s, the Union veterans' organization revived under new leadership that provided a platform for renewed growth, by advocating Federal pensions for veterans. As the organization revived, black veterans joined in significant numbers and organized local posts. The national organization, however, failed to press the case for similar pensions for black soldiers. Most black troops never received any pension or remuneration for wounds incurred during their Civil War service.
The GAR was organized into "Departments" at the state level and "Posts" at the community level, and military-style uniforms were worn by its members. There were posts in every state in the U.S., and several posts overseas.The pattern of establishing departments and local posts was later used by other American military veterans' organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (organized originally for veterans of the Spanish–American War and the Philippine Insurrection) and the later American Legion (for the First World War and later expanded to include subsequent World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Middle Eastern wars).
The G.A.R.'s political power grew during the latter part of the 19th century, and it helped elect several United States presidents, beginning with the 18th, Ulysses S. Grant, and ending with the 25th, William McKinley. Six Civil War veterans (Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur; Benjamin Harrison, and McKinley) were elected President of the United States; all were Republicans. (The sole post-war Democratic president was Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th chief executive.) For a time, candidates could not get Republican presidential or congressional nominations without the endorsement of the GAR veterans voting bloc. Of the six mentioned US Presidents, at least five were members of the G.A.R.:
With membership strictly limited to "veterans of the late unpleasantness," the GAR encouraged the formation of Allied Orders to aid them in various works. Numerous male organizations jousted for the backing of the GAR, and the political battles became quite severe until the GAR finally endorsed the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War as its heir.
The GAR, according to Stuart McConnell, promoted, "a nationalism that honored white, native-stock, middle-class males and ...affirmed a prewar ideal of a virtuous, millennial Republic, based on the independent producer, entrepreneurial capitalism, and the citizen-soldier volunteer."
Although an overwhelmingly male organization, the GAR is known to have had at least two women who were members.
The first female known to be admitted to the GAR was Kady Brownell, who served in the Union Army with her husband Robert, a private in the 1st Rhode Island Infantry at the First Battle of Bull Run in Virginia and with the 5th Rhode Island Infantry at the Battle of New Berne in North Carolina. Kady was admitted as a member in 1870 to Elias Howe Jr. Post #3, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The GAR insignia is engraved on her gravestone in the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island.
In 1897 the GAR admitted Sarah Emma Edmonds, who served in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as a disguised man named Franklin Thompson from May 1861 until April 1863. In 1882, she collected affidavits from former comrades in an effort to petition for a veteran's pension which she received in July 1884. Edmonds was only a member for a brief period as she died September 5, 1898; however she was given a funeral with military honors when she was reburied in Houston in 1901.
It is possible that other women were members of the GAR, as well.
The GAR reached its largest enrollment in 1890, with 410,000 members.It held an annual "National Encampment" every year from 1866 to 1949. Interesting anecdotes from the war were told around the many campfires at these reunions and compiled in a book of campfire "chats", including descriptions of the festivities at the 1884-1886 encampments in Minneapolis, Portland, Maine and San Francisco. At the final encampment in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1949, the few surviving attendees voted to retain the existing officers in place until the organization's dissolution. Theodore Penland of Oregon, the GAR's Commander at the time, was therefore its last. At the time of the last national encampment, 16 members were still living and six were able to attend, including James Hard, the last combat veteran, who had fought at First Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville. In 1956, after the death of the last member, Albert Woolson, the GAR was formally dissolved.
There are physical memorials to the Grand Army of the Republic in numerous communities throughout the United States.
U.S. Route 6 is known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway for its entire length.
The Commemoration of the American Civil War on postage stamps began during the conflict by both sides. In 1948, the Grand Army of the Republic was commemorated on a stamp.In 1951, the U.S. Postal Service printed a virtually identical stamp for the final reunion of the United Confederate Veterans.
Every state (even those of the former Confederacy) fell within a GAR "Department," and within these Departments were the "Posts" (forerunners of modern American Legion Halls or VFW Halls). The posts were made up of local veterans, many of whom participated in local civic events. As the posts were formed, they were assigned to the home Department of the National Commander-in-chief of the year that they were chartered. There was no GAR post in London, but there was a Civil War Veterans Association Group that had many GAR members belonging to it.
As Civil War veterans died or were no longer able to participate in GAR activities, posts consolidated or were disbanded.Posts were assigned a sequential number based on their admission into the state's GAR organization, and most posts held informal names which honored comrades, battles, or commanders; it was not uncommon to have more than one post in a state honoring the same individual (such as Abraham Lincoln) and posts often changed their informal designation by vote of the local membership. See:
John Steinbeck's East of Eden features several references to the Grand Army of the Republic. Despite having very little actual battle experience during his brief military career, cut short by the loss of his leg, Adam Trask's father Cyrus joins the GAR and assumes the stature of "a great man" through his involvement with the organization. At the height of the GAR's influence in Washington, he brags to his son:
I wonder if you know how much influence I really have. I can throw the Grand Army at any candidate like a sock. Even the President likes to know what I think about public matters. I can get senators defeated and I can pick appointments like apples. I can make men and I can destroy men. Do you know that?— Cyrus Trask (character), East of Eden
Later in the book, references are made to the graves of GAR members in California in order to emphasize the passage of time.
Sinclair Lewis also refers to the GAR in his acclaimed novel Main Streetand in his novel It Can't Happen Here , as does Charles Portis's classic novel, True Grit , the GAR is briefly mentioned in William Faulkner's novel, The Sound and the Fury . and Willa Cather's short story "The Sculptor's Funeral" briefly references the GAR.
The GAR is mentioned in the seldom-sung second verse of the patriotic song "You're a Grand Old Flag".
The GAR is referenced in John McCrae's poem He Is There! which was set to music in 1917 by Charles Ives as part of his cycle Three Songs of the War.
In Ward Moore's 1953 alternate history novel Bring the Jubilee , the Confederates won the Civil War and became a major world power while the rump United States was reduced to an impoverished dependence. The Grand Army of the Republic is the name of a nationalistic organization working to restore the United States to its former glory through acts of sabotage and terrorism.
The name appears in the Star Wars prequel era. Star Wars: The Clone Wars refers to the clone army as "The Grand Army of the Republic".
The Woman's Relief Corps was founded in 1879 as a "secret" organization and recognized in 1883 as the "official women's auxiliary" to the G.A.R.
The Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic was also a significant organization. It was founded by Lelia P. Roby.As a congressionally chartered non-profit organization, it is the oldest women's hereditary organization in the United States. The original objectives of the organization included promotion of patriotism and loyalty to the Union, and participation in community service, especially for the aid of our Veterans and their dependents."
As original Union veterans of the G.A.R., organized in 1866, grew old, many women's groups formed to aid them and their widows and orphans. The Loyal Ladies League was established in 1881 as an auxiliary to the G.A.R.; in 1886 the organization went more national and changed its name to "The Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic."It was incorporated by Public Law 86-47 [S.949] of the 86th Congress on June 17, 1959
In 1899, the president was Dr. Julia P. Shade of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Its president in 1922 was Mrs. Ethel M. Irish, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for mourning the U.S. military personnel who have fought and died while serving in the United States armed forces. It is observed on the last Monday of May at national cemeteries, by placing flowers and American flags on graves of military personnel. It was formerly observed on May 30 from 1868 to 1970.
Albert Henry Woolson was the last known surviving member of the Union Army who served in the American Civil War; he was also the last surviving Civil War veteran on either side whose status is undisputed. At least three men who outlived Woolson claimed to be Confederate veterans, but one has been debunked and the other two are unverified. The last surviving Union soldier to see combat was James Hard (1843–1953).
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is an American congressionally chartered fraternal organization that carries out activities to preserve the history and legacy of the United States Armed Forces veterans who fought during the Civil War. It is the legal successor to the Grand Army of the Republic, the large and influential grouping of Union Army veterans that existed in the decades following the Civil War. Most SUVCW activities occur at the "Camp", or local community, level. In turn, Camps are grouped into state and/or regional structures called "Departments". The National organization, with headquarters at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, meets annually in a National Encampment that is attended by SUVCW members, known as "Brothers", from all Camps and Departments.
Russell Alexander Alger was an American politician and businessman. He served as the 20th Governor of Michigan, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Secretary of War.
The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall is an historic building located at 1101 Massachusetts Avenue in St. Cloud, Florida, in the United States. The city of St. Cloud had been founded by the Grand Army of the Republic or GAR, as a retirement colony for its members. The hall was built in 1914 by members of the GAR as a memorial to the Union Army veterans of the Civil War. It was one of many such halls built in the country. On February 21, 1997, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Robert Henry Hendershot, known as the Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock, was an American Civil War drummer boy known for his reputed heroics at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862.
The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, also known as William Baumer Post No. 24, Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), and as the Civil War Veterans Museum, is a historic building located at 908 1st Corso in Nebraska City, Nebraska, in the United States. The hall was built in 1894–95. In 1994, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The Grand Army of the Republic Monument, in the Linden Grove Cemetery of Covington, Kentucky, was built in 1929 by the O. P. Sine of Garfield Post No. 2 of the Grand Army of the Republic, a group comprising the remaining veterans of the Union army.
The Dependent and Disability Pension Act was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison on June 27, 1890. The act provided pensions for all veterans who had served at least ninety days in the Union military or naval forces, were honorably discharged from service and were unable to perform manual labor, regardless of their financial situation or when the disability occurred. The bill was a source of contentious debate and only passed after Grover Cleveland had vetoed a previous version in 1887.
James R. Tanner was an American soldier and civil servant. He is best known for having lost both his legs below the knee at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Serving during the rest of the war as a government stenographer, he was present at the death of Abraham Lincoln and took notes that are the most comprehensive record of the events of the President's assassination. He later served as the United States Commissioner of Pensions, and helped reorganize and incorporate the American Red Cross.
The Woman's Relief Corps (WRC) is a charitable organization in the United States, originally founded as the official women's auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in 1883. The organization was designed to assist the GAR and provide post-war relief to Union veterans. The GAR had been created as a "fraternal" organization and refused to allow women to join up until the creation of this auxiliary. It is largely dedicated to historical preservation of research and official documentation related to the WRC and GAR.
The Stephenson Grand Army of the Republic Memorial, also known as Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, is a public artwork in Washington, D.C. honoring Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Union veterans. The memorial is sited at Indiana Plaza, located at the intersection of 7th Street, Indiana Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. The bronze figures were sculpted by J. Massey Rhind, a prominent 20th-century artist. Attendees at the 1909 dedication ceremony included President William Howard Taft, Senator William Warner, and hundreds of Union veterans.
A Ladies' Memorial Association (LMA) is a type of organization for women that sprang up all over the American South in the years after the American Civil War. Typically, these were organizations by and for women, whose goal was to raise monuments in Confederate soldiers honor. Their immediate goal, of providing decent burial for soldiers, was joined with the desire to commemorate the sacrifices of Southerners and to propagate the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. Between 1865 and 1900, these associations were a formidable force in Southern culture, establishing cemeteries and raising large monuments often in very conspicuous places, and helped unite white Southerners in an ideology at once therapeutic and political.
Paul Vandervoort was an American soldier of Belgian descent who served in the Union Army and as the 11th Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, 1882-1883.
The Confederate Memorial is a memorial in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, in the United States, that commemorates members of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America who died during the American Civil War. Authorized in March 1906, former Confederate soldier and sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in November 1910 to design the memorial. It was unveiled by President Woodrow Wilson on June 4, 1914.
The National Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War or National Army Nurses was an organization of former nurses who served in the American Civil War. It was primarily a social organization, but it also advocated for, and helped to secure, recognition and benefits for nurses who had served in the war.
Emily E. Lansbury Wilson Woodley was an army nurse during the American Civil War, president of the National Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War from 1895 to 1898.