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The Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
(GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army
Union Army
(United States Army), Union Navy (U.S. Navy), Marines and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War
American Civil War
for the Northern/Federal forces. Founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, and growing to include hundreds of posts (local community units) across the nation (predominately in the North, but also a few in the South and West), it was dissolved in 1956 at the death of its last member, Albert Woolson
Albert Woolson
(1850–1956) of Duluth, Minnesota. 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
Memorial Day
a national holiday, lobbying the United States Congress
United States Congress
to establish regular veterans' pensions, and supporting Republican political candidates. Its peak membership, at more than 490,000, was in 1890, a high point of various Civil War commemorative and monument dedication ceremonies. It was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), composed of male descendants of Union Army
Union Army
and Union Navy veterans.

Contents

1 History

1.1 Women members 1.2 Later years

2 Memorials, honors and commemorations 3 State posts 4 In popular culture 5 See also 6 References 7 Further reading 8 External links

History[edit]

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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 together, 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.

Original G.A.R. Uniform Hat Badge from Post No. 146, "RG Shaw Post", established by surviving members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in 1871. In the R. Andre Stevens Civil War Collection.

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
Union Army
and Navy veterans, black and white, immediately became entwined with partisan politics. The GAR promoted voting rights for Negro 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.[1] In his General Order No. 11, dated May 5, 1868, first GAR Commander-in-Chief, General John A. Logan
John A. Logan
declared May 30 to be Memorial Day
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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[3] The pattern of establishing departments and local posts was later used by other American military veterans' organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars
Veterans of Foreign Wars
(organized originally for veterans of the Spanish–American War
Spanish–American War
and the Philippine Insurrection) and the later American Legion
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. Five Civil War veterans and members (Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, 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.

Reverse of the Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Badge.

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. Women members[edit] 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
Union Army
with her husband Robert, a private in the 1st Rhode Island Infantry
1st Rhode Island Infantry
at the First Battle of Bull Run
First Battle of Bull Run
in Virginia and with the 5th Rhode Island Infantry at the Battle of New Berne
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
North Burial Ground
in Providence, Rhode Island.[4] In 1897 the GAR admitted Sarah Emma Edmonds, who served in the 2nd Michigan
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.[5] It is possible that other women were members of the GAR as well. Later years[edit] The GAR reached its largest enrollment in 1890, with 490,000 members. It held an annual "National Encampment" every year from 1866 to 1949. At that final encampment in Indianapolis, Indiana, the few surviving members 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. In 1956, after the death of the last member, Albert Woolson, the GAR was formally dissolved.[1]

GAR parade during the 1914 Encampment in Detroit, Michigan

Memorials, honors and commemorations[edit]

The Stephenson Grand Army of the Republic Memorial
Stephenson Grand Army of the Republic Memorial
in Washington, D.C.

There are physical memorials to the Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
in numerous communities throughout the United States. U.S. Route 6
U.S. Route 6
is known as the Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Highway for its entire length.[6] The Commemoration of the American Civil War
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.[7] In 1951, the U.S. Postal Service printed a virtually identical stamp for the final reunion of the United Confederate Veterans.[8] State posts[edit] 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
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 assign 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.[9] 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:

List of Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Posts in Kansas List of Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Posts in Kentucky

In popular culture[edit]

A replica of the USS Kearsarge displayed at the 1893 GAR National Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana

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.[10] Sinclair Lewis
Sinclair Lewis
also refers to the GAR in his acclaimed novel Main Street[11] and in his novel It Can't Happen Here,[12] as does Charles Portis's classic novel, True Grit,[13] the GAR is briefly mentioned in William Faulkner's novel, The Sound and the Fury.[14] and Willa Cather's short story The Sculptor's Funeral briefly references the GAR.[15] The GAR is mentioned in the seldom-sung second verse of the patriotic song You're a Grand Old Flag.[16] The GAR is referenced in John McCrae's poem He Is There! which was set to music in 1917 by Charles Ives
Charles Ives
as part of his cycle Three Songs of the War.[17] 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
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.[18] See also[edit]

Austin Conrad Shafer, California Department official, with Department commander (photo) Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner
Post No. 25, Grand Army of the Republic Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Hall (other) G. A. R. Memorial Junior Senior High School, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Hamilton County Memorial Building, (Cincinnati, Ohio) Joel Minnick Longenecker List of Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Commanders-in-Chief National Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War Russell A. Alger Sons of Confederate Veterans

References[edit]

^ a b Knight, Glenn B. "Brief History
History
of the Grand Army of the Republic". suvcw.org. Retrieved 2011-01-18.  ^ John E. Gilman (1910). "The Grand Army of the Republic". civilwarhome.com. Retrieved 2011-03-05.  ^ a b "A Brief History
History
of the Grand Army of the Republic". Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library. Retrieved 2011-03-05.  ^ "A female comrade of the Grand Army". New York Herald. 16 September 1870. (Subscription required (help)).  ^ "Sarah Emma Edmonds, Private, December 1841–September 5, 1898". Civil War Trust. Retrieved 2011-06-12.  ^ Richard F. Weingroff (July 27, 2009). "U.S. 6-The Grand Army of the Republic Highway". Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved 2011-02-14.  ^ A. Gibson, Gary (1999). "Remembering the Grand Army of the Republic Fifty Years Later". Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Retrieved 2011-03-02.  B. "G.A.R. Issue". National Postal Museum. Retrieved Jan 11, 2014.  ^ "U.S. Stamps 1951". stampscatalog.info. Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2011-03-02.  ^ "List of posts and location by department". Library of Congress. 2001. Retrieved 2014-07-03.  ^ "Steinbeck-East of Eden". edstephan.org. Retrieved 2011-04-20.  ^ Lewis, Sinclair (12 April 2006). "XXXV". Main Street (PDF). Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2015-01-06.  ^ Lewis, Sinclair (1935). "VII". It Can't Happen Here. Feedbooks. Retrieved 2016-12-11.  ^ Portis, Charles (5 December 2010). True Grit. New York: Overlook Press. Retrieved 2015-01-16. (Subscription required (help)).  ^ The Sound and the Fury-Glossary. University of Mississippi Press. 1996. p. 54. ISBN 0-87805-936-9. Retrieved 2011-04-20.  ^ "The Sculptor's Funeral". Classic Reader. Retrieved 2015-01-16.  ^ George M. Cohan (1906). " You're a Grand Old Flag
You're a Grand Old Flag
(Annotated Music)". Library of Congress Performing Arts Encyclopedia. New York, NY: F. A. Mills. Retrieved 2013-04-24.  ^ "He Is There!". Song of America. Archived from the original on 2011-05-10. Retrieved 2011-03-17.  ^ Moore, Ward (1 January 2009). Bring the Jubilee. Wildside Press. ISBN 978-1434478535. Retrieved 2015-01-16. 

Further reading[edit]

Ainsworth, Scott. "Electoral Strength and the Emergence of Group Influence in the Late 1800s The Grand Army of the Republic." American Politics Research 23.3 (1995): 319–338. Cimbala, Paul A. Veterans North and South: The Transition from Soldier to Civilian after the American Civil War
American Civil War
(Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2015). xviii, 189 pp. Dearing, Mary R. Veterans in Politics: The Story of the GAR (1974) Gannon, Barbara A. The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
(2011) Online Jordan, Brian Matthew. Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War. New York: Liveright, 2015. McConnell, Stuart. Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1865–1900. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Online Marten, James Alan. Sing Not War: The Lives of Union & Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (Univ of North Carolina Press, 2011).

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Grand Army of the Republic.

GAR page at Library of Congress SUVCW official website ASUVCW official website DUVCW official website Grand Army Museum, Lynn, Massachusetts at Essex National Heritage website Grand Army Museum, Lynn, Massachusetts at official City of Lynn website Theodore Penland at Find a Grave The GAR medal looks similar to the Medal of Honor in photos or on gravestones, see comparison Photographs of Members of the Stevens Post, Seattle, Washington Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Museum and Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania The Grand Army of the Republic. Philip R. Schuyler Post, No. 51 records, including membership records, constitution and by-laws, correspondence and minutes of the Philip R. Schuyler Post No. 51, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The History
History
Tavern Geocache on the Memorial Highway Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Collection – McLean County Museum of History
History
archives (Illinois) Theodore C. Cazeau Grand Army of the Republic
Grand Army of the Republic
Collection – Lavery Library, St. John Fisher College, Rochester NY Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Kansas Encampments, 1892-1945 Grand Army of the Republic, Walla Walla, records at the Whitman College and Northwest Archives, Whitman College.

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