Grand Army of the Republic
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, US Navy, Marines and Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War. Founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, it was dissolved in 1956 when its last member died. Linking men through their experience of the war, the GAR became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, supporting voting rights for black veterans, lobbying the US Congress to establish veterans' pensions, and supporting Republican political candidates. Its peak membership, at more than 490,000, was in 1890, a high point of Civil War commemorative ceremonies. It was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), composed of male descendants of Union veterans.
After the end of American Civil War, 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 was the Grand Army of the Republic, founded on April 6, 1866, on the principles of "Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty," in Decatur, Illinois, by 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 veterans, black and white, immediately became entwined with partisan politics. The GAR promoted voting rights for black veterans, as many veterans recognized their demonstrated patriotism. Black veterans, who enthusiastically embraced the message of equality, shunned black veterans' organizations in preference for racially inclusive 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 divisions ceased to exist.
In the 1880s, the 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 pensions for black soldiers. Most black troops never received any pension or remuneration for wounds incurred during their 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.
In 1868, Commander-in-Chief General John A. Logan established May 30 as Decoration Day, later known as Memorial Day. (Numerous people and places claim this credit.) In its first celebrations, people used this day to commemorate the dead of the Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers and flags.
The GAR's political power grew during the latter part of the 19th century, and it helped elect several Republican United States presidents, beginning with Ulysses S. Grant and ending with William McKinley. Five members were elected president of the United States. For a time, candidates could not get nominated to the Republican ticket without the endorsement of the GAR voting bloc.
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. Although a male organization, the GAR admitted its sole woman member in 1897. Sarah Emma Edmonds 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.
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.
Memorials, honors and commemorations
Memorials to the Grand Army of the Republic include a commemorative postage stamp, a U.S. highway, and physical memorials 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.
- At the final encampment in 1949, the Post Office Department issued a three-cent commemorative postage stamp. Two years later, it printed a virtually identical stamp for the final reunion of the United Confederate Veterans.
- Modesto, California: Memorial lot in Modesto Pioneer Cemetery contains 36 graves, a wooden cenotaph and two cannons were erected as a monument in 1907. The wooden cenotaph was replaced with a granite obelisk in 1924.
- Oakland, California: GAR plot and monument dedicated in 1893 in Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue.
- Sacramento, California: GAR memorial and many grave sites in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery (aka Old City Cemetery).
- San Jose, California: GAR lot in Oak Hill Cemetery.
- Rockville, Connecticut: The New England Civil War Museum is maintained by Alden Skinner Camp 45 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The museum is within Memorial Hall, which was dedicated to the GAR veterans by the former city of Rockville.
- Washington, D.C.: A monumental memorial honoring Benjamin F. Stephenson, M.D., stands near the National Archives building and the Navy Memorial (). The GAR Memorial Foundation erected the monument using funds that the U.S. Congress appropriated in 1907. The memorial was dedicated in 1909.
- Chicago, Illinois:
- GAR memorial and several gravesites in Union Ridge Cemetery in the Norwood Park neighborhood.
- The current Chicago Cultural Center was formerly the dual-purposed Chicago Public Library and GAR Meeting Hall. Completed in 1897, it occupies property on Michigan Avenue at Randolph Street donated by the GAR.
- Decatur, Illinois: GAR section with approximately 570 graves and monument in Greenwood Cemetery
- Hoopeston, Illinois: GAR memorial and many gravesites Floral Hill Cemetery.
- Minier, Illinois: GAR monument erected in 1888 by the John Hunter GAR Post 168
- Murphysboro, Illinois: A cemetery with the graves of several GAR members who were former slaves originally from Tennessee is southwest of the town.
- Springfield, Illinois
- Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum, located downtown at 629 South 7th Street. It is owned and maintained by the Woman's Relief Corps Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic.
- The Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War donated a sundial that was dedicated on the grounds of the Illinois State Capitol September 8, 1940 during the 74th Encampment of the GAR.
- Watseka, Illinois: GAR Cemetery, established for the Williams Post 25, has a memorial and statue as prominent features at the entrance.
- Valparaiso, Indiana: The Memorial Opera House was constructed by the local GAR chapter in 1893.
- Des Moines, Iowa: In 1922, a banner created for the GAR encampment was declared a permanent memorial and suspended in the rotunda of the Iowa State Capitol. A sundial was dedicated to the GAR on grounds of the Iowa State Capitol during the 1938 encampment.
- Red Oak, Iowa: GAR memorial of a bronze soldier atop a granite base was dedicated in 1907 near grave sites in Evergreen Cemetery.
- Mt. Pleasant, Iowa: GAR monument and grave sites in the pioneer Hickory Grove Cemetery, junction of Hwy 218 & 185th St.
- Redfield, Iowa: The Marshall GAR Hall was restored in 2008 and houses a small museum.
- Waterloo, Iowa: The Grand Army of the Republic meeting hall has been restored and is operated as a meeting hall and museum by the City of Waterloo. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
- Baxter Springs, Kansas: GAR monument and 163 gravesites in the Baxter Springs City Cemetery
- Topeka, Kansas: The GAR Memorial Hall at 120 SW 10th Avenue was dedicated May 27, 1914 housed the Kansas State Historical Society until 1995 when the society moved to larger quarters. After restoration, the structure became home to the Attorney General and Secretary of State offices in 2000.
- Covington, Kentucky: GAR Monument in the Linden Grove Cemetery erected in 1929.
- Chalmette, Louisiana: Chalmette National Cemetery in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve contains a monument and the graves of approximately 12,000 Union Soldiers from the Civil War
- Baltimore, Maryland: A sundial at Warren Avenue and Henry Street in the Federal Hill neighborhood was dedicated in 1933.
- Rockland, Massachusetts: Hartstuff Post 74 was dedicated January 30, 1900. Portions of the wooden structure were restored between 1990 and 1999 and the structure is currently home of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Camp 50.
- Algonac, Michigan: Bronze statue of a soldier on a granite base was erected in 1905 in Boardwalk Park on St. Clair River Drive.
- Detroit, Michigan: Grand Army of the Republic Building was completed in 1890 as a meeting place for the local chapter of the GAR. When membership dwindled in the 1930s, the group deeded the property to the City of Detroit who paid a portion of the construction costs. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and was vacant for many years. In November 2011, the software company Mindfield acquired the building and, through the summer of 2013, spent over $1,000,000 on restoration.
- Grand Rapids, Michigan: A zinc fountain depicting a soldier at parade rest atop a carved column was dedicated in 185 at the intersection of Fulton, Monroe and Division. It was restored and rededicated in October 2003.
- Bemidji, Minnesota: GAR memorial in Greenwood Cemetery.
- Detroit Lakes, Minnesota: GAR Park, 317 Washington Avenue
- Grand Meadow, Minnesota: GAR Hall/Museum. Booth Post No. 130 was once a meeting hall for members of the Grand Army of the Republic. The hall is believed to be one of only two remaining in Minnesota and is located on South Main Street between First Avenue SW and Second Avenue SW. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its architectural and social significance.
- Hastings, Minnesota: Peller Post 89 purchased one-half acre of land for a cemetery in 1905. It holds graves of Civil War and Spanish–American War veterans. In 1998, local VFW post 1210 restored the cemetery.
- Litchfield, Minnesota: The hall of Frank Daggett Post 35 has been preserved and houses a GAR museum.
- St. Paul, Minnesota: A memorial obelisk capped by a bronze statue stands at the intersection of John Ireland Boulevard and Summit Avenue. The statue gazes toward the capitol building to the east and was erected in 1903 at a cost of $9,000. It was created by artist John K. Daniels and bears a dedication to "Josias R. King the first man to volunteer in the 1st MN infantry" and commemorates all who fought.
- Carthage, Missouri: Park Cemetery contains a lot with several burials from the Stanton Post No. 16 with a large granite monument
- Laclede, Missouri: Grove and Cole Streets; Bronze soldier atop a granite base inscribed with a dedication to the Phil Kearny Post No. 19
- Omaha, Nebraska: Forest Lawn Memorial Park holds a GAR memorial and many grave sites.
- South Lyndeborough, New Hampshire: The Hartshorn Memorial Cannon was named and dedicated by the Harvey Holt Post, Grand Army of the Republic, in 1902. The cannon was previously located outside the GAR's headquarters, Citizens' Hall, before being moved to the village common in 1934.
- Asbury Park, New Jersey: Monument at Grand and Cookman Avenues erected by C.K. Hall Post 41.
- Atlantic City, New Jersey: Monument at Providence and Capt. O'Donnell Parkway erected by the Joe Hooker Post 32.
- Camden, New Jersey: Plot of the William B. Hatch Post 37 with monument in Evergreen Cemetery.
- Egg Harbor, New Jersey: General Stahel Post 62 plot in the Egg Harbor City Cemetery.
- Jersey City, New Jersey
- Bayview – New York Bay Cemetery: Monument and plot of Van Houten Post #3 and Ladies Relief Post #16, over 40 graves including William Winterbottom, Medal of Honor recipient.
- Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Goddess of Victory bronze by Philip Martiny, at City Hall, 280 Grove Street
- Manchester Township, New Jersey: GAR memorial at Oakdale Street and Wellington Avenue.
- Port Norris, New Jersey: GAR Cemetery of the John Shinn Post 6.
- Toms River, New Jersey: Monument at Wellington Avenue and Oakdale Street consisting of a small peristyle, flagpole and two cannons 
- Bath, New York: Memorial in Nondaga Cemetery, erected by Custer Post 81 in 1916 in observance of Memorial Day.
- Buffalo, New York: Soldiers and Sailors Monument dedicated in Lafayette Square in 1884. By 1889, the monument began to list and was reconstructed.
- New York, New York
- Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn was dedicated in 1926 and forms the entrance to Prospect Park. It contains a triumphal arch and other monuments.
- In Midtown Manhattan, Grand Army Plaza has a statue of General Sherman.
- In Upper Manhattan, the west flagpole on Low Plaza at the entrance of Low Memorial Library on Columbia University's Morningside Heights campus was donated by the Lafayette Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1898 and bears the inscription "Love, Cherish, Defend it." (The east pole was donated by the class of 1881 on its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1906.)
- Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens contains the burial lot of the Robert J. Marks Post # 560 of the GAR. In the lot are the graves of 25 veterans, 17 wives and a monument.
- Devils Lake, North Dakota: GAR lot and monument in Devils Lake Cemetery.
- Columbus, Ohio: The Daughters of the Union dedicated a sundial on the grounds of the Ohio State House in 1941, the 75th anniversary of the GAR.
- Portland, Oregon: Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery. Salmon Brown, son of the famous abolitionist John Brown (of the song "John Brown's Body") is buried there.
- Carnegie, Pennsylvania: When the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall was constructed in 1901, it included a room to house the Captain Thomas Espy Post Number 153 of the GAR. The room is now preserved with artifacts and records left when the last post member died in the 1930s.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: GAR museum and library maintained by the Philadelphia Camp Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War in the John Ruan House. The archive holds numerous GAR post records and the museum has a variety of civil war artifacts.
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Soldiers & Sailors Hall dedicated in 1910 as a GAR memorial.
- Titusville, Pennsylvania:, The original charter and other documents from Cornelius S. Chase Post 50, including its handwritten by-laws, are on display at the Cleo J. Ross Post 368 American Legion in Titusville.
- Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: G. A. R. Memorial Junior Senior High School
- Cleveland, Tennessee: The GAR Monument at Fort Hill Cemetery is only one of three GAR memorials in Tennessee.
- Vermont: State Route 15 is known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway.
- Rutland, Vermont Memorial Hall dedicated in 1899, served as the library until the 1930s
- Seattle, Washington: Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery on Capitol Hill, just north of Lake View Cemetery. Established in 1895, it was turned over to the Parks Department in 1922.
- Snohomish, Washington: GAR Morton Post 110 established Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery was established in 1889 at 8602 Riverview Road. It contains the graves of 200 Civil War veterans. On May 29, 1914, the community dedicated a monument at the northwest corner of the cemetery consisting of an obelisk and statue of a soldier on a base.
- Tacoma, Washington: Oakwood Hill Cemetery has large section containing several hundred GAR veterans who were members of the Custer Post and their wives.
- Columbus, Wisconsin: A bronze figure of a soldier atop a square granite column was erected by the H.M. Brown Post 146 of the GAR at the intersection of West James Street (Highway 60) and Dickason Boulevard (Highway 16), adjacent to the City Hall.
- Madison, Wisconsin: Grand Army of the Republic Conference Room at the Wisconsin State Capitol.
- Necedah, Wisconsin: Flagpole and inscribed tablet in Bay View Cemetery; North Main and Maple Streets
In popular culture
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?||”|
Later in the book, references are made to the graves of GAR members in California in order to emphasize the passage of time.
In Ward Moore's 1953 alternate history novel Bring the Jubilee, the South 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 a nationalistic organization working to restore the United States to its former glory through acts of sabotage and terrorism.
- List of Grand Army of the Republic Commanders-in-Chief
- American Legion
- Congressional charter
- Grand Army of the Republic Hall (disambiguation)
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- Joel Minnick Longenecker
- Russell A. Alger
- Military Order of the Stars and Bars
- Sons of Confederate Veterans
- Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
- U.S. Route 6 (Grand Army of the Republic Highway)
- United Confederate Veterans
- Veterans of Foreign Wars
- Charles Sumner Post No. 25, Grand Army of the Republic
- Austin Conrad Shafer, California Department official, with Department commander (photo)
- 10 U.S.C. § 1123
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|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
- Theodore Penland grave site
- 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 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 Tavern
- Geocache on the Memorial Highway
- Grand Army of the Republic Collection - McLean County Museum of History archives (Illinois)