State and federal leaders from President Lincoln down had promised to care for "those
who have borne the burden, his
widows and orphans," but they had little knowledge of how to accomplish the task.
There was also little political pressure to see that the promises were kept.
But probably the most profound emotion was
emptiness. Men who had lived together, fought together, foraged
together and survived, had developed an unique bond that could not be broken. As time went
by the memories of
the filthy and vile environment of camp life began to be remembered less harshly and
eventually fondly. The horror
and gore of battle lifted with the smoke and smell of burnt black powder and was replaced
with the personal rain
of tears for the departed comrades. Friendships forged in battle survived the separation
and the warriors missed
the warmth of trusting companionship that had asked only total and absolute committment.
With that as background, groups of men began joining together--first for camaraderie and
then for political power.
Emerging most powerful among the various organizations would be the Grand Army of the
which by 1890 would number 409,489 veterans of the "War of the Rebelion".
Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership was
limited to honorably
discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service
who had served
between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The community level organization was called a
"Post" and each was
numbered consecutivelly within each department. Most Posts also had a name and the rules
for naming Posts
included the requirement that the honored person be deceased and that no two Posts within
the same Department
could have the same name. The Departments generally consisted of the Posts within a state
and, at the national
level, the organization was operated by the elected "Commandery-in-Chief".
Post Commanders were elected as were the Junior and Senior Vice Commanders and the members
Each member was voted into membership using the Masonic system of casting black or white
balls (except that
more than one black ball was required to reject a candidate for membership). When a
candidate was rejected,
that rejection was reported to the Department which listed the rejection in general orders
and those rejections
were maintained in a "Black Book" at each Post meeting place. The meeting
rituals and induction of members
were similar to the Masonic rituals and have been handed down to the Sons of Union
Veterans of the Civil War.
The official body of the Department was the annual Encampment, which was presided over by
Department Commander, Senior and Junior Vice Commanders and the Council. Encampments were
multi-day events which often included camping out, formal dinners and memorial events. In
later years the
Department Encampments were often held in conjunction with the Encampments of the Allied
Camps of the Sons of Veterans Reserve, which at the time were quasi-military in nature,
often listed as a unit of
the state militia or national guard.
National Encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic were presided over by a
was elected in political events which rivaled national political party conventions. The
Senior and Junior Vice
Commander-in-Chief as well as the National Council of Administration were also elected.
The GAR founded soldiers' homes, was active in relief work and in pension legislation.
Five members were
elected President of the United States and, for a time, it was impossible to be nominated
on the Republican ticket
without the endorsement of the GAR voting block.
In 1868, Commander-in-Chief John A. Logan issued General Order No. 11 calling for all
Departments and Posts
to set aside the 30th of May as a day for remembering the sacrifices of fallen comrades,
thereby beginning the
celebration of Memorial Day.
With membership limited strictly to "veterans of the late unpleasantness", the
GAR encouraged the formation of
Allied Orders to aid them in its 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
Veterans of the United
States of America (later to become the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War) as its
heir. A similar, but less
protracted, battle took place between the Womans' Relief Corps (WRC)and the Ladies of the
Grand Army of the
Republic(LGAR) for the title "official auxiliary to the GAR.". That battle was
won by the WRC, which is the only
Allied Order open to women who do not have an hereditary ancestor who would have been
eligible for the GAR.
But in this case the LGAR retained its strength and was made one of the Allied Orders.
Coming along a bit later, the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, similar to the
SUVCW but for
women, also earned the designation as an Allied Order of the GAR. Rounding out the list of
Allied Orders is the
Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which is open to women with
hereditary ties to a
veteran or who is the spouse, sister or daughter of a member of the SUVCW.
The final Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic was held in Indianapolis, Indiana
in 1949 and the last
member, Albert Woolson died in 1956 at the age of 109. Our last living link to the G.A.R.
had answered his final call.