Grand Army of the Republic
John Patterson Rea
Commander-in-Chief 1887 / 1888

The Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, John P. Rea, was elected to that position in the latter part of the year of 1887, succeeding Gen. Lucius Fairchild. Mr. Rea is a native of the state of Pennsylvania, being born October 14, 1840 in Lower Oxford Township, in Chester county of that state.

His father was a woolen manufacturer in that place, and owned the factory. The son John here received his education, attending school until he was twenty years of age. Then he went to Piqua, in the state of Ohio, where he taught school until the breaking out of the Civil War [Other sources indicate that he was a student at Wesleyan College during this period]. John P. Rea then took up the cause of the Union and became a member of Company B of the Eleventh Ohio Infantry. After serving with this company for four months, he was commissioned second lieutenant of Company I, First Ohio Cavalry; was promoted to first lieutenant in 1862, and in the following year to the rank of major. He served in the regiment about three years and a half, and during that time was absent only ten days,--seven as prisoner and three days on sick leave.

At last the war was over, and John P. Rea returned to Ohio. Entering the Wesleyan college at Delaware in that state, he graduated therefrom in the classical course in June, 1864. During the vacation of 1866 he entered a law office at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a student, and was admitted to the bar there in August, 1868. Then becoming associated with a prominent lawyer, he began the practice of the law; and in 1869 was appointed a notary public in Lancaster [The prominent lawyer was M. J. Dickey who replaced the late Thaddeus Stevens as Representative to the U. S. House of Representatives. Rea later made a bid for the seat but lost to the incumbent].

On April 12, 1869, Mr. Rea was appointed assessor of internal revenue, by President Grant, for the ninth district of Pennsylvania, which office he held until it was abolished by law in 1873. In 1869 he was married; but no children have blessed the union of this pair. Mr. Rea continued in the practice of the law in Lancaster until December, 1875, when he removed to Minneapolis, where he became editor-in-chief of a prominent newspaper [the Minneapolis Tribune]. He continued as editor until May, 1877, when he again resumed the practice of law.

In November of the same year he was elected judge of probate, and served in that capacity for four years with the greatest ability. When, in April, 1886, the judge resigned his seat on the bench of the local district court, Governor Hubbard appointed Judge Rea to fill the vacancy.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic has as always been a prominent man in that body, and is a member and past commander of the well known George N. Morgan post He was also a charter member of the Gen. George H. Thomas Post 84, Department of Pennsylvania, in 1867. In politics, Mr. Rea is a republican, and is considered a true friend of that party.

During January and February, 1888, Commander-in-Chief Rea made an official trip throughout the Eastern and Western states, visiting all the principal cities. The eastern trip lasted about six weeks, and several weeks were spent in the west. He was received with enthusiasm everywhere, and accorded dazzling receptions.

He is buried beneath a monument in the Little Britain Presbyterian Church cemetery in Southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about three miles west of his place of birth.

Source: Prominent Men and Women of the Day
Copyright: 1888 A. B. Gehman & Co.
Author/Editor: Thos. W. Herringshaw


John Patterson Rea, the 16th commander-in-chief, was born in Lower Oxford, Chester County, Pennsylvania, October 13, 1840. He was a charter member of the GAR Post in Piqua, Ohio, in December 1866, also a charter member of Post 84 at Lancaster, Pa. He later served as Commander of George N. Morgan Post No. 4. He was elected Commander-in-Chief at St. Louis in 1887 and died at Nicollet Island, Minnesota, May 28, 1900.

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