Grand Army of the Republic
The development of an organization of Union veterans was the postwar conception of Benjamin Franklin Stephenson of Springfield, Illinois, who had served a two-year enlistment period as surgeon of the Fourteenth Illinois Infantry during the Civil War. The first post, numbering twelve members, was organized and chartered in Decatur, Illinois, on April 6, 1866. By July 12, 1866, when a state convention was held to form the Department of Illinois, thirty-nine posts had been chartered. Interest spread rapidly to adjoining states. Ten states and the District of Columbia were represented at the first national encampment held at Indianapolis on November 20, 1866.
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) quickly became the preeminent veterans' organization formed at the close of the Civil War. Membership reached its peak in 1890, when over 400,000 members were reported. By then the GAR had well over seven thousand posts, ranging in size from fewer than two dozen members in small towns, to more than a thousand in some cities. Almost every prominent veteran was enrolled, including five presidents: Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley.