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Grand Army of the Republic

Grand Army of the Republic badge

The G.A.R. was founded in Decatur, Illinois, on April 6, 1866 by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, who established the first Post in a printing office because this group of veterans were about to print his constitution and he wanted them to become members before seeing the document. Membership in the organization was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865.

Local organizations were called Posts, and it was to a Post that a man applied for membership in the G.A.R. The Comrades or members of the Post would vote to accept or reject each applicant, and if a man was rejected from one Post he was banned from joining the organization. Posts from a state or region joined together to form Departments, and the Departments formed the National Organization. At each level the three primary offices were Junior Vice Commander, Senior Vice Commander, and Commander, each of whom was elected by the respective membership. For the National Organization the term “in-Chief” was added to each of these titles. Departments and the National Organization held conventions called Encampments each year. Encampments were the ruling bodies of the G.A.R. and delegates would decide the business of the organization at these meetings.

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.

The G.A.R. 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 bloc.

The G.A.R. reached its peak in 1890, when it had almost 500,000 members. The final Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1949 (with six surviving members), and the last member, Albert Woolson died in 1956 at the age of 109 years.

The traditions of the Grand Army did not die with Comrade Woolson, however. Five Allied Orders of the Grand Army of the Republic were founded in the Nineteenth Century to carry on the work and traditions of the G.A.R.. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Woman’s Relief Corps, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic continue to welcome new members, and each has specific requirements for membership.

The official website of the G.A.R. is

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The Robinson Library >> Civil War Period, 1861-1865 >> General Information

This page was last updated on August 05, 2018.