Grand Army of the Republic

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army who served in the American Civil War. The GAR was among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics. It was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW).

After the end of American Civil War, organizations were formed for veterans to network and maintain connections with each other. Many of the veterans wished to keep in contact with each other, using their shared experiences as a basis for fellowship. Groups of men began joining together, first for camaraderie and later for political power. Emerging most powerful among the various organizations was the Grand Army of the Republic, founded on the principles of "Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty," in Decatur, Illinois, on April 6, 1866, 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. The commemoration of Union veterans, black and white, immediately became entwined with partisan politics. The GAR did promote voting rights for black veterans, extolling 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 departments 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 reestablished itself, black veterans joined in significant numbers and organized local posts. Unfortunately, the issue of pensions for black soldiers was not pressed. Most black troops never received any pension or renumeration 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.

The GAR's political power grew during the latter part of the 19th century and it helped elect several United States presidents, beginning with Ulysses S. Grant and ending with William McKinley. 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.

With membership strictly limited 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 Union Veterans of the Civil War as its heir.

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. (source: Wikipedia)

Initiation Ritual
Initiation Ritual of the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic