Grand Army of the Republic

US #985 was issued one day after the GAR’s final encampment in 1949. Click image to order.

On April 6, 1866, in Springfield, Illinois, Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson founded the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) to bring together Civil War veterans.

After the Civil War, state and local organizations were founded throughout the country to help veterans stay in contact with each other.  These organizations were created to provide fellowship and aid to those veterans in need.

US #985 – Classic First Day Cover. Click image to order.

Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson founded the GAR on the principles of “Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty.”  Membership was open to honorably discharged Union veterans of the American Civil War who served between April 12, 1861, and April 9, 1865.  This included members of the Army, Navy, Marines, and US Revenue Cutter Service.

The GAR was founded to provide fellowship among the men who fought to preserve the Union, to honor those killed in the war, to care for veteran dependents, and to preserve the US Constitution.  It established soldiers’ homes, was active in relief work, and lobbied for pension legislation.

US #998 – The United Confederate Veterans was a similar organization founded in the South in 1889. Their final encampment was honored on this 1951 stamp. Click image to order.

They also helped to establish Memorial Day.  On May 5, 1868, the GAR’s commander-in-chief John A. Logan issued a proclamation that May 30 would be Decoration Day, to honor those who died “in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”  He chose the day because it wasn’t the anniversary of any battle and according to some sources because that was the best day for flowers to be in bloom.  There were memorial events in 183 cemeteries in 27 states that year, marking one of America’s earliest Memorial Day celebrations.

The GAR quickly spread across the country.  They were the first integrated society of their kind, gladly welcoming black Union veterans into their midst.  They also had significant political power and were a major advocate for the Republican Party, especially during the Reconstruction Era.  They were partly responsible for the elections of Presidents Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley.  At its peak in 1890, the GAR had over 490,000 members.

US #1180 was issued for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Click image to order.

The GAR helped preserve the Gettysburg Battlefield, paving the way for it to later become a national park.  They also held some of their encampments there.  Among these was one held for the 50th anniversary of the battle, which was attended by more than 50,000 Union and Confederate Veterans.

US #2420 was issued for the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the National Association of Letter Carriers. Click image to order.

The GAR held encampments all over the country every year since it’s founding.  These encampments were multi-day events involving meetings, formal dinners, memorial events, and camping.  At the 1889 encampment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, local letter carriers came together to discuss their issues.  At the time, the cries of city postal workers for eight-hour days, increased pay, and better working conditions were ignored by politicians.  At the encampment, 60 postal workers met and adopted a resolution to form the National Association of Letter Carriers.

US #570 – The GAR was a driving force behind the construction of the Arlington Amphitheatre.  Click image to order.

The Final Encampment of the GAR was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1949.  Only 16 members were still alive, with six present at the meeting.  At the final campfire, the colors (flag) of the GAR were retired for the last time, and a Marine Band bugler played “Taps.”  Its last member was Albert Woolson, who died in 1956 at the age of 109.  The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War later succeeded the GAR.

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5 responses to "Grand Army of the Republic"

5 thoughts on “Grand Army of the Republic”

  1. In this digital age, the so called information age, the only reason that anyone doesn’t have knowledge of something is either the lack of curiosity, interest or the will to learn.. The access to all knowledge is unprecedented in history. The internet was created to allow the sharing of information by scientists and ultimately it expanded into the private sector. Regardless of your search engine, you simply need to “Google” something and you’ll be directed to a rediculous number of places to go for an answer. I find it to be a perfect way to spend idle time and much more productive than some mindless tv program. Research suggests that using your head for something besides a hatrack helps combat dementia and is very, very, interesting and fun too. If you have questions, now is the time to get answers. You can always wait for Mystic to deliver answers to questions you didn’t ask right to your inbox. While it’s interesting, there’s so much more.

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  2. Great article on the GAR and the Postal Carriers. Being a Civil War buff I admit I did not know very much about these organizations. It was my perfect History Lesson for today. Thanks again for all the great History Lessons you provide me and others every day. Keep up the great work!!!!

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  3. It’s too bad that a lot of history is now considered racist…we as a country are still having after effects of this horrible civil war an way too many of post war memorials are considered racist… Although the war only lasted 4 years, it was a combination of decades of white supremacy an we as a country still feel the effects of cultural bias no matter which way we individually believe.

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