Monday, September 20, 2010

The Grand Army of the Republic

As Union soldiers from the Civil War proceeded to head home in 1865 after fighting to preserve the United States Government they found themselves in a totally different and at some times equally desperate situation. Many of these men were unemployed and broke, seeking jobs and waiting on promises that the government would take care of them without any idea on how and when it was coming. Equally troubling was the loneliness in which these men experienced. Near the end of the war units from various states and towns were forced to combine giving men the opportunity to fight along side others from different regions of the country. Organizations of veterans began to join together to satisfy these needs. The most powerful of these groups which formed became known as the Grand Army of the Republic, founded on the principle of "Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty."

Founded by Benjamin F Stevenson on April 6, 1866, the GAR grew at first as an arm of the Republican Party during the period of Reconstruction. As trouble with the Republican Party increased in the late 1860s, early 1870s the GAR slowly fell apart and nearly vanished. However, under new leadership and a recommitment to its own values as well as a new organizational structure the membership and power of the GAR increased greatly by the 1880s. By 1890 the GAR saw its largest membership reaching nearly 500,000 and their power at its highest having helped elect five U.S. Presidents after the Civil War who were all members of the Grand Army of the Republic. The final encampment, or ruling body meeting, of the Grand Army of the Republic was held in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1949 with only six surviving members left. The final member of the GAR died in 1956 and there by the organization died with him. 

During its existence the Grand Army was a powerful organization, especially in the 1880s through the 1900s. In some areas it was near impossible to get elected to a political office unless you were a member of the organization. Being a veteran of the Civil War meant a lot and to prove that you were you basically had to be a member of the GAR. In addition they worked diligently in getting quality pensions for all veterans of the Civil War. With a strong membership it allowed them to apply large amounts of pressure on local, state, federal governments. The Grand Army of the Republic is also known for establishing General Orders No. 11 which established Memorial Day. In 1868, John A Logan who was leading the GAR at the time put forth the idea which came in a letter from a member in Cincinnati, Ohio. The notion was that every May 30 flowers would be strewn on the graves of soldiers who died in the defense of their country during the Civil War. This was eventually adopted by the United States Government and turned into the last Monday of May in which we remember all soldiers who have died in the line of duty.

Little is usually said about the Grand Army of the Republic and everything they did for the veterans of this country. Memorials have been placed throughout the country in honor of this organization and of the men who died in the war. One of these memorials is U.S. Highway 6, which stretches nearly completely across the country is named after this organization. In fact if you drive down this highway today you will find signs that identify it as a memorial highway to the Grand Army of the Republic. Visit the memorial highway by finding this geocache which I hid for everyone to find.

Geocache Link:

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