Administrative History

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a large multi-faceted organization (fraternal lodge, charitable society, special interest lobby, patriotic group, and political club) founded in 1866 by Union Army Surgeon Benjamin Franklin Stephenson. The organization was originally envisioned as a brotherhood of veterans who were dedicated to helping other veterans.

The first post was established at Decatur, Illinois in April 1866. Soon after a second post was organized in Springfield, Illinois, and others began to emerge throughout the northeastern states. By September of 1866, following a mass meeting of Civil War veterans in Pittsburgh, the movement began to spread east with the establishment of GAR posts by ex-union soldiers.

Each post, which presided over the area of one city, town, county, etc. was set up similar to a Union Army encampment. Every post had "sentries" at the door, in order to go to another post you needed a "transfer;" members could be "court-martialed" as well as "dishonorably discharged." The post-commander would act as general officer, and would report to the departmental commander (assistant-adjutant general), who was in charge of all the posts in one state. He in turn would report to the national-commander (adjutant general). Every post in America was to adopt the same rituals and constitution.

This military system only lasted until 1869, at which time it was replaced by a fraternal order fashioned after the Masonic lodges. This form of organization, with its grading system and strict rules, did not appeal to the vast majority of veterans, and therefore, membership plummeted. This was to change during the late 1870's because of changes in the organizational structure and the demise of the grading system. As a result of these changes, the GAR's membership rose sharply in the 1880's.

The GAR was a powerful political organization with ties to the Republican Party. It was through the GAR, and the pension lobby, that many soldiers and their families received pensions. The Grand Army of the Republic also promoted patriotism through parades, national encampments, placement of war memorials, and the establishment of Memorial Day as a national holiday.