Carolyn's Daily Posts: 2011

February 24, 2011

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)



     Charles French Walker was a member in good standing of The Grand Army of the Republic.

     While attempting to locate paperwork proving he is buried in East Lamoine Cemetery in East Lamoine, Maine, I was led to this organization, commonly known as the GAR. I’d never heard about it, so I did my typical—I went to the Internet to research the subject.

     Civil War units, whose members shared a strong, common bond, became less homogeneous when the war ended. Many of the troops, who survived due to advances in the care and movement of the wounded, returned home to be cared for by community structures weary from the protracted war, and burdened with the needs of widows and orphans. Added to these burdens were a number of freed colored soldiers and their families.

     The fragile fabric of the communities were stretched beyond their limits.

     This was the situation faced by State and federal leaders, from President Lincoln down, who had promised to care for “those who have borne the burden, his widows and orphans,” but they had little knowledge of how to accomplish the task. There was also little political pressure to see that the promises were kept.

     Probably the most profound post-war emotion was emptiness of men who had lived together, fought together, foraged together and survived. These men had developed an unique bond that could not be broken.

     As time went by the memories of the filthy and vile environment of camp life began to be remembered less harshly and eventually fondly. The horror and gore of battle lifted with the smoke and smell of burnt black powder and was replaced with the personal rain of tears for the departed comrades. Friendships forged in battle survived the separation and the warriors missed the warmth of trusting companionship that had asked only total and absolute commitment.

     Groups of men began joining together–first for camaraderie and then for political power. Emerging most powerful among the various organizations would be the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which by 1890 would number 409,489 veterans of the “War of the Rebelion.”

     Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The community level organization was called a “Post” and each was numbered consecutively within each department. Most Posts also had a name and the rules for naming Posts included the requirement that the honored person be deceased and that no two Posts within the same Department could have the same name.

     The Departments generally consisted of the Posts within a state and, at the national level, the organization was operated by the elected “Commandery-in-Chief.”

     The GAR was, without a doubt, a powerful political organization. It has been described by many as a “bloody shirt Republican club,” and while this may be true, it is overshadowed by the organization’s patriotic and social work. It was through the GAR, and the pension lobby, that many soldiers and their families received pensions. The Grand Army also promoted patriotism through parades, national encampments, placement of war memorials, and the establishment of Memorial Day as a national holiday.


     Although I acquired a letter about Charles F. Walker from his GAR Post, it did not contain the information I needed to obtain a Civil War Veteran’s cemetery stone for my ancestor.

     However, I learned about an organization that I hadn’t been aware existed.




RIGHTING A CIVIL WAR WRONG: A Gravestone for a Civil War Veteran

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