The Grand Army of the Republic: 4 Things You Didn’t Know
Founded in 1866, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was created for Civil War veterans to come together to support, share, and befriend one another. Acting initially as a fraternal order, the GAR steadily grew, with membership peaking over 400,000 in the late 1800’s. The organization had a wide influence on policies, politics, and civil rights. Many of their contributions are still recognized today. Here are the top 4 things you never knew about the Grand Army of the Republic.
Memorial Day is a favorite holiday for many Americans. We use the day to celebrate the fallen veterans that helped fight to keep our country free. Few know Memorial Day originated during the Civil War era. First called Decoration Day, this day was set aside for veterans, families, and civilians to decorate the grave sites of soldiers and servicemen they wished to honor and remember. Believed to be established around 1868, Decoration Day was first suggested by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Historical accounts state that GAR wanted a nationally observed holiday for veterans to attend ceremonies and remembrance services without losing a day’s wage.
As the GAR grew in numbers, so did their political influence. With posts in nearly 7,000 communities and cities, membership included several high-profile figures. Many well-known, well-recognized veterans were part of the GAR, as were five past presidents: Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison and McKinley.
The 23rd President
Speaking of presidents, it is commonly recognized that the Grand Army had a hand at preventing President Grover Cleveland from getting elected a consecutive term. With the increasing number of political, military, and influential members, the GAR set its sights on building pension benefits for veterans. Pension bills went rapidly through Congress, many times a bit too fast to be thoroughly reviewed. Grover Cleveland soon became critical of the numerous pension related policies. Cleveland had long been at odds with the GAR due to his Democratic background. However, when Cleveland blocked the 1887 Dependent Pension Bill, that was the last straw. Grover Cleveland lost his second term reelection due to the complete absence of GAR support. Devoted GAR supporter and member, Benjamin Harrison became the 23rd president instead.
Equal and Civil Rights
While the GAR may have earned a slightly negative reputation for tainting the political arena, their reputation for equality was viewed the opposite. GAR was a primarily male dominated organization; yet two women are known to have been members. Kady Brownell, who served in the Union Army, a private in the 1st and 5th Rhode Island Infantry. And, Sarah Emma Edmonds the other known female member, served in the 2nd Michigan Infantry. But, GAR’s equal rights didn’t end there. They had many, many African-American members throughout the country too. GAR believed in allowing all veterans the same rights to membership.
Whether it was presidential or pension related, the Grand Army of the Republic likely had a hand in helping to get it passed or promoted. Unfortunately, the GAR disbanded in 1949 with the last member dying in 1954. Today, the Sons of Union Veterans acts as the group’s legal successor and historical archive.
Something else you may not have known? The Aid and Attendance pension benefit can help veterans and spouses be able to afford the costs of care, such as assisted living or home care. Find out if you may qualify here.
Written by Brook Appelbaum