The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)
was founded in Decatur, Illinois on April
6, 1866 by Dr. 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. It became the largest
and most prominent organization of Union
veterans of the Civil War numbering over
400,000 by 1890. Five US presidents: Grant,
Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley
were members of the GAR.
The GAR built its organization upon three
principles: fraternity, charity and loyalty.
To promote its second objective, charity,
the veterans set up a fund for the relief of
needy veterans, widows, and orphans.
This fund was used for medical, burial and
housing expenses, and for purchases of
food and household goods. Loans were
arranged, and sometimes the veterans
found work for the needy. The GAR was
active in promoting soldiers' and orphans'
homes; through its efforts, soldiers' homes
were established in sixteen states and
orphanages in seven states by 1890. Many
soldiers' homes were later transferred to
the federal government.
In 1868, Commander-in-Chief John A.
Logan issued General Order No. 11 calling
for all Departments and Posts to set aside
the 30th of May as a day for remembering
the sacrifices of fallen comrades. Originally
known as Remembrance Day the name
was changed to Memorial Day and
unfortunately the date was changed to the
last Monday of May to mark the beginning
With membership limited strictly to
"veterans of the late unpleasantness," the
GAR endorsed the Sons of Veterans of the
United States of America (later to become
the SUVCW) as its heir in 1881 to ensure
the preservation of their own mission after
Union war veterans had all died. The
Womans' Relief Corps (WRC) organized
on a national basis in 1883 and was the
"official auxiliary to the GAR."
The final Encampment of the Grand Army
of the Republic was held in Indianapolis,
Indiana in 1949 and the last member,
Albert Woolson died in 1956 at the age of
109 years. Its records went to the Library of
Congress, Washington, D.C., and its
badges, flags, and official seal went to the