Grand Army of the Republic
Benjamin Stephenson founded the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) on April 6, 1866, in Decatur, Illinois. Stephenson intended to form an organization of veterans of the American Civil War that would provide them with political influence and opportunities to meet socially. Any veteran who was honorably discharged from the United States Army, Navy, and Marine Corps qualified for membership.
The GAR created individual posts at the local level across the United States. These posts reported to a department. The department usually included all of the posts within a state. The departments reported to the national GAR organization. Many of its practices were similar to the Masonic orders, including how members elected officials. Departments held encampments every year, where members came together to discuss the future goals of the organization. The various departments sent representatives to national encampments as well. The GAR established retirement homes and provided financial assistance to disabled or destitute veterans. The organization lobbied the United States Congress for pensions for the former soldiers as well. The GAR was politically powerful in the years following the Civil War. Five presidents of the United States were members of this organization. During the late nineteenth century, the Republican Party refused to run a candidate without the GAR's endorsement. At its peak, more than 400,000 veterans belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic.
The GAR was very strong in Ohio. The state encampments attracted thousands of veterans and their supporters. Numerous GAR retirement homes existed in the state. One GAR home became the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home in 1870. The GAR established the home in 1869, and the state government assumed control of it in 1870 to provide Ohio veterans and their children with assistance.
The GAR continued to operate until 1956, when the final member died at the age of 109. The last national encampment had occurred seven years earlier in 1949. The Grand Army of the Republic was responsible for making Memorial Day a national holiday.
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