The Grand Army of the Republic

The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization founded by members of the Union Army that served in the Civil War.  It was founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois and at its height would have hundreds of chapters all across the United States.  (Yes, even in the South!).

They started as a social group but soon became one the first political advocacy groups in the country. By the time it was dissolved,  the organization had advocated for voting rights for black veterans, lobbying Congress for veteran pensions, creating the Memorial Day holiday and setting standards for patriotic  education. They of course dedicated and were responsible for many of the Civil War monuments in the country.

Mostly though it became a strong Republican voting block and with a membership in the 1890’s of almost 400,000, it wielded immense power. In fact since its founding five US Presidents were members of the organization: US Grant, Rutherford B Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley.

Since membership was limited to those that actually served in the war eventually the organization reached a natural end. In 1956 the last  living member (Albert Woolson of Minnesota) passed and the organization was dissolved.  Its main roles were then undertaken by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War that still runs today.