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The G.A.R. and Pensions

The G.A.R. and Pensions

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Many in American society were tiring of the drain on public funds, which was occasioned by the Union veteran pension program. Clearly the system was riddled with corruption, but Congress seemed incapable of denying assistance to the powerful voting bloc represented by the G.A.R.When a claimant was denied a pension through the regular procedure, an appeal could be made to a friendly Congressman, who would often introduce a special bill for the veteran. President Grover Cleveland, unlike his predecessors, subjected these bills to close inspection and vetoed hundreds of them. and many in Congress.In 1887, Congress passed a Dependent Pension Bill that provided benefits for all veterans with disabilities, even if their physical problems were not war-related or developed years after the conflict. Good guess, Grover.

The G.A.R. and Pensions - History


During the Civil War, Dr. Benjamin Franklin STEPHENSON, pictured at right, of Springfield, Illinois served his two-year enlistment as a surgeon of the Fourteenth Illinois Infantry. He is credited with the conception and development of a post-war organization [G.A.R.] of Union veterans, based partly on military tradition and partly on the traditions of Freemasonry. The first Grand Army of the Republic post was organized and chartered on April 6, 1866 in Decatur, Illinois with twelve charter members. When an Illinois state convention was held on July 12, 1866, thirty-nine posts had been organized and chartered. With rapid interest in other adjoining states, ten states and the District of Columbia were represented at the first national encampment on November 20, 1866, which was held at Indianapolis, Indiana.

During the peak year of the G.A.R. organization in 1890, membership numbered approximately 490,000 veterans. There were over 7,000 posts ranging in size from a couple of dozen members in small town posts to more than a thousand members in posts located in major American cities. Virtually every prominent Veteran held a membership in a G.A.R. post along with five Presidents of the United States - Ulysses S. GRANT (1869-1877), Rutherford B. HAYES (1877-1881), James A. GARFIELD (1881-1881), Benjamin HARRISON (1889-1893), and William McKINLEY (1897-1901).

In 1868, General Order #11 of the G.A.R. called for May 30th to be designated as "Decoration Day," a day of memorial for fallen soldiers. The wife of General John A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief of the G.A.R., had been moved by the women in Virginia decorating the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers. Taking his wife's observations [perhaps her suggestions?], General LOGAN requested that members of all G.A.R. posts to decorate the graves of their fallen comrades with flowers on May 30, 1868. "Decoration Day" eventually evolved into today's Nationally observed Memorial Day.

During its time, the organization wielded considerable political clout. Between the years 1868 to 1908, no Republicans were nominated to the United States Presidency without endorsement from the G.A.R. Due to influence from the G.A.R. retirement homes were established for soldiers, legislation for veteran pensions were passed, and Old Soldier Homes were established. These early activities later evolved into the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 1862 President Abraham LINCOLN approved a bill which granted pensions for soldiers who were premanently disabled during their military service. An act which liberalized the condition of veteran pensions was passed in 1879. G.A.R. sponsored pension bills decided the fate of presidential elections with Grover CLEVELAND losing his re-electing in 1888 due to his veto of a Dependent Pension Bill, and Benjamin HARRISON's presidential win with his commitment to support soldier pension legislation. The Disability Pension Act of 1890 expanded the scope of veteran's pensions to include every veteran who had served a minimum of ninety-days military service and some type of disability not necessarily incurred as a result of War.

Many of the G.A.R.'s activities helped to reunite a fractured divided nation, with members spending considerable time in soliciting funds for monuments and memorials embracing and encouraging the preservation of Civil War sites, relics, and historical documents donations of battle-stained flags to local and state museums and encouraging the placement of cannons and battlefield-pieces in courthouse lawns and local parks.

There was a National Encampment every year from 1866 to 1949. At the final encampment, the few remaining surviving G.A.R. members voted to retain the existing officer in place until the dissolution of the organization. Theodore PENLAND of Oregon retained his position as the G.A.R. Commander-in-Chief until his death. The last surviving member was Albert WOOLSON who died in 1956. With his death, the G.A.R. records were donated to the Library of Congress while the badges, flags, and offical seal went to the Smithsonian Institute. Iowa's G.A.R. documents and assorted materials are housed at the University of Iowa's Library Collections in Iowa City.

The G.A.R. uniform, as pictured at right, consisted of a double-brested, dark blue coat with bronze button and a black wide-brimmed felt hat with a gold wreath insignia and cord, although many G.A.R. members wore hats similar to their Army-issued hats worn during their military service. Lapel insignias were a bronze star badge which was attached to a small chiffon flag. The star depicted a soldier and sailor clasping hands in from of a figure of Liberty. The men referred to one another as "Comrade."

The Department of Iowa G.A.R. was organized September 26, 1866, Davenport, Iowa, with J. B. LOCKE elected Commander. At this time, Iowa had 45 posts and approximately 350 members. Membership grew to 408 posts and 19,400 members. Iowa G.A.R. encampments were held annually in April.

The last surviving Civil War Veteran in the State of Iowa was James P. MARTIN, who died in a little frame house he shared with his widowed daughter Mrs. Elise HILL in Sutherland, Iowa, on September 20, 1949, at the age of 101 years. Mr. MARTIN vividly remembered carrying the news of President LINCOLN's assissination to Fort Lyon, Virginia, but his participation in the Battle of Gettysburg and other skirmishes had faded from his memory during his last years. Mr. MARTIN was one of the last G.A.R. members in the United States.

James P. MARTIN was born November 10, 1847, in Scotland and came to the United States at the age of five with his family. They settled in Wisconsin. He was sixteen-years-old when he enlisted from his residence at Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and served in the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery. Four of his brothers also served the State of Wisconsin during the Civil War. All five brothers survived to come home after the War.

Mr. MARTIN, his wife, Mary Elizabeth BRADY, formerly of LeRoy, Kansas, and his seven children moved to Iowa in 1886, settling on a farm located 5 miles east of Sutherland, Iowa. Mrs. MARTIN died in 1916. Mr. MARTIN lived with his widowed daughter since 1936.

Mr. MARTIN was named Iowa State Commander-in- Chief of the G.A.R. Department of Iowa in 1947, suceeding John M. GRUDGEL who had died in Shenandoah on March 22, 1947 at the age of 99 years. On June 20, 1949 Ebenezer G. McMURRAY of Iowa City died at the age of 102, leaving Mr. MARTIN the only surviving Civil War Veteran residing in Iowa.

Mr. MARTIN marched in every Memorial Day parade until 1946, his last public appearance. He was still driving his car at age 94 and continued to work in his garden until he was 97. Ill health prevented him from attending the Last Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Indianapolis, Indiana, in August of 1949.

When the end came, Mr. MARTIN was attended by his daughter Mrs. Hill and the family doctor at his bedside. Mr. MARTIN left six surviving children: Mrs. HILL and Mrs. Mary A. THEISEN, both of Sutherland, Iowa Clyde MARTIN of Calument, Iowa William R. MARTIN of Kalispell, Montana James B. MARTIN of Hoquiam, Washington, and Mrs. R. E. LAMPMAN of Merced Falls, California 28 grandchildren 51 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. Mr. MARTIN was interred with full military honors and Masonic Services. Attending the funeral were Miss Amy NOLL of Des Moines, Secretary of the State of Iowa Grand Army of the Republic, Governor William S. BEARDSLEY, and Brigade General Charles H. GRAH. The Allied Orders of the Grand Army of the Republic [Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Woman's Relief Corps, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, and Auxiliary of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War] placed a monument in memory of James P. MARTIN in the town of Sutherland, Iowa.

Compiled by Sharon R. Becker, March of 2009


Several G.A.R. auxiliary organizations were established to help carry on the work which the organization had begun. The Woman's Relief Corps was nationally organized in 1883 the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic was established in 1896 and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War was founded in 1881.

The United Confederate Veterans was founded in New Orleans in 1889, partly as a campaign to perserve Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Parks. Sons of Confederate Veterans was established in Richmond, Virginia in 1896.

Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Des Moines 1861-1865
7 Tents organized September 8, 1915 at Burlington, Chariton, Des Moines, Mason City, Mt. Pleasant, Ottumwa, and Waterloo, Iowa.

Kinsman Woman's Relief Corps No. 24, Des Moines Iowa

Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, Dubuque, Iowa

Son of Union Veterans of the Civil War

Woman's Relief Corps, Davenport, Iowa 1886-1932

Woman's Relief Corps, Des Moines, Iowa 1884-1934

Compiled by Sharon R. Becker, March of 2009

Ellis G Miller Post

On November 3, 1880, eighteen veterans of the Civil War started the Ellis G. MILLER Post, Grand Army of the Republic. It was named for Lieutenant Miller who had enlisted in Company G, Fourth Iowa Infantry, and was killed at the battle of Chickasaw Bayou at Vicksburg, Mississippi, December 29, 1862. MILLER had been the first commissioned officer from Mount Ayr to died in Service. By July 1926 the post membership had reached 246.

SOURCE: Ringgold County History, Complied and written by the Iowa Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Iowa, Sponsored by Ringgold County Superintendent of Schools, Mount Ayr, Iowa. p. 43. 1942.

Heirs of the G.A.R.

Especially from 1865 through the 1880’s the Grand Army members feared the public forgetting about the war. If people were too quick to forget or allow the Confederate rebels to rise up again then their sacrifice and loss would have been for nothing. G.A.R. members, for the most part, rejected any notion that soldiers in the Confederate army were serving honorably, although they were sometimes able to muster sympathy for great generals who they fought well and may have simply been misguided by following orders. Confederate veterans were unable to apply for federal pensions, the only financial aid they could receive was from state sponsored programs and that was still significantly less than Union veterans were able to receive. Although Union veterans protested to former Confederates gathering they were still able to form their own organizations there were White Leagues and Rifle Clubs, The Survivors Association of the State of South Carolina and The Southern Historical Society were some. These organizations allowed for hate to grow in the already angry and desperate.

While the Grand Army of the Republic was one of the strongest and most influential the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ National Union League and The United Service Society were other major Union veteran organizations. Following in the Grand Army’s footsteps was the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The G.A.R. had been created with the intention of not having the organization be hereditary but veterans realized they would need their legacy and practices carried on. In 1881 they formed the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America, later renamed to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) in 1924. This organization granted membership to any man who was related to a G.A.R. member, or an honorably discharged union soldier who would have been eligible for G.A.R. membership, although it later allowed in men who had a genuine interest in the group and its history. All the organizations directly linked to the G.A.R. were called the Allied Order.

Similar women’s organizations were created for women related to a veteran or who was a spouse, sister or daughter of the SUVCW. These organizations are the Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Woman’s Relief Corps, and the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. These organizations allowed women to take part in the history of the Civil War veterans in a way that was close to the fraternal secret orders but still a safe space away.

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                          A Brief History of the G.A.R.

                          Home / History / A Brief History of the G.A.R.

                          A Brief History of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.)

                          By: Glenn B. Knight Past Department Commander, Department of Pennsylvania Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War

                          In early 1866 the United States of America–now securely one nation again–was waking to the reality of recovery from war, and this had been a much different war.In previous conflicts the care of the veteran warrior was the province of the family or the community. Soldiers then were friends, relatives and neighbors who went off to fight–until the next planting or harvest. It was a community adventure and their fighting unit had a community flavor.
                          By the end of the Civil War, units had become less homogeneous, men from different communities and even different states were forced together by the exigencies of battle where new friendships and lasting trust was forged. With the advances in the care and movement of the wounded, many who would have surely died in earlier wars returned home to be cared for by a community structure weary from a protracted war and now also faced with the needs of widows and orphans. Veterans needed jobs, including a whole new group of veterans–the colored soldier and his entire, newly freed, family.
                          It was often more than the fragile fabric of communities could bear.

                          State and federal leaders from President Lincoln down 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. But probably the most profound emotion was emptiness. Men who had lived together, fought together, foraged together and survived, 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 committment.

                          With that as background, 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 consecutivelly 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”.

                          Post Commanders were elected as were the Junior and Senior Vice Commanders and the members of Council.
                          Each member was voted into membership using the Masonic system of casting black or white balls (except that
                          more than one black ball was required to reject a candidate for membership). When a candidate was rejected,
                          that rejection was reported to the Department which listed the rejection in general orders and those rejections
                          were maintained in a “Black Book” at each Post meeting place. The meeting rituals and induction of members
                          were similar to the Masonic rituals and have been handed down to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

                          The official body of the Department was the annual Encampment, which was presided over by the elected
                          Department Commander, Senior and Junior Vice Commanders and the Council. Encampments were elaborate
                          multi-day events which often included camping out, formal dinners and memorial events. In later years the
                          Department Encampments were often held in conjunction with the Encampments of the Allied Orders, including
                          Camps of the Sons of Veterans Reserve, which at the time were quasi-military in nature, often listed as a unit of
                          the state militia or national guard.

                          National Encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic were presided over by a Commander-in-Chief who
                          was elected in political events which rivaled national political party conventions. The Senior and Junior Vice
                          Commander-in-Chief as well as the National Council of Administration were also elected.

                          The GAR founded soldiers’ homes, was active in relief work and in pension legislation. Five members were
                          elected President of the United States and, for a time, it was impossible to be nominated on the Republican ticket
                          without the endorsement of the GAR voting block.

                          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, thereby beginning the
                          celebration of Memorial Day.

                          With membership limited strictly to “veterans of the late unpleasantness”, the GAR encouraged the formation of
                          Allied Orders to aid them in its various works. Numerous male organizations jousted for the backing of the GAR
                          and the political battles became quite severe until the GAR finally endorsed the Sons of Veterans of the United
                          States of America (later to become the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War) as its heir. A similar, but less
                          protracted, battle took place between the Womans’ Relief Corps (WRC)and the Ladies of the Grand Army of the
                          Republic(LGAR) for the title “official auxiliary to the GAR.”. That battle was won by the WRC, which is the only
                          Allied Order open to women who do not have an hereditary ancestor who would have been eligible for the GAR.
                          But in this case the LGAR retained its strength and was made one of the Allied Orders.

                          Coming along a bit later, the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, similar to the SUVCW but for
                          women, also earned the designation as an Allied Order of the GAR. Rounding out the list of Allied Orders is the
                          Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which is open to women with hereditary ties to a
                          veteran or who is the spouse, sister or daughter of a member of the SUVCW.

                          Photo, Print, Drawing [Unidentified African American Civil War veteran of G.A.R. Col. John W. Patterson Post no. 151 of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] / Edward Homann Jr., cor. 14th & Carson Sts., S.S., Pittsburg, Pa. digital file from original, front

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                          • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
                          • Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-53400 (digital file from original, front)
                          • Call Number: LOT 14043-2, no. 549 [P&P]
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                          POSTCARDY: the postcard explorer

                          The 40th National Encampment of the Grand Army or the Republic was held in Minneapolis in 1906. The postcards above show two views of 1906 GAR parade. An article in the Minneapolis Tribune on August 16, 1906 reported that 16,000 men representing G. A. R. eagerly participated in "one of the greatest parades ever seen at annual encampment." The parade included 29 bands and 32 drum corps and took 3 hours and 20 minutes to pass a given point. Parade Day was a municipal holiday in Minneapolis, and thousands packed the streets to pay homage to the "heroes of '61."

                          A newspaper article on August 17 claimed that it was the unanimous opinion of Grand Army men then in Minneapolis, that the annual parade of the veteran soldiers be discontinued because it strained the endurance of the old soldiers. However the GAR parades continued for 30 more years.

                          A 1936 article in Time magazine described that year's parade (which was supposed to be the last parade) as follows:

                          The 1937 encampment was held in Madison, Wisconsin. At the 1937 Encampment, 192 veterans attended the proceedings, and 122 hardy Grand Army veterans marched around the Capitol Square.

                          The last surviving member of the Grand Old Army was Albert Woolson of Duluth, Minnesota. He died on August 2, 1956 at the age of 109. He had gone to war as a drummer boy when he was 17.

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                          Contributed by Maine Historical Society

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                          This record was added to Maine Memory Network through the efforts of a student at Smith College.


                          The Maine Central Railroad Company offered round-trip tickets to the sixty-third annual national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, which was held in Portland from September 8 to 13, 1929. G.A.R. encampments typically lasted several days and included committee meetings as well as recreational events such as parades, concerts, formal dinners, and memorial services.

                          The 1929 national encampment was the second held in Portland, and 1,221 voting members were in attendance. Total membership in 1929 was 26,219. Commander in chief John Reese presided over meetings beginning on September 11th in the city auditorium. The 63rd national encampment marked the second year in a row that the general public was allowed to view meetings from the gallery, as a show of gratitude to the city of Portland for hosting the G.A.R. In these proceedings, representatives discussed the establishment of headquarters, veteran pensions, and the formation of future committees. Representatives voted to establish headquarters in Worcester, Mass. for the following year.


                          About This Item

                          • Title: G.A.R. National Encampment announcement, Portland, 1929
                          • Creator: Maine Central Railroad
                          • Creation Date: 1929
                          • Subject Date: 1929
                          • Town: Portland
                          • County: Cumberland
                          • State: ME
                          • Media: Ink on paper
                          • Dimensions: 45.5 cm x 17.5 cm
                          • Local Code: Coll. 1873, Box 1/19
                          • Collection: Maine Central Railroad Company excursion broadsides
                          • Object Type: Text

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                          The G.A.R. and Pensions - History

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                          This group of medals and ribbons from the National Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War belonged to Maria Olmstead Eldred (1842-1928,) who served as an army nurse in Falls Church, Virginia, in 1864. She received a government pension for her services and is generally credited with nine month’s service, though it is said she initially journeyed there to take care of her husband, George W. Olmste(a)d, a member of Co. D 13 th NY Cavalry, who enlisted again at age 24 at Pierrepont, NY, on 8/7/64, mustered in as a private 9/3/64, and was discharged for disability on 2/19/1865 at Camp Lowell, Prospect Hill, Va. His service with the unit is shy of the nine months with which she is credited, but George was sick in the brigade hospital from 9/23/64, and she might well have hurried to join him. He had previously served as a musician in Co. C, 92 nd NY, enlisting 10/23/61, but returning home after six months on a sick leave, going back to the regiment, being taken sick again and discharged 10/1/62. After his discharge, in February 1865, he returned home to Pierrepont, where he applied for an invalid pension in July and died in March 1866 at age 25, leaving Maria with a young son, who died two years later. She remarried to Holden Eldred, some years her senior in 1873, with whom she had a daughter. Her second husband died in 1908. When she died in 1928 “Army Nurse” was engraved below her name on their joint tombstone.

                          The National Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War 1861 – 1865 had several different names during its history, but was started by Dorothea Dix in 1881 as a regional group and expanded to a national organization in 1892, though it did not start holding official meetings as part of the GAR national encampments under that title until 1895.

                          This grouping includes an original circa 1900-1910 photograph of Maria Olmstead Eldred, which was published in the July 1969 issue of “The Quarterly” published by the St. Lawrence (NY) County Hist. Assoc., and includes a page from a 1984 issue with another later photograph of her with a short biography, including the detail that her maiden name was Eastman.

                          The group also includes A) a ribbon for the 20 th annual convention of the “Army Nurses of the Civil War” at the 48 th National Encampment of the GAR at Detroit in 1914. Black lettering and photo of the soldiers and sailor’s monument in Detroit on cream color silk ribbon. Exc. B) Delegate badge for the National Association of Army Nurses at the 1914 GAR convention. GAR delegate white metal pin back at top with bust of the national commander. Mustard color ribbon with white lettering. White metal drop with paddled vessel and clouds overhead with “Detroit” at bottom.

                          C, D & E) Three ribbons for meetings of the Army Nurses association at the 57 th , 58 th and 60 th annual encampments of the GAR (1923, 1924, and 1926.) All show the badge of the organization over its title with date and location of the National GAR encampments at bottom. Black text on cream colored silk. The first two show shredding. The third is very good. F) A badge for the 1915 GAR 49 th annual encampment at Washington, DC. Red, white and blue ribbon with “Army Nurse” in white, suspended from bar and pin back clasp with red, white and blue enamel GAR encampment in raised letters and round medal with image of the Capitol and Washington monument. G) 1909 Gettysburg 43 rd National GAR Encampment badge with oval Lincoln portrait at center of pin bar, with celluloid image of white flowers, on a nice gold ribbon, with a drop with red cross on white background, with “National Convention” in raised letters. Some losses to the red cross, otherwise vg.

                          This is an interesting grouping from a relatively unheralded group of women who aided in the preservation of the Union as much as the men fighting in the ranks. [sr] [ph:L]



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