Members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Visiting Mount Vernon, September 21, 1892 / THF254036
The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was a fraternal society founded in 1866 for Civil War veterans from the Union Army. Earlier this year, Collections Specialist Laura Myles shared some artifacts from our collections related to the G.A.R., and also explained their relationship with Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day), as part of our History Outside the Box series on The Henry Ford’s Instagram channel. On the first Friday of every month, our collections experts share stories from our collection on Instagram—but if you missed this particular episode, you can watch it below.
Artwork Used in a Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall in Bath, Maine, circa 1866 / THF119558
Following the end of the Civil War, numerous fraternal veterans’ societies were formed. These societies enabled veterans to socialize with individuals who had similar experiences and also allowed them to work towards similar goals.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stephenson formed the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) for all honorably discharged Union veterans on April 6, 1866, in Decatur, Illinois, and it quickly grew to encompass ten states and the District of Columbia. The G.A.R.’s growth was astronomical, peaking in the 1890s with nearly 400,000 members spread out through almost 9,000 posts in all 50 states, as well as a few in Canada, one in Mexico, and one in Peru. These posts were organized into departments, which were typically divided by state, but could include multiple states depending on the population of Union veterans in the area.
Woman's Relief Corps (W.R.C.) Conductor Badge, 1883-1920 / THF254030
Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War Membership Badge, circa 1900 / THF254033
The tenets of the G.A.R. were “Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty,” and are depicted in the seal of the G.A.R. The fraternity aspect was met by fraternal gatherings such as meetings, as well as annual reunions known as encampments at the departmental and national level. Charity was demonstrated through fundraising for veterans’ issues, including welfare, medical assistance, and loans until work could be found, as well as opening soldiers’ and sailors’ homes and orphanages. Loyalty was demonstrated in several ways, including erecting monuments, preserving Civil War sites and relics, donating cannons and other relics to be displayed in parks and courthouses, and donating battle flags to museums.The G.A.R. was assisted in all of their work by their auxiliary organizations, known as the Allied Orders of the G.A.R.: the Women’s Relief Corps, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), the Auxiliary to the SUVCW, and the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War—all of which are still active today.
Additionally, the G.A.R. was instrumental in having the tradition of memorializing the dead and decorating their graves recognized as the federal holiday Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day. From its origins in smaller, localized observances throughout the country, it gained national recognition after Commander-in-Chief General John A. Logan issued a proclamation on May 30, 1868. Programs like the one above detail the order of events of these celebrations, and some even detail how to appropriately contribute.
Members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Visiting Mount Vernon, September 21, 1892 / THF254036
The annual and national encampments were not just big events for the G.A.R. and the Allied Orders of the G.A.R, but also for the railroads and cities in which the encampments were held. Railroad companies, such as the Maine Central Railroad Company, advertised the encampments and offered round-trip tickets to attendees. A typical schedule of events for encampments included speeches, business meetings where delegates voted on resolutions and other organizational business, receptions for the G.A.R. and the Allied Orders, parades reminiscent of the Grand Review of the Armies following the end of the Civil War, campfire activities, concerts, outings to nature or historic points of interest, and reunions of other groups, including regimental and other veteran organizations. Attendees to the 1892 Washington, D.C., National Encampment were able to visit Mount Vernon.
Members would show up in their uniforms, which often included hats with G.A.R. insignia, as well as their G.A.R. membership badge, an example of which can be seen above. Membership badges denoted the wearer’s rank at the time they mustered out and would also show what rank within the G.A.R. they held; Commander-in-Chief badges would be substantially more ornate.
In addition to their membership badges, attendees would also represent their home state, posts, or departments with ribbons or badges stating where they were from. An example is the Forsyth Post badge used at the 1908 Toledo, Ohio National Encampment. These ribbon badges are all unique to the host city—for instance, Detroit’s national encampments’ badges featured an image of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac sailing to Detroit, signifying the city’s founding in 1701; national encampments held in California typically featured a grizzly bear, like their state flag; Denver’s 1905 National Encampment featured a cowboy on a bucking bronco; and Holland, Michigan’s 1904 and 1910 Annual Encampments featured wooden shoes and windmills.
Badges help tell the story of the G.A.R., and make these events more relatable to modern audiences—who hasn’t bought a souvenir on vacation or at an event? Beginning in 1882, The G.A.R. produced official souvenir badges for purchase in addition to the membership badges. Some of these souvenirs were made from captured Confederate cannons authorized for destruction by acts of Congress. In the case of the G.A.R., badges were so important that in the 50th Congress, 1st Session, a bill (Report No. 784) was passed to “prevent the unlawful wearing of the badge or insignia of the Grand Army of the Republic or other soldier organizations.”
Watching the highly decorated G.A.R. members march in the parade was a sight that drew many thousands of spectators wherever the encampments were held. The members would have likely marched in their G.A.R. uniforms, which included a double-breasted, dark blue coat with G.A.R. buttons and a hat (either kepi or slouch felt) with G.A.R. insignia. Other uniform pieces, such as leather gauntlets with G.A.R. insignia, are known to exist, but they do not appear to be commonplace. As they had done in the Grand Review of the Armies, they would march with their flags. In 2013, one such flag was conserved by The Henry Ford, as documented in this blog post: “Conserving a G.A.R. Parade Flag.”
Grand Army of the Republic Parade at Campus Martius, Detroit, Michigan, 1881 / THF623825
As the G.A.R. members aged, the number capable of walking an entire parade route dwindled, but luckily for them, the rise of the automobile ensured that they could still participate. For veterans who did not take their personal automobiles to the encampments, calls were sent out to round up enough vehicles to provide each veteran with a car for the parade. In the case of the 1920 Indianapolis National Encampment, John B. Orman, Automobile Committee Chairman, sought to get enough automobiles for all of the veterans requiring them and said “The ‘boys’ of ’61 are no longer boys. Today the distance from the monument erected to their memory to Sixteenth Street is longer than the red road from Sumter to Appomattox.” Local dealerships loaned their cars for the parade, much like today’s parade sponsors sending cars or attaching their names to floats in parades.
At the 83rd and final G.A.R. National Encampment, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1949, six of the last sixteen G.A.R. members not only made the trip to Indianapolis but were able to “march” in the final parade—thanks to the automobile.
Joseph Clovese, one of the six to have participated in the final parade, can be seen with fellow G.A.R. members adorned with their G.A.R. badges on his Find a Grave page. Clovese was born into slavery on a plantation at St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, in 1844. He joined the Union Army during the siege of Vicksburg as a drummer boy, and then later became an infantryman in the 2nd Missouri Colored Infantry Regiment (later the 65thU.S. Colored Troops Regiment). Following the war, Clovese worked on riverboats on the Mississippi River and assisted with the construction of the first telegraph line between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Biloxi, Mississippi.
Clovese received a citation and medal at the “Blue and Gray” reunion, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938. At age 104, he moved to Pontiac, Michigan, with his niece, and, according to his obituary in the New York Times, he would take daily walks and was hardly ever ill. He died July 13, 1951, in the Dearborn Veterans Hospital at the age of 107. More information about his long and fascinating life, as well as additional photos of him wearing his G.A.R. badges, can be seen in his Fold3 Gallery.
The G.A.R. officially dissolved in 1956 with the death of the last member, Albert Woolson, but the spirit of the organization lives on through the Allied Orders of the G.A.R.
Jacket, Worn by Robert H. Hendershot, circa 1890. THF 155871
In the 1880s and 1890s, Civil War veteran Robert Hendershot wore this elaborate jacket when he played his drum at Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) events and at other community gatherings. The accompanying “souvenir” card is actually an advertisement, letting interested parties know Hendershot was available for hire.
Trade Card from Major Robert H. Hendershot, "The Original Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock," circa 1895. THF 115938
Since the 1860s, Hendershot had billed himself as “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” But was he? In December 1862, during the fighting at Fredericksburg, Virginia, reports had come of a brave young drummer boy who had crossed the Rappahannock River with the 7th Michigan Infantry under a hail of Confederate bullets. The 12-year-old Hendershot was indeed with a Michigan regiment at Fredericksburg at this time. But so were several other young drummer boys.
The controversy over who really was “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock” raged for decades among Civil War veterans—reports from members of Michigan units engaged at Fredericksburg offered conflicting stories. But Hendershot used his savvy promotion skills to keep his name before the public, receiving recognition from some G.A.R. members and even from prominent men like newspaper editor Horace Greeley.
Hendershot may or may not have been “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” But throughout his life, he certainly used his celebrity to his advantage.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
The Grand Army of the Republic (often known by its abbreviation, G.A.R.) was an organization of U.S. Civil War veterans who had served for the Union. In existence from 1866 through 1956, it peaked in 1890 at over 400,000 members and 7,000 posts. The G.A.R. scheduled meetings and other gatherings for members, provided charitable donations to the needy, supported the construction and maintenance of Civil War memorials and sites, and became a powerful political lobbying group. In 1868, the group’s commander-in-chief initiated an observance known as Decoration Day, which we still commemorate today as Memorial Day.
Confederate Bass Drum, Captured at Missionary Ridge, 1860-1863.Gift of the Jewell Family.THF159778
A Battlefield Souvenir Preserved by G.A.R. Members of Fulton County, Ohio
This drum was likely left behind by fleeing Confederates as Union soldiers drove them from the hill during the battle of Missionary Ridge, part of the Chattanooga Campaign in Tennessee, on November 25, 1863. The astonished Confederates panicked, broke rank, and fled pell-mell. A Union victory. In less than a year and half, the Civil War would end and the Union would be preserved.
The abandoned drum was probably picked up from the battlefield by a member of the 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a Union unit that participated in the Missionary Ridge assault.
This battlefield souvenir was then taken to Fulton County, Ohio, where it was preserved by members of the local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), an organization of Union veterans. By the 1880s, Fulton County had about 11 G.A.R. posts. To these Union veterans, this drum symbolized victory over Confederate forces. The drum was likely displayed in the G.A.R. hall at Wauseon in Fulton County.
A few days before the Missionary Ridge battle, Abraham Lincoln gave his eloquent Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania. For us today, this drum symbolizes the end of the Civil War and the “new birth of freedom” spoken of so memorably by Abraham Lincoln on that day.
Detroit's Bagley Memorial Fountain stands amidst a banner and festive decorations in its original location at Woodward Avenue and Fort Street. This photograph may have been taken during a Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Memorial Day celebration. A society for Union Civil War veterans, the G.A.R. began observing the holiday - originally called Decoration Day - in 1868. THF 202914
When Civil War veterans returned home after the conflict they established their own fraternal organizations, helping one another remember and heal from their shared experiences. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in Decatur, Illinois. The G.A.R. was a fraternal organization made up of Civil War veterans who fought and served for the Union.
Veteran Robert Burns Beath, writing in 1888 of the returning home of veterans said, “They were soon to part, each in his own way to fight the battle of life, to form new ties, new friendships, but never could they forget the sacred bond of comradeship welded in the fire of battle, that in after years, should be their stimulus to take upon themselves the work confided to the people by President Lincoln ‘to bind up the Nation’s wounds,’ ‘to care for him who shall have borne battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”
This unique “bond of comradeship” would be the catalyst for veterans to join together in influencing a nation still reeling from the aftermath of war. Under the watch-words “Fraternity, Loyalty, and Charity” the G.A.R. set out to serve their brothers in arms as well as loved ones left behind by the fallen through charitable initiatives.
Steve LaBarre is the head of adult services and reference for a public library. He is a historian, researcher, and author of Mid-19thCentury United States History and the American Civil War. Becky Young LaBarre is Assistant Director at Glessner House Museum (1887) in Chicago’s Prairie Avenue Historic District. They reside in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.
Did you know? The G.A.R. helped establish May 30 as Memorial Day—or Decoration Day as it was then known—asking members to decorate the graves of their fallen comrades with flowers on May 30, 1868.
Confederate veterans who fought for the South formed their own organization, called the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), in 1889.
In the past few years, the Conservation Department has worked on a number of historically important flags from Michigan, including several Civil War battle flags.
This flag dates from the end of the 19th century and was used by a G.A.R. post in Lyons, Michigan. The G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) was a Union veterans’ organization formed after the Civil War and there were posts in almost every town in Michigan. This flag would have been used in parades on patriotic occasions in Lyons. In 1917 the flag was donated to the town “to raise at funerals of G.A.R. or veterans of any war.” It was displayed for many years in the Lyons-Muir Historical Museum. Its caretakers recognized the need to preserve it and brought it to Textile Conservator Fran Faile.
Over the course of several months, the flag was humidified and flattened to reduce distortions in the weave. It was stabilized and protected by encasing it between layers of sheer nylon tulle. Hand stitching secures all the small fragments of fabric from moving or being lost. The Historical Society is presently having a protective case built that will enable the flag to rest flat rather than be stressed by continued hanging.
Years of use and display had made the silk fabric very fragile.
The painted lettering was especially brittle.
All the fragments were flattened and arranged between the layers of tulle.
The paint was humidified and flattened.
Ready to be installed in its new case!
Fran Faile is former Textile Conservator at The Henry Ford.