December 23, 2007

Grand Old Army of the Republic, Graceland Cemetery, 1905

Here is a great series of photos taken by the Chicago Daily News, and found in the American Memories Collection at the Library of Congress. They show members of the Grand Army of the Republic at Graceland Cemetery on Memorial Day, 1905. (Click on each image for an expanded view.)

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army who had served in the American Civil War. The GAR was among the first organized interest groups in American politics. It was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW).


The GAR was founded by Benjamin F. Stephenson, M.D., on April 6, 1866, in Decatur, Illinois. Its organization was based partly on the traditions of Freemasonry, and partly on military tradition; it was divided into "Departments" at the state level and "Posts" at the community level, and military-style uniforms were worn by its members. There were posts in every state in the U.S., and several posts overseas.

The organization wielded considerable political clout nationwide. Between 1868 and 1908, no Republican was nominated to the presidency without a GAR endorsement. In 1868, General Order #11 of the GAR called for May 30 to be designated as a day of memorial for Union veterans; originally called "Decoration Day," this later evolved into the U.S. national Memorial Day holiday. The GAR was also active in pension legislation, establishing retirement homes for soldiers, and many other areas which concerned Union veterans. The influence of the GAR led to the creation of the Old Soldiers' Homes of the late 19th century, which evolved into the current United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

The GAR created the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) in 1881 to ensure the preservation of their own mission after Union war veterans had all died. The GAR also generated several auxiliary organizations such as the National Woman's Relief Corps, Ladies of the GAR, and Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, 1861-1865, many of which are still active. A comparable organization for Confederate veterans was the United Confederate Veterans.

There was some controversy over the fact that the membership badge of the GAR closely resembled the Army's version of the Medal of Honor, causing confusion and animosity among veterans. The issue was resolved with a re-design of the latter in 1896.

The GAR reached its largest enrollment in 1890, with 490,000 members. It held an annual "National Encampment" every year from 1866 to 1949. In 1956, after the death of the last member, Albert Woolson, the GAR was formally dissolved. Its records went to the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., and its badges, flags, and official seal went to the Smithsonian Institution.

Text Courtesy Wikipedia


BruceB said...

Recent research has been found that the Lyon Post No. 9, Grand Army of the Republic was one of the posts that took care of Graceland Cemetery each Memorial Day.

Living near Grand Rapids, MI is the son of a member of the Lyon Post. Mr. Harold Becker, son of Charles Conrad Becker will be 91 years old this October. On October 4, I am taking him on a journey around Chicago to follow in the footsteps of his father.

Thanks for sharing these photos. Where might I obtain a copy?

Joanne said...

Hi Bruce, thanks for sharing your story. Go to the Chicago Daily News archives at On the intro page, it will tell you how to get photographic reprints. There's also a search box, type in "Graceland Cemetery" to see all the photos in the collection and to get the catalog numbers.

Unknown said...

The frist pic is not Graceland,it's wonders,my dad is the groundskeeper and he lives in the yellow building in the back ground.

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