The Grand Army of the Republic
Progenitor of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) consisted of Union Veterans of the Civil War, joined together at first for camaraderie, and later for political power. By 1890 their membership had risen to nearly 410,000 veterans.
Membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865.
The community level of the organization was called a "Post" and each was numbered consecutively within each Department (generally a particular state). 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 National organization was run by the elected "Commandery-in-Chief."
The GAR founded soldiers' homes, and was active in relief work and 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.
The final meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic was held in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1949 and the last member, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 at the age of 109 years.
The GAR's Department of California and Nevada was organized on February 21, 1868. Eventually there were nearly 200 individual posts throughout the Department. While the last National Encampment was held in 1949, the Department of California and Nevada continued to hold their annual Department Encampments into the 1950s.
The last member of the Department, William Allen Magee of Company M, 12th Ohio Cavalry, died in Long Beach, California on January 23, 1953 at the age of 106 years.
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