Just as common experiences bring about social and fraternal organizations, the Union veterans of the American Civil War shared a common tie that led to the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). April 6, 1866 in Illinois was the date of the founding of the first GAR post, a group that would eventually claim 400,000 members nationwide. Membership in the GAR did not just include the average foot soldier, five United States presidents; Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison and McKinley, were included in its ranks. This fraternal organization eventually became a very strong political lobbying group. Their lobbying efforts focused on pension bills for Union veterans. This lobbying effort was so powerful that at least one president was defeated for re-election because of his lack of support for a piece of GAR legislation.
The Grand Army of the Republic ceased operations in 1956 but it’s work and it’s successor is the organization, The Sons of Union Veterans of the United States of America, http://www.suvcw.org/id.htm. Begun in 1881, it was founded by the GAR to continue the traditions of the GAR once that organization no longer was in operation. The organization’s website includes an online database where you can search for a civil war soldier’s grave through their National Graves Registration Database. A search for one of my in-law’s ancestors brought up his birth and death date, his unit, branch and state of enlistment, his rank, dates for his enlistment and discharge. A section entitled “miscellaneous notes” included his birth place and his cause of death. What cemetery he is buried in, including the lot number is also included in this description. Finally, the GAR post he belonged to and what grave markers are on his headstone are also included. Cemetery markers can be an important clue in identifying what organizations your ancestor belonged to. When looking at the headstone of a union soldier, see if the letters “GAR” are found on the headstone, this will identify him as a member.
The Library of Congress’, research guide, Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty http://www.loc.gov/rr/main/gar includes historical information about the GAR, state lists of GAR posts and bibliographical information on auxiliary camps to the GAR including the Women’s Relief Corps, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. This guide is an important resource for learning more about the history and impact of this veteran’s organization.
The Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and you can access their website http://garmuslib.org/. The Library does allow researchers access to their materials, which includes post records. A list of available post records can be found on their website. You can also write to the Library with a research request. A history of the GAR and other historical information, including a description of the GAR badge can be found on this website. This badge description can help you in identifying vintage photos of possible Union veterans in your family.