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Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Illinois records

 Collection
Identifier: MS-BC250

Abstract

An organization formed in 1866 at Springfield, Illinois, for the veterans of the Civil War in an effort to “preserve the memory of the departed comrades, promote their mutual interests and to aid the deserving widows and orphans of the soldier dead.” The GAR was formed amidst the turmoil of Reconstruction in an effort not only to aid and assist the veterans who had fought for the cause, but also to affect political action for the veterans. Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson who had been a surgeon with the Fourteenth Illinois Infantry was instrumental in the founding of the veteran’s group. During the winter of 1865-66 he was discussing plans for a secret society of Veterans. He and a friend studied the rituals and constitutions of other veteran’s groups and secret societies. The first meetings were held in Springfield, but the first chartered post was formed in Decatur, Illinois, in April of 1866. The declaration of principles for the organization promised to preserve fraternal feelings, aid needy or disabled comrades, and provide support and education of soldiers’ orphans and maintenance for widows. It also promised to seek public recognition for the claims of veterans and to encourage allegiance to the United States and its constitution.

The post in Decatur was named after the first Macon County soldier killed in the war, Amos Duncan, and was designated Post #1. The posts flourished and by October of 1866, there were 157 charters in Illinois and departments had been formed in many other states. The first national meeting was held at Indianapolis, Indiana in November 1866 and General Stephen A. Hurlbut was elected the first national commander. The second national commander was General John A. Logan of Illinois, who wrote general order No. 11, establishing Memorial Day. The posts had regular meetings to take care of local affairs and needs and once every two years, they had the national encampment where veterans from around the country met to reminisce and remember those who had gone.

At its peak in 1890, the GAR had 408,487 members and between 1872 and 1904 was a very powerful political force. Much of the legislation benefiting veterans came about through the work of the GAR. But the nature of the organization made it mandatory that its membership would decrease. In 1881 it formed the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America to carry on its traditions and memory when all of the GAR had ceased to exist. The requirement was that a member must have an ancestor who had been in, or eligible for, membership the GAR. In 1925 the name was changed to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. In 1954 a federal chapter was issued to the organization that legally recognized it as the heir to and representative of the GAR. The last GAR national encampment was held in 1949 at Indianapolis, Indiana, as was the first with only six of the sixteen living members present. In 1956 there was one living veteran, 106 years old, and the GAR ceased to exist.

Quarterly reports, from most of the 800 Illinois posts, some posts have numerous reports, others have only a few. These reports include as post information the name and number of the post, quarter and year of the report and roster of officers. Information on the members includes their name, age at time of joining the post, birthplace (state) residence, at the time of application, occupation, date of entry into war service, rank and company, regimen or ship, date of discharge, length of service, cause of discharge and sometimes date and cause of death. The archival boxes contain minute books, rosters, and related material.

Dates

  • 1866 - 1939

Creator

Extent

48.4 Linear Feet (60.5 manuscript boxes and 23 manuscript boxes containing 174 bound volumes)

Language of Materials

English

Processing Information

A conservation project to move post charters into oversize storage is currently ongoing. The oversize materials will be updated as regularly as possible as charters are processed.
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collection Repository

Contact:
112 North Sixth Street
Springfield IL 62701 US
(217) 558-8923