Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mythical and Actual Origin of the Grand Army of the Republic

The existence of a huge postwar voting bloc of ex-Northern soldiers was enticing to politicians eager to use it to their advantage -- promises of generous pensions and benefits quickly ensued. The venerable Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina argued against pensions for War of 1812 veterans as he saw that they fought against an invader threatening their freedom, and won. He felt that was sufficient compensation for patriots. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and its political influence became an important part of the “Myth of Saving the Glorious Union.” Read more at

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Mythical and Actual Origin of the Grand Army of the Republic:

“The legendary version of the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic [GAR, organization of Northern veterans after the war] goes something like this: In 1866 a gentle former Union Army surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stephenson, and several of his former comrades were pining for the camaraderie of camp. Envisioning a broad brotherhood of veterans [it was to be] suffused with brotherly love and dedicated to the relief of fellow veterans.

The real story is more complicated, and much more interesting. [Stephenson] undoubtedly envisioned his new veterans’ group as a tool to further the political ambitions of two Illinois Republicans, General John A. Logan and Governor Richard Oglesby. These two men, firmly on the Radical side of the gathering storm over Reconstruction policy, were the political movers behind an organization which Stephenson’s professions of benevolence and charity lent a nonpolitical veneer. [The] new order worked effectively for the Grant-Colfax [presidential] ticket during the campaign of 1868.

To soldier-politicians like Logan, Oglesby, and [ambitious Republican politico] Norton P. Chipman….the GAR was a voting machine, which they fondly hoped to ride to political prominence. What such [a voting machine] army could accomplish when properly drilled was already apparent to these political officers from their experience in marshalling the massive “soldier vote” for Lincoln in 1864 and Grant in 1868.”

(Glorious Contentment, The Grand Army of the Republic, Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, pp. 24-25)

Mythical and Actual Origin of the Grand Army of the Republic

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