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The Grand Army of the Republic

John E. Gilman, Commander-in-Chief, Grand army of the republic
At the close of the Civil War, there were over a million men in the Union armies. Nearly two and a half million had served under the Stars and Stripes during the four long years of warfare, of whom three hundred and fifty-nine thousand had died. It was essential that those still in the service should disband and retire to civilian life. This was effected after a grand parade of the armies of the Potomac, the Tennessee, and of Georgia, on May 23 and 24, 1865, when one hundred and fifty thousand men marched through the wide avenues of Washington in review before the President and the commanding generals. From the glare and glory, the power and prestige of the soldier's career, they went into the obscurity of the peaceful pursuits of American citizenship, and in a few short months the vast armies of the United States had disappeared.

The great war was ended, but it would have been strange indeed if the memories of those years of storm and stress, the sacrifices of those who had fallen, the experiences of the march, the battlefield, and the camp, and the needs of their disabled comrades, and of the widows and the orphans had been forgotten.

Even before the war had ended, organizations of veterans of the Union armies had begun to be formed. The first veteran society formed, The Third Army Corps Union, was organized at the headquarters of General D. B. Birney, commander of the Third Army Corps, at a meeting of the officers of the corps, September 2, 1863. The main object, at that time, was to secure funds for embalming and sending home for burial the bodies of officers killed in battle or dying in hospitals at the front. General D. A. Sickles was its first president.

In April, 1865, the Society of the Army of the Tennessee was formed at Raleigh, North Carolina, membership being restricted to officers who had served with the old Army of the Tennessee. The object was declared to be ‘to keep alive that kindly and cordial feeling which has been one of the characteristics of this army during its career in the service.’ General Sherman was elected president in 1869, and continued to hold the office for many years.

After the war, many other veteran societies were formed, composed not only of officers but of enlisted men of the various armies, corps, and regiments, as well as many naval organizations. Among them, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States was the first society formed by officers honorably discharged from the service. It was first thought of at a meeting of a group of officers who had met the day after the assassination of President Lincoln for the purpose of passing resolutions on his death. These resolutions were subsequently adopted, and it was determined to effect a permanent organization. This was done May 3, 1865, and a constitution and by-laws were, in part, adopted the same month. The titles of officers, the constitution, and general plan, were, in part, afterward adopted by the Grand Army of the Republic. The essential difference was that first-class membership of the Loyal Legion was restricted to officers.

Besides the foregoing organizations of veterans, there were others formed of a political nature, such as the Boys in Blue and other similar societies, and there were held in September, 1866, two political conventions of veterans of the army and navy. These political soldiers' clubs were the result of the times, for the controversy between Congress and President Johnson was at its height. In the East, after the fall elections of 1866, most of these political clubs of veterans were ready to disband. The desire for a permanent organization of veterans became strong. No post of the Grand Army had been organized east of Ohio prior to October, 1866. Posts were started, and inasmuch as eligibility to membership in the Grand Army was possessed by those who composed the membership of these political clubs, the Boys in Blue and similar clubs formed, in many places, the nucleus of the Grand Army posts.

This fact gave, in good part, a political tinge to the Grand Army during the first year or two of its existence, and to it was due, chiefly, the severe losses in membership that the order sustained for a short period. But, eventually, the political character was wholly eradicated, and the order recovered its standing and its losses.

During the winter of 1865-66, Major B. F. Stephenson, surgeon of the Fourteenth Illinois regiment, discussed with friends the matter of the

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