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Grand Army of the Republic

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G.A.R. Memorial, Washington, D.C.
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army who had served in the American Civil War. Founded by Benjamin F. Stephenson on April 6, 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, the organization was based partly on the traditions of Freemasonry, and partly on military tradition, being divided into "Departments" at the state level and "Posts" at the community level; military-style uniforms were worn by its members. It reached its largest size in 1890, with 490,000 members. There were posts in every state in the U.S., and several posts overseas.

The organization wielded considerable political clout nationwide; between 1868 and 1908, no Republican was nominated to the presidency without a GAR endorsement. The GAR was active in pension legislation, establishing retirement homes for soldiers, and many other areas which concerned Union veterans.

In 1868, General Order #11 of the GAR called for May 30 to be designated as a day of memorial for Union veterans; originally called "Decoration Day," this later evolved into the U.S. national Memorial Day holiday.

In the 19th century, there was some controversy over the fact that the membership badge of the GAR closely resembled the Army's version of the Congressional Medal of Honor, causing confusion and animosity among veterans. The issue was resolved with a re-design of the latter in 1896.

The organization held an annual "National Encampment" every year from 1866 to 1949; the last member, Albert Woolson, died at the age of 109 in 1956.

The GAR also generated several auxiliary organizations, some of which are still extant.

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