Honoring History

The Grand Army of The Republic (GAR) should have a section in the Alamosa Cemetery and it probably exists. The stones are different and difficult to find. The local American Legion Post is to their credit and the charter is on the wall.

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army (United States Army), Union Navy (U.S. Navy), and the Marines who served in the American Civil War. It was founded in 1866 and grew to include hundreds of “posts” (local community units) across the nation (predominantly in the North, but also a few in the South and West). It was dissolved in 1956 at the death of its last member, Albert Woolson (1850–1956) of Duluth, Minn.

Linking men through their experience of the war, the G.A.R. became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, supporting voting rights for black veterans, promoting patriotic education, helping to make Memorial Day a national holiday, lobbying the United States Congress to establish regular veterans’ pensions, and supporting Republican political candidates. Its peak membership, at 410,000, was in 1890, a high point of various Civil War commemorative and monument dedication ceremonies. It was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), composed of male descendants of Union Army and Union Navy veterans.

The Confederate equivalent of the GAR was the United Confederate Veterans.

SUVCW, originally named the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America, was founded by Major Augustus P. Davis in November 1881 to ensure the preservation of principles of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and to provide assistance to veterans. It was based on the principles of Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty.

In July 1877, Davis made his first proposal to create an organization of sons of GAR members to General Alexander Hayes GAR Post 3 in Pennsylvania. The members rejected his idea, but Davis was persistent. Finally, in September 1881, Post 3 members took a neutral position on Davis’ proposal, removing any formal obstacle to the pursuit of his vision. Davis wanted to organize sons of GAR members into a military-style organization whose objectives were similar to those of the GAR, and whose members would provide assistance to those in the GAR. He proposed membership be limited to the eldest living son of a GAR member. He envisioned not only a fraternal, patriotic and charitable organization but an organized military reserve to be called upon in time of war. Members of the Sons of Veterans wore military-style uniforms and practiced tactics and drills.

Every state (even those of the former Confederacy) fell within a GAR “Department,” and within these Departments were the “Posts” (forerunners of modern American Legion Halls or VFW Halls). The posts were made up of local veterans, many of whom participated in local civic events. As the posts were formed, they were assigned to the home Department of the National Commander-in-chief of the year that they were chartered. There was no GAR post in London, but there was a Civil War Veterans Association Group that had many GAR members belonging to it.

When I was a young adult, I read the charter as it hung in the hall of the local post. It was also the time when the ceremonies on Memorial Day began there.

As time passed, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars established their own posts and burial sites. Honoring the GAR fell by the wayside and, in my opinion, that shouldn’t have happened. Many traditions began with the GAR and still exist.

Just as the Spanish Cemetery deserves better signage and respect as we realized Monday, so the GAR plot deserves recognition.

The organization may have been effectively disbanded earlier, but the purpose remains. Respecting veterans and continuing to look after their needs didn’t cease to exist in 1956, when the last member died.