Sepia Saturday 403: Third in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.
When my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in 1886, the Civil War veterans’ group had recently reorganized — which led to an explosion in recruitment.
The New York State Archives online finding aid to its GAR records describes the group’s founding and metamorphosis.1
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a large multi-faceted organization (fraternal lodge, charitable society, special interest lobby, patriotic group, and political club) founded in 1866 by Union Army Surgeon Benjamin Franklin Stephenson. The organization was originally envisioned as a brotherhood of veterans who were dedicated to helping other veterans.
Transformation of the GAR
The GAR initially structured itself along military lines — with sentries at the door, members transferring from post to post, and a local, state and national chain of command.
In 1869, the GAR transitioned to a fraternal group with lodges, similar to the Masons — but an unpopular internal grading system prompted a mass exodus of rank-and-file members.
So in the late 1870s, the GAR transformed itself again — and its new focus on pensions likely prompted my ancestor Arthur Bull to finally join as a pensioner in 1886. 2
As a result of these changes, the GAR’s membership rose sharply in the 1880’s….It was through the GAR, and the pension lobby, that many soldiers and their families received pensions. The Grand Army of the Republic also promoted patriotism through parades, national encampments, placement of war memorials, and the establishment of Memorial Day as a national holiday.
An integrated fraternal order
Unlike other fraternal orders in the 1800s, the Grand Army of the Republic was racially inclusive and integrated — as befitted veterans who had fought together to end slavery — and welcomed all honorably discharged Union vets, including at least two women. 3 According to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War: 4
Membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865.
The GAR was also quick to embrace Memorial Day — a commemoration begun on 1 May 1865 by African-American freepeople with a march of 10,000 in Charleston, S.C., to honor 257 Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp there. 5
Because the group was indispensable to Union Army veterans and their families, my great-great grandparents Arthur and Mary (Blakeslee) Bull likely found comfort in the milieu of the GAR — and perhaps its affiliated women’s group, too. 6
And they might have turned to the GAR for assistance as Arthur’s war-related health issues reduced his ability to work, requiring him to apply for pension increases.
More on Arthur’s life in Salamanca in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.