The first steps taken for the organization of this fraternal association of Union soldiers, who had participated in the Civil War, were upon suggestion of Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, surgeon of the Fourteenth Illinois Infantry.
He, in conjunction with the chaplain of that regiment, W. J. Rutlege, met at Springfield, Illinois, in March, 1866, and prepared a ritual for the association.
On the 6th of April the first Post of the Grand Army of the Republic was organized at Decatur, Illinois. A district organization was also made and officers chosen. The Constitution of the order made provision for precinct Posts, District, State and National organizations.
The National organization was to be known as " The Grand Army of the Republic," the officers to be a Commander, Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General.
The purpose of the organization was stated in the " Declaration of Principles " to be as follows=" The soldiers of the Volunteer Army of the United States, during the
Rebellion of 1861-5, actuated by the impulses and convictions of patriotism and eternal right, and combined in the strong bands of fellowship and unity by the toils, the dangers and the victories of a long and vigorously waged war, feel themselves called upon to declare in definite form of words and in determined cooperative action those principles and rules which should guide the earnest patriot and the enlightened freeman and the Christian citizen in his course of action; and to agree upon those plans and laws which should govern them in a united and systematic working method with which, in some measure, shall be effected the preservation of the grand results of the war, the fruits of their labor and toil, so as to benefit the deserving and worthy."
The first National Convention of the order was held at Indianapolis, Indiana, on the 20th of November, 1866, and a National Encampment was held at Philadelphia, January 16th, 1868.
The local Posts are numbered and named for some locality, battle, or deceased loyal person, usually a Union soldier or sailor. There are State organizations called Departments. The motto of the order is " Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty.'' It is the custom of members of the local Posts to visit the cemeteries on Memorial Day and decorate the graves of their fallen comrades. The original purpose of the organization was to emphasize, by mutual assent, the principles of Union and National honor to which its members had given devoted adherence in the field. Each Post is required to establish a relief fund for the assistance of needy comrades and the wives and families of those deceased who may need aid. No person who at any time has borne arms against the United States is eligible to membership. But at occasional gatherings where Union and Confederate veterans have assembled there has always been manifest the soldierly magnanimity due a worthy foe. As the years pass by the feeling of fraternity between those who wore the blue and the gray has grown and the late War with Spain almost obliterated the last remnant of antagonism of the period of the Civil War.
The first Commander-in-Chief of the National organization was General Stephen A. Hurlbut of Illinois.
In the fall of 1865 an organization of veterans of the Union Army was made in Davenport, Iowa, under the name of the " Old Soldiers' Association of Scott County," of which General Addison H. Sanders was chosen president, and Captain N. N. Tyner, secretary. The Association was merged into the Grand Army of the Republic as Post No. 1, Davenport Department of Iowa. In July, 1866, General Sanders visited Dr. Stephenson at Springfield, was instructed in the work of the order, provided with the ritual and constitution and authorized to organize Posts. A charter was issued, dated July 12th, 1866, by Dr. Stephenson, commanding the Department of Illinois, to General A. H. Sanders, Colonel R. M. Littler, General J. B. Leake, Lieutenant 0. S. McNeil, Captain N. N. Tyner, Lieutenant-Colonel T. J. Saunders, A. P. Alexander, Captain A. T. Andreas, Captain J. G. Cavendish and J. W. Moore. A meeting was held in Davenport, July 24th, 1866, to organize the Post and a provisional department was formed with General Sanders as Commander. On the 26th of September a meeting of representatives of Posts was held at Davenport where a permanent department was organized. Ninety-five Posts had been organized in the State at the time of the Second Encampment, April 10th, 1867. For some reason the order ceased to prosper in Iowa and, in 1870, there were not more than five hundred members and the State Department was dissolved. But after a few years the interest revived and made steady gains in membership until in 1902 the number of Posts was five hundred seventeen.
Source: Gue, Benjamin F., History of Iowa from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth, New York, 1903 [Transcribed by: Candi H.]
Iowa Department of the Grand Army of the Republic
Iowa is a Provisional Department. Last year she had but one Post in working condition, now she has four. With a little effort, a large increase can be had, particularly if a few of the prominent soldiers, men who led the Iowa volunteers in battle, and who now possess high standing in civil and social life, would enlist.
[9th Annual Meeting, of the National Encampment, Grand Army of the Republic, Held in Chicago, Illinois, May 12-13, 1875]
Department Of Iowa
Commander John B. Cook and staff: 14 men.
[17th Annual Encampment, Grand Army of the Republic, Held in Denver, Colorado, July 25th, 1883]
Department of Iowa
Department Commander: Mason P. Mills.
[24th National Encampment of The Grand Army of the Republic, Held in Boston, Mass., August 11-16, 1890]
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