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The Grand Army of the Republic in Minnesota

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National encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, Minneapolis.

Photograph of the 1884 Encampment held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was a fraternal organization which existed from 1866 to 1956. It was composed of veterans of the Union Army, United States Navy, Marines, and Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War. The organization allowed veterans to communicate with one another and plan reunions. At its peak in 1890 it was a powerful organization, supporting the rights of veterans and primarily Republican politicians.

The G.A.R. was organized much like the United States Government. It had a national governing body, departments (states), and posts (towns). When the G.A.R.'s Department of Minnesota was first created it failed to become firmly established in the state. From 1866 to 1880, the G.A.R.'s activities in Minnesota were mostly at the post level. This period was one of poor leadership. Many posts were established and then dissolved. Several that existed were not recognized nationally. During this time the two most important posts were Morgan Post in Minneapolis and Acker Post in St. Paul.

By the spring of 1880, the presence of the GAR in Minnesota was weak. Many members did not pay dues, and posts did not communicate with department officers. In addition, organization officials failed to attend encampments or call meetings. Many leaders didn't make payments to the national organization.

However, Muller Post located in Stillwater remained active. Its commander, Adam Marty, took steps to reorganize the GAR at the state level. In August of 1881 a provisional encampment was held. Under the leadership of the National Commander in Chief, George S. Merrill, new department officers were elected.

Adam Marty was elected the Minnesota Department's new commander, and his cousin Samuel Bloomer was elected Assistant Adjutant General. The cousins reorganized the department and started recruiting new members. Marty's and Bloomer's work coincided with a sudden increase in GAR membership in Minnesota and the nation in general.

By 1884 there were 115 posts in Minnesota. In 1880 there had only been fifteen. In June of 1884 the Eighteenth National Encampment was held in Minneapolis. Hosting the event increased membership in the Minnesota GAR In 1884 there were 5,611 members in the department. By 1890 there were 9,504.

The 1890s were the mature years of the GAR It was organized and efficient, reaching its peak membership of 490,000 nationally. On September 3-4, 1896, St. Paul hosted the Thirtieth National Encampment of the GAR This event was the peak for the organization in Minnesota. Nearly 150,000 visitors attended the event. Veterans stayed in hotels, boarding houses, public schools, and "Camp Mason." This camp was set up on a prairie just west of Dale Street.

St. Paul spent an estimated $50,000 to decorate the city with arches and GAR-themed banners and signs. People decorated their front yards to honor the veterans. Members of the organization took trips to Lake Minnetonka, White Bear Lake, and the State Fair. The event culminated in a parade through St. Paul. 24,000 veterans marched through the streets while an estimated 200,000 civilians watched.

Minnesota hosted two more national encampments in 1906 and 1933. However, with the turn of the twentieth century the GAR began to decline as an organization. As time progressed more members died. With the onset of World War I America's attention shifted to a new wave of veterans. Technically, however, the GAR existed until the death of its last member in August 1956. That veteran's name was Albert Woolson, a resident of Duluth.

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Grand Army of the Republic. Dept. of Minnesota. Departmental Records, 1866–1954
Government Records, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Correspondence, orders, files, and rosters created by the Grand Army of the Republic Department of Minnesota.

Grand Army of the Republic. Dept. of Minnesota. Post Records, 1866–1945
Government Records, Minnesota Historical Society, ST. Paul
Description: Minutes books, registers, and financial records of Grand Army of the Republic Posts throughout Minnesota.

Grand Army of the Republic. Dept. of Minnesota. 30th National Encampment Citizens Committee Records., 1895–1897
Government Records, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Records of the committee in charge of organizing the Thirtieth National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic at St. Paul, Minnesota in 1896.

Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic. Dept. of Minnesota Records, 1889–1993
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: The Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic was formed in Minneapolis on February 23, 1893, and helped the organization administer its commemorative activities.

P2358
St. Croix Valley Old Settlers' Association Records, 1877–1922
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: An association of settlers from the St. Croix River Valley who had settled there prior to 1860.

Woman's Relief Corps (U.S.). Moses Dane Corps No. 55 (Burtrum, Minn.). 1900–1986
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: the Women's Relief Corps was an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic.

"Camp Beath." Minneapolis Tribune, July 23, 1884.

"Trains to the Grand Encampment." Minneapolis Tribune, July 23, 1884.

"The Reign of Peace and Plenty." Minneapolis Tribune, September 2, 1896.

"Now They Belong to the Ages." Banner, Volume 60, No. 5 (August 1956): Special Issue.

"Massed in a Parade." Daily Pioneer Press, July 24, 1884.

"Thirtieth Year of the G.A.R." Daily Pioneer Press, September 1, 1896.

"Grand Army in Review." Daily Pioneer Press, September 3, 1896.

Heck, Frank H. "The Grand Army of the Republic in Minnesota, 1866–1880." Minnesota History 16, no. 4 (December 1935): 427–444.
http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/16/v16i04p427-444.pdf

———. "The Civil War Veteran in Minnesota Politics." PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 1938.

Harris, Leo J. and Moira F. "St. Paul's Biggest Party: The Grand Army of the Republic's 1896 National Encampment." Ramsey County History 44, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 13–20.

Related Images

National encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, Minneapolis.
National encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, Minneapolis.
National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, Second Avenue South and Washington Avenue, Minneapolis.
National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, Second Avenue South and Washington Avenue, Minneapolis.
2200 school children form a living flag at Grand Army of the Republic meeting, St. Paul
2200 school children form a living flag at Grand Army of the Republic meeting, St. Paul
St. Paul Fire Department headquarters, northwest corner of Eighth and Minnesota, decorated for the Thirtieth National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic.
St. Paul Fire Department headquarters, northwest corner of Eighth and Minnesota, decorated for the Thirtieth National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic.
St. Peter Grand Army of the Republic.
St. Peter Grand Army of the Republic.
Grand Army of the Republic National Encampment, St. Paul
Grand Army of the Republic National Encampment, St. Paul
G.A.R. sack coat
G.A.R. sack coat
G.A.R. ribbon
G.A.R. ribbon
Souvenir spoon from G.A.R. encampment
Souvenir spoon from G.A.R. encampment

Turning Point

On September 4, 1896, St. Paul hosts the Grand Army of the Republic's Thirtieth National Encampment, marking the high point of the organization's existence in Minnesota.

Chronology

August 1, 1866

The Minnesota Department of the GAR is established.

May 1880

Provisional Veterans Association is established when the Minnesota Department fails.

August 1881

GAR Commander in Chief George S. Merrill visits Minnesota and presides over the reestablishment of the Minnesota Department.

July 23–25, 1884

The eighteenth GAR National Encampment is held in Minneapolis.

September 3–4, 1896

The thirtieth GAR National Encampment is held in St. Paul.

August 16–17, 1906

The fortieth GAR National Encampment is held in Minneapolis.

September 17–22, 1933

The sixty-seventh GAR National Encampment is held in St. Paul.

August 2, 1956

The last member of the GAR, Albert Woolson, dies in Duluth, thus ending the organization's existence.