In the aftermath of the American Civil War, veterans of the Union Army formed the fraternal organization, Grand Army of the Republic, in 1866. The initial purpose for the group was simply friendship and fellowship. However, based on their tenets of Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty, they also turned to political endeavors. In this capacity, they supported voting rights for black veterans, lobbied for veteran pensions, and backed Republican politicians. In fact, they helped to elect five U.S. Presidents: Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley. The GAR is also widely credited for initiating Memorial Day (which was originally known as Decoration Day), with the first official observation in 1868. At its peak in 1890, enrollment reached nearly half-a-million members.
Many memorials have been given to the Grand Army of the Republic over the years, such as:
- A 3-cent U. S. commemorative stamp, 1949
- U. S. Route 6 being re-named the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, 1953, and
- Numerous statues and monuments ... Such as the one you're standing in front of.
You'll notice the inscription on the monument indicates it was erected in 1907 by the Women's Relief Corps and the J. L. Reno post of the Grand Army. All GAR posts were named after fallen comrades, and Spokane had two posts: No. 47 in honor of General Jesse Lee Reno, and No. 8 in honor of Major General John Sedgwick. Greenwood cemetery has a few GAR members buried near the statue, including Levi Anderson, Caleb Joseph, and P. C. Topping.
The Grand Army of the Republic remained in existence, with thousands of posts all across the nation, for ninety years, ending in 1956 when its last member, Albert Woolson, died at the age of 109. Two primary organizations succeed the GAR: the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, and the Daughters of the Union Veterans of the Civil War.
Finally, in pop culture, the Grand Army of the Republic is referenced in songs, poetry, and novels such as John Steinbeck's East of Eden, and Sinclair Lewis's Main Street.
Julie Y. Russell, 2011