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Grand Army of the Republic

Grand Army of the Republic Building, insignia pictured

Founded in 1866, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a veteran’s organization for Union soldiers and sailors.  Local posts were established throughout the country, and state and national encampments were conducted each year.  By 1880 the GAR was a well organized fraternity with more than 360,000 members nationwide.  Overwhelmingly Republican in politics, the Grand Army served as a powerful lobby for veteran interests.  After a slow start, the Kansas Department of the GAR claimed 19,000 members in 478 posts by the end of the 1880s.

After the war, Union soldiers from Missouri and other eastern states came to Kansas by the thousands, establishing farms on land gained through the Homestead Act or setting up businesses to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing population.  In fact, there were so many veterans that Kansas became known as "the Great Soldier State," and so many of them joined the GAR that for a time Kansas had more GAR members per capita than any other state.  GAR posts were established in virtually every town; often

The local GAR hall served as the local community center.  Around the turn of the century, the GAR was the equivalent of the modern-day American Legion and V.F.W all rolled into one.  The Kansas GAR held its first state encampment at Topeka in 1882.  Six years later, Winfield hosted this annual event.

The GAR provided homes and funds for soldiers and sailors' widows and orphans and care for disabled or elderly veterans.  With federal assistance, the organization founded an old soldiers' home at Leavenworth in 1884.  Six years later, a state soldiers' home at Fort Dodge and an orphanage in Atchison were opened.  In addition, the Grand Army was instrumental in the construction of the Memorial Building located at Tenth and Jackson in Topeka.  Upon its completion in 1914, the building became the home of the Kansas State Historical Society.

The Woman's Relief Corps was a national charitable and patriotic group associated with the Grand Army of the Republic.  The first corps formed in Kansas was founded at Leavenworth in 1883, and a state organization soon followed.  The Mother Bickerdyke Home for widows, mothers, and daughters of deceased soldiers was just one of the WRC's many undertakings.  Another organization, the Ladies of the GAR, was founded in 1886 for basically the same purpose.  Membership in this organization, however, was limited to women who were relatives of honorably discharged Union soldiers.  The WRC admitted all interested women.

A distinctively shaped badge marks the graves of deceased members of the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR, a nationwide organization of Union soldiers and sailors.  The badge is a symbol, serving as an epitaph.

The Grand ArMemorial Building, Topekamy was instrumental in the construction of the Memorial Building located at Tenth and Jackson in Topeka.  Construction of the building began in 1911, using money from the federal government as war claims compensation for Civil War losses.  Upon its completion in 1914, the building became the home of the Kansas State Historical Society.  The Memorial Building served as home for the Kansas Grand Army of the Republic.  For many years the second floor of the building served as headquarters for the state department of the Grand Army of the Republic, a national organization of Union veterans. It also served as the headquarters for the Kansas State Historical Society for more than 80 years.  The Historical Society developed the remainder of the building into a state museum and archives and eventually gained use of the second floor as the GAR's ranks gradually thinned.

Entry: Grand Army of the Republic

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2009

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.