Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Grand Army of the Republic

Many writers have talked about the political influence of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) including Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck.  As an arm of the Republican Party, for many decades this organization carried a great deal of clout in national affairs and helped elect such presidents as Ulysses Grant and William McKinley. 

The G.A.R. replaced the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) to become one of the first advocacy groups in American politics.  An invention of Benjamin F. Stephenson, it began in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 founded on the principles of fraternity, charity and loyalty. 

Composed of veterans on the Union Army, it provided a network by which members could maintain connections and contacts with one another.  Sharing war experiences was the original basis of fellowship but this progressed into political power and influence, and it was good to have their backing and support.  According to John Steinbeck, the organization had the power to make or break a candidate.   

On a national level, one of many things the organization promoted was the voting rights of black veterans.  Posts were established in every state of this country, with a few were located overseas.  Like members of the American Legion, at the community level representatives of the G.A.R. wore military-style uniforms, marched in parades and carried flags at ceremonies. 

In Leando, the Thomas Nutt post was established in 1884.  Charter members of this active unit were L.C. Loomis, J. W. Parsons, S. L. Creek, James Harvey, Samuel Lewis, Aaron Ratcliffe, Hugh Findley, W. C. Crawford, W. W. Jackson, A. T. Benning, Owen Nutt, O. O. Stokes, James Elrick and Henry Bacon.  This post in Leando aided widows and children of veterans, and kept flags on the graves of comrades in county cemeteries. 

Sponsored by the G.A.R., many reunions were held in the Leando "commons"--a name given to the park at the top of the hill across from the little white Methodist Church.  Children marched in parades.  My great-grandmother, Charlotte Ratcliffe, who was known as a local historian, would usually read a paper at these affairs while her husband Aaron sat nearby displaying a chest full of Civil War medals that he had won for the brave service he rendered to his country.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick