Grand Army of the Republic - Organizational History
Department of Kansas
- Creation and Purpose
- Department Commanders
- Collection Finding Aids
The Kansas Department of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) initially organized December 7, 1866, for the purpose of furthering the interests and preserving the memory of veteran Union soldiers in Kansas. The Veteran Brotherhood, State of Kansas, preceded the Kansas GAR and provided its initial foundation. After a period of delinquency, the Kansas Department reorganized March 16, 1880. The department held the first state encampment at Topeka in 1882 and by 1891 boasted more than twenty thousand members with over five hundred posts. The state encampment at Emporia, 1943, was the department’s last. In 1945, the state Legislature made its last annual appropriation to the Grand Army for publishing the commander’s reports, an appropriation it began in 1899. By 1957 the Legislature assigned custody of all Grand Army records and artifacts to the Kansas State Historical Society.
According to the 1874 national charter, the Grand Army of the Republic purported to preserve fraternal bonds among surviving Union veterans; perpetuate the memory and history of the dead; assist veterans, widows, and orphans in need; and promote allegiance to the United States and the United States Constitution. In the furtherance of these goals, the Kansas Department held annual soldier’s reunions each fall and a business meeting each summer. The Department established a museum and library, which was also the official repository of the organization’s records. Burial services played an important part in the GAR's activities. The Department conducted statewide inventories of soldiers’ graves and sought legislative appropriations to place a soldier’s marker at the grave of each soldier. They also successfully lobbied for soldier’s grave markers to be paid by the local county commissions. To protect the integrity of their organization, the Department successfully lobbied for a state law against the unjustified wearing of the Grand Army badge.
The GAR Memorial Building at Topeka (also called the Soldier’s Memorial Building) represents the culmination of the Department’s prolonged efforts to establish a lasting memorial to Union veterans in Kansas. U.S. President William Howard Taft laid the cornerstone of the building Sept. 27, 1911, and the dedication occurred May 27, 1914 (See the dedication program and related material “Journal of the Thirty-Third Annual Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic Department of Kansas and Dedication of Memorial Hall,” 1914). The Hall not only served as the administrative offices for the state Department and housed its museum and library, but several veteran organizations allied with the GAR also retained offices there, as did the Kansas State Historical Society.
Throughout its existence, the Kansas GAR aggressively lobbied for and supported the creation of institutions and programs for the care of Union veterans in need, and their families. The Department supported the creation of a State Soldiers’ Orphans Home for the care of orphans of ex-Union soldiers and sailors. An 1885 act of the state Legislature authorized the founding of the home, which was located near the city of Atchison.
The National Soldier’s Home at Leavenworth, Kansas, was established in 1885 on the west bank of the Missouri River in Leavenworth County, Kansas. The State Soldiers Home at Ft. Dodge (near Dodge City), a home for ex-Union soldiers and their families (wives), began in 1889. The Home was established on six hundred acres of land deeded to the state by the federal government for the purpose. The Mother Bickerdyke Home at Ellsworth (for widows of Union veterans) was established in 1897.
A “Board of Managers of Ex-Union Soldiers” managed the State Soldier’s Home and the Bickerdyke home at their creation, rather than the State Board of Control, which managed the state hospital and prison. By 1914, the State Board of Control took over managing the homes despite strident opposition from the GAR. The Legislature returned control of the homes back to a Board of Managers in 1915.The GAR closely reviewed the operations of the homes through annual inspections and lobbied for changes in the management of the facility or the care of its wards as it thought necessary. In 1909 the Department lobbied to increase rations for destitute soldiers in opposition to allocations set by the poor commissioners.
The GAR constantly lobbied Congress for a more liberal soldier’s pension. Under the 1862 statute the federal government provided pensions for Union soldiers of the Civil War who suffered war-related injuries. It also provided pensions for dependents such as widows and orphans. Local medical boards examined claimants and assigned a disability rating. A copy of this examination was submitted to the Pension Bureau where a second board determined the claimant’s actual rating. This rating, together with the claimant’s military rank, determined the amount of the veteran’s pension.
By 1890, aggressive lobbing by the GAR succeeded in revising the pension law to include any Union veteran with any disability, removing the service related requirement. Any Union veteran who could not work, due to a disability incurred at any time, could now apply for a pension.
While GAR members considered this a just law, they had two complaints. First, they believed the law was too narrowly construed and unfairly applied by federal officials. They considered the requirements for proving a disability too strict and the many bureaucratic obstacles too prohibitive for many veterans. They frequently expressed their belief that the Pension Bureau’s underlying agenda was to reduce the total number of pensions rather than to provide pensions to all legitimate and qualified claimants. Second, they thought the law was still too narrow in scope. While the 1890 revision broadened considerably the number of qualified claimants, the GAR advocated a “service” pension for all Union veterans of the Civil War regardless of ability.
The Department promoted and administered patriotic and military education in the public schools. It appointed a patriotic instructor to manage such programs throughout the state. Post commanders were encouraged to appoint a post patriotic instructor to administer those programs at the local level. GAR members and the members of their allied organizations taught the singing of patriotic songs and promoted children’s participation in public displays of patriotism. The GAR supported the publication and distribution of patriotic manuals to the public schools and advocated the teaching of the “correct” history of the Civil War and the United States. The Department promoted displaying the American flag outside school buildings and in each classroom, and advocated for instruction on the proper observance of patriotic holidays.
The Kansas GAR was known for its longstanding and outspoken condemnation of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other purportedly “un-American” organizations such as the International Workers of the World (IWW). The department’s opposition to the epic film “Birth of a Nation” was widely publicized and features prominently in the records of the Kansas Board of Review.
At the national level, the permanent reorganization of the Grand Army of the Republic in Kansas in 1880 coincided roughly with Northerners’ disillusionment with Reconstruction, the end of Reconstruction as a political agenda of the Republican Party, and the return of Democratic rule in the South (1877). These events intensified the already long-established mission of the GAR as patriot of the Union cause and defender of Union veteran rights. Many GAR members considered these changes a threat to their legacy and security and the legacy of the Union cause in general. Consequently, partly in response to these changes, the GAR sought to promote the ideals and accomplishments of the Union and preserve its legacy, promote the service and sacrifices of Union soldiers and secure the country’s debt to them (in the form of pensions and aid), and to combat what Union veterans saw as the erosion of Union ideals and an increasing sympathy for a Southern interpretation of the Civil War. At the state level, the GAR held considerable influence in the Kansas Republican Party and effectively lobbied the state Legislature on veteran and patriotic issues. Beginning in the 1890s, however, the GAR's entrance into patrician politics through their increasing opposition to the Populist Party compromised their effectiveness in state politics and initiated a gradual decline in membership and influence.
The first post-Civil War veterans organization in Kansas, the Veteran Brotherhood, also known as the Union Brotherhood, organized December 7, 1865, in Topeka, Kansas, with more than fifty camps and 1,000 members. In June 1866, the Brotherhood elected T. J. Anderson as a delegate to the national GAR encampment at Indianapolis, Indiana, held November 20, 1866. There, the national GAR encampment resolve to receive the Veteran Brotherhood of the State of Kansas into the GAR upon their acceptance of the GAR rituals, constitution, and by-laws. On December 7, 1866, the second annual encampment of the Kansas Veteran Brotherhood officially resolved to join the GAR under the conditions outlined by its resolution, being the fifth organized GAR department. In 1872, the national encampment dropped Kansas from the department roll due to arrears in dues and reports, and Kansas reverted to a provisional department. The Kansas encampment did not satisfy its arrears until 1879, whereupon the national commander approved reorganization February 22, 1880, and issued a reorganized charter on March 20. Under its reorganized charter Kansas ranked twenty-second among the regular departments.
The national GAR encampment charted the first posts in any unorganized state or territory, and established a state department only after the successful organization of not less than six posts. Once established, the Kansas Department chartered more than 500 (some accounts say 660) during its existence and administered fledgling GAR associations in several states and territories prior to their organization into provisional departments. The state Department, in addition, sponsored numerous auxiliary organizations that worked closely with post and state offices to further the organization’s overall mission.
A local precinct could organize into a post by the application of at least ten persons eligible for membership to the state or national department. Similarly, posts disbanded once their membership dropped below ten members, but could reorganize under a new charter with the addition of new or returning members. Like the department, a post’s ranking derived from the date of its charter.
Between 1879 and 1891, the national encampment expanded the jurisdiction of the Kansas Department three times to include neighboring states or territories with only nascent departments. In 1879, posts organized in Missouri came under the jurisdiction of the Kansas Department. The F. P. Blair Post No. 1, St. Louis, Missouri, organized that year under the Department of Kansas. A provisional Missouri Department organized early in 1880 and separated from the Kansas Department, but the F. P. Blair post retained its charter from the Department of Kansas.
In the 1880s two additional jurisdictional changes occurred. In 1882 the national headquarters issued Special Order No. 8 as follows: “The Territory of New Mexico, is hereby placed under the jurisdiction of the department of Kansas, the commander of which is invested with full authority to organize and muster posts in said territory.” Following this order a post organized at Las Vegas, New Mexico, but a New Mexico Department soon formed and separated from the Kansas Department. The 1890 encampment proceedings note: “In General Order No 9, issued June 1 st 1889, the Commander-in-Chief attached all that portion lying north of the Canadian river, to the Department of Kansas, and the settlement of Oklahoma by thousands of ex-soldiers has added much to the correspondence of this office. A number of posts have already been organized while there are others in contemplation.” The following year the attached Territory of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory formed a new Department of Oklahoma and detached from the Kansas Department.
Throughout its history the Kansas Department maintained close ties with several allied organizations for the families of Union veterans of the Civil War. As the membership of the GAR began to dwindle, the importance of the allied organizations increased, so much so that by the 58 th encampment, 1938, the Kansas Department appended the words “And Allied Orders” to the masthead of their annual proceedings. The following organizations maintained the closest ties to the Kansas Department:
The Committee of 38 (1881)
A coalition of community-based organizations organized under the auspices of the Kansas Department of the GAR to finance and mange the state soldiers’ and sailors’ reunions. The Committee’s name and number of members reflected the number of states in the Union at that time and so changed periodically (i.e. 39, 40, etc.). The committee first organized in 1881 and dissolved in the early 1890s. It was superseded by the Kansas State Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Reunion Association, 1911.
Sons of the Union Veterans (1883)
A national association composed of the sons of Union veterans. The Kansas Department organized in 1883, just a year after the creation of the national organization, with a Department charter dated January 1, 1885. While independent of the GAR, both organizations worked toward common goals and the SUV received much support from its parent organization. The association’s organizational structure mirrored that of the Grand Army, with national and state encampments, and local posts or camps. The GAR state headquarters provided one room for the state headquarters of the SUV and their women’s auxiliary.
Women’s Relief Corps (1884)
Preceded by the Christian Sanitary Commission of 1861-1865, the Women’s Relief Corps was the official women’s auxiliary to the GAR and was made up of the wives, daughters, mothers and sisters of Union veterans. The Kansas Department organized in 1884. GAR state headquarters provided one room for the state headquarters of the Kansas WRC.
Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic (1886)
The Ladies of the GAR was the unofficial women’s auxiliary of the GAR. The LGAR organized independent of the GAR and formed groups around local GAR posts, but without the consent of the posts. Its membership was composed of the wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters of Union veterans. The GAR did sponsor the LGAR even though they had no jurisdiction over them, as evidenced by supplying one room for the state headquarters of the LGAR in the Memorial Building.
Sons of Union Veterans’ Auxiliary (1891)
An organization of the wives and daughters of the Sons of the Union Veterans. The first Kansas Department organized in 1891 following the national auxiliary, which organized in 1883.
Kansas State Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Reunion Association (1911)
Preceded by the Committee of 38 and the First Congressional District Reunion Committee, Topeka. The KSSSRA organized for the purpose of holding a statewide soldiers’ and sailors’ reunion to coincide with the laying of the cornerstone of the proposed veteran’s Memorial Building at Topeka, September 27, 1911. The Kansas Department of the Grand Army of the Republic had not held a reunion since the 1890s. The state GAR encampment at Lawrence adopted P. H. Coney’s resolution outlining the proposed reunion. Under this agreement, the Kansas Department of the GAR controlled the reunion and claimed ownership while the KSSSRA financed and managed it. The KSSSRA was entirely responsible for organizing and financing the reunion without the use of GAR funds (Source: Official Record of Meetings of the State Soldiers and Sailors Reunion, Kansas Historical Society call number: *K/369.3/K13m).
Daughters of Union Veterans (1924)
A national organization of the Daughters of Union Veterans first organized in 1885. In 1900 the national encampment of the GAR officially endorsed the Daughters of Union Veterans as an allied organization. A few local “tents” organized in Kansas as early as 1890 but soon dissolved. A revival began in 1916 with twenty camps recorded in 1934.
The Kansas Department of the Federated Patriotic Societies Allied to the Grand Army of the Republic (1930)
With losses to the GAR membership by death averaging twelve percent annually, the GAR encouraged the organization of this federation primarily as a means to ensure, after the demise of the GAR, that families of Union veterans maintain control of the Memorial Building in Topeka. The federation officially organized and incorporated May 12, 1930, at Chanute, electing one trustee from each of the following organizations: the Women’s Relief Corps, Ladies of the GAR, Daughters of the Union Veterans, Sons of the Union Veterans, and Sons of the Union Veterans Auxiliary. All past and present commanders and presidents of the allied organizations were eligible for membership in this federation.
A Department encampment governed the state Department and consisted of all past and present Department commanders, all present post commanders, and at least one elected representative from each post. The Department encampment met between January and May of each year to administer the Department’s business. Here, the Department elected a commander, senior vice-commander, junior vice-commander and medical director. Upon taking office, the commander appointed the assistant adjutant general, assistant quartermaster general, inspector, judge advocate, and chief mustering officer.
A Department Council of Administration acted as a review board for the state Department, audited its various officers and kept a record of its proceedings. This Council consisted of all of the elected and appointed officers of the Department and five additional members by election.
In addition to keeping all records of the Department and the Council of Administration, the assistant adjutant general conducted the correspondence and issued all orders, prepared all returns and countersigned all charters. He kept the following records: order book, letter book, indorsement [sic] and memorandum book, “and files of all orders, reports, and correspondence received.”
Each department encampment was subordinate to the national encampment, which held “supreme power” in the association, and which issued department charters. The national encampment consisted of all past and present commanders-in-chief and vice-commanders-in-chief; the commanders, vice-commanders and assistant adjutant generals of the departments; past department commanders; and at least one elected representative from each department. The meetings of the national encampment were held between May and September.
The proceedings of state encampments included the official reports of the department officers and its auxiliary organizations for the preceding year, and a report on the election of officers for the proceeding year. The Kansas Grand Army began publishing their proceedings in 1882. The year 1899 marks the first annual state appropriation for publishing the reports for submission to the governor. The last state appropriation for publishing GAR reports occurred in 1945, but the last known GAR proceeding occurred in 1942.
Individual posts were charged with holding monthly business meetings, although the elections of their officers and delegates took place at the first meeting each December. Post officers included commander, senior vice commander, junior vice commander, adjutant, quartermaster, surgeon, chaplain, officer of the day, officer of the guard, sergeant-major and quartermaster-sergeant. Post officers were elected by ballot with the exception of the adjutant, sergeant-major and quartermaster- sergeant who were appointed by the commander upon his taking office. Eight members constituted a quorum for all post meetings.
The adjutant kept the post's books, approved all actions of the post with his signature, and prepared all required reports and returns. The quartermaster managed the post’s accounts, including membership dues. The books kept by the post include rules and regulations of the national encampment, by-laws of the post, a descriptive book “embracing every fact contained in the application,” a journal of post proceedings, an order book, a letter book, an indorsement [sic] and memorandum book, and a black book “in which shall be recorded the names of all rejected candidates, and also of all members of the Grand Army who have been dishonorably discharged.”
Posts could adopt by-laws for their government as long as they were consistent with state and national rules and regulations. All posts delinquent in reports or dues were excluded from the department encampment.
As Department No. 5:
Martin, John A., 1866-1867
Carpenter, John C., 1868
Cobb, Stephen A., 1869-1871
As A Provisional Department:
Jenkins, W. S., 1872-1875
Guthrie, John, 1876
Gillpatrick, J. H., 1877-1878
Walkinshaw, J. C., 1879
As Department No. 22 (reorganized)
Walkinshaw, J. C., 1879-1882
Anderson, T. J., 1882-1883
Pond, Homer W., 1884
Stewart, Milton, 1885
McDivitt, C. J., 1886
Soward, T. H., 1887
Feighan, J. W., 1888
Booth, Henry, 1889
Collins, Ira F., 1890
McCarthy, Tim, 1891
Greene, Albert R., 1892
Kelly, Bernard, 1893
Campbell, W. P., 1894
Harris, John P., 1895
Whitney, W. C., 1896
Botkin, Theodore, 1897
Eastman, D. W., 1898
Coulter, O. H., 1899
Martin, W. W., 1900
Remington, J. B., 1901
Loomis, H. C., 1902
Smith, A. W., 1903
Harris, Charles, 1904
Coney, P. H., 1905-1906
Campbell, R. A., 1907
Morgan, W. A., 1908
Rickel, Joel. H., 1909
Harmon, Nathan, E., 1910
Anderson, T. P., 1911
Harrison, J. N., 1912-1913
Brougher, Ira D., 1914
Meek, C. A., 1915
Painter, R. M., 1916
Pierce, A. C., 1917
Smith, W. W., 1918
Gardner, Theodore, 1919
Walter, Joseph A., 1920
Washburn, Geo. P., 1921
Bowman, E. W., 1921
Denison, William W., 1922
Mitchell, W. H., 1923
Graff, A., 1924
Jackson, Fred, 1925
Baughman, S., 1926
McWhorter, R. H., 1927
Merrill, H. I., 1928
Priddy, J. W., 1929
King, Charles H., 1930
Phillips, E. W., 1931
Harvey, J. H., 1932
Nagle, Grear, 1932
Wardell, W. H., 1932
Rhodes, W. B., 1933
Nixon, W. W., 1934
Gere, A. O., 1935
Getty, J. H., 1936
Keller, Henry, 1937
Weinrich, Phillip, 1938
Williams, T. B., 1939
Malloy, J. W., 1940
Scheiner, George, 1941
Fair, J. P., 1942
Nixon, W. W., 1943
Connelley, W. E. Standard History of Kansas, 1918, v.2, p. 1082.
“Department of Kansas, Grand Army of the Republic.” Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Annual Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Kansas, Held at McPherson, May 20 and 1, 1903 (Leavenworth, Kans.: Ketcheson Printing Co., 1903): appendix, p. 24.
Gross, Jennifer L. "Civil War Pensions" in Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History. Heidler, David Stephen, ed. (2002).
“History of the Central Region States of the Grand Army of the Republic,” Commemorating the 100th Anniversary, April 16 and 17, 1966, Decatur, Illinois, prepared by committee.
Kansas: a Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Ccounties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Chicago: Standard Pub. Co., 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar.
"Official Record of Meetings of the State Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Reunion and Corner Stone Laying of Memorial and Historical Building Association, and its Executive Committees" [Ms. in KSHS Library, *K/369.3/K13m].
"Record of [the] Invitation Committee, Kansas State Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Reunion Association," 1911 [M in KSHS Library, *K/369.3/K13m].
Proceedings of the Annual Encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic. Department of Kansas, 1882-1943. For historical articles see the following Proceedings: Forty-sixth annual encampment, 1927, pp. 29-34; Fiftieth annual encampment, 1930, pp. 52-54 (best history of its early organization with detailed table of commanders).
Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Grand Army of the Republic and Rules of Order of the National Encampment  together with the By-laws of Pallock Post, No. 42 (Department of Kansas, 1885).
Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Grand Army of the Republic as Revised by the National Encampment at its Meeting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 13th, 1874 (Boston: Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic, 1874).
Sinisi, Kyle S. “Veterans as Political Activists: The Kansas Grand Army of the Republic, 1880-1893.” Kansas History, v. 14, no. 2, 1991: pp. 89-99.
Walkinshaw, J. C. “History of the Department of Kansas G.A.R. from Its First Formation to the Present Time, with Officers, Representatives, &c.” The Kansas Knight and Soldier, 15 February 1887 through 14 September 1887 (his primary source is the proceedings of the national encampments).
Wilder, Bessie E. Governmental Agencies of the State of Kansas, 1861-1956 (Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas Publications, 1957). It notes: “Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Kansas, 1882- . Organized in the state in 1882. Journal published by state since 1899.” This is an open entry indicating that at least by 1957 the agency was still considered to be in operation.