Formed in 1866, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was allegedly the creation of a Dr. B.F. Stephenson who “undoubtedly envisioned his new veterans’ group as a tool to further the political ambitions of two Illinois Republicans, General John A. Logan and Governor Richard Oglesby.” They considered the GAR as a postwar voting machine to be lubricated with generous army pensions, political appointments and favors, to help ensure political control of the South after the war. Southerners despised the GAR as much as the infamous Union League, and Gen. Nathan B. Forrest told a Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper correspondent that the Ku Klux Klan had developed in Tennessee as a “protection against Loyal [Union] Leagues and the Grand Army of the Republic.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Blue Not Marching with the Gray
“To the close of the century Grand Army men, spurred to continued hostility by their [anti-South] textbook campaign, gave little evidence of friendliness for the South. The veterans’ press stimulated this enmity by angrily publicizing every aggressive rationalization of the Lost Cause, and other journals sometimes joined the attack.
On one occasion the Chicago Tribune, irritated because military institute cadets had paraded in Atlanta behind a Confederate flag, remarked that the city needed “the Grand Army to go there and show it the only flag behind which the cadets ever should march.”
These sentiments were reflected at GAR gatherings; former President [Rutherford B.] Hayes recorded with regret a disposition at the 1891 encampment “to scold the South – to discuss irritating topics in an ill-tempered way.” This was the encampment that objected to the federal purchase of Chickamauga battlefield and condemned the growing Southern penchant for erecting “Rebel” monuments. The National Tribune supported these objections with the complaint that the [Chicago monument to Confederate dead] would confuse the rising generation as to “plain matters of right and wrong.”
The Southern press replied to these attacks with charges that the Grand Army’s emphasis upon “patriotism” was merely a cloak for mercenary motives. The Memphis Commercial Appeal declared: . . . “the organization as a whole is one of the worst and most harmful that has ever existed in this country . . . [the GAR has prostituted] the noblest of emotions . . . to the basest ends. It has made a merchandise of patriotism and a commodity of valor . . .”
A plan formulated early in 1896 to hold a “blue and gray” parade in New York City as a July 4 demonstration of national unity clearly indicated the Grand Army’s attitude toward its former enemies. The New York press urged the project as a friendly gesture not only to the city’s ten thousand Confederate-veteran inhabitants but also to its Southern customers.
[When GAR commander in chief, Ivan N. Walker was asked for his endorsement of the parade, he] consented to permit the [GAR] members’ participation provided no Confederate flag appeared. [When Walker was informed] that the former Confederates would march in their gray uniforms . . . [he] declared the Confederate uniform as objectionable as the flag and announced, “We cannot, as an organization, join in any public demonstration and march with those who fought against the Union clad in a uniform which was shot to death by the Grand Army of the Republic, thirty years ago.”
(Veterans in Politics, the Story of the G.A.R.; Mary R. Dearing, LSU Press, 1952, excerpts, pp. 448-450)