Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Photo of the Day: Grand Army of the Republic Statue, DC

One of the things I love about Washington, DC, is that, when you visit one place, you are immediately greeted with two or three other sights that also fascinate you. So it proved when I got off at the Metro stop for the National Archives. Even before I crossed the street, I felt compelled to pull out my camera to snap right near me the Navy Memorial and what you see here.

This memorial honors not only the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) but also Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, who founded this most significant of the veterans’ organizations emerging from the Civil War on this day 150 years ago in Decatur, Ill.   

At the time of its creation, almost a year after the surrender at Appomattox, it was already clear that the traditional community structures for tending to the needs of war veterans were being simply overwhelmed by the scale of the conflict just concluded.

The GAR, organized for Union officers and enlisted men who had been honorably discharged, started by founding soldiers’ homes and initiating relief work and pension legislation. Before long, it wielded what Washington understands best: considerable political clout. Between 1868 and 1908, no Republican was nominated to the presidency without a GAR endorsement.

This three-sided granite monument was created by the Scottish-born sculptor John Massey Rhind and dedicated in 1909. A large bronze bas relief on this side you see depicts a Union soldier and sailor representing “Fraternity”; below them, a smaller bas relief of Stephenson, who started the war as a surgeon associated with the 14th Illinois Infantry Regiment before rising to the rank of brigade surgeon by the time he was discharged in 1864.

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