While the Grand Army of the Republic might seem like something out of a bad pulp science fiction story, it’s also something that’s fairly real to American History. The monument to it, and its founder, stand just off Pennsylvania Avenue in Penn Quarter. The Grand Army was a fraternal organization established in 1866 for retired soldiers of the Union Army, and stood in existence until 1956, when its last member died. It was super-ceded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, founded in 1881 to preserve the mission of the original organization.
The GAR was one of the more powerful political organizations in the late 19th century, helping to establish Old Soldiers’ Homes, which would later become the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In addition, their organization was partly responsible for establishing the Memorial Day Holiday at the end of May, as part of their Decoration Day campaign.