So, after some research, as well as emails with Wendell Small, Bruce Long, Doug Elwell, and Chris Meekins, I am ready to put together a summary on North Carolina and the Grand Army of the Republic. Tell me what you think… Am I right or wrong, or, where does this need more?
The Grand Army of the Republic was created in Indiana in April 1866. The G. A. R., founded upon the principles of “Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty,” was a fraternal organization for former Union soldiers. At the state level, the G. A. R. was organized into a department, and organizations in different towns and cities were known as Posts. At its zenith, the G. A. R. contained 490,000 members (1890), and every year, starting in 1866, held national encampments in a different city each year. The organization held its last national encampment in Indianapolis in 1949, and with the death of its last member, ceased to exist in 1956. In the 1880s through the 1910s, the G. A. R. was a major driving force in national politics. Many G. A. R. posts met in their own facilities, erected numerous monuments, and maintained homes for old soldiers.
The North Carolina Department of the Grand Army of the Republic was organized on July 11, 1868, with eight posts, including ones in Wilmington and Raleigh. The North Carolina Department was disbanded on December 2, 1872. Nationally, the G. A. R. itself almost ceased to exist. In the 1880s, under new leadership, the G. A. R. once again began to flourish. National leaders decided to form posts in North Carolina and Virginia into a department: the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. Starting in the late 1880s, new posts were created. Many of the posts were located in the coastal area where the Union had a firm grasp early in the war, or in the mountain areas to the west. In 1897, there were an estimated 400 G. A. R. members in North Carolina, spread out in seventeen posts. Some of the posts in the eastern part of the state were composed entirely of former members of the United States Colored Troops.
One of the most active (and long-lasting) G. A. R. posts in North Carolina was the Maj. Gen. John F. Hartranft Post in Charlotte. The Post was created in 1890 and continued to exist through 1931. The Hartranft Post seem to regularly meet with their Confederate counterparts in the United Confederate Veterans for activates on Confederate Memorial Day, and then the Hartranft Post annually made a pilgrimage to Salisbury on the Federal Memorial Day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers at the National Cemetery.
Like the United Confederate Veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic does not exist any more. All of the men that were eligible to join have long ago crossed over the river. However, just as there are organizations out there that continue to commemorate the Confederate Veterans, similar organizations also exist for the Union Veteran. North Carolina has its own chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans, with posts in Fayetteville, Charlotte, Asheville, Raleigh, and Morehead City. You can learn more about the North Carolina Sons of Union Veterans here .