The Grand Army of the Republic in Lancaster County

(Copyright 1995, Lancaster County Historical Society (JOURNAL of the Lancaster County Historical Society, Volume 97, Number 3, 1995. Copies available.)

By Glenn B. Knight

It was early 1866 and the United States of America--now securely one nation again--was waking to the reality of recovery from war. In prior wars the care for the veteran warrior was the province of the family or the community. Soldiers were friends and neighbors who went off to fight--until the next planting or harvest. This war was very different.

By the end of the Civil War, units had become less homogeneous, men from different communities and even different states were forced together by the exigencies of battle where trust and friendship was forged. And with the advances in the care and movement of wounded, many who would have surely died in earlier wars now returned home to be cared for by a weary community structure which now also faced the needs of widows and orphans. Veterans needed jobs, including a whole new group of veterans--the colored soldier and his entire, newly freed, family. It was often more than the fragile fabric of communities could bear.

State and federal leaders from President Lincoln down had promised to care for "those who have borne the burden, his widows and orphans", but they had little knowledge of how to accomplish the task. There was also little political pressure to see that the promises were kept.

But probably the most profound emotion was emptiness. Men who had lived together, fought together, foraged together and survived together, had developed an unique bond that could not be broken. As time went by the memories of the filthy and vile environment of camp life began to be remembered less harshly and eventually fondly. Friendships forged in battle survived separation and the warriors missed the warmth of trusting companionship that had asked only total commitment.

With that background, groups of men began joining together--first for camaraderie and then for political power. They would ultimately forge the Grand Army of the Republic, a political and social force like none other in the history of our nation. The first "political action committee" would eventually control state legislatures, governorships, and would become powerful voting blocks in federal decision making. They would devise the model for the Spanish-American War Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and other groups wielding political power and uniting for social purposes.

In Lancaster the "War of the Rebellion" had ended less than a year earlier when a group of veterans met at the hall of the United Order of American Mechanics on East King Street. Lieutenant Colonel William L. Baer was, according to their minute book, "in the chair". The date was Feb. 13, 1866 and the Soldiers and Sailors Union was formed upon the foundation of the "Soldiers and Sailors' National Union League" that had organized the previous month in Washington, D.C. Baer was a delegate (recorded in the Proceedings as "Lieutenant Colonel Bear, of Pa.") to the organizing convention held Jan. 22 through 24, 1866.

The Grand Army of the Republic was not organized until April 6 of that year in Decatur, Ill. and on Jan 16, the following year, the Department of Pennsylvania, G.A.R. was organized in Philadelphia.

The fraternity grew and by the turn of the century was a political and social force with wide power and influence. That influence grew locally, too, as the Lancaster County contingent was the only Pennsylvania county with its own identity in the parade at the 36th Annual Encampment in Washington, DC, October 1902 . General Orders No. 6 dated Oct. 22, 1902 report:
In the "Grand Parade" six thousand comrades participated, the following Posts marched . . . and the "Lancaster County Battalion" representing sixteen Posts, parading 200 Comrades.

By the time the Grand Army of the Republic held its final National Encampment, in Indianapolis, in 1949, Lancaster County had hosted 19 posts and numerous units of the "allied orders" of the G.A.R. This article from the Quarryville Sun of May 18, 1904 shows that the peak had been reached by that time:
At a meeting of delegates of the eighteen Grand Army posts of Lancaster County, resolutions were adopted indorsing Major H. Y. Breneman for election to the position of Senior Vice Commander of the Department of Pennsylvania by the next State Encampment.

The only survivors of this legacy are Gen. George H. Thomas Camp No. 19, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and its Auxiliary. They currently meet at the Lancaster County Historical Society.

<Edited for Family History only>


The second of three posts to be organized in Lancaster, Admiral Reynolds Post #405 was named for Admiral William Reynolds, a distinguished Naval officer and brother of the better-known General John Fulton Reynolds who died July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg. Lancaster was precluded from naming one of its posts after General Reynolds because Gen. John F. Reynolds Post #71 in Philadelphia had beat them to it. The Reynolds family is intertwined with the history of Lancaster for more than a century.

Department records indicate that this post was organized Jan. 2, 1884 by Department Assistant Adjutant General Thos. J. Stewart, they met weekly at Reynolds' Hall (in the Kepler Building), 42« N. Queen St. For many years John Black served as adjutant. The 1910 Kepler Building fire which destroyed Reiley Brothers and Raub Hardware Store, Reynolds' Hall and the meeting place for many other organizations, may account for the dearth of information on this post. A "duplicate" charter for this post, dated April 1910, hangs in the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in Philadelphia. Most of what we know comes from newspaper accounts, department records and the records of other posts.

The Daily New Era reports on Feb. 7, 1888 that:
Admiral Reynolds Post 405, G.A.R. has secured the Opera House for three nights and Saturday matinee, commencing Thursday, March 15, to show Brady's War Views, which cost the United States Government $25,000. Colonel J. H. Grover, the lecturer, is classed among the best speakers of the day.

Charter member Washington F. Hambright went on to serve as commander of the Department of Pennsylvania in 1922-23, then in 1931 he was the Adjutant General of the entire G.A.R.. Martin R. Good, also a member of this post, was Department Senior Vice Commander in 1931 and 1932.

One of the post's past commanders' A. C. Leonard, in 1904, wrote and published an account of his wartime service in Company F, 54th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry under the title The Boys in Blue of 1861 - 1865, sub-titled, "A Condensed History Worth Preserving". At the end of this book he writes:
. . .through the instrumentality of the Grand Army of the Republic, just pension and other important legislation, in the interest of former comrades and their widows and orphans, has been enacted. State and national homes for the aged and needy were established, to the end that no man who wore the Union blue need spend his days in an almshouse. Schools for the mental, moral and physical education of the veterans' children are provided, and measures have been adopted whereby every honorably discharged soldier and sailor is assured a respectable Christian burial, his grave being properly marked and forever kept green.
In addition to all this the hundreds of thousands of dollars dispensed in charity by the Grand Army of the Republic is something the world knows nothing about, and the good work of this brotherhood will go on until the last comrade has been mustered into the Grand Army above.
In this organization there is perfect equality, no distinction being made on account of nationality, creed, color or politics, nor is there preference by reason of former rank in the service or present station in life, all that is asked of an applicant for membership is "Did he respond to his country's call in the days of its life and death struggle, and faithfully fulfill his obligation to the Government." If the answer be "yes," the right hand of fellowship is extended.

In other records of the Pennsylvania Department we find references to the existence of a unit of the Women's Relief Corps and a camp of the Sons of Veterans. In 1919, eight members of the post served on the committee for the Pennsylvania Department Encampment, which was held in Lancaster that year. The Post #405 representatives were: A. H. Ball, P. H. Fratz, M. H. Grube, H. C. Schenk, John Chambers, N. H. Ramsey, Newton Weaver and Daniel H. Yackley.

Members of Admiral Reynolds Post #405 participated in the 1941 Memorial Day activities in Lancaster15 even though Department of Pennsylvania records show the post folding in 1935. George Watson, John Kahl and William Hubert represented the post on that committee.

Admiral Reynolds, at the age of 16, was appointed a Naval midshipman by Representative (later President) James Buchanan on Nov. 17, 1831. Until 1855 he served on various ships and had a number of leaves and furloughs due to his poor health. Just prior to the Civil War he was serving in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and returned home to command blockade ships in the Atlantic. After the war he served as a member of the Ordinance Board, Visitor to the Naval Academy and chief of the Bureau of Equipment--the latter leading to his promotion to commodore. Following a special assignment with the Secretary of the Navy he was sent, as a rear admiral, to command the Asiatic Station (equivalent to serving as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet in the contemporary Navy) until his retirement on Dec. 10, 1877. He died in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 5, 1879 and is buried in Lancaster close to his brother, General John F. Reynolds.16

Back to Family Home Page


1. Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans, History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Everts & Peck, Philadelphia, 1883, 496
2. Wakefield Column , Quarryville Sun, June 7, 1901
3. Minute Book of G.A.R. Post #84, Manuscript Group 17, Grand Army of the Republic, Lancaster County Historical Society, unpublished
4. R. L. Polk & Co., Directory of Lancaster, Pa., 1931, 639
5. C. E. Howe Co,. Lancaster City and County Directory, Philadelphia, 1882-1993, 405
6. Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London, 1989, 550-551
7. Ellis and Evans, loc. cit., 581
8. Manuscript Group 18, Civil War, Lancaster County Historical Society, unpublished, Box 3, Folder 97, Item 1
9. Ellis and Evans, loc. cit., 636
10. Warner, loc. cit., 228
11. Old Home Week & Hope Hose Co. Centennial, Manheim, 1912, 50-51
12. Ellis and Evans, loc. cit., 100
13. Ibid., 757
14. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, Headquarters, Department of Pennsylvania, Grand Army of the Republic. . ., Feb. 16, 1884
15. Memorial Day brochure 1941, Manuscript Group 17, Grand Army of the Republic, Lancaster County Historical Society, unpublished, Box 3, Folder 32
16. Professor Horace R. Barnes, Rear Admiral William Reynolds a Distinguished Lancastrian 1815-1879, Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. 38, 61-66
17. Minute Book, Capt. J. N. Neff Post 406, Grand Army of the Republic, Strasburg, PA, Dec. 31, 1883, manuscript
18. Veterans' Grave Registration Record, Works Progress Administration, Ca. 1936, unpublished, at Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. 1, 509
19. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, loc. cit., Aug. 16, 1884
20. H. M. J. Klein, Ph.D., Editor, Lancaster County Pennsylvania, A History, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., New York and Chicago, 1924, 303
21. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, loc. cit., June 9, 1926
22. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, loc. cit., July 6, 1886
23. Klein, loc. cit., 256
24. Manuscript Group 60, Grand Army of the Republic, State Archives of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Unpublished
25. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, loc. cit., July 6, 1886
26. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, loc. cit., July 11, 1887
27. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, loc. cit., June 9, 1931
28. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, loc. cit., July 4, 1888
29. Assistant Adjutant General's Report, loc. cit., June 11, 1924
30. Veterans' Grave Registration Record, loc. cit., Vol. 1, 288
31. Leroy T. Hopkins Jr., Ph.D., No Balm In Gilead: Lancaster's African-American Population and the Civil War Era, Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. 95, No. 1, Winter 1993
32. Ibid.
33. Klein, loc. cit., 1064
34. Ibid., 1145