The Stephenson Grand Army of the Republic Memorial

The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial

Many of the statues and memorials in D.C. seem as though they are permanent.  But this is often not the case, with many of them being moved around, placed in storage, or changed as necessary to accommodate new construction or development.  This is the case for The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial, which was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.

The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial is presently located across the street from The National Archives and Records Administration Building and adjacent to the U.S. Navy Memorial in Indiana Plaza, at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.  The memorial was moved in 1987 from it’s original location, which was just a few yards away where The Temperance Fountain is now located.  The fountain was moved from its original location a few blocks away during the renewal of Pennsylvania Avenue by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.

Shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War, groups of men began joining together in fraternal organizations. These organizations were first formed for camaraderie, but eventually evolved into groups which possessed and wielded significant political influence.  Emerging most powerful among the various organizations would be The Grand Army of the Republic.

Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership in the Grand Army of the Republic was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service, who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The organization became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, lobbying the U.S. Congress to establish veterans’ pensions, advocating for voting rights for black veterans, and supporting Republican political candidates.  As one of the more powerful political organizations in the late 19th century, it also helped to establish The Old Soldiers’ Home, which would later become The Department of Veterans Affairs.  Also, under the leadership of John Alexander Logan, the organization was largely responsible for establishing the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May, as part of their Decoration Day campaign.

At it’s height in 1890, it would number almost 500,000 veterans of the “War of the Rebellion,” with chapters or “posts” in every state except Hawaii, even those of the former Confederacy.  But the organization continued to allow only Union veterans of the Civil War, and through attrition it grew smaller each year.  It was finally dissolved in 1956 when its last surviving member, Albert Henry Woolson, passed away.

Memorials to the Grand Army of the Republic include a commemorative postage stamp, a U.S. Federal highway, and various statues and physical memorials in hundreds of communities throughout the country. The D.C. memorial was erected by the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Foundation using funds that the U.S. Congress appropriated in 1907, and was dedicated in 1909.

The memorial’s pink granite centerpiece was designed by the firm of Rankin, Kellogg and Crane, and P.R. Pullman and Company, was responsible for the foundation of the monument, which had to be specially made due to the significant weight of the granite column. Scottish-American sculptor J. Massey Rhind sculpted the bronze statue and inlays for the memorial.

Also known as The Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson Memorial, it is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.  With the dissolution of the organization, the memorial is now owned and maintained by the National Park Service.

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