Bliss Brothers, Photographers, Buffalo, N.Y., Gathering of the Grand Army of the Republic in Buffalo, August 1897; Vintage photograph mounted on paper card, Image: 7 5/8 x 9 1/2 inches; Gift of Howard and Carole Tanenbaum, 2017
Lettering on the pediment suggests that this photograph was taken in front of a Buffalo School. Details about the photographer are unknown. A historic photograph in the Library of Congress document the 31st National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Buffalo in [August 23-28], 1897 and another from the Buffalo History Museum shows a parade on Terrace Street dated August 1, 1897.
The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was a veterans’ club formed in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by the Union armed forces after the Civil War ended. Among other sources, details of its history can be found at “Essential Civil War Curriculum” by Anthony Waskie: http://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/the-grand-army-of-the-republic.html.
The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was founded by Benjamin Franklin Stephenson, M.D. an army regimental surgeon, and Chaplain Reverend William J. Rutledge. Both men had served in the Civil War in the 14th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and had been tent mates during Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's Expedition to Meridian, Mississippi in February 1864. During the expedition they discussed founding an organization that the ..." soldiers so closely allied in the fellowship of suffering, would, when mustered out of the service, naturally desire some form of association that would preserve the friendships and the memories of their common trials and dangers.
Notably, the club sought to provide support in various forms, such as jobs, for veterans, including the African American soldiers and their families—who had been freed. Exemplified here, an African American veteran is proudly seated in the front row of this photograph.
Another interesting recipient was Sarah Emma Edmonds, who, like Joan of Arc, had disguised herself as a man named Franklin Thompson from May 1861 until April 1863 so she could serve in the 2nd Michigan Infantry. She was the only woman admitted to full G.A.R. membership, and continued to live as a man in civilian life while seeking support for a veteran’s pension. She succeeding in 1884, after collecting affidavits from former comrades. She received a pension until her death in 1898 and was given a funeral with military honors when she was reburied in Houston in 1901.
Women standing in the doorway of this vintage photograph may represent the small number of women who had served as volunteer nurses during the Civil War who were awarded “honorary” membership. Clara Barton, known nationally in her role as a war time nurse, was one of the most prominent examples. As stated in the web article, “The official war time Army nurse corps formed its own veterans’ organization called the Association of Army Nurses, founded in Philadelphia. The Army Nurses met along with the Grand Army men at department and national ‘encampments’, but were not accepted as official members.” —NW