William L. Baker Post 86 Grand Army of the Republic
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was an organization of Union veterans of the American Civil War. In 1890, the GAR reported membership in excess of 400,000, including former Presidents Garfield, Grant, Harrison, Hayes, and McKinley. The GAR was active in national politics, an activity perhaps motivated by postwar concerns over government pensions to Civil War veterans. As an organization, the GAR held great influence over national politics; Albert E. Smith Jr. writes that the "GAR became do powerful that the wrath of the entire body could be called down upon any man in public life who objected to GAR-sponsored legislation."
Although the Grand Army of the Republic was founded locally in Illinois on April 6, 1866, the ensuing national organization of GAR developed rather quickly. A convention was held on July 12, 1866, through which the Department of Illinois was formed. On November 20, 1866, ten states and the District of Columbia held a national convention. The GAR Department of Massachusetts was organized on May 7, 1867. It appears that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had 210 GAR posts. Massachusetts Post 86 was located in Northampton, and was apparently under the direction of William L. Baker.
In the summer of 1992 Elise Feeley, Reference Librarian at Forbes Library, discovered a cache of more than 200 photographs in the drawer of a work table. She thought the photographs were Civil War connected and invited Jim Parsons to look them over. Feeley and Parsons investigated the photographs, concluding that the images were taken in the 1880s, and that they represent members of GAR Post 86.
The photographs have been scanned and presented online for the public's occupation. Nevertheless, the project is not yet complete; we continue to add biographical information for each veteran represented in the exhibit. Needless to say, the Forbes Library archivists appreciate any feedback regarding the continuing development of the GAR exhibit.
Sources: Smith, Albert E. Jr. "The Grand Army of the Republic and Kindred Societies." Washington, D. C.: Library of Congress, 2001.
Arranged and described by Elise Bernier-Feeley and James Parsons; updated by Jamie Richardson, Julie Bartlett and Matthew A. Brown.