Today, the Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers the first state convention of the Grand Army of the Republic on July 12, 1866.
From the Manual of the Civil War and Key to the Grand Army of the Republic and Kindred Societies by J. Worth Carnahan, published in 1897:
The cradle of the “Grand Army of the Republic” was a soldier’s tent.
On the march to Meridian was born the idea that was to crystallize and develop, and finally produce that brotherhood of soldiers known as the G. A. R.
During Sherman’s expedition to Meridian, in February, 1864, Maj. B. F. Stephenson and Chaplain W. J. Rutledge became tent mates and close friends.
As they spoke in glad anticipation of the time when they might exchange the hardships and trials of the field for the shelter and comfort of their homes, Chaplain Rutledge suggested that when the troops were finally mustered out of the service, it would be but natural to suppose that men who had shared so much suffering, privation, and danger would wish to form some sort of association, that they might meet again to preserve the friendships and memories of the past.
This topic became the subject of frequent conversation and they agreed to assist one another in the development of such a project, if they were spared.
This mutual agreement was not forgotten, especially by Dr. Stephenson, when he returned home after the close of his army service. The more he thought of an organization of perpetual comradeship, the more he was enthused with the idea.
He could not forget the many deeds of valor daily performed by his comrades, or the many bloody battlefields won by their prowess.
When his thoughts returned to the scenes of that trying time, he could again hear the roar of his comrades’ deadly artillery, the terrible crash and racket of their muskets, and the ringing and clanging of their sabres, when they crossed with those of the enemy.
He could again see the many battlefields covered with the dead and wounded, and the ground made red with their hearts’ blood.
He could again hear the vain cry for “water” to sustain the fast ebbing life stream, and the sacred messages whispered in his ear by sufferers racked with pain and far away from home and loved ones, as he bent over them in performance of the duties required by his profession.
His duty, as a physician, often called him to the bedside of comrades, who had returned home from the service crippled and maimed for life, and these interviews constantly reminded him of “the groan of the gray-haired sire on learning the sad news; the indescribable look of despair of the widow, on learning that her last prop was taken from her; the shriek of the newly-made bride; the suppressed anguish of the betrothed maiden; and the piteous wail of the bereaved mother, as, with quivering lips, she imparted the sad news to the little ones, who henceforth would be fatherless, and, perhaps, homeless.”
Considerable correspondence on the subject of the organization, of the Order, which is now known as the “Grand Army of the Republic,” passed between Dr. Stephenson and Mr. Rutledge, until they met, by appointment, in Springfield, Ill., in March, 1866, to arrange for the compilation of a ritual for the proposed Order.
The first Post was organized at Decatur, Ill., April 6, 1866, by Maj. B. F. Stephenson, and a ritual was printed under his supervision.
The first State Convention was held in Springfield, Ill., July 12, 1866.
As Commander-in-Chief, Dr. Stephenson issued a general order, dated October 31, 1866, calling the first National Convention of the “Grand Army of the Republic.”
The convention met in Indianapolis, Ind., November 20, 1866, and representatives were present from Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, and the District of Columbia.
The objects of the G. A. R., as originally set forth in their Constitution, are:
“First, the preservation of those kind and fraternal feelings, which have bound together, with the strong cords of love and affection, the comrades in arms of many battles, sieges, and marches; second, to make these ties available in works and results of kindness, of favor and material aid to those in need of assistance; third, to make provision, where it is not already done, for the support, care, and education of soldiers’ orphans, and for the maintenance of the widows of deceased soldiers; fourth, for the protection and assistance of disabled soldiers, whether disabled by wounds, sickness, old age, or misfortune; fifth, for the establishment and defense of the late soldiery of the United States, morally, socially, and politically, with a view to inculcate a proper appreciation of their services to the country, and to a recognition of such services and claims by the American people.”
The Indianapolis Convention, held November 20, 1866, added the word “sailors” to the Springfield Constitution, and also a new section, taken from the Constitution of the “Loyal Legion,” which reads as follows: “The maintenance of true allegiance to the United States of America, based upon paramount respect for and fidelity to the National Constitution and Laws, manifested by the discountenancing of whatever may tend to weaken loyalty, incite to insurrection, treason, or rebellion, or in any manner impairs the efficiency and permanency of our free institutions, together with a defense of universal liberty, equal rights, and justice to all men.”
According to the Rules and Regulations of the Grand Army of the Republic, A. D. 1893, all ” Soldiers and Sailors of the United States Army, Navy, or Marine Corps, who served between April 12, 1861, and April 9, 1865, in the war for the suppression of the Rebellion, and those having been honorably discharged therefrom after such service, and of such State regiments as were called into active service and subject to the orders of the U. S. General officers, between the dates mentioned, shall be eligible to membership in the Grand Army of the Republic. No person shall be eligible to membership who has at any time borne arms against the United States.”
The Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an image of a display case with a Grand Army of the Republic medal accompanied by a photograph of Private Charles F. Sherman of the 2nd Massachusetts Light Artillery Battery.