Monday, March 19, 2018

G.A.R. Membership Medal, US Civil War Grand Army of the Republic, Union Army Veteran Samuel Rouse, GAR

Today we'll be taking a look at the newest medal that I have added to the collection. 

This last weekend I picked up a beautiful G.A.R. Membership Medal from the original veteran's great great granddaughter.  It is not often that I have the chance to put a name to an artifact this old, but in this case luck was with me!

This medal belonged to a US Civil War, Union Army veteran named Samuel Rouse.  I don't know anything else about his service in the Civil War, so that bit of research will continue.

The Grand Army Of The Republic, also known as the G.A.R., was founded in 1866, immediately following the Civil War.  It wasn't really a "force to be reckoned with" until it was reorganized in the 1880's.  During, and shortly after, the US Civil War, the US Government had promised pensions for the Union Soldiers who had fought for so many years.  When the war was over, the government realized that what they had promised was going to be tough to deliver and the stalling began.  The G.A.R. stepped up and became a powerful, organized advocate for veterans, and the pensions started rolling in.  The membership started growing as well.   

In the late 1880's, when the G.A.R. reorganized, the G.A.R. Veteran's Membership Medal was born.

 The G.A.R. remained active until 1956, when the last Member passed away.  In 1954, the US Congress chartered the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War as the successor organization.  The "Sons" are still active today.

Here is a wonderful history if the G.A.R. on the "Son's" website: 

In the 1880's, the G.A.R. designed a medal that was to be required for all members to purchase and wear.  If these old medals look a bit familiar, it is because they bear more than a slight resemblance to the original US Army Congressional Medal of Honor!  In fact The G.A.R. medal used the same star,  and a slightly rearranged Eagle and Crossed Cannons hanger.........they even chose a ribbon that was nearly identical! 

This medal caused quite a bit of controversy with the military and instead of designing a new medal, they simply changed the color of the ribbon on the later versions of the US Congressional Medal of Honor.  Here is an interesting comparison between a Civil War Medal of Honor and a G.A.R. medal of the time. The G.A.R. medal is on the right.

Photo form Gettysburg National Park Collection
 After the G.A.R. was reorganized, and the new membership medal was designed and required, the new members started purchasing them.  Each member was required to purchase their medal from the official quartermaster.  To prove that the medals were authentic and properly obtained, a small serial number was stamped on every official medal.  The first was letter that corresponded to the G.A.R. Commander of the year, and the next digits were a sequential number.  Unfortunately, there were no records kept on which veteran purchased which medal.  During membership inspections, each veteran's medal was checked to see that had a proper serial number.  If it was missing, I understand the vet was drummed out of the unit!

The serial number on my medal is P3249.  

The original veteran-owner of my medal was Samuel Rouse.  His granddaughter said that she believed that Samuel purchased this particular medal in the 1920's.  A quick check of the list of G.A.R. Commanders showed that in 1921-1922, the Commander was Lewis Stephen Pilcher.  So, the "P" in the number and the granddaughter's story line up.

A check of Union Civil War Soldier's Roster, shows that there were 7 soldiers named Samuel Rouse, who served in various infantry units and a Sr. and Jr. that served in a home guard unit.  With a little bit more information, I should be able to figure out our veteran's Civil War history.

I have had an old photo of a Civil War G.A.R. veteran in my collection for over 30 years.  I believe it was taken in the teens or 1920's.  It fits the time frame for my medal, so I will be displaying them together.   Unfortunately I have no information on the veteran in the photograph.

Various GAR encampment medals with a G.A.R. Officer medal on the left.

So with all of that said, let's take a closer look ant this amazing medal.

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