Remembering the Grand Army of the Republic
In 1866, Union Veterans of the Civil War organized into the Grand Army of the Republic(GAR) and became a social and political force that would control the destiny of the nation for more than six decades.
Membership in the veterans’ organization was restricted to individuals who had served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Revenue Cutter service during the Civil War, thereby limiting the life span of the GAR. The GAR existed until 1956 when the last Union survivor passed away. The organization founded soldiers’ homes and was active in relief work and in pension legislation.
The community level organization was called a “Post”. In Madison County there were eight posts. They are listed in the order of their founding.
Elwood #61, Elwood
Major Samuel Henry #230, Pendleton
Lew Taylor #243, Alexandria
Major May #244, Anderson
Howard #311, Summitville
Frankton #349, Frankton
Hiram G. Fisher #366, Lapel
Warren Cole #523, Perkinsville
The strongest post in Madison County, though not the oldest, was the Major May Post, #244, in Anderson. The post, formed pursuant to a petition by several ex-Union soldiers in Anderson, was organized on the evening of September 18, 1884, in the old Madison County Courthouse, with 71 charter members. Over a period of 55 years, the rolls of the post carried nearly 350 names of members, but not all at the same time. The average enrollment in the heyday of the post’s existence was around 140.
The post was named after Major Isaac M. May, 19th Indiana Infantry, a citizen of Anderson, who was killed in the Battle of Brawner Farm in Virginia on August 28, 1862. His body was buried on the battlefield but was never recovered. Immediately after its organization, the post had it headquarters in G.A.R. Hall, I.O.O.F. Block, on the northwest corner of Meridian and Ninth Streets. They met there until 1894 when they moved to the third floor of the Newsome Block, on the west side of Meridian Street in the 700 block. This is the only building where they met that survives today.
In 1895, arrangements were made with Major Charles T. Doxey, also a member of the post, to provide a permanent home in a building at the northwest corner of Ninth Street and Central Avenue. This hall was completed in May, 1896, and the post met there through 1904. Prominently displayed on the buildings’s face was “GAR 1895” over the windows of the second floor meeting room known as Grand Army Hall. Doxey’s death in 1898 may have been the reason they had to leave the building and relocate to a room in the basement of the northwest corner of the Madison County Courthouse. A space was provided for them through the generosity of the County Commissioners.
Mayor John L. Forkner delivered the dedication speech to those assembled in the new quarters on January 11, 1905. In his speech Mayor Forkner said, “As long as there is a remnant of Major May Post remaining, this will be your home.” And so it was, as the members continued to meet once, and sometimes twice weekly, through 1939 when the record of their meetings ends. Of the approximately 1,500 volunteers from Madison County who served in 32 companies during the Civil War, only two were living in 1939. The last Civil War veteran to die in Madison County was Levi P. Keltner, on December 4, 1942, at the age of 98. He served as a private in Company K, 12th Ohio Calvary.
For many years the post had a dinner on April 6 in memory of the Battle of Shiloh. The affair was always the occasion of an extensive program of patriotic exercises and speeches. The members were regular participants in Memorial Day and Verterans Day observances. By the 1930s, the veterans were given the place of honor in parades by heading the processions. Fourteen participated in the 1932 Memorial Day parade and by the 1935 event only five were able to participate. The post hosted the state-wide encampment May 12-14, 1903. It was the first and only time the Indiana Department of the GAR met in Anderson.
The encampment drew national attention by its displayof the “Living Flag.” Two-thousand local school children stood upon inclined scaffolding reaching from the sidewalk to the roof of the courthouse at the northwest corner of the courthouse lawn dressed in red, white, and blue, forming the American flag. The event attracted several thousand people to Anderson to watch the aged veterans parade south on Meridian Street past the colorful display.
By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian