class="stanza">Then I arose and cast the Past aside,
And felt within my breast a gladness great
That I dared meet the eyes that beamed above:
And all the future time was glorified,
For I, who was a beggar at the gate,
Became a dweller in the court of Love.
THE GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC IN MASSACHUSETTS.
BY PAST COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF GEO. S. MERRILL.
When the American Volunteer Army was disbanded in 1865, by reason of the completion of the great work for which it was organized, had it been individually suggested to each one of that million of men whose eager faces were turned homeward, to become united in a veteran association, probably ninety-nine out of a hundred would have responded, "No; I've had all that I want of soldiering; no more for me."
And yet, so strong did the ties of war-comradeship prove; so tender were the memories of camp and march, of bivouac and battle; so full of heart-stirring events was the record of intimate service in the face of great peril, that even before the final disbandment, among the earlier returning veterans, soldier associations had already sprung into existence. Quite a number of these had their origin in 1864, and even the date and place of birth of the Grand Army of the Republic, with its membership of over three hundred thousand, is in doubt; two States at least, Indiana and Illinois, claim its parentage; and while there are absolutely no reliable data as to the place or exact time of the preliminary meetings out of which the great organization grew, there is a tradition—if the dim memories of only twenty years ago can be so called—that at a casual meeting of returned volunteers in Illinois in the latter portion of 1865, it was discovered that in the little group nearly all were possessed of certain mysterious signs, grips, and pass-words, by which various small bands of firm friends in rebel prisons had secretly bound themselves together for mutual protection. To no men had the value of organization come more forcibly than to these; and in this almost chance gathering was the beginning of the Grand Army of the Republic. There was, early enough after the close of the war, another reason beyond all questions of sentiment or association, demanding some form of organization among the returned soldiers and sailors. Empty sleeves, single legs, eyeless sockets, and emaciated bodies were too often coupled with personal necessities, and the maimed and diseased in need of charity or employment began to point out the larger and growing demand for organized work in behalf of suffering and dependent ones; and to what hands could this be so well committed as to those of old comrades in arms? The Post of the Grand Army of the Republic holding the first regular charter was organized in Dakota, Illinois, in the early spring of 1866, and in July following a department, including then some forty posts, was organized in that State.
In October of the same year the association had extended into eight or nine other States, and a call was issued for a convention to be held at Indianapolis, Indiana, November 20, 1866, and here the National Encampment had its organization.
Massachusetts was not represented in the gathering, the Grand Army at that time having but just obtained a foothold in this State. In September, 1866, a convention of returned soldiers and sailors representing nearly all the northern States was held at Pittsburg, Penn. Among those present from Massachusetts were Gen. Charles Devens, Gen. N. P. Banks, Major A. S. Cushman, and Chaplain A. H. Quint. On reaching Pittsburg, the attention of the Massachusetts comrades was attracted by badges worn by a large number of delegates, particularly from Indiana and Illinois, bearing the legend, "Grand Army of the Republic;" and so numerous were these badges that a spirit of inquiry was quite naturally awakened as to the character and objects of this "Soldiers' Masonic Order," as it was termed by the uninitiated. After some consultation, a number of the Massachusetts delegates, including those we have named, were informally inducted into the organization, in the parlor of B. F. Stevenson, who at the first national encampment a few weeks later was made provisional Commander-in-chief; the ritual and unwritten work was communicated to the new members, and they were fully empowered to organize posts in Massachusetts, General Devens being appointed provisional Grand Commander of the department. On returning from Pittsburg there was something of a rivalry for the organization of the first post. Comrade Cushman, who had been active in the association of the "boys in blue," was especially enthusiastic; and, capturing an old army associate upon the train homeward, he poured into his ears such an account of the new organization, that as soon as they reached New Bedford, they went out into the highways, and summoned a sufficient number of their comrades; and on that very day, Oct. 4, they organized the first post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Massachusetts. This still holds the initial number, Wm. Logan Rodman Post, No. 1, of New Bedford. The charter fee was at once forwarded to provisional Commander Devens, thus making sure of the coveted distinction.
A day or two later, these comrades organized a second post at Nantucket and a third at Taunton. Comrade Cushman exhibited such zeal and earnestness in this work that provisional Commander Devens insisted on having that position formally transferred; and the latter therefore resigned, and asked for the appointment of Mr. Cushman in his stead, which was accordingly made. As in the case of the national history of the Order, partially consequent thereon, but in a larger degree because of the destruction of all the department records in the great Boston fire, the early story of the Grand Army in Massachusetts is incomplete in many details, but it appears certain that during the existence of the provisional department under Comrade Cushman, ten posts were organized. On the seventh of May, 1867, a permanent department was organized by a delegate convention called at New Bedford, Commander Cushman being elected Department, or, as then termed, Grand Commander.
Inspiring his new official associates with something of his own ardor, Commander Cushman divided the state into ten districts, with a recruiting officer to each, and the "missionary work" was so vigorously prosecuted that the commander was able to welcome to the regular annual encampment in January, 1868, the representatives of over forty posts, with a membership of fully two thousand, while applications for nearly a score of additional posts were nearly ready for consideration. During the year 1867, a visit of Gen. P. H. Sheridan to Boston was made the occasion of a torchlight parade of the posts of the Grand Army, and the fine appearance made by the organization on this first public display attracted general attention, and was doubtless one means of largely increasing the membership.
As has been stated, on account of the careless compilation of records at national headquarters, and the substantial downfall of the posts in the West, where its great strength was at first, the history of the early years of the order is left in much uncertainty. But the organization had in the western states a wild, riotous growth; the meagre reports extant naming two hundred thousand as the membership in 1867; but the utter lack of organization, and the intrusion of politics, left the order, almost as speedily as it had sprung into existence, a complete wreck.
At the close of the year 1870, the