On February 20, 1883, the Grand Army of the Republic met in Clarksburg to form a state chapter, or department. The GAR, as it was known, was a national fraternal organization of Civil War veterans who fought on the Union side.
Formed nationally in 1866, the GAR’s membership grew slowly at first. It wasn’t until the 1880s that its numbers began to take off. By 1890, there were more than 400,000 members across the country.
In 1868, West Virginia’s Union veterans had attempted to form a department under General John Witcher of Wheeling, but it was disbanded in 1871. In 1880, the state’s first permanent post was formed at Martinsburg, largely due to the work of H. V. Daniels of Harpers Ferry.
When the convention met in Clarksburg three years later, 11 local posts were represented. An annual encampment was held at different sites across West Virginia. At its peak in 1889, there were more than 3,100 members and 89 GAR posts in the state.
In its heyday, the GAR was a powerful political force, securing pension increases and other benefits for Union veterans and their dependents.