Anoka County history: Grand Army of the Republic medal

My husband and I were dining at J.J. Murphy’s Irish Pub in Blaine when I noticed a military looking medal, neatly framed and hanging on the wall.

Research revealed that it was a GAR medal, awarded to members of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The GAR supported Civil War veterans much like the VFW or American Legion supports veterans today.

The GAR medal, introduced in 1869, is described in detail in the following excerpt from the Anoka Union newspaper, Dec. 21, 1887.

“The badge of this great fraternity is itself a souvenir of the field and is destined to become a memento to be cherished in thousands of American homes as a priceless heirloom.

“Each Grand Army badge is made of metal from cannon taken from the foe in actual battle on some of the decisive fields of the war.

“The design of the badge, in use since 1869, is one that commemorates the great struggle in many ways.

“The pendant of the badge is a fine pointed star, like the Medal of Honor granted by Congress, and is made of cannon bronze.

“The face of the medal has the Goddess of Liberty in the center, representing loyalty, and on either side stands a soldier and a sailor clasping hands in front of the Goddess to represent fraternity.

“Two children are kneeling in the foreground to receive a benediction and the assurance of protection from comrades.  This is the symbol of charity.

“On each side of this center group are the flag and eagle representing freedom and an ax and a bundle of rods for union.

“In the star points are the emblems of different arms of service, bugle for infantry, cannon for artillery, muskets for marines, swords for cavalry, and an anchor for sailors.

“Surrounding the center is the legend, ‘Grand Army of the Republic, 1861 – Veterans -1866,’the later date commemorating the close of the war and the founding of the order.

“On the reverse side is a laurel branch for victory, and the national shield surrounded by the different corps badges, each on a keystone showing that they are united and will protect the union.

“The clasp of the badge is an eagle with crossed cannons and ammunition, representing defense.

“The clasp and medal are united by the national flag, which is the ribbon of the order.”

The article goes on to lament the “abuse of the medal by unprincipled men.”

Genuine medals were given only to bona fide members of the GAR, and were not to be sold or replicated.

The medals were worn on occasions of any GAR meeting or any patriotic ceremony, especially when a veteran wanted to be identified as such to the public.

Editor’s note: Maria King is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society

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