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Soldier of Memory

 

A lone soldier towering above the intersection of Sixth Street and Belmont Avenue, Grand Forks, North Dakota, calls to memory the sacrifices of those who served in federal armies during the Civil War. The monument overall is 22 feet high. The granite soldier is 7 feet tall, but boyish in the face. This is one of three Grand Army of the Republic monuments in North Dakota, the others being in Fargo and Devils Lake.

The Grand Army of the Republic – and my great-grandfather was a member, by the way – was an association of Union veterans organized in 1866 by Dr. B. F. Stephenson of Springfield, Illinois, Abe Lincoln’s old home town. Like the American Legion after the Great War, the GAR served as a lobbying organization for veterans’ benefits, but it was more than that. It operated homes for disabled and aged veterans, and it was best known for its annual encampments, wherein old soldiers gathered for speeches, campfires, storytelling, and the singing of those great old Civil War songs like “Just Before the Battle, Mother.” The women’s auxiliary to the GAR was called the Women’s Relief Corps.

Willis A. Gorman Post No. 6 of the Grand Army of the Republic organized in Grand Forks, probably in 1886. At one time it numbered 179 members. Many records of the post and of its Women’s Relief Corps now repose in the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota. I’m indebted to Linsey Hillmer, of the Senior Seminar in History at North Dakota State University, for her research in these records.

By the early 20th century, Willis Gorman post of the GAR exhibited some of the same spirit of reconciliation that characterized veteran organizations across the country. In the Grand Forks Decoration Day parade of 1910, a Confederate veteran, Captain J. R. Parsons, marched and stood hand-in-hand with the Union veterans.

By this time, too, many old soldiers had passed on to the great encampment in the sky, and so members of the post became increasingly concerned about remembrance. They wanted a monument such as had been erected in cities across the northern half of the United States. The local leader in the cause of memory was George Bailey Winship, a veteran of the Second Minnesota Cavalry and a member of the GAR. He had come to Grand Forks in 1879 and founded the Weekly Herald newspaper, which he converted to a daily in 1891. He was a state senator in North Dakota’s first legislature.

In 1911 Winship would sell out and move to California, but not before setting in motion the movement that would result in the Grand Forks monument to the Grand Army of the Republic. He donated to the city the little triangle of land on which the monument would be erected. Willis Gorman Post formally dedicated its impressive monument on June 22, 1913, its members and military band marching to the site in formation.

The Grand Forks post of the GAR died out in 1949, with the Women’s Relief Corps carrying on for some twenty years longer. They left behind, however, an exceedingly beautiful monument of remembrance.

[To see photos of the monument, go here - http://heritagerenewal.org/stone/gfgar.htm]

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