16. Grand Army of the Republic, Benjamin Franklin Stephenson
The program for the July 3, 1909, dedication of the Grand Army of the Republic’s monument to Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stephenson began: “This memorial is the joint tribute of a grateful nation and his loving comrades, all that are left of an army of nearly three million men.” For Stephenson, the tribute came too late. He died in 1871, impoverished, broken in health and spirit, feeling that he had been spurned by the organization he had founded in 1866.
While serving in the Union Army (he attained the rank of Major), he had formulated an idea for a national association of Union veterans and, once a civilian again, he began to make his plan a reality. The new organization would be known as the Grand Army of the Republic and Post No. 1 was established in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866, the anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh, in which he and most of the charter members of Post No. 1 had taken part.
The GAR allowed little discretion for the sculptor, John Massey Rhind, who was one of the finest architectural sculptors in America and who excelled at this type of project. The monument was to be a tall, three-sided granite shaft, with figures representing the three virtues of the GAR’s motto: Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty.
For the main façade of the memorial, Rhind created a bronze medallion portrait of Dr. Stephenson. Above the medallion, a Union soldier and sailor stand side by side symbolizing Fraternity. On the northeast face, representing Loyalty, a gowned woman holds a shield and drawn sward above the inscription “Who Knew No Glory But His Country’s Good.” Charity, on the northwest face, is a woman in a flowing cape protecting a small child above the inscription “The greatest of these is charity.”
Hundreds of veterans, “grizzled and gray” turned out for the dedication, many wearing their old uniforms. As soon as the ceremony ended, a huge military parade was to begin, but just before the crowd broke up, the Marine Band began to play “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground.” The old veterans began to sing, softly at first, hesitating, but then gradually finding their voices, singing out loud and strong once again.