Constitution of Northfield's GAR postDid you know May 30 – July 4 is the first-ever Northfield History Month? Learn more about the events here.

Every weekday this Northfield History Month, come on over to the Northfield History Collaborative to learn a little more about one of the newest additions to our online collection of materials that help tell Northfield’s history.

In today’s spotlight collection, we are reminded of what makes the Northfield History Collaborative so useful:

  • Items that are originally handwritten become full-text searchable
  • Items kept in one location become accessible to researchers at all of our partner organizations and around the world
  • Original items that are fragile don’t need to be handled as much once they are scanned and available online

The 1884 – 1892 minutes of the local Grand Army of the Republic post, along with several later books, reside in Faribault with the Rice County Historical Society. The nearly 200 pages are handwritten, and that’s an awful lot to wade through if you’re looking for one particular name or event. Now that the book has been digitized and transcribed, it is fully searchable. It’s also available to you whether you can get to Faribault or not; and even if you were in Faribault, the staff could point you online in order to minimize contact with the 130-year-old book.

Most of us aren’t familiar with the Grand Army of the Republic, or the GAR. That’s natural – it was a fraternal organization for those who had served in the Civil War, and, well, the war ended 149 years ago. Its objectives were “To preserve and strengthen those kind and fraternal feelings which bind together the soldiers sailors and Marines who united to suppress the late Rebellion and to perpetuate the memory and the history of the dead,” and to aid comrades in need, as well as their widows and orphans.

The local post, named for Joseph Lee Heywood (a Civil War veteran as well as a local hero), was established in 1884. Its membership was nearly gone by the 1920s.

I’m hard-pressed to summarize 200 pages into a brief blog post. It’s such a significant organization and book that I’ll be slightly less brief than usual. Here are some highlights:

  • Decoration Day [precursor to Memorial day] was one of the post’s biggest events every year. Their plans for 1888: “[The post] will meet at the new G. A. R. hall [the building where First National Bank is now?] at 12:30 P.M. sharp, march to the cemetery at 1 P. M., and after decorating the soldiers’ graves the members of the post will return to their hall. At 2:15 P. M. they will form a procession, together with the children of the public schools, and march to the park, where the program will be as follows: Music. Prayer by the post chaplain. Music. Remarks by Post Commander M. M. Clark. Address by Hon. W. S. Pattee. Music. Recitation by Miss Lillian Spencer, “The Drummer Boy’s Lament.” Remarks by the president of the Women’s Relief Corps, Mrs. J. A. Clifford. Music. Decoration of floral cross in memory of deceased soldiers. Music in which the audience will join. Benediction by the chaplain.”
  • That particular year was a late spring: “The committee on flowers specially request that all our generous citizens who have flowers contribute the same for the occasion. The spring is so backward that flowers will be scarce, and it is therefore the more necessary that there be a general co-operation in furnishing them. They should be at the new G. A. R. hall, Nutting’s new block [current First National Bank?], by 10 o’clock A. M. Wednesday.”
  • Northfielders responded en masse: “The G. A. R. comrades expressly thank the ladies of the W. C. T. U. [Women’s Christian Temperance Union] who so kindly furnished a bouquet of flowers and a card with a scripture passage or a couplet from a hymn, to every comrade on Decoration Day; and to the generous citizens who furnished such a profuse supply of all kinds of rare flowers, as well as the ladies of the woman’s relief corps, and the ladies of St. Olaf, for the beautiful floral anchor; and especially the committee who had this matter in charge and had such an abundant supply of bouquets to decorate the graves of the departed heroes.”
  • Camp Fires were a type of event the post held occasionally that were both entertaining and educational. From the minutes of  Nov. 20, 1884: “Heywood Post, G. A. R., held its first Camp Fire at the opera house, on Thursday evening of last week, and the affair was in every respect a grand success Members of the Post, their wives, sisters, cousins and their aunts, and invited guests, in all numbering over two hundred, assembled at a seasonable hour. An ample amount of provisions was supplied by members of the Post and their families, and the hungry two hundred ate to their fill, and there were many baskets full of unbroken food left, which was taken in charge by the relief committee of the post and left where it would do the most good.” Members of the post shared war stories, and there were also patriotic readings and speeches.
  • I found this curious, and find no other reference to it in this book: “The post unanimously declined the proposition to erect a tablet to the Memory of deceased Veterans in the proposed Mill square [park?] and the Commander instructed to notify the proper parties.” (May 20, 1886)
  • I would love to know what happened to this after the Heywood Post was done with it! “After a short recess Commander Kelly on behalf of Miss May Haywood [sic] presented the Post with Portrait of J. L. Heywood for which a vote of thanks was tendered.  (April 2, 1891)
  • In 1887, steps were taken towards organizing a Women’s Relief Corps (a ladies’ auxiliary); In 1890, a local Sons of Veterans chapter was formed.