G.A.R. canes

Following Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on 4/12/1865 and (after hearing of Lee’s surrender) Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s surrender on 5/9/1865, President Johnson on 5/10/1865 declared the rebellion and armed resistance to be virtually at an end.

Although jubilant, the victory was bittersweet as these dates both preceded and followed the assassination of President Lincoln on 4/15/1865.

President Johnson made plans with government authorities for a formal review to honor the troops, hoping such a review might lift the mood of a mourning populace and promote healing.

The Grand Review of the Armies was a military procession and celebration in Washington, D.C. held on 5/23 and 5/24/1865. Nearly 145,000 soldiers of the three Union armies, Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, Gen. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee and Army of Georgia, marched through the streets of Washington through cheering throngs to receive accolades from the grateful and oftentimes weeping crowds, officials, and prominent citizens including President Andrew Johnson.

After the Civil War had ended, the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was organized by a group of Union veterans who held annual encampments from 1866 to 1949 to celebrate their days of glory. During the reunions, veterans marched in numerous parades, and celebrated their service with canes in hand and heads held high.

Traditional G.A.R. encampment canes featured either a knob handled cane of white metal with the bust portrait of Gen. Grant (specifically manufactured for the 26th Annual Encampment G.A.R. September 20th 1892 Washington D.C.), seen below, or a white metal pistol grip/modified “L” cane handle with front spread winged eagle with crossed cannon and clutching U.S. flag in talons, and traditional round G.A.R. medal on each side of grip with crossed rifles (last quarter of the 19th century).

Cast white metal knob handled cane with bust portrait of a uniformed U.S. Grant on top with traditional G.A.R. medal on one side and spiral ribbon banner with the inscription “26th Annual Encampment G.A.R. September 20th 1892 Washington D.C..”

Below:  G.A.R. cane owned by Jesse F. Poplin from Sandwich, IL

Cast white metal a pistol grip handle with front spread winged eagle with crossed cannon and clutching U.S. flag in talons above G.A.R. below and traditional round G.A.R. medal on each side of grip with crossed rifles; handle is 2.75″ high x 2.9″ long.

The cane pictured above and in the two photos below was owned by Jesse F. Poplin who was from Sandwich, IL and fought in the Civil War. He followed General Sherman to the sea, and took part in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. He belonged to the Army of the Cumberland.  Per a family member, he may have received this cane in August of 1881.  Poplin attended yearly G.A.R. meetings in St. Louis in the 1870’s and 1880’s. In looking in the Illinois Civil War Veteran’s Data Base, there is a Jesse F. Poplin listed, rank of Private, Company H, Unit 105 IL US INF, and he resided in Sandwich, IL.

Ferrule made from a shell casing.

Other commemorative canes were said to be fashioned out branches harvested from the actual battlefields.  The most notable of these are the Gettysburg canes.

Gettysburg Cane, ca. 1900 with a one piece shaft stamped “Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863, wood from Round Top” with pyrography decoration.


These battlefield canes were inscribed using various methods including carvings, pyrography, and inscription.  More information on Gettysburg canes can be found under the heading, “Gettysburg Canes.”


1. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/end-of-war/grand-review-of-armies.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

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