M. G. L. ch. 8, sec 16A: A room in the state house shall be preserved and maintained as a museum and shrine to the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Massachusetts, in further recognition of the services of those men who fought to preserve the Union of the States. Said room shall serve as a repository for such mementos, records, relics and historical data relating to the war of the rebellion as may be deposited with the superintendent for that purpose, and shall be used for arranging and preserving a history of persons who served in the army, navy or marine corps during such war in organizations of the commonwealth, or of citizens of the commonwealth who served in the regular army, navy or marine corps of the United States. …
The Grand Army of the Republic was the national association of Union veterans formed at the close of the Civil War. Organized as a fraternal organization to connect veterans with shared experiences on a local level, the GAR also advocated through its departmental offices for federal support of these men and their families. It was one of the first veterans’ services organizations, and, by 1890, among the most powerful lobbying voices in the United States.
The Massachusetts Department was organized in May 1867, with the W. L. Rodman post of New Bedford designated as Post 1. Local posts were quickly established across the Commonwealth, and the departmental headquarters frequently relocated throughout Boston to accommodate the growing membership. During the construction of the new addition to the State House, the GAR petitioned the General Court for permanent rooms in 1893. The application was approved under Acts 1893, ch. 411, and referred to the Executive Council which set side rooms 28 and 29 on the architect’s plans for the organization’s headquarters in 1894. Later, the GAR offices were consolidated into a single room – Room 27 – where the museum and library remain today.
By 1895, 212 posts were chartered in Massachusetts, most of which were named for a prominent local veteran. The posts were responsible for electing their own officers, maintaining membership records and collecting dues. This information was reported quarterly, later semi-annually, and, as their ranks thinned, only annually to the department headquarters.
In addition to this collection of post records, and a library on Civil War history and state and national encampments, the room holds a small collection of equipment, personal belongings, GAR memorabilia, and other commemorative items donated by past members. The last posts – those in Worcester, Attleborough, Pepperell and Lynn -- surrendered their Charters in 1946, and the department was inherited briefly by the Sons of Union Veterans. Today the collections belong to the Commonwealth and are overseen under M. G. L. ch. 8 by the State House Superintendent. We continue to honor veterans by opening this room to the public and sharing information on its contents and the hundreds of colors in the State House Battle Flag Collection, also legislated to the care of the Superintendent, that are currently in storage, but for which images and permanent records are also maintained in this room.
For further information, please see the accompanying history of the GAR by Ian Delahanty that is fully illustrated with objects from the Memorial Room collection.
The inventory of the Commonwealth’s battle flags may be found on the Art Commission’s collections pages: https://www.mass.gov/doc/battle-flags-2/download