For 90 years after the last shot of the American Civil War was fired, the men who had fought for the Union and the Confederacy, respectively, continued to meet, and in doing so wielded considerable political power in the nation that had divided them.

1913 At the 50th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, Union (left) and Confederate (right) veterans shake hands at a reunion, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

For one, the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) brought together Union soldiers, referred to as “veterans of the late unpleasantness.” Starting in 1866, only one year after the war’s close, and ending with the death of 109-year-old Albert Woolson in 1956, the G.A.R. boasted 490,000 members at its peak in 1890.
A hugely influential body, the G.A.R. was instrumental in electing a number of U.S. presidents in the late 1800s, from the 18th (Ulysses S. Grant) to the 25th (William McKinley). Orators for the G.A.R. were caricatured as “waving the bloody shirt.”

The greatest parade in American history has finally come to an end. The Grand Army of the Republic has marched off to join the shadows and no matter how long the nation exists there will never be anything quite like it again.

Jun. 22, 1922 Washington, D.C. — President Harding receives veterans of the Confederate Army who have been attending their annual reunion at Richmond, Virginia. Old soldiers who fought under the Stars and Bars during the Civil War are shown here with the president, who welcomed them to the White House.