Case Study

John Singer Sargent's

"Portrait of General Lucius Fairchild"

After Treatment

The Medals

  Medal #1
The Grand Army of the Republic
At the end of the Civil War, the United States of America faced the reality of recovery.(19) Veterans needed jobs. Governmental officials promised to care for "those who had borne the burden" but their promises were met with little success.
The men who had lived and fought together had developed a bond of memories, friendship and trust. With this background, groups of men formed local organizations. Emerging most powerful among these groups was the Grand Army of the Republic--the GAR.
Founded in Decatur, Illinois, in 1866, GAR membership was limited to honorably-discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between 1861 and 1865. Local Posts were organized into state Departments governed by the state Commandery-in-Chief. Fairchild held this position in Wisconsin in 1886. The Departments held national Encampment meetings presided over by the national Commander-in Chief. Election to this office was a political event similar to the national party conventions.
By 1890 the GAR had grown from a fraternal organization to a political force with over 400,000 members. Five of its members were elected President of the United States and, for a period of time, it would have been impossible to be nominated as a Republican candidate without the endorsement of the GAR. The final Encampment was held in 1949 and the last member died in 1956 at the age of 109.
When Fairchild traveled to San Francisco in 1886 for the 20th National Encampment, he had hopes of becoming Commander-in-Chief of the organization.(20) Through calculated maneuvers he became the compromise candidate of the factions that divided the East and West candidates. His early gold rush years helped win Western support for the position. Medal #1 represents his Commander-in-Chief Badge of the Grand Army of the Republic. The four silver stars in the upper bar signify this position and places Fairchild, in 1886, as one of the most politically powerful men in America.(21)

GAR Commander-in-Chief Badge


Original GAR Badge
While Sargent captured the form of the badge, he was not interested in the interior details that included the Goddess Minerva in the center, representing Loyalty, flanked by a soldier and a sailor clasping hands, representing Fraternity. Below, two children, representing Charity, receive benedictions and assurances of protection. In the painted image, the pin that is attached to the ribbon is not clearly defined. It may pertain to the San Francisco Encampment or to Fairchild's home state of Wisconsin. In the lower 1886 image Fairchild proudly wears his Commander-in-Chief medal.(22)

Lucius Fairchild 1886
Commander-in Chief of the GAR
(19) GAR history and select phrases drawn from "Brief History of the Grand Army of the Republic" Glenn Knight. Posted on the site Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War.
(20) Ross. Ibid. p. 203.
(21) Some individuals thought the medal might be a Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief Badge for only three stars are clearly painted. The fourth star though is represented as a small dot on the far left.
(22) Image from Major George S. Merrill. The Grand Army of the Republic. 1890 The New England Magazine. August. p. 618.

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