Final of To Appomattox and Beyond

In the final chapters Logue covers the experiences of returning veterans on both sides and the war’s impact on 20th century America.

Much like Continental Army soldiers, Union soldiers were not discharged right after the fighting was over. Many men were wary of returning home, unsure of how to fit back into normal society. They felt intrinsically changed and didn’t want to leave the only people who would understand. The people too were wary of returning soldiers, thinking the peace of quiet towns would disappear. Their fears were founded when soldiers took to looting and fighting, as well as drinking and drug addiction (morphine had been given liberally to wounded soldiers), though this was only a small minority. Unlike the Revolutionary vets, Union soldiers got parades, and found themselves growing tired of them rather quickly. Like Revolutionary vets, however, many who returned in late 1865 found it hard to get employment, leaving many homeless. This crisis passed and jobs soon became available.

Black soldiers, of course, were not so lucky. Many remained in the army to enforce law in the South. This was obviously a bad idea, as many Southerners didn’t take kindly to being told what to do by people who they thought should be working for them. Black soldiers could barely protect themselves from whites (including their own irritated officers who wanted to go home), let alone freed slaves. Black vets also had more trouble finding employment up North than even non-vet blacks had.

Even with public and newspaper (yay!) sympathy, the gov’t took little action for vets initially. Disabled soldiers and sometimes their widows received pensions, but few knew about them. By 1879 though, the Republicans and Democrats were interested in vet votes so a retroactive pension was created, which more disabled vets applied for. Soldier’s homes were also opened for the disabled, though those running them were wary of the lack of self-control of many vets, and so ran them like military institutions. Union vets also created fraternal organizations, the most popular and long lasting being the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which raised money and lobbied pensions for veterans.

Confederate veterans, who had fought for a gov’t that ceased to exist, returned home to no parades and a society in the process of reconstruction. With the bitter taste of defeat on their tongues, some vets moved (Texas being especially popular), but the majority stayed in their home states. There was lawlessness and attacks on civilians, Unionists, and blacks, but most returning soldiers suffered from apathy, in most aspects of life but especially in politics. Disabled vets were provided with pensions and care during the war, but by the late 1860s aid had stopped.

Many veterans came to terms with defeat by commemorating their dead comrades. Monuments were erected in cemeteries, and Memorial Day started in the South in 1866. Others were unable to accept this new society of freed slaves. The Ku Klux Klan was created, with many of its leaders being former Confederate soldiers. Others joined less because of the ex-slaves and more because it was like experiencing their military lives again.

By the mid 1870s the apathy had ended as Southern Dems wanted to recapture the legislature from the Republicans. Many former officers were elected into political positions. Other political parties grew, like the Grangers (later the Farmer’s Alliance, which then spilt into the Populists), which drew the eye of many vets. Eventually, veteran loyalty was caught between the Populists and the Dems. Nevertheless, Confederate veterans proved to make a large impact on the new gov’ts of the South, including the many laws passed against blacks that lasted well into the next century.

Fraternal organizations grew, the most popular being the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), the Southern equivalent to GAR. The UCV pushed for memorials to the dead to become shrines to the common soldier. Monuments popped up everywhere, rather than just in cemeteries, to honor the living as well as the dead. With new interest in the Civil War, civilians worried about the poverty of ex-soldiers. By the 1890s aid was resumed in the form of pensions and soldier’s homes for the disabled.

By the 1890s both Union and Confederate veterans were dealing with the passing of their generation. Increasing immigration, impersonal corporations, and large cities replaced the world they knew. “Many veterans undoubtedly believed that the nation they had saved was becoming dangerously unrecognizable (101).” They became concerned about their legacy, so they made sure America and its children wouldn’t forget what they fought for by making their presence known, whether in politics, schools, or whatever else. As well, during this time, many Blue-Gray reunions were taking place, a reconciliation of men who could understand each other better than anyone else, despite once being enemies.

In the early 20th century, many veterans were reaching their eighties. Old age was considered a disability, so nearly all Union vets were now receiving pensions. Many more Confederate soldiers were getting pensions as well. Soldier’s homes for both sides became much more crowded and focused on the infirmities of the old. By 1920 WWI provided an influx of millions of veterans that became a much higher priority to the gov’t than these old relics of the past.

One Response to “Final of To Appomattox and Beyond

  1. saylor Says:

    It’s so amazing to me the concept of the Blue-Gray reunions. It seems so strange that former enemies would come together. After other wars there were political alliances and whatnot, but I’ve never read about former war veterans actually coming together 50 years later for the sake of reuniting.