The Greatest Generation Comes Home Chapters 2 and 3

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 24th, 2007 by kokoro

Once the war ended, there was an influx of wounded veterans being shipped home. The American public, according to Gambone, took this well and completely threw themselves into aiding the wounded and helping them adjust. Perhaps a slight overstatement? Congress, much more liberal after FDR’s four terms, was also willing to help. With the general approval of the government, the Veteran’s Administration, under General Omar Bradley and Paul Hawley, managed to make major changes in VA hospitals. Plans were in the making for new hospitals, and rehabilitation and psychological care was expanded in already existing hospitals. These hospitals suffered from a lack of doctors, mostly consisting of civil service employees, before and during the war, but after the war extensive medical programs and research grants were introduced in order to attract doctors and nurses. Problems arose, however, when Republicans took control of Congress, cutting much of the funds to the VA. The public, as well, felt it was time to move on.

Returning veterans were left to fit back into society. With the government paying, some finished up high school, others went to college as they had originally planned, and some who had not intended to go to college made plans. Many more vets than expected attended higher learning institutions, creating a much larger population of college-educated people than America had ever had before. There was an increase in white-collar jobs, contributing to the rising middle class. On the unfortunate side, colleges had less focus on teaching humanities than they traditionally had, and the bigger classes and student-to-teacher ratios created a less personal atmosphere. Most veterans, however, went straight to work. Some got vocational training and some got jobs related to the specialized skills they learned in the military. The increase in pay in many blue-collar workers also helped produce the growing middle class.

Veterans also became social leaders, raising money for various organizations, charities, and hospitals. They became involved in national politics, with more than half of the Eightieth Congress being veterans from various wars (making the VA funding cuts ironic). Military records were expected, and service exploits were often used in campaigns, though sometimes embellished. Veterans, however, did little to change policymaking, overall. Some veterans took time to adjust (wandering the country) or never adjusted at all. Veterans “found the company of other veterans, the distractions of civilian freedom, or their own silence to offer sanctuary within and from wartime memories (89).”

So Gambone, who is relatively young and, as far as I know, not a veteran, writes from the general point of view that all is hunky-dory for the returning veterans. Compared to what vets from previous wars got (that is to say, not much of anything), things were pretty good. As we mentioned in class, WWII is considered the “Good War,” and that is the approach Gambone takes. He does discuss problems and negatives that arise, but nothing to the extreme. I notice, though, that he has yet to make much of a mention of black veterans. Did they experience the same homecoming as white vets? Did the GI Bill provide equal opportunities for them? I highly doubt it.

Fussell, as well, has his bias. He’s a pessimist and a skeptic so he tends to take a hard line in his thoughts about his homecoming and the condition of American life at the time. Fussell writes of his personal feelings, while Gambone is able to have a more objective stance. On the other hand, Gambone can’t truly understand the experiences of veterans without being a veteran himself. Also, while Gambone relies on many sources for his information, Fussell just uses his memory, which is not always reliable. For instance, when he was describing the point system, he incorrectly described the number of points given to soldiers with children.

Overall, both books are important to read in order to understand the subject of WWII veterans, despite any bias they may have. Every author writes with some kind of bias, and this is why it is important to read and research from as many sources as you can before making any judgments.

Doing Battle

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 22nd, 2007 by kokoro

When he got out of the Army, Paul Fussell finished up his education at Pomona College. The war had changed him, however, and he was unhappy with the optimistic and leisurely Californian life. Fussell also suffered from symptoms of what’s now diagnosed as PTSD. After Pomona he went to Harvard (with the G.I. Bill paying for him), intending to become an English professor, as he felt, like many other veterans, that literature would save to world. He was bitter and hostile at Harvard, and the faculty was snotty, acting much like senior officers acted towards their junior officers. Fussell married Betty Harper in 1949, and they eventually had two children.

After getting his Ph.D. he taught at Connecticut College for Women, a job which he found below himself. Fussell was annoyed by the shallowness and high-mindedness of post-war America, and the women’s college represented this perfectly. He accepted a job at Rutgers in 1955, which he much preferred over the women’s college. Fussell grew tired of America, as it “seemed more than ever bellicose, ignorant, selfish, and greedy, shot through with quasi-religious fraud and hypocrisy (229).” He got a teaching job in Heidelberg, Germany for a time. Heidelberg had a European sophistication that Fussell admired. In spite of war guilt and a preoccupation with the idea of inherent goodness in human beings, Fussell felt that postwar Germany was on its way to an ideal republic, one that he wished for in America. He returned to America, and with the assassination of JFK and later Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, he lost the little bit of optimism (mostly the hope that literature could fix the world) that he had left.

Fussell eventually left Rutgers and taught at Penn, finally an international school. He was considered a troublemaker of sorts, as he had been at the other schools, mostly for speaking his mind (often in as rude a way as possible). He wrote essays and books supporting the atomic bomb droppings and argued against claims that the war wasn’t so bad. Boy Fussell had long been dead, ever since a piece of metal tore into his leg in the woods of southeastern France.

I found Fussell’s book to be an interesting read and very insightful. Unfortunately, I’m not as well versed in literature as I’d like to be, so some of the authors and works he mentioned threw me off. His pessimism was also disconcerting for me, as I’m generally as optimistic person. Of course, if I had seen the worse of humanity and then come home to a superficial and increasingly crazy and out of control America, I’d probably be a pessimist too. His general enjoyment of post-war Germany was slightly surprising, but it’s good to know he didn’t maintain a grudge. Also, Fussell’s feelings about the atomic bomb droppings made me consider my own thoughts about it. It’s something of a moral dilemma for me. I consider weapons in general to be horrible, especially of the atomic variety. I feel that we shouldn’t have had to resort to using them, but there really was no other choice. Thousands of lives were extinguished, but millions more, both American and Japanese, were saved.

Doing Battle and The Greatest Generation Comes Home

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 17th, 2007 by kokoro

As I’m a discussion leader tomorrow I’ll be brief-ish.

Paul Fussell’s Doing Battle covers such traditional aspects of war that we often read about. The civilian boy trained to be a killing machine, the loss of innocence and basic human compassion that comes with seeing and causing death, the guilt over losing comrades, and more (even the classic crush on a war nurse while hospitalized). Fussell learned many lessons after only a few months in combat, including the job of a lieutenant (sort of useless and mostly symbolic), not to trust novel equipment, to carry everything in your pockets, survival techniques and the dangers of friendly fire, that night operations (for him) never work, and about courage and its diminishing storage after each battle.

The book discusses the changes Fussell goes through, the causes, and the results. At this point, we haven’t quite read about the results, but we have read about Fussell’s growing disrespect for the army as it becomes even more pronounced than it was before, especially during his description of the military’s desire to keep him in service after the war’s end.

The Greatest Generation Comes Home covers just what the title suggests. The first chapter discusses the soldiers’ view of home, what it meant, and how it changed the longer the war went on. Gambone writes about, as Fussell also frustratedly described, the demobilization process and the point system to send soldiers home. As usual, the process was slow and the soldiers and their families were irritated and angered. When the veterans finally returned home, they found that things had changed (less regional differences, for instance), and they had to deal with the difficulties of postwar life (inflation, housing shortages, employment problems, etc.). They also had to adjust to family life, as in the case of fathers and husbands whose children didn’t know them and wives who had grown accustomed to working. On top of it all, veterans also had to deal with their actions in the war, the friends they lost, and the violence and destruction they saw, while trying to live a normal life that was about more than just simple survival.

Wages of War Chapters 15-18

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 10th, 2007 by kokoro

So, chapter 15 revolved around the discrimination faced by blacks and Italians. Discrimination against blacks is, of course, nothing new. Discrimination against immigrants is also nothing new. However, with the influx of immigrants coming in from Southern and Eastern Europe as opposed to Northern Europe, people found a new reason to complain. Italians were thought of in much the same manner as blacks, meaning unintelligent, incapable, and barely even human. So much for Michelangelo and da Vinci, huh?

Both blacks and Italians volunteered for the army during the war in order to gain respect, and in the Italians’ case, gain citizenship. Blacks were segregated, and most never saw action, but were instead assigned to corpse duty. Italians faired better, and were allowed to mingle with other white soldiers. For the most part, serving did not change the reception of blacks or Italians. It did, however, make them more inclined to stick up for themselves, leading to racial violence and riots when they got home.

Chapter 16 dealt with the complete inability of the government to create any competent organization for veterans’ affairs. The Federal Bureau for Vocational Rehabilitation that was meant to help train vets for jobs mostly just annoyed and drove everyone ways because of its ineffectiveness. The Veterans’ Bureau wasn’t handled any better with a shifty fellow named Charles Forbes as its head. President Harding was, unfortunately, a very bad judge of character. With the exceptional amount of money he was put in charge of in order to build vet hospitals, etc., Forbes couldn’t help but put one (or many) over on the government.

The next chapter discussed the American Legion and its attempts to get bonuses for veterans. The Legion was essentially an All-American, anti-communist vet group that the government felt more comfortable with, as compared to some other vet organizations. Though Legion leaders were cautious about asking for a bonus at first, the poor conditions many vets faced finally forced them to try. Vets were angered that industrial workers at home during the war got higher pay and bonuses than the men who were fighting overseas did. In the end the Legion was damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. Comments were made about the greedy Legion for wanting money, but on the other hand, some believed that it wasn’t fighting hard enough.

Chapter 18 covered the Bonus March, for the most part recapping what we read with Keene. Severo and Milford take a personalized approach by describing the past history of Walters Waters, the ‘leader’ of the march, much like they did with Shays. They do, however, get a little overly dramatic in writing that the Bonus March was, “the ugliest, most violent and heart-wrenching confrontation between veterans and the Government since the crushing of Shays’ Rebellion…(266).” Despite Pelham Glassford’s, police chief and former career military officer, attempts to keep things peaceful, the vets were forcibly removed. MacArthur was, apparently, always a headstrong, disobedient kind of fellow. The government, and surprisingly most newspapers (much like the Revolution), portrayed the Bonus Expeditionary Force as a group of communists, or fascists, or just plain criminals (they couldn’t seem to decide) rather than the veterans that they were. The public didn’t seem to agree with this view though, as President Hoover soon found himself replaced with FDR a few months later.

“Wilson’s Heros, Hoover’s Bums”

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 8th, 2007 by kokoro

For the most part, the sections I read of Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America managed to keep me interested. Things taught in general school history courses, like the first Red Scare, Great Depression, etc., were narrowed to the specific case of veterans. As well, there were mentions of things not always covered in general courses, such as American activity in Russia and the Influenza outbreak. When I was learning these things the first time, I never considered the experiences and reactions of WWI veterans to these important historical moments, as well as the roles they played in some of them. But I suppose that is the point of this course, after all.

With the Armistice signed, fighting in Europe was officially over. However, citizen-soldiers of the Great War had a long wait ahead of them before they could go home. Demobilization in Europe was a slow process, and added with the continuing deaths caused by the Great Influenza Epidemic, many soldiers became aggravated. They raged against officer privileges and censorship. AEF officials worked to appease soldiers in hopes that they would provide support for a larger peacetime army. As censorship let up, soldiers sent angry letters home and as well as to their state representatives, hoping to speed up their return home. Soldiers in Russia, however, we still fighting against Bolsheviks for seemingly no purpose and were stuck when winter cold left ports iced in. Back in France, soldiers started up the American Legion to represent the affairs of returning veterans.

When soldiers finally got home they found little employment opportunities and the economy in recession, as well as social chaos in the form of the Red Scare and increasing racial violence. Veterans soon formed close relationships with the working class of America, leading to many veteran and labor organizations uniting. Some veterans, more likely those returning from Russia, had Bolshevik sympathies and joined socialist organizations. For the most part, veterans weren’t looking for compensation, not wanting to be compared to greedy Civil War veterans who cleaned out the treasury. The first call for compensation came from more radical veteran organizations. Eventually, vets felt that the government that conscripted them had a duty to make up for the time they had lost while in the army.

In 1924 legislation was passed making compensation law. The veterans were given bonds that could be cashed in for full price in 1945. However, when the Great Depression struck, bonds proved not to be enough, leaving the vets wanting cash. Unlike most Americans suffering from the Depression, this was the second time veterans had to start their lives over. Many vets had never recovered from the time lost during the war, so many were hit extra hard, making up quite a large amount of the unemployed. In 1932, not backed by the Legion, thousands of veterans (and theirs wives, who were sometimes more furious than their husbands) converged on Washington and camped out for months. They organized camps much like those they experienced during the army. Officials worried that things might become violent and were also cautious of turning public opinion against the government, so the vets were not mistreated. The Bonus Army managed to maintain itself with donations from civilians, proving that public support tended to favor the suffering vets. Eventually, the military forcefully ended the Bonus March, running the vets out of Washington. The American public was angered, seeing this as another sign of Hoover’s resistance to helping individuals who needed it rather than big companies and banks.

When FDR took office, he put into action his New Deal programs. He also removed much of the compensation going to veterans, including cutting down aid to the disabled. With the Legion, veterans, and the public in favor of returning compensation, FDR reinstated aid. Veterans continued to make marches every year, with many being given jobs with the CCC or other New Deal organizations. By the late 1930s the world was on the verge of another conflict and a new generation of Americans would be called upon to fight for democracy. Over twenty years after the end of their fighting, Great War veterans would influence government policy one last time in the form of the G.I. Bill, preventing history from repeating itself.

“The Diary of Alvin York” and Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America

Posted in FSEM100RR on October 1st, 2007 by kokoro

Alvin York’s diary is the first account we’ve read that was written by a soldier during a war, rather than much later, like we’ve seen with Plumb Martin and Watkins’ accounts. York, of course, wasn’t even allowed to keep a diary for fear of it falling into German hands and giving away important information. When asked by a captain if he was keeping a diary York told him he wouldn’t say whether he was or not and that “… I didn’t come to the war to be captured, and I wasn’t going to be captured, and that if the Germans ever got any information out of me they would have to get it out of my dead body.”

York definitely glossed over the harsher aspects of war, especially death, which he tended to mention in passing. He probably had trouble expressing himself at the time, but also his intense religious devotion allowed him to accept the terrible events that surrounded him and move past them, much like Watkins.

York, who I can’t help but picture as Gary Cooper, was certainly an amazing and respectable fellow, capturing 132 Germans essentially on his own during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He clearly didn’t view himself as anything special and remained humble despite his medal of honor and his warm, bombastic hero’s reception by the country. He just wanted to get back to his family, future wife, friends, and peaceful mountain life.

Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America expresses WWI in terms that students are rarely taught. Though I’ve always found the Great War to be interesting, I never considered that it had an extremely large impact on America (besides contributing to the excess that we see in the 20s), as we were only involved for such a short time. It seems many Americans share the same view. However, the war did have a great impact, especially on the development of the Army into the institution it is today. This was the first American war in which most of the soldiers were conscripts. Consequently, this set the stage for the relationships between soldiers and the military and veterans and the federal government throughout the 20th century. Also, many WWI veterans became activists, introducing the G.I. Bill and other legislation into Congress, which allowed WWII vets to be among the most privileged of veterans.

Final of To Appomattox and Beyond

Posted in FSEM100RR on September 23rd, 2007 by kokoro

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.

Co. Aytch and To Appomattox and Beyond: Chapters 1-4

Posted in FSEM100RR on September 20th, 2007 by kokoro

The final of Co. Aytch was very good, continuing in the vain as the first twelve chapters. To Appomattox and Beyond takes a more objective and scholarly view of the soldiers life, yet it never really became boring and tedious to read. The set up of the book is very simple and easy, with each chapter dedicated to one side, comparing and contrasting aspects of the Northern and Southern armies.

Chapters 1 and 2 cover the raising of each army. As the Civil War loomed, Northern cities had been growing exponentially for years, with populations flourishing. Manufacturing had become an important part of society, and a series of railroads and telegraph lines connected much of the North. Despite all the progression, there remained many rural and small town farmers and families. Social reform was big: unions were created to protect the rights of factory workers, there were children and women’s rights activists, as well as many fighting against poverty and slavery.

The South, meanwhile, had only minimal growth in cities and continued to rely on agriculture completely. As well, there was a divide between farmers of the Southern states. Some were big plantation cash crop producing planters, while many others were small farmers, planting for substenance. There were also mountain communities who felt disconnected to the rest; many actually supported or joined the Union. Tensions were kept in check because planters loaned out slaves to small farmers, who provided votes for planters. Planters also watched for slave uprisings, which would have had no benefit to any farmers, big or small. Southern men were all about expressing their manhood, usually through knife fights (in the lower class) or dueling (in the upper class).

When war broke out both sides felt the fervor, the South more so as they were likely to be invaded. Both armies were in constant need of men, despite many enlistments. The South enacted the first national draft in America, and the North eventually allowed blacks to join in late 1862 (though it took years for them to gain any respect even with many casualties, and even then they still received lesser supplies and medical help). In the South women played a big role in convincing men to join, playing of their masculinity, or lack thereof, in not joining. The soldiers of both sides often spoke of joining for more personal reasons over political ones. Soldiers of the North were often young, with uncertain financial futures. Farmers were less likely to join. They were very concerned with an image of self-control and restraint, as was the roots of the Puritan North. The soldiers of the South were also very young, but one was more likely to join the more secure his economic status, as the planters would be most affected if the Union won. Southerners, with a society that prized character and reputation, were inclined to express emotions and evaluate character more than Northerners.

Chapters 3 and 4 discuss experiences of Union and Confederate troops during the war. Both sides had similar reactions to camp life, in that they often questioned orders from their officers, and disliked the constant drilling, menial tasks, and waiting for battles. They all liked music and playing games (baseball, snowball fights, etc.), as well as gambling and drinking (though the officers tried to stop it). They also missed the company of women, resorting to all men dances with some dressed as women and to prostitutes (officers tried to stop this too). This led to the spreading of venereal diseases, and coupled with many other diseases that spread throughout camps, many soldiers didn’t even get to fight a battle. Many soldiers on both sides brought their own guns, though the Union was able to provide guns unlike the South where many men had none. There were equal reactions to death (that began with horror and disgust and later turned to apathy), as well as to frontal assaults, which men became resistant to because of the high casualties they produced. Men on both sides built communities, as many men of a regiment were from the same areas, creating close ties of friendship and brotherhood between men. Southern soldiers in camps suffered more than Northerners due to little supplies. Men went on with no real uniform let alone good clothes, no food or blankets, and even no shoes.

Hospitals, though organized fairly quickly, were very poor. Amputation was often the choice for injured limbs and disease ran rampant. Doctors (who numbered less in the South) knew very little about infection and disease. Nurses often became mother figures to the despondent men. Prisons were another place of horror to captured soldiers. The conditions were terrible on both sides (more so in the South as it could barely feed its army due to poor supplies). As the war went on desertion in the North was often from men who had little reason to stay (not lucrative), while in the South many men left because their families couldn’t maintain their farms. Discipline on these men was much more harsh in the South, leading to executions much more often.

As the invading army Union soldiers had to deal with civilians. Southern guerrillas and their violence towards the army angered many soldiers, so they resorted to looting and burning civilian homes in retribution. Fortunately, little rape occurred. Though soldiers hardly showed the same restraint to guerillas who were tortured if caught. Confederates, when in Pennsylvania, carried on in much the same way as they thought the Yankees did. Southerners had a large religious revival (though many chaplains quit early on), unlike the North. Many Confederates found a personal friend in God.

Co. Aytch: Chapters 1-12

Posted in FSEM100RR on September 17th, 2007 by kokoro

Co. Aytch is the memoir of Sam R. Watkins, a private soldier of the Confederacy during the Civil War, written twenty years after the war ended. Most of what we learn of the Civil War is from the perspective of generals. This account is from the common soldier, who knew little of the larger picture, yet did the majority of the brute fighting. 

Watkins has an easily understandable writing style and a good sense of humor. The set up of the book, with various disconnected pieces of memory in each chapter, almost reminds me of Tim O’Brien’s fictional novel The Things They Carried. Unfortunately, for some reason I can’t explain, only some of Watkins’ recollections evoke emotion from me. 

Watkins often, perhaps even too often, reminds the reader that he is writing twenty years after his time in the army, so his memory fails him. As well, there are many things he simply never knew to begin with, so he refers the reader to the history books. Sometimes he even gets things completely off base, such as a name, which is corrected in a footnote. I did find it odd that he sometimes quotes speeches seemingly word for word with this faulty memory of his. 

Certainly, I don’t expect everything to be accurate. If it were a diary written during the war I wouldn’t expect it all to be true either. We all tend to embellish and misremember things even if they happened yesterday. However, Co. Aytch is still a good look into the life of a common soldier during the Civil War. 

We read of the energy, the patriotism, and the belief that what they are doing is right that these young men feel at the start of the war. The war will be glorious, they believe, as most soldiers do before experiencing battle for the first time. Unlike the indifference many citizens felt during the Revolution, the people cheer on their soldiers, providing them with food and other necessities when they can. Soon the soldiers realize the horrors and hardships of war: constant marching with no sleep or rations for days, bloody battles leaving friends injured, deformed, or dead (something Watkins deals with through his belief in God and heaven), and the threat of court martial or execution by your own side for something like falling asleep (and who wouldn’t with so little of so many things?) at your post. To a general, the common soldier is an automaton who knows nothing but to fire his gun when commanded. Of course, as Watkins points out, he knew many generals who weren’t generals and many privates who would’ve been good generals. 

Watkins isn’t specific about battles, most of the time because he doesn’t know the specifics, but as he says, the book isn’t about what is exact history but what is his experience. Watkins’ experiences, unlike, say, Joseph Plumb Martin’s, are expressed without bombastic metaphors, perhaps making his accounts more easily accepted as truth. I rarely question Watkins’ recollections, such as meeting Generals Lee and Jackson, like I do Plumb Martin’s meeting with General Washington. 

Watkins’ memoirs, of course, are only from one Confederate soldier long after the war is over. This gives us a view rarely expressed in history, one from a common soldier of the losing side. It must be remembered, though, that it is only one side of the war. Did the Union soldiers have the same experiences and feelings as the Confederate soldiers did? The Civil War is an interesting part of history in relation to the subject of our class. How many American wars have left both winning and losing veterans as citizens of the United States?

“We must all be soldiers.”

Posted in FSEM100RR on September 12th, 2007 by kokoro

Wages of War discusses the impoverished state and mistreatment of many vets after the Revolution. Suffering Soldiers discusses the changing public view of vets and the causes of this change.

By the time Jefferson took the presidency, veterans, though honored to a certain degree, were not memorialized because citizens believed fighting for liberty was its own reward. The idea that the Revolution was a people’s war was popular; citizen-soldiers and people were the same and had suffered just the same during the war. The Continental Army was not included with this group. They were seen as the dregs of society, corrupt and untrustworthy. However, division arose because of Jefferson’s poor defense policy. The Federalists believed a standing army was necessary for the protection of the nation, while the Republicans, under Jefferson, held animosity towards permanent armies, vestiges of fear towards the British standing army from before the Revolution.

During this time, the Continental Army and its hardship became romanticized. While the Republicans used the idea of the citizen-soldier as an ideal, the Federalists, in order to gain support for a standing army, used the Continental Army as a symbol of patriotism. Instead of being viewed a rabble and poor men, the army became a virtuous group fighting against the evils of corruption and tyranny. This became true of all soldiers, who had the so-called “spirit of seventy-six.”

As a new war became a threat, the image of the heroic soldier as well as the people’s war became a rallying cry. Young men were expected to live up to the valor, bravery, and self-sacrifice of those Revolution heroes who came before them. Publications of the time promoted unity and civic duty, with soldiers as a representative of American greatness. The spirit of ’76 was still strong. It soon became apparent that this was not the case as the British won many battles. The idea of the people’s war was dead. Now that of the American soldier, the suffering soldier, grew strength. The disaster of the War of 1812 showed America that a citizen soldier wasn’t enough; a trained military man was necessary to protect the nation. It was time to create a standing army.

Around this time the idea of moral sentiment grew popular. Society felt it had a debt of gratitude to repay to those who had fought for their freedom. Sympathy grew towards the suffering soldier, who despite giving up so much, was treated terribly by citizens after the war had ended. The indifference and outright animosity shown towards vets, as discussed in Wages of War, now made Americans feel guilty. Unlike the disgust aimed at impoverished and disabled vets in years past, these poor men were no longer to be shunned. In fact, poverty and permanent injury were among many signs of their virtuous characters.

Veterans used this recognition to make petitions to Congress in order to get their pensions. Despite moral sentiment and popularity, Congress turned down many of these petitions. Finally, in 1816 a pension act for disabled vets was passed. Then the 1818 Revolutionary War Pension Act was passed and soldiers of the Revolution were seen by all as brave exemplary republican warriors who were among the greatest of Americans.

After many years, veterans were getting the respect and the payment they deserved. It was an Era of Good Feelings in more ways than one. However, there were those vets that didn’t live to experience this popularity, and instead died in obscurity.

The new feeling that grew towards Revolutionary War vets is a perfect example of how history changes as outlooks on the present change. The experiences of the Continental Army were revised and romanticized to suit the needs of the nation at a time when patriotism was especially necessary. Veterans were then idealized when a movement of moral sentiment grew. This brings a question of how much of history is reliable. Can we really trust anything were learn as complete fact? When the whims of the people change, history can change right along with them.