The War Went On
Reconsidering the Lives of Civil War Veterans
Edited by Brian Matthew Jordan and Evan C. Rothera
Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2020, 352 pages
Book Review published on: December 4, 2020
Much has been written about the Civil War, from land battles to blockade running to political intrigue. Similarly, the events leading to the Civil War, such as the endless congressional compromises between the North and the South and the role of slavery in the antebellum period, have been subjects of study. The fate of the men who fought the Civil War has been, by comparison, of little interest.
The War Went On is a collection of essays that study different aspects surrounding the soldiers who survived the “War Between the States.” Only two really look at common postwar experiences of both Union and Confederate soldiers. One looks at the role of American veterans in the Mexican-American War against Emperor Ferdinand Maximilian; veterans of both sides enlisted with Benito Juarez to fight against the French interventionist forces. Another essay considers the way in which former prisoners of war were portrayed in literature and contemporary popular culture. The notoriously poor conditions in both Northern and Southern prisoner-of-war camps led to the former prisoners going from victims to heroes in the eyes of their compatriots and to Andersonville and Elmira being touchpoints of continued regional animosity.
Other essays contemplate experiences unique to Union or Confederate veterans, or in some cases unique to specific groups of veterans within the United States and Confederate States armies. The creation of the Grand Army of the Republic memorial halls in the north is the subject of one, and pension fraud among North Carolina veterans another. The role of medical photography of disabled Union veterans is studied in one essay, and the gradual acceptance of Missouri guerrillas (both wartime and postwar) as Confederate veterans is another topic of study. The remainder of the essays discuss such things as the fate of Arkansas unionists after the war, the creation of federal “soldier homes” in the Midwest, and African American attitudes toward Lincoln.
These essays, taken together, provide an interesting picture of the fate of veterans who survived the Civil War. Not surprisingly, the war did much to change the men who fought in it. Some emigrated to new “communities,” or colonies, in the west made up of fellow veterans. Others continued to refight their battles on paper to preserve history as they understood it, while yet others, African Americans, struggled to be recognized on equal terms with their fellow veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic. The War Went On provides us with a better idea of who these men were and what they did when the shooting ended.
Book Review written by: James D. Crabtree, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas