Civil War History on Facebook

I guess you could say I have surrendered to the dark side, but I decided to follow the example of Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory and create a Facebook group for this blog. You may be asking why I chose to do this. I chose to put us on Facebook to both increase readership as well as allow those of us who are already on Facebook and checking this site out to get to know each other. I would also hope that we can use the discussion features to engage in lively debates. So, if you have a Facebook account, search for Civil War History and you will find us, as we are the only group (that I can find via a search on there) with that name. To those of you who already write for the site, I will make you officers in the group. If you join and are interested in writing for the site, do not hesitate to let me know. I hope that this group will help grow this blog even more and will help us all learn a bit more about each other.

One step closer

What a great last few days for me. I was able to spend some great time with the family at Golden Lake in North Dakota over the weekend celebrating an achievement. Yes, I am one step closer to reaching my goal. I graduated on Friday with my Master of Arts degree in History from UND. I hope to eventually place either a photo or video up, but needless to say, I am quite relieved to be finished. Right now, I am getting ready to submit my thesis for copies to be bound for my committee, department, and family. I have a short break before beginning my doctoral work, but look forward to starting it. I now heave a sigh of relief.

Considering Union Civil War veterans

Here’s another entry I wrote for the Encyclopedia of the Veteran in America on Union Civil War veterans. You may ask why I do not mention much on the GAR. Well, that is because there is an entry dedicated to that organization and I was unable to request it in time. I hope you enjoy this one and will consider emailing the editor Dr. William Pencak, as there may still be some entries available to write.

Union Civil War veterans

The Civil War, in addition to being the bloodiest war in our nation’s history, created the largest single group of veterans for eighty years. Over two million men served in the military of the Union, leaving a population of veterans who survived of well over one and a half million at a time when the population of the United States was around 35 million.

Union veterans of the Civil War were as powerful a force on the nation after the war, as the Greatest Generation was after World War II. In terms of percentage of population, Union veterans of the Civil War accounted for roughly ten percent of the population of the North during the war, while World War II veterans (approximately sixteen million) accounted for twelve percent of the population based upon the 1940 census. The contributions of Union veterans to post-Civil War America are immense and include several presidents of the late nineteenth century. They created a political and social legacy that remains with the United States today.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Union veterans were fearful of returning home. According to historian Larry Logue, the veterans were concerned that the war had changed them too much. Civilians also were apprehensive about veterans returning home for the same reasons that veterans were not excited to return. The fears of civilians of returning soldiers were founded in the fact that some veterans rioted in cities like New York.

In addition to issues relating to returning home, veterans faced elevated levels of drug and alcohol addiction. Drug addiction was linked to medical personnel dispensing morphine in greater amounts to ease suffering patients. The increased incidence of giving morphine created conditions where soldiers were at increased risk for developing an addiction to the drug.

Other social problems faced by veterans were higher unemployment immediately after the war, as the market was flooded by so many men seeking work. Eventually jobs became plentiful, with many moving West and South and taking agriculture related work. In addition, some states experienced higher divorce rates among veterans.

Not all was negative immediately after the war, as many veterans returned home, married, and began their lives again. Many states reported increased marriages with the return of the men. Overall, the experiences of Union Civil War veterans revolved around several key areas: the experience of African American veterans, social organizations, political activism, and cultural contributions. Political activism was one of the largest areas of influence where veterans made their presence known

Political Activism of Union Veterans

Union veterans were a politically active group in the late nineteenth century. They effectively lobbied for various programs to aid veterans and their families. The political allegiances of veterans changed from before the war. Before and during the war, Union soldiers represented many differing political parties, including Whigs, Know Nothings, and Democrats. However, the war united Union veterans strongly and changed their politics, as they became a solidly Republican group. This change led to dominance in national politics by the Republicans, which included the election of several Union veterans to the presidency, including Grant, Harrison, and McKinley to name a few.

One of the more important aspects of the political activism of Union veterans was their ability to lobby for causes important to them. Such was the case with the issue of pensions for disabilities. The pension system was initially very cumbersome, with many veterans unaware that they qualified. In 1879, likely due to the presence of veterans in the government, as well as their lobbying abilities, the pension system was reformed. The new system allowed more eligible veterans to obtain pensions for their service. Another area where veterans were politically active was in the creation and reform of soldiers’ homes. Some veterans resented the discipline within these homes and on at least two separate occasions led protest for better conditions.

Overall, the political activism of Civil War veterans was significant. Veterans served as a lobbying group for their interests. They transformed late nineteenth century politics, ensuring Republican dominance for much of that time. They also paved the way for their comrades to achieve the presidency several times in the post-war period.

Social Organizations

One consequence of the increased political activity of veterans was the increased interest in social organizations for them. The largest of the organizations available to veterans was the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR (see Grand Army of the Republic). Many veterans never joined the GAR, but those that did enjoyed membership in an organization that combined military traditions with the rituals of fraternal organizations such as the Masons. The GAR was an active group in terms of lobbying and political activity during the 1880s. It also changed its rituals to increase it accessibility by citizens seeking to know more about the war.

Other veterans’ groups existed in conjunction with the GAR, but these were more exclusive. Some veterans joined the Union Veteran Legion or the Service Pension Association. The Union Veteran Legion restricted membership to those who served at least two years, or were wounded, while the Service Pension Association was primarily a lobbying group. With increased pension activity in the 1880s and onward, interest in veterans’ groups rose, with membership in the GAR peaking around 400,000. With so many involved in these organizations, the cultural contributions of Union veterans became apparent.

Contributions of Union veterans to American society and culture

There are three major contributions made by Union veterans to American society and culture that remained long after the last veteran’s death. Increased patriotism, battlefield commemoration and preservation, and the Memorial Day holiday are all legacies of Union Civil War veterans and their efforts.

Union veterans were a catalyst for increased patriotism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Groups like the GAR provided patriotic instruction in many communities. Also, as they reached old age, many veterans were looked upon to keep the patriotic traditions of the communities they lived in. In addition, this increased patriotism led to increased appreciation for the veterans, especially with new veterans joining the population from both the Spanish-American War and World War I. Within this increased patriotism arose movements by Union veterans to establish Flag Day as a holiday and urge the use of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. Union veterans sought to make the flag a cherished icon and were largely supportive of the Spanish-American War.

In addition to increased patriotism, Union veterans contributed to the beginning of battlefield commemoration and preservation efforts. One of the best examples was Dan Sickles’s efforts in the Congress to preserve the Gettysburg battlefield. In addition to the preservation efforts, veterans sought to commemorate their service through battlefield reunions. Several “Blue-Gray Reunions” occurred at battlefields, which allowed the men on both sides to share their common experience and reconcile differences.

Perhaps the largest contribution made by Union veterans was the establishment of Memorial Day. Memorial Day was conceived by GAR member John Logan (see Logan, John). In 1868, Logan issued General Order No. 11 calling for the GAR posts in communities across the country to adorn the graves of fallen comrades and honor them with appropriate services. Annual commemoration of Memorial Day in the United States is one of the largest cultural contributions that veterans made to the nation.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Union veterans were concerned about the legacy they would leave behind. With contributions made through increased patriotic education, battlefield commemoration and preservation, and the Memorial Day holiday, veterans made great social and cultural contributions to America. Their legacy is preserved through every visit made to a Civil War battlefield park and every community observance of Memorial Day.

African American Union veterans

While many of the above experiences related to white veterans and were largely positive, the experience of African American veterans can not be ignored. African American veterans experienced adversity and hardship. Even though African Americans contributed to the Union cause, their inclusion in the Grand Review of the army was limited. Further, immediately after the war, African American soldiers were assigned to duty in the South, while whites were allowed to go home. They faced harsh treatment from both Southerners and their white officers, which led them to mutiny. The mutinies were put down, but served as an early introduction to political activism on the part of African Americans.

After their de-mobilization, African Americans faced the same difficulties as some white veterans, but with increased intensity. For instance, African Americans faced a much higher unemployment level than their white counterparts, and also faced competition from local African Americans for jobs. In addition to increased unemployment, African Americans faced attacks from whites, which included a severe incident where a Memphis mob killed forty-six soldiers. African American veterans faced poor treatment in the North as well.

A few African Americans joined the GAR, but faced discrimination. They were prevented from being post officers because of racism, or were forced to join separate posts where high populations of African American veterans lived. In the South, posts were initially prevented from chartering and then allowed, but only allowed under the condition of separate departments. Though, the national organization rejected this racism, it could not change the situation.

Conclusion

Union Civil War veterans were a major force for social, political, and cultural change in post-Civil War America. Their political activism led to Republican political dominance for most of the next fifty years after the war. In addition, veterans led the way for a reformed pension process that allowed many more veterans to receive compensation from the government.

Veterans also became active in social organizations that served to bring them together to remember their experiences with fellow soldiers. Organizations like the GAR, Union Veteran Legion, and Service Pension Association flourished in the late nineteenth century. These groups pressed for veterans’ political interests and provided a social outlet for them.

Veterans contributed greatly to post-war society and culture. They were the keepers and instructors in patriotic education and advocated for Flag Day, as well as being supporters of the Spanish-American War. Also, Union veterans were instrumental in beginning efforts to preserve and commemorate the fields upon which they fought, which led to the eventual establishment of battlefield parks. Finally, it was through the efforts of Civil War veteran John Logan and others that the Memorial Day holiday was established.

Unfortunately, African Americans faced harsh treatment by whites despite their fighting for the Union. From being denied greater participation in the Grand Review to being forced to serve in the Reconstruction South, African Americans were denied the initial rightful recognition due them. They also faced violence from whites and greater difficulties seeking jobs. Their experience is a sad, but important part of the overall story of Union veterans.

Union veterans were the vanguard of the veterans’ movement in America. Their political activism was copied by future organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Likewise, the organization of Union veterans into social groups like the GAR began the large-scale involvement of future veterans in their respective groups. Veterans and their groups since the Civil War have continued to serve as patriotic instructors in their communities and press for ceremonial occasions to honor their sacrifices. Fortunately, unlike their Civil War ancestors, African American veterans have turned the initial negative story into a positive, as they have now received the recognition due them. The modern veterans’ movement is a fitting legacy to the efforts and contributions of Union Civil War veterans.

Source:

Logue, Larry. To Appomattox and Beyond: The Civil War Soldier in War and Peace. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 1996.

Encyclopedia of the Veteran in America, Edited by William A. Pencak. Forthcoming 2009 by Praeger. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT.

Not to be reproduced without written permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.

A brief biography of John Logan

I have written several entries for the Encyclopedia of the Veteran in America over the last several months. One of them was an entry on John Logan and I thought I would share it with you. William Pencak, the editor, still has several entries in need of authoring and I would like to ask my readers to let me know if it is something that you may be interested in doing. So, without further ado:

Logan, John (1826-1886)

John A. Logan was a Union general during the American Civil War. Logan grew up in Illinois, serving as a lawyer, member of the State House of Representatives, and Congressman, as a member of the Democratic Party. He served in the Mexican-American War as a Second Lieutenant with the First Illinois Infantry.

When the Civil War broke out, Logan fought at Bull Run as a civilian, but soon resigned his Congressional seat and became colonel of the Thirty-first Illinois Infantry. Logan is credited with ending secessionist talk in southern Illinois at the same time. During the war, Logan served under Ulysses S. Grant in the Western Theater and saw action at the Battles of Belmont, Fort Donelson (where Logan was wounded), Siege of Corinth, and commanded the Third Division of the XVII Corps, which was the first unit to enter Vicksburg.

After Vicksburg, Logan briefly commanded the Army of the Tennessee during the Battle of Atlanta until relieved. Logan then commanded the XV Corps during the Carolinas Campaign. Logan was sent by Grant to relieve George Thomas during the Battle of Nashville, but was halted when Thomas achieved victory. During the war, Logan rose from colonel to major general.

After the war, Logan was active in politics, but as a Republican. He served in the Congress and the Senate, and was the Vice Presidential nominee with James G. Blaine in 1884. In addition to his political career, Logan was active in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), serving as Commander-in-Chief of the organization for several years, and was instrumental in establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday. His General Order No. 11, which established Memorial Day on May 30, 1868, is well known, and is read at many Memorial Day ceremonies across the country. Logan’s order described the goal of the holiday as:

“. . . designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.” (General Orders No. 11)

In addition to his political activism for veterans, Logan was also an ardent supporter of education. He delivered a speech in March 1882 on education to advocate support for a bill that he introduced, which required taxes on alcohol be used to expand educational opportunities to all children in the United States. In the speech, Logan argued that the millions of children attending school were a better defense for the nation than a large standing army.

Logan’s legacy is preserved every year by the Memorial Day holiday, in which Americans gather to honor all veterans who gave their lives in service to their country. He is also memorialized with statues in Chicago and Washington, DC. Several locations bear his name, including Logan County, Kansas, as well as John A. Logan College, a community college in Carterville, Illinois. Logan is considered by several historians as one of the best volunteer generals of the Civil War.

References:

“A Brief Biography of John A. Logan”, online at: <http://www.jalc.edu/johnlogan.html&gt;.

“General John A. Logan Museum-Biography”, online at: <http://www.loganmuseum.org/genjal.html&gt;.

“General Order No. 11″, online at: <http://www.jal.cc.il.us/loganmemorial.html&gt;.

Encyclopedia of the Veteran in America, Edited by William A. Pencak. Forthcoming 2009 by Praeger. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT.

Not to be reproduced without written permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.

One step closer

YYEESS!! I passed my defense today. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but my committee posed great questions, which I answered to the best of my ability. Now, I will make some minor changes this weekend and have it checked for style and format on Monday and submit the final copy by Thursday. In short, I will graduate on August 1 with my MA. I plan to begin Ph.D. work in late August, but have one thing left to resolve with that. I must be off, as I am going to grab a bite, relax, and hang out with friends later.

It is done, well almost

Exciting news for myself. My thesis is finished, at least for the most part. I received preliminary approval on Thursday, which means that no significant changes will be required by my committee on the draft. I only have a couple of steps left to complete my MA. I defend the thesis on Friday, July 11 at 11:00 AM (I will let you know how that goes on Friday). I also need to make any last-minute changes to the draft before submitting the draft to the Graduate School for a format check. Sometime early next week, I will submit a final copy to the graduate school for approval by the dean and if all goes well, I graduate on August 1.

Needless to say, I am quite happy that I am finished with this project. Illinois camps of instruction have been a passion of mine for four years. I began the research into Camp Carrollton, near my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois. That camp was used by the Sixty-first Illinois Infantry from late-September 1861 to the end of February 1862. The camp was located on the Greene County Fair Grounds, which was similar to almost all other camps in the state. Eventually, the research became my senior paper as an undergraduate. Since then, I have presented a paper on Camp Carrollton twice at history conferences, as well as a paper dealing with the overall topic at the Northern Great Plains History Conference.

My thesis focuses on the transition from civilian to soldier, which the camps facilitated. The transformation took on three forms: physical, mental, and social. The physical transition encompassed the entrance into camp and the world of the soldier, with events like the medical examination, receipt of the uniform, and the beginning of drill. The mental transition focused on increased emotional expression in the soldiers’ writings as well as the learning of increased self-discipline. Finally, the social transition, which I found to be a more significant part of the transition, dealt with the soldier learning to become part of the unit. Soldiers engaged in many social activities in camp that brought them together as comrades. In addition, the soldiers ventured into the neighboring communities for attending church, dining out in local restaurants, and touring the sites. These activities, as well as the men leaving their camp, served to distinguish the soldier from the rest of society as a distinct social group.

Overall, the story of camps has been largely ignored by scholars. Most works I have encountered by historians that deal with soldiers focus on soldiers once they were in the field. I concluded that most scholars focus not on a civilian to soldier transition, but a soldier to veteran transition. Studying camps is important because to fully understand soldiers we need to know their story before they face their first battle.

In conclusion, I am quite relieved to have my thesis mostly done. I am a bit nervous about my defense, but am confident that all will work out. I plan to start my doctoral work in the fall and am currently not sure what I will write my dissertation on, but am looking forward to the challenge. As for whether I will have my thesis published in some form as a journal article, I will let you know when that comes about.

Gettysburg: 145 years later

Yes, these last couple of days have represented the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It seems fitting that they are commemorating this anniversary in town with the new visitor center, however the visitor center may not be all it was cracked up to be, as evidenced by my colleague Bill in his recent post. It is also fitting that fellow blogger and aspiring historian Sarah Adler spent last week at the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. It has also been about 15 years since the premiere of the film Gettysburg. All of this causes one to think about the battle more, which is a good thing.

Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle on American soil, with over 50,000 casualties. It represented several important issues. It was both the high-point of the Confederacy, as well as the great turning point of the war, which found both sides switching how they waged the war. The Union began to fight more offensively in the East, while the Confederates were forced to shift from a primarily offensive war to a defensive war. Gettysburg shattered the Army of Northern Virginia, as it was forced to realize that it was unable to beat the Army of the Potomac and would no longer be able to invade the North again.

It is amazing to consider how the battle could have turned out differently had only a few aspects of it gone differently. Had Lee seized the opportunity to secure the high ground on the first day. Or, if he would have flanked the Union army on day two. Perhaps the largest factor in the battle that could have altered its outcome and the conduct of the war was Pickett’s Charge. Had Lee not committed the men that he did to that charge, the Union victory would have been smaller and Lee would have retained a larger force after the battle to continue fighting.

One other significant outcome of Gettysburg was the rise of Grant to command of all Union forces. Meade’s inability to crush Lee after the battle caused Lincoln to appoint Grant over Meade, which caused the Union armies in the East to begin taking the fight to the Confederates.

There are several great books on the battle out there that I encourage you to read. One that is my favorite and deals with a counter factual scenario of the battle is Newt Gingrich’s novel Gettysburg, which is part of a Civil War trilogy that is quite good.

Gettysburg will likely remain one of the most popular battles in terms of study by scholars and visits to the park. This is not surprising, as while I am partial to the Western Theater, I still maintain an interest in the battle because of its importance to our history. No other battle quite changed the course of the Civil War as Gettysburg. The significance of this battle will become more apparent as the 150th anniversary draws closer. I encourage everyone to read about the battle, watch the movie Gettysburg, and visit the park and take in the history of this battle.