Civil War Veterans and the Emergence of Modern America

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LeConte Hall, Room 101
Tue, 03/20/2018 - 12:30pm

James Marten, Professor of History at Marquette University will present a talk on veteran's history.

We tend to imagine Union veterans of the Civil War as slightly stooped, white-bearded old men who appeared on Decoration Day and the Fourth of July to bask in the warmth of their country’s gratitude for saving the Union.  They embraced their role in history and drew their self-esteem and sense of worth from the past.  This is, however, only a very small part of the ways in which most veterans thought about themselves. Focusing on the Grand Army of the Republic, the most important Union veterans’ organization, this talk will show that these “old soldiers”—many were still in their forties and fifties during the GAR’s heyday in the 1880s and 1890s—were, in fact, harbingers of modern American values and policies.  They invented identity politics when they aggressively campaigned for the expansion of the veterans’ pensions.  They supported an American foreign policy that imagined a bigger role for the United States in the world, often framed in racial terms.  And the GAR became the biggest fraternal society in America at a time when American males desperately sought business and social contacts and affirmation of their masculinity by joining such organizations as the Oddfellows and Masons.  Rather than looking forward, as historians have often asserted, veterans were determined to look forward in ways that may sound familiar to twenty-first century Americans.

This is a FREE event.

The public is invited.