Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History
Winner of the Gov. John Andrew Award (Union Club of Boston)
An acclaimed, groundbreaking, and “powerful exploration” (Washington Post) of the fate of Union veterans, who won the war but couldn’t bear the peace.
For well over a century, traditional Civil War histories have concluded in 1865, with a bitterly won peace and Union soldiers returning triumphantly home. In a landmark work that challenges sterilized portraits accepted for generations, Civil War historian Brian Matthew Jordan creates an entirely new narrative. These veterans— tending rotting wounds, battling alcoholism, campaigning for paltry pensions— tragically realized that they stood as unwelcome reminders to a new America eager to heal, forget, and embrace the freewheeling bounty of the Gilded Age. Mining previously untapped archives, Jordan uncovers anguished letters and diaries, essays by amputees, and gruesome medical reports, all deeply revealing of the American psyche.
In the model of twenty-first-century histories like Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering or Maya Jasanoff ’s Liberty’s Exiles that illuminate the plight of the common man, Marching Home makes almost unbearably personal the rage and regret of Union veterans. Their untold stories are critically relevant today.
Civilian Americans have always had difficulties acknowledging and dealing with the problems soldiers face in their transition from warriors to veterans, and the Civil War was no exception. As historian Jordan demonstrates in his engrossing debut outing, for the men of the Union Army, the war didn't end with Appomattox. Picking up at that point, where most studies of the Civil War conclude, Jordan challenges scholars like Gerald F. Linderman who maintain that "Billy Yank" eagerly suppressed his wartime experiences and embraced peacetime. Jordan convincingly shows that from the time of Lee's surrender, veterans found themselves still bound to the war, struggling with its meaning and trying to make sense of their military service. Even as the majority of the public wanted to put the war aside, former soldiers participated in anniversary events and reunions, subscribed to the growing number of veterans' newspapers, and joined the veterans' organization called the Grand Army of the Republic. To preserve and disseminate their memories, veterans wrote and published regimental histories, personal memoirs, and war sketches. They did all this while coping with the consequences of their service: unemployment, alcoholism, and physical injuries and disabilities, including amputated limbs. Jordan's thoughtful, well-researched book exposes the under-acknowledged realities faced by Civil War veterans with disturbing echoes in the modern era. Illus.