Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America

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Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America. By James Marten. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 339. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95.)

When considering the hundreds of books written about the four years of the American Civil War, it is startling that there have been relatively few written about its veterans in the remaining decades of their lives. James Marten seeks to rectify this oversight in his broadly researched and compelling Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America. Dubbed by Marten as "the nineteenth century's 'Greatest Generation,'" the men who came of age in the early 1860s were defined by their military service (p. 1). The contradictory status of these veterans as both masculine heroes and government dependents after the war illustrates broader struggles over the role of government and the responsibility of citizens as the United States grew in population, power, and prestige during the Gilded Age.

Sing Not War pulls from a wide variety of sources to define the long-term effects of injuries and disabilities on veterans, the quest for pensions and compensation, and the political motivations of veterans as they aged. Though at times yielding to temptation to include one anecdote too many, Marten allows veterans a voice through their personal stories. Building on these individual experiences, Sing Not War describes how many veterans were ultimately viewed not as honorable citizens receiving a just reward but as men emasculated by their dependence on a government hand-out. These views of veterans, however, divided along sectional lines. Marten notes, "veterans in the North were seen through multiple lenses"; as beggars, tramps, noble warriors, or saviors of the Republic depending on the political climate. Confederate veterans, by contrast, "would always be those proud, ragged, honorable men" (p. 20). Though touted by many as proper compensation for the men who saved the Union, federal pensions gave recipients a dependent status deeply at odds with Gilded Age standards of masculinity. Confederate veterans, as recipients of much smaller pensions, were viewed as retaining independence and avoided this muddying of masculine perceptions.

Marten makes a strong contribution in exploring the mental impact of the war on veterans, an issue often neglected by the handful of other works about Civil War veterans. …