Gaines M. Foster
When Johnny came marching home from the Civil War, the bands played, people shouted, and the ladies all turned out. Many historians, too, have cheered the soldiers' sacrifice and exploits in battle. But they have paid far less attention to what the veterans did once the parades were over. Social historian Maris A. Vinovskis had a point when, in 1990, he complained that "almost nothing has been written about the postwar experience of Civil War veterans" (p. 21). Historians do lack systematic, perhaps inevitably quantitative, examinations of what happened to the veterans--their health, social mobility, and other aspects of their lives. Yet Vinovskis clearly exaggerated. Many studies, although few of them focus specifically on veterans, provide information on the soldiers' lives after the Civil War. They examine the associations Union and Confederate veterans formed and the role these organizations played in providing for the veterans' care, in shaping society's view of the past, and in promoting reunion.
Two books focus specifically on veterans, not just those of the Civil War but of other American wars as well. Toward the end of World War II, Dixon Wecter published When Johnny Comes Marching Home ( 1944), a subtle discussion of veterans of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War I. In a long section on the Civil War, Wecter addresses the problems the returning soldiers faced during the first months and years after the war: the psychological shock of combat, the loss of girlfriends, the search for employment. But he also tells of their successes: their return to school, economic advancement, and im