Reviewed by Barbara Gannon
By Donald R. Shaffer
University Press of Kansas
Donald R. Shaffer’s After the Glory reveals the previously untold story of African-American veterans, examining their lives in the context of the postwar struggle for civil rights. Shaffer concludes that African-American veterans “enjoyed certain advantages compared with nonveterans in confronting the resurgence of racism and discrimination after the end of Reconstruction.”
Economically, black former soldiers were more prosperous than other African Americans, partly due to government pensions granted to veterans regardless of their race. Politically, black veterans used their status to demand civil rights for themselves and their community. Socially, these men enjoyed the fellowship of their white comrades in the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Army’s largest veterans group. Despite their success, Shaffer argues that “at best, black veterans achieved a partial victory, preserving some but not all of the manhood they had won.”
While After the Glory is an impressively researched and well-written examination of an important subject, Shaffer’s assessment of black veterans’ success in terms of their manhood may make it less accessible to readers outside the historical profession. He examines veterans’ postwar lives through an analytical framework of gender issues, an academic approach that probes the different ways societies define manhood and womanhood. Some lay readers may feel that this detracts from the inherently powerful story of the postwar lives of African-American veterans.
Overall, Shaffer’s book represents an important contribution to the study of the Civil War era. The story of African-American soldiers did not end when their service expired. Many lived to enjoy the freedom they struggled for, even if they never achieved full equality in the nation they fought so hard to save.