The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic
by Barbara A. Gannon, University of North Carolina Press
For newly freed African Americans, the Gilded Age was a time of white racism, segregation, disenfranchisement and violence. Some historians have claimed that African-American veterans were marginalized during that period by white comrades in favor of reconciliation with white former foes. But Barbara Gannon argues that “black and white veterans were able to create and sustain an interracial organization…because the northerners who fought and lived remembered African Americans’ service in a war against slavery.” Gannon’s first book is an insightful examination of the ways individual memory and historical fact meld together to create an organization’s and a nation’s public identity.
Gannon has identified 467 integrated GAR posts where white and black veterans shared “a transcendent bond— comradeship—that overcame even the most pernicious social barrier of their era—race based separation.” She studied the GAR using veteran memoirs, black newspapers and local archives, including many from all-black posts. That allowed her to focus “less on how race separated Civil War veterans and more on what brought them together as members of the GAR.”
Unfortunately, Gannon also found that most white veterans, while embracing black comrades, allowed racism to shape their views on people of color in general, making “no connection between freeing slaves in 1865 and protecting their civil rights in 1895.” Thus the struggle for real equality would continue on into a new century.
Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.