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Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900 (Civil War America) [Paperback]

by Stuart McConnell
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 5, 1997 0807846287 978-0807846285 Reprint
The Grand Army of the Republic, the largest of all Union Army veterans' organizations, was the most powerful single-issue political lobby of the late nineteenth century, securing massive pensions for veterans and helping to elect five postwar presidents from its own membership. To its members, it was also a secret fraternal order, a source of local charity, a provider of entertainment in small municipalities, and a patriotic organization. Using GAR convention proceedings, newspapers, songs, rule books, and local post records, Stuart McConnell examines this influential veterans' association during the years of its greatest strength.

Beginning with a close look at the men who joined the GAR in three localities—Philadelphia; Brockton, Massachusetts; and Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin—McConnell goes on to examine the Union veterans' attitudes towards their former Confederate enemies and toward a whole range of noncombatants whom the verterans called "civilians": stay-at-home townsfolk, Mugwump penion reformers, freedmen, women, and their own sons and daughters. In the GAR, McConnell sees a group of veterans trying to cope with questions concerning the extent of society's obligation to the poor and injured, the place of war memories in peacetime, and the meaning of the "nation" and the individual's relation to it.

McConnell aruges that, by the 1890s, the GAR was clinging to a preservationist version of American nationalism that many white, middle-class Northerners found congenial in the face of the social upheavals of that decade. In effect, he concludes, the nineteenth-century career of the GAR is a study in the microcosm of a nation trying to hold fast to an older image of itself in the face of massive social change.

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Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900 (Civil War America) + Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a scholarly tome, McConnell, a history professor at Pitzer College in California, draws on an exhaustive synthesis of archival and published sources to challege the stereotype of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest Union Army veterans' organization, as a flag-waving pressure group focussing on veterans' pensions and Republican politics. He depicts instead an organization that rapidly shed its partisan, quasi-military nature to develop along lines of typical Gilded Age fraternal orders. Loyal GAR lodges were centers of business as well as fellowship, while the national organization focused on ideals of self-sacrifice and comradeship as manifested in wartime service. Restricted to Union veterans, the membership held a preservationist vision of American identity and an increasingly sentimentalized view of the Civil War. The GAR enjoyed three decades of "glorious contentment" before being overtaken by the realities of the new century. Illustrated.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Gilded Age America, argues this book, can best be understood as a postwar period. McConnell (history, Pitzer Coll.) uses the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) as a tool to illuminate what this meant in the industrializing North. Much more than a partisan Republican political club lobbying ceaselessly for higher pensions for Union veterans, the GAR introduced significantly new notions of charity to the country. In keeping alive their maudlin memories as well as the high ideals of the Civil War, the organization's veterans helped shape the outlook of the nation. Finally, the GAR offered a self-image of a simpler America that, although it had in fact disappeared in the smoke of the war and postwar industrialization, proved appealing to middle-class whites in the throes of immense social change. The applicability to our own postwar period is obvious. Provocative social history for specialists.
- Thomas E. Schott, Office of History, 17th Air Force, Sembach, Germany
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Civil War America
  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; Reprint edition (February 5, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807846287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807846285
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #687,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars War is Never Over March 27, 2008
The story of the Union veterans of the Civil War is a complex one containing many subplots and competing lines. Like the war, nothing is simple and easy answers will not suffice to the complex questions. These men, like the age they lived in, are very different in outlook, challenges and attitudes. The common threads of remembrance, place in history and compensation interest all veterans.
The Grand Army of the Republic was the first truly organized veteran organization in America. Comprised of men who served in the Union Army during the war, it had tremendous political power with one in ten voters being members. This book covers the years from the end of the war, 1865, to when age and death had reduced the member's power. The author chose 1900 as the end of the book. While these men would live for almost another 60 years, their political power had started to diminish and would shortly fail.
The author judges the GAR by our standards and finds them wanting. He seems to have little respect for the organization, no sympathy for the men and damns them for holding the common views of race and religion for their time. The GAR was a white, Republican, anti-catholic organization but so was most of America from 1865 to 1900. The GAR is only a reflection of the society the men came from and were part of. This needs understanding and not judgment.
Another problem is sequencing of the story. The author cannot decide how to tell the story. Are we sequenced by year or do we cover a topic? The answer is both and the results can be difficult to follow. The reader is always trying to catch up with the switch from one style to the other.
I am still looking for a book on this subject; this is not a bad book but is not the book we need.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so glorious contentment? September 3, 2012
An excellent critical book on the Grand Army of the Republic. It makes one wonder from reading it how many interpretations of Civil War events were deleted by the Grand Army's "politically correct" philosophy. Abe Lincoln might not have been the great military genius as he is represented in so many other books,in fact he might have been not much more than an Illinois railroad lawyer that was used by a powerful railroad lobby to push their interests.
The Grand Army however was a very influential middle class lobby that was able to influence what was printed into the history books. Apparently there were a lot of critics in the north,including many in "high places", who may have supported the war yet were critical of some of Lincoln's policies for various reasons. These critics which included some influential Union officers and opposition party members, were hushed during the war from presenting their ideas. When the war was over,the GAR helped keep Lincoln's presidency "smelling like a rose"(this all despite the Lincoln administration's unpopular draft,some rioting,protests,suspension of Habeus Corpus,I could go on and on. The GAR also decided which Union Generals would be seen as "saviors" of the Union and which ones would be seen as somewhat less than patriotic.
In regard to the Veterans Pensions handed out later to Union Veterans, the determination of who received them and how much was also a political function of the GAR. I get the feeling from my read of the book, that a lot of qualified Union veterans were most probably denied their pensions,and others less qualified were rubber stamped due to political connections with the GAR. Once again the author stressed the GAR was definitely a "bourgoisie" outfit and had a political agenda and the veteran seemed subservient to GAR policy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
As I was preparing for a summer event relating to Civil War commemoration, I dug up a review I wrote on this book many years ago. Thinking back on this book,it was one of the more memorable ones of the many I reviewed while studying under Prof. Richard Beringer at the University of North Dakota. I give the book a "5" rating because as I think of it (which is every time I visit a cemetery and see the GAR symbol), I recall how nicely it relates local history to national history. Here's my original review:

"Be Gloriously content, the Union you preserved remains forever, and liberty, equal rights, and justice, is your heritage to your descendants even unto the judgment day" (Union Veteran leader John M. Thurston, 1898, cited on p. 234).

Glorious Contentment is a history of America's largest nineteenth-century veteran's organization, and it is much more. Stuart McConnell, who is himself not primarily a Civil War historian, has found in the Grand Army of the Republic a powerful link between the experience of the Civil War and the social background of the late nineteenth century. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR for short) was founded in 1865, on the heels of a two-day military parade celebrating the victory of the Union over the Confederacy. It went out of existence in 1956, when the last Union veteran passed away. During the first half of those ninety-one years, it exerted a strong influence on American identity.

McConnell explains in the preface that he came upon his topic "through the back channel of community history." The GAR and its local chapters, he found, was a "microcosm" of the gilded age, a powerful reserve of patriotic and moral sentiment that held up an idealistic image of what the nation had been and ought to be.
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