OSR Journal of Student Research

Article Title

The Pension Applications of Southern California’s Civil War Veterans


Proposal Abstract: This project seeks to identify the Civil War veterans who arrived in Southern California in the years after the Civil War, their motivations for migrating, their experiences during and after the war, and the ways that the Civil War had an impact on the men who volunteered to defend the Union. Thus far, this project has identified 428 Union veterans who mustered from service and, at some point in their life, made their home in San Bernardino County, California. These veterans served in units that organized in 29 different states or territories, most were infantrymen, and three officers served in the United States Colored Troops. Their war-time experiences varied greatly. Reconstructing the experience of veterans who moved west after the war provides important context against which we may balance other discussions of the experiences of these men, including victimization, psychological disorders, reentry into society, and socio-economic struggles. Certainly, many veterans struggled in the post-war period. But many did not. The array of experiences provides a more complete picture of the lives of these men in the years after their service ended. Furthermore, tracing the internal migration of these men allows us to better analyze the nature of the post-war westward shift, both of men and of ideologies, illustrating the larger impact that the Civil War had, not simply upon north and south, but also upon east and west. With the increased social and political attention placed upon the experiences of returning veterans and their struggles re-assimilating into civilian society, it seems natural to contextualize the experiences of recent veterans with those of their comrades who served in other American wars. A flurry of scholarship has appeared over the past twenty years that dispels the “Good War” myth created in the wake of the major wars of the 19th and first half of the 20th century, and balances that narrative with a real, and at times disturbing, discussion of the trials and tribulations of soldiers, civilians, and returning veterans. Historians who study Civil War veterans are divided between those who argue that the violence of war fundamentally changed the lives of these veterans and those who see the war as a defining (but not largely negative) experience for Union soldiers. A majority of Civil War veterans, however, left no written account of their daily lives after they left the army. Furthermore, most letter collections and diaries end when Confederate forces surrendered and the soldiers were mustered out of service. Furthermore, not all soldiers were wounded, physically or psychologically, in combat. By looking at the growth and development of a single community in which Civil War veterans played and active and visible role we may gain a better sense of the ways in which these former soldiers negotiated the post-war landscapes.

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