Book Review: One More War to Fight: Union Veterans’ Battle for Equality through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Lost Cause

One More War to Fight: Union Veterans’ Battle for Equality through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Lost Cause. By Stephen A. Goldman. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2023. Hardcover, 439pp. $29.95

Reviewed by Sarah Kay Bierle.

It is easy to wish for definitive starts and finishes in the timelines of history, but rarely did the past’s saga unfold with such desired precision. Civil War veterans’ battlefield combat experiences ended in 1865, but the survivors on both sides did not forget their personal or national causes when they returned home. While much has been written about the appearance, evolution, and outcomes of the Lost Cause ideology, which presented a defensive yet mild view of the Confederacy’s reasons for the war, the responses of the Union veterans in defense of their causes in the post-war era are now coming into the research spotlight more frequently.

Stephen A. Goldman’s book, One More War to Fight: Union Veterans’ Battle for Equality through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Lost Cause, offers valuable insights to understand the beliefs, sentiments, and actions of some Northern veterans. The book examines the eventual roll back of civil rights that African Americans had earned as well as the outright atrocities perpetrated toward Blacks and their allies during the Reconstruction Era. In addition, Goldman shows how Union veterans in formal organizations rallied to speak up and act in defense of liberty and levels of equality. In doing so, Goldman highlights notable trends and moments in national history and how Union veterans responded.

One More War to Fight focuses on the period between 1865 and approximately 1910—the height of the Grand Army of the Republic’s (GAR) influence among the Union veteran community. Chapter One lays the foundation for the “unfinished work” and demonstrates that many Union soldiers recognized that the war would define freedom, equality, and historical memory even as they turned homeward. Chapters Two, Three, and Four examine the political and social conflicts within the Reconstruction, focusing particularly on Union veteran encouragement for Black equality in some aspects of life, the response to the rise of the Klu Klux Klan and voter intimidation in the South, and the protests against segregation and Jim Crow laws. Chapter Six highlights the debates within the departments of the GAR about equality for Black veterans within the local and state posts and the organization’s national decision to avoid segregating veteran posts. Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine form a study of the Union veterans’ resistance to the Lost Cause narrative and their hesitancy or outright rejection of the reconciliation movement, especially noting their anger with the continued lynchings and intimidations toward African Americans in the former slave states. Chapter Ten examines the GAR’s fury and eventual compromise over the state of Virginia placing a statue of Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol building and the debates of memory, cause, and reconciliation that it ignited among the group’s members. The presented history flows in timeline order, and the text unpacks the rise of movements that the veterans responded and reacted to.

Readers with interests in the Reconstruction Era, Civil War veterans, and the struggle for racial equality and voting rights will find the book particularly insightful. The text offers a balanced mixture of broad explanative narrative and utilizes individual examples to draw conclusions about veterans’ beliefs and reactions. There are some accounts that readers may want to explore in more depth, and Goldman provides helpful historiography throughout the text without detracting from his focus. There is some first-person voice in the narrative toward the beginning which then fades out as the book continues; some readers may find the writing style improved toward the middle and end of the book.

One of the strengths of the book is its tight focus. Goldman explains his sourcing and focus in the introduction, noting that the study narrows to the reactions of GAR members and its publications and, even more specifically, the writings of the Left-Arm Corps. The book provides a strong and convincing argument for this section of Union veteran demographics and their verbal and direct action resistance methods. However, as Goldman acknowledges, only about one-third of all Union veterans were GAR members and an even smaller segment were in the Left-Arm Corps. Veterans outside the scope of the study may have held quite different opinions but were less vocal or otherwise outside these research parameters. The importance of Goldman’s observations with his chosen demographic is significant and important to Reconstruction history and Civil War memory, but it is not a comprehensive view of all Union veterans; readers may want to keep that in mind.

One More War to Fight should earn a place on the shelves of post-war studies and collections. It is a focused look at some Union veterans’ continuing battles through politics, words, and actions to support freedom and respond to the Lost Cause. As new challenges arose that tested their commitment to their causes these veterans responded by continuing the struggle for liberty. In the words of one veteran at a GAR National Encampment in 1892, “The old issues are dead, but new issues have arisen and always will arise.” (207)

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