Civil War Book Review: The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic

by James Durney on June 27, 2011 · 1 comment

The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic
by Barbara Gannon

A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph 1862-1863 by Jeffry D. Wert

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (May 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807834521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807834527

We accept the idea that segregation and discrimination is the norm between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Era.  Most history is full of examples supporting this idea.  We often cite the Grand Army of the Republic as an example of anti-Black and anti-Catholic sentiment.  This is the era of Jim Crow, the Klan, lynching and race riots.  What should we make of a book that says the GAR was an integrated organization?

During the Civil War, the North recruited thousands of Black men from 1862 to 1865.  These men were the United States Colored Troops, USCT; officered by Whites they fought in all theaters.  These men lived in a segregated military that reflected society.   Their service resulted in the retention of Black regiments in the regular army that existed until after World War II.  This book is not a history of the USCT’s service in the Civil War or until they were abolished.  This book is a history of USCT veterans that joined the Grand Army of the Republic and their experiences.

The GAR never officially separated in Black and White posts.  The GAR never refused to allow Blacks to attend meetings, conventions, campfires or reunions.  They were unique in this respect and from time to time refused to separate on race.  In this book, the author advances the idea that the GAR overcame “contemporary racial mores”.   It is a difficult position to take and a challenge to defend.  The author presents a picture of an organization with a mixed record.  There are White posts, Black posts and mixed posts.  Posts enjoy presentations from veterans with little regard for race.  Members address conventions from the floor without regard for race.  However, officers above the post level are white.  Black veterans, while nominated, seldom are elected.

This well researched book has excellent notes and is easy to read.  This is an interesting book with good information, presenting a different view of the GAR.  While not convinced the author is correct, I cannot completely dismiss her position.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joe Reinhart June 28, 2011 at 6:19 am

I had not previously know of the G.A.R.’s anti-Catholic sentiment. Can anyone provide some some references or recommend any books? I would like to learn more about it.

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