The United States’ Civic Myth of the Citizen-Soldier in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction
Pages 383 - 403
This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.
Civic myths are stories a country tells itself that help determine a sense of national belonging. An important one in the United States evokes the legend of Cincinnatus, who allegedly abandoned his pastoral retreat to save Rome from military defeat only to return to his farm rather than assume political power. In the wake of the Civil War, when the Union was saved and slavery abolished by an army made up primarily of citizens rather than professional military men, the myth of the citizen-soldier took on increased importance, with conflicting effects. On the one hand, it helped immigrants and African Americans who served as soldiers make a case for citizenship. It was also used to criticize the inequities of postbellum society that adversely affected some veterans. On the other hand, the myth’s implied distrust of standing professional armies played a part in undermining the occupation of the South during Reconstruction, which was needed to protect freedmen after the war. White supremacists went so far as to exploit it in justifying the violence of the Ku Klux Klan. In addition, it shaped opinion on how former Confederate soldiers should be reintegrated into the national community, as they were memorialized more than former African American soldiers.
Keywords: citizen / soldier; U.S. Reconstruction; Cincinnatus; Ku Klux Klan; expatriation
1 Adams, Charles Francis, Jr. “Shall Cromwell Have a Statue.” Lee at Appomattox and Other Papers. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1902. 376-429. Print.
2 Adams, Henry. Democracy. 1880. Democracy, Esther, Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, The Education of Henry Adams. New York: Library of America, 1983. Print.
3 Adams, John R. Edward Everett Hale. Boston, MA: Twayne, 1977. Print.
4 Bancroft, George. “The Place of Abraham Lincoln in History.” Atlantic Monthly June 1865: 757-64. Print.
5 Blight, David W. “Decoration Days: The Origins of Memorial Day in North and South.” The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture. Ed. Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2004. 94-129. Print.
6 Blumenberg, Hans. Work on Myth. Trans. Robert Wallace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985. Print.
7 Brown, William Wells. Clotel, or, The President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States. Boston, MA: Bedford, 2000. Print.
8 Chesnutt, Charles W. The Marrow of Tradition. Stories, Novels, and Essays. 1901. New York: Library of America, 2002. Print.
9 Dixon, Thomas. The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. 1905. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1970. Print.
10 ---. The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden 1865-1900. New York: Doubleday, 1902. Print.
11 ---. A Man of the People: Drama of Abraham Lincoln. New York: D. Appleton, 1920. Print.
12 Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass. 5 vols. Ed. Philip S. Foner. New York: International Publishing, 1953. Print.
13 Downs, Gregory P. After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2015. Print.
14 Dred Scott v. Sandford. 60 US 393. Supreme Court of the US. 1856. Print.
15 Elliot, Mark, and John David Smith. Introduction. Undaunted Radical: The Selected Writings and Speeches of Albion W. Tourgée. Ed. Mark Elliot and John David Smith. Baton Rouge: Louisiana UP, 2010. 1-21. Print.
16 Field, Henry M. The Life of David Dudley Field. New York: Scribner, 1898. Print.
17 Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1977. New York: Harper and Row, 1988. Print.
18 Garland, Hamlin. “The Return of a Private.” Main-Travelled Roads. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922. 112-29. Print.
19 Griggs, Sutton E. Imperium in Imperio: A Study of the Negro Race Problem, A Novel. 1899. New York: Arno, 1969. Print.
20 Hale, Edward Everett. “The Man without a Country.” Atlantic Monthly 12 Dec. 1863: 665-79. Print.
21 Harper, Frances. “The Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth.” The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration: A Brief History with Documents. Ed. Thomas J. Brown. Boston, MA: Bedford, 2004. 114-15. Print.
22 Hopkins, Pauline E. Hagar’s Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice. The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins. 1901-1902. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. Print.
23 Howells, William Dean. A Hazard of New Fortunes. 1890. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1970. Print.
24 ---. The Rise of Silas Lapham. 1885. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1971. Print.
25 Kennedy-Nolle, Sharon D. Writing Reconstruction: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the Postwar South. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2015. Print.
26 Lang, Andrew F. In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation and Civil War America. Baton Rouge: Louisiana UP, 2017. Print.
27 Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology. New York: Basic Books, 1963. Print.
28 Lowell, Robert. “For the Union Dead.” For the Union Dead. By Lowell. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1964. 70-72. Print.
29 Marten, James. “A Running Fight against Their Fellow Men: Civil War Veterans in Gilded Age Literature.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 5.4 (2015): 504-27. Print.
30 McFeely, William S. Grant: A Biography. New York: Norton, 1981. Print.
31 Morgan, John Tyler. “The Race Question in America.” Plessy v. Ferguson: A Brief History with Documents. Ed. Brook Thomas. Boston, MA: Bedford Books, 1997. 62-75. Print.
32 Motley, John Lothrop. Historic Progress and American Democracy: An Address Delivered Before the New-York Historical Society, December 16, 1868. New York: Scribner, 1869. Print.
33 O’Hara, Theodore. “The Bivouac of the Dead.” Mobile Register 1858. Print.
34 Page, Thomas Nelson. Red Rock: A Chronicle of Reconstruction. New York: Scribner, 1898. Print.
35 Peltason, J. W. Corwin and Peltason’s Understanding the Constitution. 11th ed. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1988. Print.
36 Salyer, Lucy E. Under the Starry Flag: How a Band of Irish Americans Joined the Fenian Revolt and Sparked a Crisis over Citizenship. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2018. Print.
37 Schurz, Carl. “Grant’s Usurpation of the War Powers in San Domingo.” Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz. Ed. Frederic Bancroft. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1913. Vol. 2: 177-252. Print.
38 Slaughterhouse Cases. 83 US 36. Supreme Court of the US. 1873. Print.
39 Simpson, Brooks D. Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1991. Print.
40 Smith, Rogers M. Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1997. Print.
41 Stolberg-Wernigerode, Otto Graf zu. Germany and the United States of America during the Era of Bismarck. Reading, PA: Henry Janssen Foundation, 1937. Print.
42 Sumner, Charles. Charles Sumner: His Complete Works. 20 vols. New York: Lee and Shepard, 1900. Print.
43 Thomas, Brook. Civic Myths: A Law-and-Literature Approach to Citizenship. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007. Print.
44 Tourgée, Albion W. Bricks without Straw: A Novel. 1880. Ed. Carolyn L. Karcher. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2009. Print.
45 ---. A Fool’s Errand by One of the Fools. 1879. Ed. John Hope Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1960. Print.
46 United States Constitution. Article I, Section 8. Print.
47 ---. Amendment II. Print.
48 Waugh, Joan. U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2009. Print.
49 Whitman, Walt. “A Carol of Harvest, for 1867.” Galaxy 4 Sept. 1867: 605-09. Print.
50 ---. “Democracy.” Galaxy 4 Dec. 1867: 919-33. Print.