Beyond `the scrawl'd, worn slips of paper’: Union and Confederate Prisoners of War and their Postwar Memories

TitleBeyond `the scrawl'd, worn slips of paper’: Union and Confederate Prisoners of War and their Postwar Memories
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsRiotto, Angela M.
Academic DepartmentDepartment of History
Number of Pages241
UniversityUniversity of Akron
CityAkron, OH

The following dissertation examines the ways in which Union and Confederate ex-prisoners of war discussed their experiences of captivity between 1862 and 1930. By examining former prisoners’ captivity narratives, this dissertation demonstrates that to the end of their lives, ex-prisoners worked to construct a public image—one of suffering—that differed from the typical gallant volunteer who fought and died on the battlefield. Ex-prisoners shared their stories of captivity as a way of affirming their identities as a distinct type of veteran and to affirm their place as American men, regardless of their time as a prisoner of war. Viewed singly, any of these narratives might be dismissed as a fascinating story of personal suffering and survival, but when they are considered as a body of literature, one can trace the development of a master narrative, both separate from and intertwined with the American public’s postwar memory. This dissertation challenges conventional understandings of postwar reconciliation and adds to recent scholarship on veterans’ reintegration into civilian life. Both Union and Confederate ex-prisoners of war often contradicted this preferred heroic narrative of the war. Some men, as they got older, accepted reconciliation and censored their bitterness and hatred. Others promised to never forget their sufferings and, as a result, remained obstacles to reconciliation. By examining ex-prisoners’ narratives, this dissertation reveals how ex-prisoners did not accept or fit into the ideal trajectory of reconciliation.

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