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Vincent L. Burns
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Finalist, 2021 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Awards As historian David W. Bright noted in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, "No other historical experience in America has given rise to such a massive collection of personal narrative 'literature' written by ordinary people." This "massive collection" of memoirs, recollections and regimental histories make up the history of the Civil War seen through the eyes of the participants. This work is an overview of what Civil War soldiers and veterans wrote about their experiences. It focusses on what veterans remembered, what they were prepared to record, and what they wrote down in the years after the end of the war. In an age of increased literacy many of these men had been educated, whether at West Point, Harvard or other establishments, but even those who had received only a few years of education chose to record their memories. The writings of these veterans convey their views on the cataclysmic events they had witnessed but also their memories of everyday events during the war. While many of them undertook detailed research of battles and campaigns before writing their accounts, it is clear that a number were less concerned with whether their words aligned with the historical record than whether they recorded what they believed to be true. This book explores these themes and also the connection between veterans writing their personal war history and the issue of veterans’ pensions. Understanding what these veterans chose to record and why is important to achieving a deeper understanding of the experience of these men who were caught up in this central moment in American life.