Ambiguity shaped the lives of Civil War veterans. Publicly honored and respected, many never managed to fit back into their old lives, or to build new ones. This is a familiar story to modern Americans, of course. Although the stereotypical troubled veteran in popular culture has tended to be a victim of the Vietnam War, adjustment problems have plagued veterans of all wars. Indeed, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given rise to competing narratives of heroism and honor versus physical disability, addiction, and the failure of veterans’ health care systems.
The storylines that followed Civil War veterans into their postwar years were equally complex. This was certainly true of the Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee (NHDVS), which was one of the three original soldiers’ homes established by Congress in 1865. The branch was unique in that its funding came partly from the $100,000 raised at a Soldiers’ Home Fair organized by the women of Milwaukee during the summer after the war. The women, who had cared for hundreds of soldiers at a downtown facility during the war, had intended to open a bigger home for extended postwar care, but were convinced to donate their money by a group of men angling to get a federal home at Milwaukee. The Northwestern Branch opened in May 1867 on a four hundred-acre site west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By the 1890s, over two thousand men lived at the home.
The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.