Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Tommy Thompson

Second Advisor

Dr. Harl Dalstrom

Third Advisor

Dr. William Pratt

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Gerald Simmons


America’s Civil War transformed the political, economic and social landscape of the nation. Nowhere did this transformation manifest itself so clearly as in the lives of the men who flocked to the Union colors. The world of combat created a landscape of death, dismemberment and disease, while destroying Victorian concepts of knightliness and romance. Veterans spent a lifetime in successfully reintegrating themselves into the nation’s mainstream, while constantly harkening back to the discipline and organizational skills learned in the war. Their efforts came to fruition with the establishment of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1866, which became the most politically powerful veterans’ group in American history. In Nebraska a combination of factors—the Homestead Act, the state’s fertile soil, and an exponential growth in railroad building—attracted thousands of ex-soldiers in the postwar period. After a series of false starts (and an apparently near-fatal involvement in Republican party politics), the Grand Army coalesced under the leadership of Paul Vandervoort into a dynamic and influential group after 1878. Its recruiting efforts reflected a substantial number of the new state’s upper and middle classes. Grand Army men who engaged in politics tended to do so in the Republican party, while simultaneously denying any political involvement by the veterans’ organization. The Grand Army’s first initiatives in the community focused on Memorial Day celebrations, campfires and reunions. These communitarian projects flourished throughout the 1880s and 1890s, crossing class and generational lines, while bringing the veteran into the forefront of Nebraska’s social and political life. Such actions bore even more fruit when the Grand Army began to press for soldiers’ homes and local relief for indigent veterans in the 1880s. Eventually two soldiers’ homes would be built in Milford and Grand Island, while county agencies provided some funds for the needy veteran. During this same period, the state group marched at the national Grand Army’s side as it fought for disability and service pensions from the national government. In the 1890s immigration from southeast Europe, labor unrest and the rise of Populism caused the state Grand Army to join in a national battle over school textbook treatment of the Civil War. This drive eventually became subsumed by a desire to inculcate the teaching of patriotism in the schools. Military instruction, patriotic programs and veneration of the flag were the focal points of Grand Army initiatives from around 1896 to the beginning of World War I. As their numbers steadily decreased, survivors embarked on a spree of monument building throughout Nebraska, symbolizing the end of the Grand Army as a political force and its entrance into American memory.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1997, Richard Evans Keyes

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