I love the West! Especially here in California – we’re just so nice and generous and caring. Well…not really. But back in the 1880s, when some good folks were planning a home for destitute Civil War veterans, the idea was to suggest that something was different about the proposed home here in the Bear Flag Republic. In my quest to determine what Union veterans thought about the West, I have begun to uncover a few things. Here is what one San Jose newspaper had to say about the idea of a home –
The plan, as we understand it, is a wider and even more humane one than that of those excellent “Soldiers’ Homes” in the East, where in one large building the veterans are gathered into a male colony, to receive the benefits of which they must be separated form their families. There is something very shocking in this idea, which originated with the English Poor Law Unions, of separating in their old age husbands and wives because they are guilty if the single crime of poverty. An institution will be provided for the single veterans and small cottages, each with a little tract of land, will be allotted to those veterans who are still blessed with the society of their wives whose hearts used to grow faint and their eyes dim as after some great battle they scanned the list of “killed, wounded, and missing.”
So are the people of California thinking that those back East are somehow colder, more callous, less sensitive to the needs of those who saved the Union? This is actually a very intriguing question but one at this point I am unable to answer. Let’s just say this. It certainly seems from other things that I have been reading that Union veterans who settled West are tending to think of themselves as westerners – and are interpreting and commemorating Union from a western perspective. At least some of them are.
In the nineteenth-century sectional reorientation that recast a nation divided between old and new…East and West, veterans who made their way to California suddenly found themselves with lots to talk about. Aren’t you interested in what they might say next??