Cover for STANLEY: Grand Army of Labor: Workers, Veterans, and the Meaning of the Civil War. Click for larger image

Grand Army of Labor

Workers, Veterans, and the Meaning of the Civil War

Enlisting memory in a new fight for freedom

From the Gilded Age through the Progressive era, labor movements reinterpreted Abraham Lincoln as a liberator of working people while workers equated activism with their own service fighting for freedom during the war. Matthew E. Stanley explores the wide-ranging meanings and diverse imagery used by Civil War veterans within the sprawling radical politics of the time. As he shows, a rich world of rituals, songs, speeches, and newspapers emerged among the many strains of working-class cultural politics within the labor movement. Yet tensions arose even among allies. Some people rooted Civil War commemoration in nationalism and reform, and in time, these conservative currents marginalized radical workers who tied their remembering to revolution, internationalism, and socialism.

An original consideration of meaning and memory, Grand Army of Labor reveals the complex ways workers drew on themes of emancipation and equality in the long battle for workers’ rights.

"This powerful and judicious study changes how we think about Civil War memories and working-class histories. Sure grasp of the multiplicity of United States labor--African American and white, native-born and newcoming, female and male, North and South, veteran and not--illuminates how a constantly recreated remembrance of the emancipatory side of the war could produce a broad language of freedom, one bound to contain its own contradictions and limitations."--David Roediger, author of Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All

"With erudition, sensitivity, and sophistication, Matthew Stanley shows us how the U.S. Civil War lived on in the memory of the country’s labor movement during the decades that followed--symbolizing and dramatizing values and aspirations and therefore inevitably becoming itself a terrain of struggle among the movement’s contending factions."--Bruce Levine, author of The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South

"In often surprising and unexpected ways, Grand Army of Labor tells us how the experience, imagery, and memory of the Civil War shaped the United States labor movement. The result is a history of divergent movements, from Greenbackism to Debsian socialism, that were at times expansively emancipatory and at others tragically narrow. It is a history chock full of lessons for our present moment."--Charles Postel, author of Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866–1896


Matthew E. Stanley is an associate professor of history at Albany State University. He is the author of The Loyal West: Civil War and Reunion in Middle America.

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