The experiences of Civil War veterans varied as much as their combat experiences. Veterans of both the Union and Confederacy suffered debilitating injuries that plagued their postwar lives, while many others rose to economic and political prominence based on their wartime service.

Veterans often joined veterans' associations like the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) for Union veterans or the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) for Confederate veterans to receive support, remain in community with those who shared their experiences, and to work for their respective communities. Many veterans, like those of other wars, suffered from mental illnesses based on their experiences, particularly what is now known as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, nineteenth-century medicine had not diagnosed this condition and thereby provided little support for sufferers. However, the federal government set up veterans' homes and a pension system in which veterans with disabilities caused by their wartime service could receive financial aid or a place to live. Veterans also played a crucial role in shaping Civil War memory through their participation in memorial parades and festivities, erection of commemorative statues, and contributions to literary and historical magazines and journals.

Black Civil War veterans often experienced the postwar era differently. While nominally integrated, many GAR posts in the South were segregated, and the pension system frequently ignored or denied Black applicants. However, many Black veterans also received a greater degree of respect from both whites and Blacks in their communities and achieved greater financial success due to their service. While their experiences may have differed, veterans of the Civil War played an important role in the late-nineteenth century and in shaping how Americans perceived the war well into the twentieth (Essential Civil War Curriculum).

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