- War Veterans: Memories of Army Life and Campaigns in the West, 1864–1898
Jerome A. Greene is a prolific historian of the Indian-fighting Army, a skilled and diligent researcher, and a clear writer. His narratives of key episodes in the conflicts on the central and northern plains—Washita, Sand Creek, and the major battles of the Great Sioux War of 1876–77—are well known. In Indian War Veterans, Greene presents 120 first-person accounts of clashes with the Western tribes and of military life in the West, almost all written by aged veterans in the twentieth century and originally published in Winners of the West, the organ of the National Indian War Veterans (NIWV).
The 27-page introduction provides a history of Indian War veterans' associations and an overview of pension legislation. These organizations, modeled on the Grand Army of the Republic, culminated in the NIWV of the twentieth century. The NIWV gave veterans a venue for meetings, publicized their service, and above all lobbied for their pension rights. Greene argues that veterans of the Indian wars never got the same respect or financial support as other veterans, because their service did not focus on a single time period and did not occur during national emergencies. Moreover, he notes [End Page 1251] that Indian-war service was generally characterized by routine activity, with sporadic active campaigning, what might today be called low intensity conflict or constabulary operations. However, the main reason may well be that they were too few in number to form an effective pressure group.
NIWV "camps" or local chapters operated in major cities, including Abraham Lincoln Camp No. 30 in San Antonio, Texas, comprised of black veterans of the four "buffalo soldier" regiments. Many black veterans were listed in Winners of the West as associated with the main office in St. Joseph, Missouri, suggesting that local camps denied them admission. The driving force behind the NIWV was George W. Webb, a veteran of the 3rd Infantry on the southern plains in the 1870s, and resident of St. Joseph, where he published Winners of the West. The organization faded away along with the veterans it served; the last remnants merged with the American Military Institute in 1947. As Green notes, the NIWV "prospered, affording unity and therefore valuable assistance to veterans who had heretofore perceived their sacrifices as having gone unacknowledged by the federal government" (p. xxxii).
The actual reminiscences are in two parts, "Army Life in the West," and "Battles and Campaigns." About 80 percent are in the second section, in five regional groupings; 115 of the 120 accounts come from Winners of the West. Narratives in other periodicals, including Frontier Times and Army and Navy Journal, were not used. Four accounts are by black regulars, and numerous mentions of their regiments can be found in other narratives. Photographs, mainly from the editor's collection, are interspersed throughout. Peter Cozzens's five-volume Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, 1865– 1890, is far more comprehensive, but Greene's book brings together many accounts from a single hard-to-find source. Most SMH members will probably find the amply documented introduction and the eight-page section of color plates showing official War Department campaign medals and unofficial veterans' organizations paraphernalia to be the most useful features.