An Introduction to the Research
Welcome to the official website of the Beauvoir Veteran Project (BVP), directed by University of Southern Mississippi faculty members Susannah J. Ural, Ph.D. and designed by Allan Branstiter. Run through the Department of History at Southern Miss, the BVP seeks to use the Beauvoir Confederate Veteran Home as a lens through which to gain a better understanding of the late-nineteenth century lives of impoverished Confederate veterans and their families.
The post-Civil War South is remembered for its economic chaos and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. It is studied as an age of great possibility as enslaved peoples embraced their hard-won freedom, and it is popularly remembered for its Tara-like plantation crumbling amid broken fortunes and dark futures.
Rarely mentioned, though, are the white Southerners who lacked the education, funds, or security needed to preserve and publish their experiences in one of America’s defining conflicts. Existing studies of Confederate veteran homes reveal that those who lived there were often treated more like inmates than residents (indeed, the census records list them as inmates), complaining of the controlling habits of home administrators. Homes also served as monuments to the Lost Cause where the residents became caricatures of “old times . . . not forgotten.” Indeed, historians of Civil War veterans have argued persuasively that our understanding of these men and their families have been shaped more by what the public–then and in subsequent generations–chose to preserve, share, and remember than any true sense of who these men and women were and what their postwar lives were like.
The Beauvoir Veteran Project seeks to cut through the film of memory to formulate as realistic a sense as possible of the experiences of veterans, wives, and widows who found themselves at the “Jefferson Davis Soldier Home–Beauvoir” in Biloxi, Mississippi, between 1903 and 1957. Of course, the challenges in analyzing the experiences of impoverished people remain; we have found few new letters, diaries, and contemporary accounts. But modern digitization efforts make it easier than ever to learn about the veterans, wives, and widows who spent their latter most years at Beauvoir. Digitized census data, compiled service records, pension applications, and nineteenth-century newspapers can be searched quickly now, allowing us to paint a far more detailed and accurate image of the men and women who, until now, have remained in the shadows of the Civil War era. Our work is also benefiting from descendants who are generously sharing copies of private letters, newspaper clippings, and other information about their ancestors who lived at Beauvoir.
The purpose of this website is to allow you to follow and participate in the BVP as it progresses through its research stage. If you would like to help with our research, please click on the “Participate” link on the top menu or here. If you have any questions of comments, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Special thanks are due to Jane and Charles Sullivan, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, for the wealth of source material they have shared and for their unfailing support of the Beauvoir Veteran Project.