Allison M. Johnson on “The Left-Armed Corps: Writings by Amputee Civil War Veterans”
The Left-Armed Corps collects and annotates a unique and little-known body of Civil War literature: narrative sketches, accounts, and poetry by veterans who lost the use of their right arms due to wounds sustained during the conflict and who later competed in left-handed penmanship contests in 1865 and 1866.
Organized by William Oland Bourne, the contests called on men who lost limbs while fighting for the Union to submit “specimens” of their best left-handed “business” writing in the form of personal statements. Bourne hoped the contests would help veterans reenter the work force and become economically viable citizens. Following Bourne’s aims, the contests commemorated the sacrifices made by veterans and created an archive of individual stories detailing the recently ended conflict. The Left-Armed Corps makes accessible this archive of powerful testimony and creative expression from Americans who fought to preserve the Union and end slavery.
Allison M. Johnson is assistant professor of English at San José State University. A Southern California native, she double majored in English and History at UC Riverside before earning her M.A. and Ph.D. in English at UCLA. She is the author of The Scars We Carve: Bodies and Wounds in Civil War Print Culture and the coeditor of Religion and Its Reformation in America, Beginnings to 1730: An Anthology of Primary Sources.