"The Return of a Private" is classified as a literary work of regionalism because the setting figures prominently in the story. The Civil War veterans arrive by train in the middle of the night at La Crosse, Wisconsin and must hike home to their respective farms through the rural landscape. They speak of the rituals of home and the Sunday afternoon farm lunches they have missed. The landscape and their ties to Wisconsin farm land occupy the thoughts of the men as they walk.
In Romantic stories, Nature is revered; it is a place of sanctity and spiritual truth. It is a refuge from the corrupting influences of societal institutions. This story is not Romantic because the men and their families do not see Nature that way. Smith's wife, on her own with three children, sees only the dispiriting amount of work that the farm represents. Before volunteering for his war service, Smith had worked around the clock to pay his mortgage and develop his farmland. Though he is glad to see his family and the farm, Smith has no illusions about the challenge before him in resuming the work of farming.