Life of the Civil War Soldier














American Civil War Homepage





Life of the Civil War Soldier
Soldiers of the American Civil War

Life of the Civil War Soldier
The Civil War Soldier's Life

Introduction
 
The life of a soldier in the 1860s was an arduous one, and for the thousands of young Americans who left home to fight for their cause, it was an experience none of them would ever forget. Military service meant many months away from home and loved ones, long hours of drill, often inadequate food or shelter, disease, and many days spent marching on hot, dusty roads or in a driving rainstorm burdened with everything a man needed to be a soldier as well as baggage enough to make his life as comfortable as possible. There were long stretches of boredom in camp interspersed with moments of sheer terror experienced on the battlefield. For these civilians turned soldiers, it was very difficult at first getting used to the rigors and demands of army life. Most had been farmers all of their lives and were indifferent to the need to obey orders. Discipline was first and foremost a difficult concept to understand, especially in the beginning when the officer one had to salute may have been the hometown postmaster only a few weeks before. Uniforms issued in both armies were not quite as fancy as those worn by the hometown militias, and soldiering did not always mean fighting. There were fatigue duties such as assignments to gather wood for cook fires. Metal fittings had to be polished, horses groomed and watered, fields had to be cleared for parades and drill, and there were water details for the cook house. Guard duty meant long hours pacing up and down a well-trod line, day or night, rain or shine, always on watch for a foe who might be lurking anywhere in the hostile countryside. A furlough was hard to come by as every man was needed in the field and few men ever had a chance to visit home.

Life of the Civil War Soldier
Life of the Civil War Soldier.jpg
Civil War POW Survivor

Daily Routine
 
Imagine that you have joined the army as a private in the artillery during the American Civil War (1861-1865). As a private in the Confederate army, you will be paid $132 a year, or $11 each month. You will be paid $156 a year, or $13 each month, if you are a Union soldier. Your enlistment in the army will last for three years. Shortly after enlisting you are sent to a place called the Camp of Instruction, meaning basic training or boot camp. The Camp of Instruction will last several weeks. In the Camp, you will attend the School of the Soldier, which means instructors will teach you how to stand at attention, salute, march, and perform many of the other duties of a soldier. As a soldier, you are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You day will generally be as follows: 
5:00 a.m. A bugler will sound "reveille" on a bugle. Everyone must get up, get dressed and prepare for morning roll call. 
5:15 a.m. The bugler sounds "assembly" and everyone falls in for roll call. 
6:00 a.m. The next bugle call is "breakfast call."
7:00 a.m. "Fatigue call" is played telling the soldiers to prepare for inspection. You must make sure your musket, uniform, bunk, and barracks are clean.  
8:00 a.m. After inspection, the bugler plays "drill call." For the next four hours, until noon, you will practice all the things you learned at the Camp of Instruction.  
12:00 p.m. "Dinner call" is sounded and you are allowed to eat your lunch.  
1:00 p.m. "Drill call" is sounded again. Until 4:00 p.m. you drill, drill, and drill.  
4:00 p.m. You will spend this time cleaning your equipment, barracks, cannons, and the fort. 
6:00 p.m. "Attention" is called to give you a few minutes to get ready for roll call. Next, the bugler plays "assembly" and everyone falls in for dress parade roll call. This means everyone is in full uniform. You are carrying your musket and wearing all your equipment. 
7:00 p.m. The bugler now plays "assembly of the guard." Those soldiers assigned to guarding the fort begin performing this duty. The remaining soldiers eat their evening meal and relax.  
8:30 p.m. "Attention" is played followed by "assembly." At this time roll call is taken and you are dismissed.  
9:00 p.m. "Tattoo" is sounded. This means everyone must go to bed. Your day is finally over.

Life of the Civil War Soldier
Life of the Civil War Soldier.jpg
Life of a Civil War Soldier

Clothing and Accoutrements 

Soldiers were generally issued a pair of wool pants with braces (suspenders), a cotton shirt, a sack coat, a forage cap or kepi, a pair of brogans (shoes), wool socks, a wool greatcoat (overcoat), a belt with belt buckle and cap pouch, a cartridge box for holding ammunition, a rifle, and bayonet.

Soldiers wore several layers of clothing and had to carry everything with them. The first layer of clothing a soldier would wear would be his cotton drawers (they do not have to wear these). Then the soldier would wear wool socks and a cotton shirt. The wool pants go on next, with the suspenders (braces) over the soldier's shoulders. Next, the soldier would put on the brogans (shoes) and sack coat. The cartridge box, with the sling would go over the left shoulder and the box resting on the right hip. The belt goes over the cartridge box to hold everything in place. The cap pouch should be just in front of the cartridge box. The soldier would then put on the forage cap. The haversack and canteen goes over the right shoulder and hangs on the left side.

Braces: Suspenders were used instead of a belt to hold up a man’s pants. Brogans: Leather shoes usually with heel plates to extend their wear.
Cap Pouch: Small pouch worn on belt. It held percussion caps for firing the musket.
Cartridge: Small paper tube filled with gun powder and a lead bullet (Minie Ball).
Cartridge Box: Leather pouch with attached sling, worn over the shoulder that contained 40 rounds of ammunition (cartridges).
Drawers: Long, lightweight cotton (or flannel in winter) 19th Century underwear. Forage Cap or Kepi: Dark blue wool uniform cap with leather brim.
Haversack: Tarred canvas bag that a soldier carried keepsakes from home, personal belongs, and three days worth of food when on the march.

Food
 
A ration is the amount of food authorized for one soldier (or animal) for one day. The Confederate government adopted the official US Army ration at the start of the war, although by the spring of 1862 they had the reduce it. According to army regulations for camp rations, a Union soldier was entitled to receive daily 12 oz of pork or bacon or 1 lb. 4 oz of fresh or salt beef; 1 lb. 6 oz of soft bread or flour, 1 lb. of hard bread, or 1 lb. 4 oz of cornmeal. Per every 100 rations there was issued 1 peck of beans or peas; 10 lb. of rice or hominy; 10 lb. of green coffee, 8 lb. of roasted and ground coffee, or 1 lb. 8 oz of tea; 15 lb. of sugar; 1 lb. 4 oz of candles, 4 lb. of soap; 1 qt of molasses. In addition to or as substitutes for other items, desiccated vegetables, dried fruit, pickles, or pickled cabbage might be issued. The marching ration consisted of 1 lb. of hard bread, 3/4 lb. of salt pork or 1 1/4 lb. of fresh meat, plus the sugar, coffee, and salt. The ration lacked variety but in general the complaints about starvation by the older soldiers was largely exaggerated. 

Generally the Confederate ration, though smaller in quantity after the spring of 1862 and tending to substitute cornmeal for wheat flour, was little different. But the Confederate commissary system had problems keeping rations flowing to the troops at a steady rate, thus alternating between abundance and scarcity in its issuances. Soldiers of both armies relied to a great extent on food sent from home and on the ever present Sutler.

Life of the Civil War Soldier
Life of the Civil War Soldier.jpg
Life of the Civil War Soldier in Camp

Quarters
 
A soldier’s home in camp was a rectangular piece of canvas buttoned to another to form a small two-man tent or dog tent as the soldiers called them. First introduced in 1862, every Union soldier was issued one for use during active campaign and the men joked that only a dog could crawl under it and stay dry from the rain. The tent could be easily pitched for the evening by tying each end to a rifle stuck in the ground by the bayonet or by stringing it up to fence rails. Confederates did not receive shelter tents though some Confederate units were issued a variation of the tent, which they pitched as a lean-to or shelter. As the war progressed it was very common for a Confederate camp to be filled with captured Union tents as well as captured blankets, canteens, and haversacks. Confederates especially prized the Union rubber blankets, which were not manufactured in the south and were ideal as a ground cloth or overhead shelter.
 
Army camps were like a huge bustling city of white canvas, sometimes obscured by smoke from hundreds of campfires. Camps were considered temporary throughout the year until the winter months when the armies would establish winter quarters. The soldiers would construct log huts that were large enough to accommodate several men, made of trees taken from any nearby source. The logs were laid out on stones underneath the bottom log, in a rectangle and notched to fit tight at the corners and stones, brick, or mud-covered logs were formed into a small fireplace in one end. Mud filled the gap between the logs and inside of the chimney over the fireplace. A roof made from tents or sawn boards and wooded bunks built inside finished the hut. Soldiers often named their winter huts after well known hotels or restaurants back home such as “Wiltshire Hotel” or “Madigan’s Oyster House.” The armies quartered in these small huts through the winter months and then it was back to the field and dog tents.
 
Drill and Discipline
 
The singular purpose of the soldier was to fight a battle and win. There were a variety of small arms used during the Civil War. The average infantryman carried a muzzle-loading rifle-musket manufactured in American arsenals or one purchased from foreign countries such as England. The bayonet was an important part of the rifle and its steel presence on the muzzle of the weapon was very imposing. When not in battle, the bayonet was a handy candle holder and useful in grinding coffee beans. The typical rifle-musket weighed eight and one-half pounds and fired a conical shaped bullet called the Minie Ball. Bullets were made of very soft lead and caused horrible wounds which were difficult to heal. The artillery was composed of both rifled and smoothbore cannon, each gun served by a crew of fourteen men including the drivers. The role of the artillery was to support the infantry while the infantry role was to either attack or defend, depending on the circumstances. Both branches worked together to coordinate their tactics on the field of battle. Cavalrymen were armed with breech loading carbines, sabers, and pistols. Cavalry was initially used for scouting purposes and to guard supply trains. The role of mounted troops had expanded by the time of Gettysburg, with cavalry divisions acting as skirmishers and fighting mounted and on foot in pitched battles such as Brandy Station, Virginia on June 9, 1863. Other branches of the armies included the signal corps, engineers, medical and hospital corps, as well as supply organizations including the quartermasters.

Life of a Civil War Soldier
Civil War Soldier Accoutrements.jpg
Accoutrements of the Civil War Cavalry Soldier

Marching and fighting drill was part of the daily routine for the Civil War soldier. Infantry soldiers drilled as squads and in company formations, each man getting accustomed to orders and formations such as marching in column and in a “company front,” how to face properly, dress the line, and interact with his fellow soldiers. After an hour of drill on that level, the company moved onto regimental level drills and parades. The soldier practiced guard mount and other procedures such as the Manual of Arms, which infantrymen learned for the rifle-musket. Veterans of the war often remarked how they could recite the steps of loading and priming for many years after the war, thanks to the continual drill.The drill was important for the infantry for they used tactics that had changed little since the time of the American Revolution or the age of Napoleon: infantry fought in closely knit formations of two ranks (or rows) of soldiers, each man in the rank standing side by side. This formation was first devised when the single-shot, muzzle loading musket became the normal weapon on the battlefield, the close ranks being a necessity because of the limitations of the musket. Yet, by 1861, new technology had made the old fashioned smoothbore musket nearly obsolete with the introduction of the rifle musket. By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, the rifle musket made up the majority of infantry weapons in both the Union and Confederate armies though it took much longer for the tactics to change. Even with the advance of the rifle musket, the weapons were still muzzle loaders and officers believed that the old-fashioned drill formations were still useful to insure a massing of continuous firepower that the individual soldier could not sustain. The result of this slow change was a much higher than anticipated rate of casualties on the battlefield.
 
Cavalrymen drilled with their sabers, both on foot and horseback, while artillerymen drilled with their cannons limbered up to the team of horses and unlimbered, ready to fire. Oddly enough, marksmanship on a rifle range did not take precedence over other drill the soldiers learned for several reasons — the military believed that each man would shoot accurately when told to and the war departments did not wish to waste ammunition fired on random targets.
 
For the infantry, drums were used to announce daily activities, from sunrise to sunset. Reveille was sounded to begin the day at 5 AM, followed by an assembly for morning roll call and breakfast call. Sick call was sounded soon after breakfast, followed by assemblies for guard duty, drill, or to begin the march. Drummers were also important on the march to keep soldiers in step during parades and to call them to attention. In battle, drums were sometimes used to signal maneuvers and give signals for the ranks to load and fire their weapons. The artillery and cavalry relied solely on buglers who were as important in their roles as the drummers were to the infantry. When not playing for their respective regiments, musicians were often combined with regimental or brigade bands to play marching tunes or provide field music for parades, inspections, and reviews.
 
Discipline in the military was very strict. The Provost Marshal of the army was responsible for enforcing military rules, but regimental commanders also had the authority to dole out punishments for minor offenses. Petty offenses such as shirking camp duty or not keeping equipment in good order were usually treated with extra duties such as digging latrines, chopping wood, or standing extra hours on guard duty. Insubordination, thievery, cowardice, or other offenses were more serious and the guilty party was usually subjected to embarrassing punishments such as carrying a log, standing on a barrel, or wearing a placard announcing his crime. “Bucking and gagging” was also a common punishment — the soldier’s limbs were bound and he was gagged so he could not speak. In the artillery, the guilty person might be tied to the spare wheel on the back of a caisson. Desertion, spying, treachery, murder, or threats on an officer’s life were the most serious offenses to which the perpetrator was condemned to military prison or shot by a firing squad. Crimes committed against civilians were also punishable by the army and felons were executed by hanging before a formation of soldiers.

Life of the Civil War Soldier
Life of the Civil War Soldier.jpg
Dead Soldiers on the Gettysburg Battlefield

Life of the Civil War Soldier
Life of the Civil War Soldier.jpg
The Camp Kitchen

Camp Life
 
Leisure activities were similar in either army and most of it was spent writing letters home. Soldiers were prolific letter writers and wrote at every opportunity. It was the only way for them to communicate with loved ones and inform the home folks of their condition and where they were. Thrifty soldiers sent their pay home to support their families and kept only a small amount to see them through until the next payday. The arrival of mail in camp was a cause for celebration no matter where the soldiers were and there was sincere grumbling when the mail arrived late. The lucky soldiers who received a letter from home often read and re-read them many times. Packages from home contained baked goods, new socks or shirts, underwear, and often soap, towels, combs, and toothbrushes. Union soldiers often spent their free time at the sutler’s store, comparable to the modern post exchange, where they could purchase toiletries, canned fruit, pocketknives, and other supplementary items, but usually at exorbitant prices. A private’s salary amounted to $13.00 per month in 1863 and those unfortunates who owed the sutler watched as most of their pay was handed over to the greedy businessman on pay day. Confederates did not have the luxury of sutlers, who disappeared soon after the war began. Instead they depended on the generosity of folks at home or farmers and businessmen near the camps.
 
Free time was also spent in card games, reading, pitching horseshoes, or team sports such as the fledgling sport of baseball, a game which rapidly gained favor among Northern troops. Rule booklets were widely distributed and the game soon became a favorite. Soldiers also played a form of football that appeared more like a huge brawl than the game we know today, and often resulted in broken noses and fractured limbs. Holidays were celebrated in camp with feasts, foot races, horse racing, music, boxing matches, and other contests. But while on active campaign, the soldiers were limited to writing, cleaning uniforms and equipment, and sleeping.
 
Despite orders to the contrary, many soldiers kept pets with them including dogs, cats, squirrels, raccoons, and other wildlife. One regiment from Wisconsin even had a pet eagle that was carried on its own perch next to the regimental flags. General Lee was purported to have had a pet chicken that faithfully delivered a fresh egg for the general everyday. By far the most popular pets appears to have been dogs and their presence with a master in camp or on the march was often overlooked by high commanders. Many officers, including General George Armstrong Custer who kept a number of dogs around his headquarters, favored the hardiness of these loyal companions and their companionship was, as one soldier put it, a “soothing connection” with home. Both the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry and the 1st Maryland Infantry (CSA) had singular dogs that followed the men through the most difficult campaigns including Gettysburg. Sallie, the 11th Pennsylvania’s unofficial mascot, is remembered in a bronze likeness on the regimental monument at Gettysburg and symoblized there for its loyalty to the dead of the regiment. The canine that accompanied the 1st Maryland was regrettably killed in action on July 3 at Culp’s Hill, after having participated in the charge of the regiment. Struck by the animal’s gallantry and loyalty to its human companions, a Union officer ordered that the animal be given a proper burial alongside the dead of 1st Maryland.
 
Religion was very important in the soldier’s daily routine. Many of the men attended church services on a regular basis and some even carried small testaments with the rest of their baggage. Union and Confederate armies had numerous regimental and brigade chaplains. These loyal officers also acted as assistants in field hospitals comforting the sick and wounded, and writing letters home for those who could not write. Chaplains held field services for their respective units and most accompanied the soldiers as they marched onto the battlefield. Father William Corby, the chaplain of the Irish Brigade, is best remembered for his granting of unconditional absolution to the members of the brigade before they marched into battle in the Wheatfield on July 2nd. Father Corby was immensely popular with the men and in the post-war era became president of Notre Dame University.

Life of a Civil War Soldier
Life of a Civil War Soldier.jpg
Civil War Soldier Hanged

Life of the Civil War Soldier
Life of the Civil War Soldier.jpg
Civil War Amputees

(Left) Group of Civil War amputees. There were more amputations performed during the Civil War than all other surgeries combined. Soldiers sometimes had their limbs cut off without any anesthesia, which was a terrifying thought for many soldiers who were marching into battle. "Greater level of amputation meant greater chance of mortality." The necessary removal of limb during the conflict was overwhelmingly caused by the Miniť ball, a conical shaped bullet that would shatter bone on impact. Unlike the popular round ball of the smoothbore musket, the Miniť ball had a higher muzzle velocity and greater weight. Round balls tended to remain lodged in the flesh, and they were often observed to take a winding path through the body. Flexed muscles and tendons, as well as bone, could cause the round ball to deviate from a straight path. The Miniť ball tended to cut a straight path and usually went all the way through the injured part, while the ball seldom remained lodged in the body. If a Miniť ball struck a bone, it usually caused the bone to shatter. The damage to bones was usually severe enough to necessitate amputation. Below the knee amputation meant 33% mortality, while more than half, 54.2%, of those who had above the knee amputation would die. Crude medical procedures and practices performed on soldiers during the Civil War would cause many amputees to die of disease, namely gangrene. For example, without cleaning and sterilizing instruments between surgeries, surgeons would perform an amputation, then wipe the surgical blade on the bottom of their boots to free it of bone, blood, and flesh, and then continue to perform several, sometimes hundreds, of additional amputations. Photo courtesy National Archives. (Right) "African-American Hanged For Mutiny By Union Army." While black soldiers comprised 10% of the entire U.S. Army during the Civil War, 80% of all soldiers hanged by the Federal government were black. Their execution was generally a result of mutiny or desertion, but the death sentence also included from allegations of rape to sleeping while on guard duty. Photo courtesy LOC.
 
Conclusion
 
Over the course of the Civil War, approximately three million men (and a handful of women disguised as men) served in the armed forces. By comparison, before the war, the U.S. Army consisted of only about 16,000 soldiers. The mobilization that took place over the four years of the war touched almost every extended family North and South and affected the far reaches of the country that had split in two. By war’s end, approximately 620,000 men had died, an estimate that is currently undergoing scrutiny as historians question whether it is too low. Nevertheless, this figure translates to a rate of death six times that experienced by Americans during World War II. The horrific, and largely unanticipated, number of casualties suffered by Northern and Southern soldiers during the Civil War devastated people throughout the country and influenced public life for years to come.
 
Most Civil War soldiers volunteered to fight, although some signed on as conscripts (the Confederacy began to draft men in April 1862; the Union in March 1863). North and South, men joined companies formed in their communities. Within their companies, they served beside relatives, friends, and neighbors. Within their regiments, which were formed from ten companies, soldiers served with men from their state. Despite these ties, desertion was an ongoing problem for both sides (about 200,000 Union men and about 100,000 Confederates abandoned their posts), though it had a greater effect on the smaller Confederate army. On both sides during the Civil War, most soldiers were unmarried white men who had been born in the United States. Their average age was twenty-five. Most could read and write and attended a Protestant church. The majority were farmers. In both sections of the country, wealthy men had the option of hiring a substitute if drafted and, in the South, men who owned twenty or more slaves were exempted from service so they could remain on their plantations, although just a small percentage of qualified slaveowners took advantage of this provision. These policies that favored the rich caused resentment within the ranks, both North and South.
 
There were also some differences between the Union and Confederate armies. The Union army was more ethnically diverse; recent immigrants from Ireland and Germany formed Union regiments, as did some 180,000 African American men who joined beginning in 1863. Men enlisted for a variety of reasons, including friendship and peer pressure, as well as the desire for excitement and adventure. In addition, men joined up for ideological reasons. Among both Confederate and Union soldiers were men who fought to protect their liberty and preserve the right to selfgovernment that their ancestors had gained in the Revolutionary War. For Union men and boys, protecting their liberty meant preserving the Union. At the beginning of the war, most Union soldiers did not fight to abolish slavery, but that was certainly a goal for the African American men given the opportunity to enlist by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. For Confederate soldiers, protecting their liberty meant defending their home soil and asserting their rights as residents of their states. Although most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves, many of them included the right to own slaves among the states’ rights that they fought to maintain. 
 
Before soldiers departed for training camps with their companies, they often had a formal send-off attended by their families and local officials. Female relatives frequently presented companies with hand-sewn flags to carry into battle. In 1861, most men and their relatives believed that the volunteers would only be away for a short time before the war ended. After they arrived at their camps of instruction, the newly minted soldiers soon found more monotony than excitement. New recruits had to learn more than ninety commands. Most soldiers found drilling dull and onerous. In addition to drilling, other duties included taking care of livestock, serving on picket (guard) duty, and gathering and cutting wood. If they wanted to leave camp, soldiers had to get a pass; this rankled many of the men, who were used to being independent. Of course, camp life was not all work. During their usually plentiful free time, soldiers sang, played sports such as baseball and games such as dominoes, wrote letters home, and attended church services and revivals. They also indulged in less wholesome pastimes, such as gambling, drinking, and taking up with prostitutes. Soldiers also used their free time to forage for food to supplement their diets. 

Life of a Civil War Soldier
Life of a Civil War Soldier.jpg
Civil War Soldiers at the Last Confederate Reunion in New Orleans

Camp food was not appealing. Northern soldiers received bacon, hardtack (heavy crackers), and coffee; Southern soldiers relied on pickled beef and cornbread. Confederate soldiers found their standard ration reduced twice over the course of the war due to the failure of the Confederacy’s supply lines after Union incursions into the region. Staying healthy was by far the greatest challenge of camp life. Poor sanitation and poor diets combined to create unhealthy environments. Within the close quarters of camp, diseases became rampant. Epidemics of mumps, measles, and chicken pox raced through Civil War training camps. Deadly diseases such as dysentery, malaria, and typhoid fever took a heavy toll. Before their men had even set foot on the battlefield, many companies had lost as many as one-third to disease. Throughout the Civil War, disease claimed more lives than combat.
 
Camps became very busy before battles, most of which took place in the heat of summer. Extra rations were prepared, and ammunition was distributed (each soldier typically received 40-60 rounds—a round was made up of a bullet and the powder needed to fire it). Most soldiers carried rifled muskets or, increasingly, rifles, both of which had far better range and accuracy than the basic musket used in previous wars on American soil. Before trekking into battle, soldiers were inspected by their officers and urged to stay calm and aim low. As they marched to meet the enemy, soldiers faced several challenges, including forced marches and making their way along poor roads that were either muddy or dusty, painful feet from shoes or boots that did not fit right, bloodied and frostbit feet for those absent any footwear, discomfort from the heavy loads they carried (many men ditched provisions along the way only later to regret it), and the constant threat of sunstroke or frostbite. “Overwhelming” best describes the experience of battle for Civil War soldiers. Many men could not—or would not—go into details about the fighting afterward with their families or other civilians. The noise and smoke of battle overpowered soldiers’ senses. Amidst the smoke, trees, and other vegetation (most battles were fought in or near forests), men could barely see. At the same time, they were besieged by loud and disturbing noises, including the boom of artillery, the whirring of bullets, the beating of drums, the Rebel yell, and the screams of the wounded. Trained to fight, soldiers, though untrained to ignore the injured and dying men around them, had to continue and advance, but this was difficult even for veteran soldiers.
 
After a battle, most soldiers were physically exhausted and emotionally distraught. Survivors from the winning side usually buried the dead with the help of local residents. Wounded soldiers suffered considerably. Although military doctors and administrators made progress over the course of the war in the areas of sanitation and organization, medical care remained rudimentary in the mid-nineteenth century. The germ theory was unknown; there were no blood transfusions; and antibiotics had not yet been invented. What is more, there were never enough doctors to care for the wounded, especially in the Confederacy. To prevent infection and gangrene (the death of body tissue that can set in after infection), doctors tried to amputate wounded legs or arms within twenty-four hours. Patients often underwent amputations without any anesthesia. Soldiers with wounds to the torso had less chance to survive than did men with bloody limbs. Both wounded and unwounded soldiers sometimes found themselves taken as prisoners of war during battles. 
 
Nearly 400,000 soldiers, or approximately 200,000 soldiers from each side, became prisoners over the course of the war. Both Northern and Southern prisoners did not fare well during incarceration, and exposure to unsanitary conditions and terrible food accelerated their demise. In addition, overcrowding in military prisons became a real problem when there was a suspension of prisoner exchanges from mid-1863 to late in 1864, prompted  in part, by the Confederate government’s declaration that it would not treat black Union soldiers or their officers as prisoners of war but as property or criminals, respectively. The North was also to blame, for Union officials refused to exchange prisoners, stating that skeletons in their ranks didn't make for good soldiers.
 
When the war concluded and military service was over, most men had undergone life-changing experiences. Most of them sought, however, to get on with their lives, reuniting with their families, returning to the land to farm, or seeking other occupations. North and South, many former soldiers eventually became involved with veterans’ organizations. But it would take years for the nation to heal.

Sources: National Archives; Library of Congress; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; US National Library of Medicine; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Boatner, Mark M., The Civil War Dictionary: Revised Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. ISBN 0-679-73392-2; Faust, Patricia L., ed., The Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War. Harper Collins, 1986. ISBN 0-06-181261-7; Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (1992).































Introduction

Return to American Civil War Homepage

Return to top