According to fundamentalist historians the American Civil War was not just the war of ideology: freedom versus slavery. The more significant reason was the power struggle initiated between free states and slave states due to the economic and political implications of slavery. Why common people chose to join the forces to fight this war, can be understood more clearly if this rationale is kept in mind. A northerner might have been more concerned about the independence of the south than slavery itself. While the southerner might have felt that secession would prevent the north from empowering the southern culture. This power struggle caused adversity and pain for millions of people, which is almost impossible to determine.
As a direct consequence of the war, more than 350,000 Union soldiers were killed, while The Confederacy lost more than 250,000. The lives of civil war soldiers were specially hard and arduous because they were mostly under-prepared and under-equipped. When they first joined the army, they were housed in spacious barracks, but once they received their marching orders they were condemned the tent. In camp, the soldiers had to live in “dog tents” made from two pieces of canvas buttoned together. A majority of confederate soldiers weren’t issued any tents, so most of them had to contend with tents captured from the Union soldiers. In the winter, several soldiers would live in wooden huts made from logs and mud with a roof made from canvas or sawn boards (Gettysburg).
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. 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 Union private’s salary was $13 per month until June ’64, after which he got $16. The Confederate private was paid at the pre-war rate of $11 per month until June ’64, when the pay raised $7 per month. Soldiers were supposed to be paid every two months in the field, but they were lucky if they got their pay at four-month intervals (in the Union Army) and sometimes they even went six to eight months without being paid. Payment in the Confederate Army was even slower and less regular (Boatner).
The types of food that were provided to the soldiers were limited because as they did not have any way of preserving the food. Meats were salted or smoked while other items such as fruits and vegetables were dried or canned. Daily rations for Union soldiers included 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, dried vegetables, fruit, pickles, or pickled cabbage might be issued (Boatner).
Confederate rations were smaller in quantity but essentially the same. It was up to the soldiers to find ways of cooking their own food. The most common diet of both armies was hard bread, or “hardtack.” This was the easiest for the soldiers to carry when on the march. The hardtack cracker became an item of humor to the soldiers of both sides because it was such an outrage. With rations sometimes being issued at an irregular rate, the soldier had to turn to foraging. Turkeys, geese, chickens, ham, bread and anything edible was taken (Vasile). Some men turned into obsessive foragers, spending most of the day reinforcing their possessions in any way possible. Most of these were never to be found on the field of battle.
The soldiers were not provided with summer fatigues as were during later wars. The basic uniform material was wool. The average Union soldier had to carry about fifty pounds of gear and clothing which included: a musket, bayonet, cartridge box (40 rounds), belt, cap, pouch, haversack, canteen, knapsack, blanket, shelter half, winter greatcoat, tin cup and plate, and leggings. This cost the Federal Government about forty-two dollars per man in 1861 (Vasile). The soldiers would get rid some of the more unnecessary items, but would later regret throwing away the items like the greatcoat come winter.
Most of the free time was spent writing letters home at every opportunity. It was the only method of communication with family. Some even sent home money to support their families. Mail day caused huge celebration in the camp and distress when it was delayed. Union soldiers could so to the sutler’s store to barter for toiletries, canned fruit, etc at inflated prices. Confederates did not have the luxury of sutlers, which disappeared soon after the war began. Instead they depended on the generosity of folks at home or farmers and businessmen near the camps (Gettysburg).
Many of the men attended church services on a regular basis and some even carried small testaments with the rest of their baggage.
Discipline in the military was very strict. 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. “Bucking and gagging” was also 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.
The boredom of camp life, the drill, the sickness and loneliness all became secondary and seemed to be forgotten on the day of the battle. Although fighting consumed a small portion of the soldier’s actual time in the service, the thought of it was never far from his mind. They were all afraid. But they were not only afraid of being killed or wounded. They also had a dread of losing their nerve in combat and running from the battlefield. This would bring shame upon themselves and their regiments (Vasile).
The lack of medical knowledge, failure to provide ample antiseptics to wounds and the horrible effects of modern weapons forced doctors to favor amputation in most cases. Unsanitary conditions existed virtually in every soldier’s camp during the war. Unsuitable or inadequate clothing, unhealthy food and contaminated water contributed to diseases. The adoption of an ambulance corps and field hospital system also helped the wounded in their time of need. Until it was established, there was no way for the wounded to be evacuated to the rear and receive proper medical care (Vasile).
The end of the war in 1865 brought a welcome peace, especially for the men who served as soldiers. Armies were disbanded and regiments mustered out of service. Former soldiers returned to the farms and stores they had left so long ago