"The singular purpose of the soldier was to fight a battle and win"
The average American Civil War soldier was 5'8'' and weighed 143 lbs. 1 in 65 died in combat, 1 in 10 was wounded in combat, and 1 in 13 died from
disease. The average age of the soldier was 25. In the Union Army, it is estimated that 100,000 soldiers were less than 15
years old. It is believed that the youngest soldier wounded in combat was William Black,
age 11 (almost age 12). He was wounded in his left arm. Drummer boys were as young as 9 years. And some regiments, unknowingly,
recruited female combatants.
fatalities, diseases--including: mumps, measles, smallpox, influenza, malaria, typhoid, dysentery, cholera, chronic diarrhea, gangrene, tuberculosis,
pneumonia, yellow fever, and venereal diseases--wounds (lack of medication and medical care), prisoners of war, poorly armed, grueling marches, no pay or shoes, harsh
winters, heat stroke receptive summers, sleep deprivation, and very little food and water were a definite reflection
of the war's arduous toll in the Confederacy. Scurvy was common due to a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, and, with weakened immune systems,
soldiers easily succumbed to diseases. It was common for the soldier to experience weeks or months without bathing. Moreover,
to imagine each of the five human-senses taxed beyond the worst imaginable
nightmare would only begin to allow one to identify and depict "the soldier's life." Regardless, the soldier continued to
fight in numerous battles during four extremely exhaustive years.
The weather was very cold and we were thinly clad in the clothes we had worn all summer.
We had no underwear or socks and our shoes were badly worn. —Private John H. Stewart, Infantry Regiment, Thomas' Legion, while campaigning in the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864
am not as brave as I thought I was. I never wanted out of a place as bad in my life. The balls hurled, the shells sang, and
the grape shot rattled. I want in no more battles. —Captain Alfred W. Bell, Company B, 39th North Carolina Infantry, after the Battle of Stones River
The soldier experienced various traumatic stressors such as: witnessing death or dismemberment, handling dead bodies, traumatic loss
of comrades, realizing imminent death, killing others and being helpless to prevent others' deaths. Rare soldiers' letters allow the reader the most detailed insight to their experiences. Intimate and personal: diseases, privation, wounds,
loneliness, exhaustion, heartache, and death are all explored. Furthermore, in their blood soaked Confederate uniforms, many
were shielding numerous letters from loved ones pertaining to the so-called hellish conditions at home (these conditions assisted
in the complexity of maintaining accurate military service records).
Diseases and Napoleonic Linear Tactics, consequently, were the contributing factors for the high casualties during the American Civil War.
It was common practice
for family and neighbors to serve in the same regiment, and many believed this unity made it unthinkable to coward in the presence of the enemy. Overall, many entrusted their
loved ones to enlist and serve with relatives and neighbors, with the common belief that they maintained their
loved ones' best interest in mind. During battle, it was typical for father and son to advance into enemy shot
and shell, and this was a contributing factor in the high death toll during the "fight."
During the Aftermath, many suffered from the war's most terrible destruction and devastation. Countless
veterans were pervaded with diseases, wounds, destitution, and mental illnesses. Many soldiers recovering from wounds were referred to as having the Old Soldier's
Disease, a term applied to soldiers addicted to pain killers. Hearing loss was common due to the horrendous
sounds associated with cannon and weaponry in combat. Furthermore,
during the American
Civil War, there was no shell shock, battle fatigue, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to help explain and
legitimize a mysterious condition. The aftermath witnessed tens-of-thousands of homeless veterans.
The veteran either had no home to return to or a disability prevented him from enjoying life's basic tasks and responsibilities. Union soldiers and veterans didn't
receive the Department of Veterans Affairs' benefits and assistance, which fortunately was created
in the twentieth century. (Highly recommended reading: Shook over Hell: Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War.)
The hardest work I have had since we got
here was standing guard duty six hours night before last. —Private
John T. Jones, Company D (Orange Light Infantry), First Regiment North Carolina Volunteers, May 8, 1861
While not in battle, drilling, or standing guard, the troops read, wrote letters (audio, adjust volume) to their loved ones and played any game they could devise, including baseball, cards
and boxing matches. One competition involved racing lice or cockroaches across a strip of canvas. The soldier's favorite beverage was coffee; however, alcohol was occasionally smuggled
had not been invented, so soldiers treated venereal diseases with herbs and minerals"
Thousands of prostitutes
thronged the cities in the war zones and clustered about the camps. By 1862,
for instance, Washington,
D.C., had 450 bordellos and at least 7,500 full-time prostitutes; Richmond
was the center of prostitution in the Confederacy and had about an equal number of bordellos and
prostitutes. Venereal disease among soldiers was prevalent and largely uncontrolled. About eight percent of the soldiers in
the Union army were treated for venereal disease during the war; many cases were unreported. Penicillin had not been invented,
so soldiers treated venereal diseases with herbs and minerals. Union General Joseph "Hooker" was widely known for his endorsement
of prostitution; hence, his name is credited, associated, and synonymous with "prostitutes and prostitution."
We have a revival going on in our Regt. & it is general through the army.
Our Chaplain is doing much good. —Lieutenant Colonel
William Henry Asbury Speer, Twenty-eighth Regiment North Carolina Troops, April 28, 1863
Life as a Prisoner of War
I do not exaggerate when I say that it [Johnson's
Island] is worse than a hog pen. —Colonel Robert F. Webb,
Sixth Regiment North Carolina State Troops, February 25, 1864
Camp life as a Confederate soldier was hard, but prison life
in Camp Morton was harder. —Confederate Prisoner of War
Eighty Acres of Hell, a.k.a. Prisoner of War Camp Douglas, reveals
that the Union was more than capable of matching the Confederates atrocity-for-atrocity. While 12,000 prisoners entered Camp
Douglas, only 6,000 survived. The rest were victims of calculated cruelty, torture and neglect. And Southern soldiers were
not the only targets of this treatment--many prominent Chicago citizens were incarcerated under the banner of martial law,
unjustly convicted of imagined offenses by ruthless military tribunals. According to Official Records of the Union and
Confederate armies, Series ii - Vol. 8, p. 348, Confederate prisoners were placed in condemned Union Prisoner
of War Camps Douglas and Chase; they were condemned because they were infected with smallpox. The Official Records
further state that several Union officials protested and called Camp Douglas an atrocity. However, Union prisoners
of war were in equally atrocious conditions (American Civil War Prisoner of War Camps).
We Were Brothers
During the last months of the American Civil War, when the "Lost Cause" was embraced,
many soldiers were unofficially promoted by their peers to fill vacancies. This explains why the officially
mustered out rank/grade was often times a lesser rank than claimed via soldiers' diaries, memoirs and papers (during the last months of the War, privates were being unofficially appointed
to the rank or grade of lieutenant). Concurrently, some
Confederate commanders were destroying all, or what remained, of the regimental records. These conditions also make
it difficult for Civil War researchers and genealogists.
that if all living Union soldiers were summoned to the witness stand, every one of them would testify that it was the preservation
of the American Union and not the destruction of Southern slavery that induced him to volunteer at the call of his Country.
As for the South, it is enough to say that perhaps eighty percent of her armies were neither slave-holders, nor had the remotest
interest in the institution...both sides fought and suffered for liberty as bequeathed by the Fathers--the one for liberty
in the union of the States, the other for liberty in the independence of the States." Reminiscences of the Civil War, by John
B. Gordon, Maj. Gen. CSA
Gordon was shot 5 times during the Battle of Antietam but did not die until January 9, 1904. Regarding General John Gordon, President Theodore Roosevelt
stated, "A more gallant, generous, and fearless gentleman and soldier has not been seen by our Country.")
The Aftermath and Reconstruction proved that the scars from the American Civil War deeply affected veterans and civilians for years.
(Sources listed at bottom of page.)
Recommended Reading: The Fighting Men of
the Civil War, by William C. Davis (Author), Russ A. Pritchard (Author). Description: "A must for any
Civil War library!" The sweeping histories of the War Between the States often overlook the men in whose blood that history
was written. This account goes a long way toward redressing the balance in favor of the men in the ranks. The reader follows
the soldiers from enlistment and training to campaigning. Attention is also given to oft-forgotten groups such as the sailors
and black troops. Continued below...
No effort has been spared to include rare war era photographs and
color photos of rare artifacts. Engagingly written by William C. Davis, the author of more than thirty books on the American
Civil War. Award winning author and historian James M. McPherson states: "The most readable, authoritative, and
beautifully designed illustrated history of the American Civil War."
Eyewitness to the Civil War (Hardcover) (416 pages) (National Geographic;
Fists edition) (November 21, 2006). Description: At once an informed overview for general-interest readers and a superb resource
for serious buffs, this extraordinary, gloriously illustrated volume is sure to become one of the fundamental books in any
Civil War library. Its features include a dramatic narrative packed with eyewitness accounts and hundreds of rare photographs,
pictures, artifacts, and period illustrations. Evocative sidebars, detailed maps, and timelines add to the reference-ready
quality of the text. Continued below...
From John Brown's raid to
Reconstruction, Eyewitness to the Civil War presents a clear, comprehensive discussion that addresses every military, political,
and social aspect of this crucial period. In-depth descriptions of campaigns and battles in all theaters of war are accompanied
by a thorough evaluation of the nonmilitary elements of the struggle between North and South. In their own words, commanders
and common soldiers in both armies tell of life on the battlefield and behind the lines, while letters from wives, mothers,
and sisters provide a portrait of the home front. More than 375 historical photographs, portraits, and artifacts—many
never before published—evoke the era's flavor; and detailed maps of terrain and troop movements make it easy to follow
the strategies and tactics of Union and Confederate generals as they fought through four harsh years of war. Includes captivating
rare photos of soldiers to the realistic firsthand battlefield photo. Photoessays on topics ranging from the everyday lives
of soldiers to the dramatic escapades of the cavalry lend a breathtaking you-are-there feeling, and an inclusive appendix
adds even more detail to what is already a magnificently meticulous history.
The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (444
pages) (Louisiana State University Press) (Updated edition: November 2007) Description: The Life of Johnny Reb does not merely
describe the battles and skirmishes fought by the Confederate foot soldier. Rather, it provides an intimate history of a soldier's
daily life--the songs he sang, the foods he ate, the hopes and fears he experienced, the reasons he fought. Wiley examined
countless letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and official records to construct this frequently poignant, sometimes humorous
account of the life of Johnny Reb. In a new foreword for this updated edition, Civil War expert James I. Robertson, Jr., explores
the exemplary career of Bell Irvin Wiley, who championed the common folk, whom he saw as ensnared in the great conflict of
the 1860s. Continued below...
"A Civil War
classic."--Florida Historical Quarterly
deserves to be on the shelf of every Civil War modeler and enthusiast."--Model Retailer
painted with skill a picture of the life of the Confederate private. . . . It is a picture that is not only by far the most
complete we have ever had but perhaps the best of its kind we ever shall have."--Saturday Review of Literature
Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (488 pages) (Louisiana State University Press). Description: This fascinating social history reveals that while the Yanks and the Rebs fought for very different causes, the men
on both sides were very much the same. "This wonderfully interesting book is the finest memorial the Union soldier is ever
likely to have. . . . [Wiley] has written about the Northern troops with an admirable objectivity, with sympathy and understanding
and profound respect for their fighting abilities. He has also written about them with fabulous learning and considerable
pace and humor.
Editor's Pick: Co.
Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War. Description: Of the 120 men who enlisted in "Company H"
(Or Co. Aytch as he calls it) in 1861, Sam Watkins was one of only seven alive when General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee
surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina
in April, 1865. Of the 1,200 men who fought in the First Tennessee, only 65 were left to be paroled on that day. "Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War" is heralded by many historians as one of the best
war memoirs written by a common soldier of the field. Sam R. Watkin's writing style in "Co Aytch" is quite engaging and skillfully
captures the pride, misery, glory, and horror experienced by the common foot soldier. Continued below…
About the Author: Samuel "Sam"
Rush Watkins (June 26, 1839 - July 20, 1901) was a noted Confederate soldier during the American Civil War. He is known today
for his memoir Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show, often heralded as one of the best primary sources about the
common soldier's Civil War experience. Watkins was born on June 26, 1839 near Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee, and received his formal education at Jackson
College in Columbia.
He originally enlisted in the "Bigby Greys" of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, but transferred shortly
thereafter to the First Tennessee Infantry, Company H (the "Maury Greys") in the spring of 1861. Watkins faithfully served
throughout the duration of the War, participating in the battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Perryville,
Murfreesboro (Stones River),
Shelbyville, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Resaca,
Adairsville, Kennesaw Mountain (Cheatham
Hill), New Hope Church, Zion
Church, Kingston, Cassville, Atlanta,
Jonesboro, Franklin, and Nashville.
Of the 120 men who enlisted in "Company H" in 1861, Sam Watkins was one of only seven alive when General Joseph E. Johnston's
Army of Tennessee surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina
April, 1865. Of the 1,200 men who fought in the First Tennessee, only 65 were left to be paroled on that day. Soon after the
war ended, Watkins began writing his memoir, entitled "Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show". It was originally
serialized in the Columbia, Tennessee
Herald newspaper. "Co. Aytch" was published in a first edition of 2,000 in book form in 1882. "Co. Aytch" is heralded by many
historians as one of the best war memoirs written by a common soldier of the field. Sam's writing style is quite engaging
and skillfully captures the pride, misery, glory, and horror experienced by the common foot soldier. Watkins is often featured
and quoted in Ken Burns' 1990 documentary titled The Civil War. Watkins died on July 20, 1901 at the age of sixty-two in his
home in the Ashwood Community. He was buried with full military honors by the members of the Leonidas Polk Bivouac, United
Confederate Veterans, in the cemetery of the Zion Presbyterian Church near Mount
Editor's Picks and Recommended
Reading for "The American Civil War Soldier; Life as a Civil War Soldier"
Sources: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Walter Clark,
Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865; National Park Service: American
Civil War; Weymouth T. Jordan and Louis H. Manarin, North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865; D. H. Hill, Confederate Military
History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865; Library of Congress; North Carolina Office of Archives
and History; North Carolina Museum of History; State Library of North Carolina; North Carolina Department of Cultural
Resources; North Carolina Department of Agriculture; National Archives and Records Administration; and Tennessee State Library