Every Day Life of a Private

By Helen Kwon

Depiction of the Battle of Antietam

The life of a soldier during the American Civil War was not glorious. Initially thought to only last for 90 days, men quickly rushed to enlist, not understanding the true bloody nature of what was to come. Those fought joined the Civil War to defend their nation, to unify their country, and to fight for slavery, but often just to satisfy their boredom. Boys as young as eleven years old joined the war; some having not been more than 20 miles from home. Some of these soldier even fought a brother, uncle, or friend; killing one another to stand up for what they believed in. Being miles away from home for long periods of time, the living conditions, food, and sanitation was brutal and a war within itself just to stay alive each day, not knowing how long they would last. These men bravely risked their lives for their country as heroes of the Civil War.

1. Training

Enduring earl
Drummers Signifying the Start and End of Each Activity
y morning roll calls and strict commanders, soldiers went through the same daily routine every day. Being woken up typically at 5 a.m and after eating an insufficient breakfast, the men would begin one out of several drills that would last around two hours each. Infantry soldiers would learn tedious marching formations, commands, loading and priming guns, guarding, as well as practice interacting with other soldiers. Such drills would be repeated over and over again until it became a regular habit. Cavalrymen drilled with their sabers, both on foot and horseback, while artillerymen drilled with their cannons, however surprisingly riflery practice was not considered more important than other drills. The military believed the men would be able to shoot accurately on command and did not want to waste ammunition. Drummers in an infantry were essential, as they were used to announce the start and end of each activity. Artillery and Cavalry relied on bugles similar to the way drummers were to an infantry. Between each drill, soldiers would do chores such as cleaning or write home and other leisure activities.

Discipline in the military was very strict, and soldiers were punished accordingly. For small faults such as avoiding chores, or not keeping their equipment in check, were awarded with digging latrines, chopping wood, or standing extra hours on guard duty. For larger offenses, such as theft or cowardice, resulted in carrying logs, standing on a barrel, and having limbs tied up etc. Desertion, murder, threats on an officer's lives potentially could lead to prison or being shot by a firing squad. These disciplinary acts were to keep their military in order.

2. Soldiers of the Civil War

The life of a Union soldier from the North varied from the Confederate solider of the South. However with these differences each soldier faced similar trials and had to overcome the many difficulties of war life.

2.1 Union Soldiers

A Union Soldier's Uniform

Union soldiers were typically young men who were often poor, as the rich men hired someone to substitute their place during enlistment, or paid a sum of $300.00 to be exempted from enlistment. Many of the boys who eagerly joined early had been killed as a result of the brutality of the battles or due to illnesses or infections. As the war progressed women even dressed as boys in order to join the army and help fight in the war.

A Union soldier's uniform was a heavy navy blue wool and a wool cap with a leather visor to provide shade from the harsh sun. Wool was a durable material that dried quickly when wet and lasted longer than other materials. During the hot summers however, soldiers would have to rely on the thin cotton shirts their families sent. Union soldiers were not only equipped with better uniforms but also weapons as well. They each were given a heavy knapsack containing items such as a canteen and a frying pan, a blanket, and a small protective cover called a "dog tent," used as protection against rain. Union soldiers were well fed, however many died as a result of food poisoning. The North were given more resources and had better funding than the South did.

2.2 Confederate Soldiers

Confederate soldiers had more difficulty than the Union due to lack of funds and provisions. Similar to the North, the young men who enlisted were typically poor and those who we
A Confederate Soldier's Uniform
re exempted from enlistment owned twenty or more slaves. Many however joined the army to fight for their ideals and culture, and there were less deserters in the South than the North.

The Confederate's uniform was a lighter cotton gray, and it was not uncommon for some uniforms to be ill-fitting as they were either "handed down" from a previous diseased soldier or were made in a rush. Along with light uniforms they carried a tin cup, a blanket, sack, a small frying pan, and canteen. Unlike the Union they were not provided with extra protection, and as the war progressed they were cut off from their supplies from rail and sea. They ran out of ammunition and many fell sick from fatigue and starvation.

3. Lifestyle

3.1 Religion

Religion played a large factor in a soldier's life for both the North and the South. Although both believed in the same God, one believed that God supported them over the other, and vice versa. Many of these men on a regular basis put their Christianity into practice by attending church services and carrying small portable bibles with them. Each prayed for a victory and many argued over who God was in favor of.

3.2 Food

The Northerners received more variety in the rations they were given than the Southerners. Their diet consisted of staples of meat (salted pork, or sometimes fresh beef) and bread. The bread that these soldiers consumed were not the soft bread we eat now. Theirs were more like a hard biscuit, consisting of salt, flower, and water. These types of bread were known as hardtack renamed as "tooth-dullers" as the hardness of the bread could potentially hurt your teeth. Many of the stapled foods were made to last long rather than for taste. Soldiers also consumed other healthier foods such as peas, beans, dried fruits etc. Although when food became scarce it was usually the salted meat and hardtack that lasted the longest. Coffee was considered a privilege to have, as the caffeine helped the soldiers stay awake.

3.3 Death

The Civil War had caused over 600,000 deaths, many dying during battles or from catching an illness or getting an infection from a wound. Poor sanitation also was one of the causes of the soldier's poor health and ultimately death. Because the medicine was very primitive compared to the medicine nowadays, if a soldier was shot his limb would have to be amputated. Often the soldier was given a strong alcohol to numb the mind and a piece of leather to bite his teeth on as they sawed off one of his limbs. Occasionally the amputation would not be successful and the soldier would get an infection or bleed to death and die. The amount of deaths were a blow to the United States of America as 2 percent of its population died as a result of this war.

The video below is a tribute to the surviving veterans of the Civil War of both the North and the South:

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4. Recreation

When not drilling, soldiers had time for leisure activities. The game of chance and exchanging money were two of the favorite things that soldiers likes to do during their past times. Poker was extremely popular, as was board games, such as chess and checkers. Dominoes and cards were also played. Although gambling was banned by the officers, soldiers still did it and many blew away their wages in a lost bet.
An Old Box of Dominoes

Photography was also very big in both the North and the South. As technology was growing, photography was recently a new thing that was invented and many photographers set up booths at each camp and took pictures. These photographs documented not only the enjoyable times with each comrade but also the bloody nature of the Civil War.

Soldiers also wrote many letters to their loved ones back home or wrote in their diaries. Music, and especially singing was also one of the many past times the soldiers enjoyed. Many soldiers brought with them fiddles, guitars, flutes, banjos etc, while others made makeshift instruments out of simple things such as cigarette boxes. The Southerners enjoyed tunes from songs such as, "Lorena," and "The Bonnie Blue Flag." While the North had songs like "Dixie" and "My Old Kentucky Home."

5. Soldier Letters Home

After being several miles away for long periods of time, the only source of communication for many of these soldiers was writing letters home to family and friends. These letters told the many hardships and struggles that resulted from the Civil War from the raw perspectives of the soldiers. Letters contained heartfelt and moving words to their loved ones, as each day they did not know if they would survive to the next day. Below are letters from different soldiers.

Excerpt from Private Thomson D. Newton of the 8th Louisiana Infantry to his sister Mary:

Madison County, Va.
May 28th, 1862
Sister Mary,
This evening, the 20th of May, affords me the delightful pleasure of writing to you all at home. Home. Home. How much pleasure there is in that word home? There is more than tongue can express. How oft have I thought of home. That place that I formerly so little appreciated. And to think of those that are there. The kind Father, the indulgent Mother to which I have been so disrespectful in days gone by. The fond sisters that I have so oft mistreated. Oh, that I could have my time over again how different I would live.
One may imagine something as to the ties that home has. Though, it is nothing compared to realizing the true state of things. I will tell you how much I think of home. That delightful home I have so often thought of the greater portion of my day in quietude enjoying the pleasures and comforts of life, and those that are dear to me. I think just enough of home to spend the remnant of my days, though they may be long, or short, in difference. There is of home a delightful place where one can have peace, and just rights with it. But, without those two items death is far preferable. I will stay in the field forever before I will have my country invaded. I will submit to the toils and hardships of camp. I will be found traversing the snow-clad cliffs of the Thoroughfare and the Blue Ridge Mountains first. I will endure the toil, forbear the pain produced thereby, before thinking of submitting to such tyrannical vandals as those negro-thieving, undermining, careless, unprincipled band of demons, which are really beneath the notice of the Devil himself.
I say and speak from my heart that life is sweet, though give me death before submitting to any such. Never has history, even in the days of uncivilization, not even the heathen when committing their brutal acts regardless of care, or Gospel, had to disgrace her pages with such detestable, disgraceful, disdainful, unprincipled stuff as the present in stating the whys and wherefores of this war, if it is truly accounted for. If it doesn't prove a disgrace to the Federals in the estimation of all nations, I can't see why. In short, to this end give me liberty, or give me death.

Soldiers also kept diaries. In some ways the letters they wrote were also like diaries, writing about the events they encountered during war. Excerpt of Edwin B. Weist of the 20th Indiana Regiment.

Camp Pitcher: near Falmouth Va
Wednesday January 7. There is nothing going on worth mentioning. Capt. Reyburn lazes around in his tent complaining of ill health as usual. He would like to get his discharge if he could. Lieutenant Hoover is in rather indifferent [health?]. Also Peter McMillen died yesterday, another victim of the advance on Fredricksburg. Not put down on the list of killed & wounded, although he died of disease.
Thursday January 8. I think the more I go to the doctor the worse I get. He has given me five or six different kinds of medicine and this morning confessed that he did not know what was the matter with me. I don't think I will go to him any more at present. It is reported that evening that the paymaster is here. Rather doubtfull.
Friday January 9. I did not go the Doctor this morning. But feel rather poorly. Received some papers from home & a letter from Hank Heiser. Bought some apples from a Sutter wich I think will do me more good than all the stuff the Doctor could give me. They were selling at 30.cts per dozen. A very poor imitations of the excellent fruit they were to.

6. Bibliography

"Civil War Soldier." December 13th 2002. May 17th, 2011. <http://www.civilwarsoldier.com/>
"Letters About the Civil War." Home of the American Civil War. September 5th, 2002. May 16th, 2011. http://www.civilwarhome.com/letters.htm
Heiser, John "The Civil War Soldier - What was life as a soldier like in 1863?" Gettysburg National Military Park. May 1st, 1998. May 17th, 2011. <http://www.nps.gov/archive/gett/soldierlife/cwarmy.htm>
"Gettysburg National Military Park." U.S. National Park Service - Experience Your America. 27 May 2010. < http://www.nps.gov/history/museum/exhibits/gettex>/living.html

Picture Bibliography:
"Depiction of the Battle of Antietam" - http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1862/october/antietam-battlefield-1500.jpg
"Drummers Signifying the Start and End of Each Activity" - http://www.nps.gov/archive/gett/soldierlife/cwarmy.htm
"A Union Soldier's Uniform" - http://www.kidport.com/reflib/usahistory/civilwar/Images/UnionUniform.jpg
"A Confederate Soldier's Uniform" - http://www.digitaljournal.com/img/9/0/1/2/2/1/i/6/5/9/p-large/confederate_uniform.JPG
"An Old Box of Dominoes" - http://www.nps.gov/history/museum/exhibits/gettex/games.html