Children of the Civil War

by: Hallie Fox

Children from all over the country were enthusiastic about the start of the war. In the north and south both black and white children would eagerly watch as local regiments marched off to battle. As the war progressed though, the struggles and loss that the children faced became more and more severe, and the universal notion of excitement quickly faded. Children in the south and north went through very different experiences throughout the time of the war, and slave children lives' were forever changed. Although the war itself was fought on the battlefield, much of the distress was felt at home, through the youngest citizens of the country.
A Diagram showing the Differences between the children of the two regions.

Northern Children

Three northern children born and living during the time of the war.

At the start of the war the children of the North were excited about the thought of battle and fighting. They had instilled in them a hate for southerners, especially some of the great generals like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Since the Union had a much larger population than the south, less men were actually enlisted in the war so a lot less children lost family members. Some northern children lost loved ones in battle, but the many who didn't continued to celebrate in the excitement the ran through out the country. Also, children who were old enough to read, riffled through the pages of different magazines and literary works depicting the war scene at the time. With fathers and older men throughout communities gone the older boys in families would have to step up and take the role of running the household, and taking care of any animals the family may have owned. Northerners did face economic downfalls throughout the war such as less food and need for work, but overall the poverty wasn't severe and the economy remained fairly stable. Government run orphanages were also set up in northern states for children who had lost their only, or both of their parents in the war. Overall though, since only a minority of northern children lost their parents, and because they were geographically at distance from the majority of the fighting northern children looked on at the war at a distance without being fully affected. Although northern children faced some hardships and loss throughout the war, what they went through didn't even compare to the struggles of southern children.

Southern Children

Southern children facing hard times during the war.

Children in the South, although excited to take down the enemy at the beginning of the war, soon faced hard times and severe loss and devastation. When the father, or eldest man of the family went off to war in the South, the children took up responsibility for the home, the plantation, and whatever slaves the family owned. This proved to be a great burden and stress to the children, although they were initially excited about their new powers among the household. SInce the children were watching over the slaves the boundaries and keeping of them became much more loose than it had previously been. Since the majority of the war was fought in the South, the southern children were directly faced with much more of the realities of than the bordering children of the North. Children in the South had to deal with constant gunfire and shelling right outside their doors and even ruining their houses. As invading armies came into Confederate territories many southern families choose to flee leaving their homes and everything they new. Due to invasions all over the South the people also experienced a great supply shortage. This greatly affected the children because they were forced to go hungry at times, and new clothes were hard to come by for the growing children of the South during the time of the war. Also due to amount of soldiers the army needed and the draft, many of the children's fathers, brothers, and other family members were drafted and enlisted into the war. Many did not return, and their children were left fatherless, and in some cases even orphaned. Also, due to the loss of a male figure in the family, and the financial stress that came with that, many young children were forced to drop out of school to help their families get by. This was highly common throughout the South during and after the war, and it took many children years to recover from the loses of their homes and loved ones. Although they initially were excited about the spirit of the war, southern children appeared to be on of the most desperate groups in America during the war.

Slave Children

Out of all the groups of children in the United States the slave children the most affected by the war. Although the war was a confusing and hard time for them, they gained their freedom and their own lives back through it, something that they had only dreamt of. While resources were decreasing in the South, the slaves kept receiving less and less because their plantation owners would take the little they were able to get fro themselves. This left some slaves hungry and with worn clothing for a large majority of the war. In cases where masters were not present, and were off at battle the restrictions upon slaves would be loosened, especially if a younger son was watching over the plantation. In many cases though before an attack by a Union force slaves would be moved to more isolated parts of the confederacy, like Texas, to avoid be taken and freed by the Union troops. Also, during the time of chaos many young slaves would try to escape with their families because they though it would be easier to get away with due to the distractions of the time. Although life as a slave was extremely difficult to endure, so of the hardest experiences slaves, and slave children had to go throw throughout the war was after the were free and in Union hands. Some freed slaves were lucky enough to attend schools in Union held areas, these programs were taught by northern men, who worked for a variety of religious organizations. The majority of freed slave children though were sent to "contraband camps" where they had to endure horrible and brutal conditions. These camps were formed near towns or near Union Army Garrisons, the death rate in these camps could raise to about as high as thirty percent.

Helping from Home

Many children from all over the country were eager to find ways to participate at home to help out their fighting troops. Whenever local regiments would watch off to war, children would gather around to show their support. Many boys idolized the soldiers and would form their own "boys' companies." All over the country newspapers and adults spoke of and spread word of the children's devout enthusiasm and willingness to help. Also many children's magazines highlighted the war and spread news to it, and ways to help to children all over. Many memoirs from young boys at the time mention how in their world the war they were fascinated in and their childhood world of play seemed to merge. Also, many memoirs from young girls at the time mention how fascinated and curious the girls were about the war, but how they weren't necessarily as involved as the boys due to their gender. Many children would "pick lint" or make bandages to send to soldiers, and many older children and young adults found jobs at ammunition factories and government offices in order to help the war effort. While younger children showed their support by, collecting food and supplies, raising money through fairs, and volunteering at hospitals treating local regiments. The fairs in the North were held by The United States Sanitary Commission were opportunities for youth and adults alike to volunteer and perform to help raise money for the war.

Children on the Battlefield

The Civil War has been referred to by many as "The Boys' War" due to the vast number of boys and young men who fought in its bloody battles. The most common occupation for a boy in the army to have was as a drummer boy, most drummer boys were about eleven or twelve years old, but their wasn't as strict of a qualifying age as for those enlisting to fight in battle. Also the drummer boys were part of an army band and they played music, during battle the band had a more important job of telling and advising soldiers what to do through the sounds they made. Besides giving battle commands, drums were also used to instruct
A young nine year old soldier.

soldiers to wake up or to relax and go to sleep. Although children were legally to young to enlist as combat soldiers in the war ( the minimum enlistment age was seventeen), many lied about their ages in order to have the chance to fight for their cause. More than one million of the men who fought in the Civil War were eighteen years old or younger, one hundred thousand were fifteen or under, three hundred were thirteen, and twenty five combat soldiers who were ten or younger fought in the war. If the soldiers were too small and were incapable of carrying their guns they took care of the dying and wounded, as well as burying the already dead. A select few children were even used as spies during the Civil War, for the sole reason that a young child walking by an enemy camp would be much less suspicious than a man dressed in uniform. The fighting grew very hard on young boys, as they had to make it through cold, hunger, and disease that grown men had hard times copping with. The youngest soldier to die in the war was twelve year old William Black, who had his left arm blown off by a shell. Due to the smaller armed force that the Confederate army had, underaged soldiers were more likely found in the southern armies. When men higher in military ranking went off to battle, they would sometimes bring their families to stay with them at the military camps the children in these families wouldn't fight, but they were very much exposed to war life through their experiences through the camps.

Carrie Berry

A picture of Carrie Berry, taken during the Civil War.
In August 1864 Carrie Berry, a ten year old girl living in Atlanta, began keeping a diary of what she saw of the war from her place at home. She wrote entries daily until January 4, 1865, and throughout the time of her writings she kept very detailed descriptions on the war around her and how herlife at home was affected. During the July before Berry started keeping her diary General Joseph E. Johnston, along with other confederate generals were trying to hold back Union troops, led by William Tecumseh Sherman, from seizing Atlanta and the rivers and railroads surrounding it. By September of 1864, Atlanta was officially in Union hands after months of fighting. Throughout her diary Carrie Berry tells of how close and real the fighting was to her. Often, during her August and even some September entries she mentions hiding in her basement with her family, or even staying at her aunt's house when the shelling got increasingly bad. No one in her family was harmed during the battles and firing going on right outside her door, but she did mention shells going off in her barn and in her dining room, but luckily no onewas home at the time. Besides showinghow closely southern families were affected by the constant warfare, she also shows how she maintained somewhat of a regular childhood throughout the time. She talks about school, and learning grammar, as well as helping her mom take care of her younger sister, who is sick. For a child growing up in the south, she was somewhat lucky because her father never had to fight in the war and was present throughout her righting, and she didn't loose any immediate family members in the war either. For Carrie though, the war and battle was all around her, at least for a few months. Within her book she mentions the constant sound of cannons and shells at night, and how it felt like the gunfire never stopped. She often describes how close it felt, and that she was scared everything she new would be gone in a second due to the fighting. Lastly, she considers some of the limitations having an invading federal army around. She says that the citizens of Atlanta were not able to get fruit and many other supplies from other places because the army was all around them. Through the detailed entries of a young girl, a first hand view into fighting and life during the Civil War is shown.


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