The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

Civil War

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Soldiers in Blue and Gray

The soldiers were young and inexperienced, most in their teens or early twenties. In the North, they were farmers and factory workers, and newly arrived Irish immigrants. In the South, they were farmers, mechanics, and students. Most were volunteers; many were draftees unable to pay a substitute to go in their stead.

Early in the war, their training was slapdash. Many died in the first months from illness or wounds. Those who survived learned to be soldiers in the daily drills and discomforts of camp life, the exhaustion of miles-long marches, and the dry-mouth terror of battle.

Union Infantry

Union troops were well-outfitted—even overburdened—with army-issued supplies and equipment.

Union soldiers wore regulation uniforms of heavy wool—in just two sizes—with leather-billed caps that drooped in the rain, and stiff shoes. On a typical twenty-mile march, they packed more than sixty pounds of gear. Atop knapsacks stuffed with extra clothes, a weekly change of underwear, and personal “truck,” they carried rolled-up wool and rubber blankets and half a tent. They filled haversacks with salt pork, hardtack, coffee, sugar, dried peas, pressed sheets of desiccated vegetables, and perhaps a pickle. They slung canteens and cartridge boxes over their shoulders and carried muskets.

Confederate Infantry

The Confederacy struggled to keep troops equipped and supplied. Many units outfitted themselves.

Confederate soldiers wore various uniforms, although gray jackets became common, often with felt slouch hats. Many had no knapsacks; instead they looped their bedrolls across their torsos when they marched. Tents were scarce. Men kept tobacco and pipes, a bit of soap, and maybe foraged apples in their haversacks. Many immediately cooked and ate the three-day ration of fatback and cornbread, rather than packing it. They filled their canteens with buttermilk or cider, and kept a cup to dip water from streams. They carried their muskets, but most had no cartridge boxes, so they stuffed ammunition into their pockets.

An estimated 12,000 American Indians fought for the Confederacy, battling Union advances in the Indian Territory of present-day Oklahoma. Most were Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. Brigadier General Chief Stand Waite, a Cherokee, was the last Confederate general to surrender, on June 23, 1865.


Exhibition Graphics

Cavalry Soldier Loading a Rifle by Winslow Homer

Cavalry Soldier Loading a Rifle by Winslow Homer

Soldier Giving Water to a Wounded Companion by Winslow Homer

Soldier Giving Water to a Wounded Companion by Winslow Homer

Two Studies of a Bugler by Winslow Homer

Two Studies of a Bugler by Winslow Homer

Soldier With Pipe in his Mouth by Winslow Homer

Soldier With Pipe in his Mouth by Winslow Homer

Army Cook’s Tent by Winslow Homer

Army Cook’s Tent by Winslow Homer

Three officers in camp

Three officers in camp

Poster for recruiting African Americans, 1863

Poster for recruiting African Americans, 1863


Related Artifacts

Model 1861 Rifle
Union Mounted Greatcoat
Union Infantry Uniform
M1842 Harpers Ferry Rifle
United States Belt Plate
Confederate States of America Belt Plate
Vivandičre Items
Civil War Soldier’s Mess
United States Colored Troops Flag
Prayer Book
Spiller & Burr Pistol
Fayeteville Musket
Confederate Uniform
Confederate Bowie Knife and Scabbard

A Large Cast of Characters

Many became involved in the Civil War. Musicians, nurses, spies, and vivandičres all had their parts to play. Before the war ended, many soldiers also became prisoners of war.

Musicians

Drums and shrill fifes called out orders in camp. In the heat of battle, the bright melodies of brass bands rallied spirits.

Drummers and fifers conveyed critical information. In camp, they announced the routines of the day: reveille, assembly, surgeon’s call, lights out. On the move and in battle, they relayed orders: slow march, quick time, halt, commence firing, march in retreat.

Many regiments boasted uniformed brass bands. They played in camp, sometimes even in the midst of battlefield cannonades. Sentimental favorites, patriotic airs, jigs, and polkas cheered and united the troops and, reported one battlefield observer in 1865, “revived the drooping spirits of many a weary soldier.”

Nurses

Several thousand women worked as nurses in Union and Confederate military hospitals, caring for and comforting the wounded.

Necessity forced armies on both sides to add women to their corps of male nurses. The U.S. Army specified that recruits be “plain” and directed them to dress simply, not in hoop skirts. Some women were commissioned, many volunteered; others were relatives of the wounded or members of private aid societies.

They worked far behind the lines, struggling to keep hundreds of patients washed and fed—with lemon juice, beef-tea, and milk porridge. They changed dressings and packed deep wounds with cotton lint. Often they could do little more than comfort the dying.

Confederate Spies

Spies for the Confederacy slipped in and out of Northern cities and Union strongholds, easily obtaining information on war plans.

The government in Richmond loosely coordinated espionage efforts, but most spies for the Confederacy were passionate amateurs. Many were women. Most had little trouble passing through the lines. Sometimes they used their charms on government or military officials to obtain information on planned troop movements or battle strategies. Other times they simply eavesdropped on conversations in hotel lobbies, or bought the latest edition of the newspaper. Some were notorious, but most were never detected. Even those revealed to be spies were simply sent on their way; few were imprisoned.

Daughters of the Regiment

Vivandičres—often the daughters or wives of officers—accompanied and provided support to many Union and Confederate regiments.

Early in the war, newly raised volunteer regiments often appointed local women to accompany them to keep the troops supplied with necessities. Vivandičres sold tobacco, coffee, identification tags, oil lamps, hams, and whiskey. They did laundry, sewed, and cooked. They were quasi-military, often wearing skirted uniforms and sometimes drawing a salary from the regimental paymaster. The name and role of the vivandičre originated with the French Army during the Napoleonic Wars, when one woman was assigned to each regiment in order to reduce the numbers of women following the army.

Prisoners of War

Nearly 195,000 Union soldiers were held in Confederate prison camps; more than 210,000 Confederates were Union prisoners of war.

Early in the war, captured soldiers were returned in negotiated exchanges at the end of each battle or released on parole, promising not to rejoin the fight. But by 1863, prisoner negotiations were abandoned and thousands were sent to prison camps instead.

Union prisoners were crowded into converted cotton factories and tobacco warehouses, even open stockades. Confederates were packed into coastal forts, barracks, and tent camps. Prisoners on both sides suffered horribly—living in filth, malnourished, and plagued by disease. Thousands died; those who survived wasted away to living skeletons.


Related Artifacts

Violin
Bugle
Union Drum
Musician’s Uniform Frock Coat and Cap
Enlisted Man’s Forage Cap, Model 1858
Knife, Fork, and Plate from Libby Prison
Lanyard and Pick
Patched Dress
Deringer Pistol
Watch
Purse
Dress
Identification Tag
Vivandičre Uniform


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