During the civil war, roughly 620,000 men died fighting for their country, and countless more risked their lives or were seriously injured. But who were these men?
The average soldier for both armies was a white, protestant farmer between the age of 18 and 29. By the end of the war, 10% of the Union army was made up of black soldiers. Black soldiers were most often segregated into separate regiments. In addition to being separated, black soldiers were paid less ($10 a month minus $3 for clothing) while white soldiers were paid $13 a month. Black soldiers were also in greater peril if captured by the Confederates, who would sometimes execute black soldiers instead of holding them hostage.
A big danger that all soldiers faced besides the enemy was disease. Sanitation was not good in the camps, and medical science was not anywhere near where it is today. Whiskey was prescribed as medicine to many cases, and thousands of soldiers died without a shot being fired. Food rations were decent, more so in the North. A common food eaten in the army is hardtack, a bland flour biscuit that soldiers often crumbled into soup or toasted over a fire.
In the camps, soldiers stayed in small tents made of canvas. Solders still had some time to enjoy themselves even with all of the fighting. It wasn’t uncommon to find soldiers playing cards, horseshoes or even baseball. Soldiers also enjoyed singing and playing instruments. These instruments were sometimes made with whatever they had, so you could find things like a fiddle made out of a cigar box. A popular song for southern soldiers was “Lorena” or “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” Union soldiers enjoyed the song “Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” There were even times when the armies played music for each other across siege lines and rivers when they weren’t fighting. Another thing soldiers enjoyed doing was writing letters home to loved ones. If they were lucky, packages their family sent them from home would reach them.
After the war, soldiers returned home, Confederates to a place where both the social structure and sometimes literal buildings were burnt to the ground, and Union soldiers back to their families with the option of moving out West more easily. For those who weren’t so lucky, people often had to go back to where the soldiers were hastily buried on battle grounds in order to identify them and send remains home or if that wasn’t possible at least give them a better burial.