The Life of A Soldier

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.


“How The Civil War Soldiers Lived.” How The Civil War Soldiers Lived. N.p., 10 Feb. 2002. Web. 19 Dec. 2013. <;.
Heiser, John. “Soldier Life in the Civil War.” Soldier Life in the Civil War. N.p., 1 May 1998. Web. 19 Dec. 2013. <;.
“Civil War Cooking.” Flickr. Yahoo!, n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2013. <;.

3 thoughts on “The Life of A Soldier

  1. I think that this post gives me a better understanding of the conditions of the war, not just the cause and effect. It’s easy to forget that this was a war that young men fought. I really like this post because it reminds me that there were real people in the Civil War, and that boys not much older than me had to go fight. They enjoyed playing instruments and writing letters home, and that really made the soldiers seem more human to me. Overall, great post!

  2. I love how this post encourages us to understand the human side of the war, not just the political or technical side, which is all we ever seem to get in our textbook. I think that, considering the fact that the Civil War was the war with the most American casualties, choosing to write about soldiers who lived through it was an excellent choice.

  3. When we read statistics about how hundreds of thousands of people died, its hard to really imagine them as actual people, they just seem like numbers. Putting them into context like this shows how truly devastating the war must have been for families and small towns. All those people, all that livelihood, just disappeared off the face of the earth. Interesting post.

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