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Transcript
WHO FOUGHT
IN THE
CIVIL WAR? 1
The Common Soldier
Approximately 3,000,000 men fought in the Civil War, with the North having a two to one
ratio to the South (Idiot’s Guide to the Civil War, xxi). The United States Army was extremely
small at the beginning of the war, and a number of those left when the South seceded to join
a country that had no army – including 300 of its very best officers (Idiot’s Guide to the Civil
War, 65).
In other words, the majority of Civil War soldiers had no idea
what it meant to be a soldier. These farm boys didn’t have a clue
about the endless hours of drilling, living in the open, firing
weapons, digging earthworks, eating unfamiliar food, living with
thousands of other men, facing a myriad of diseases, or being
wounded. It didn’t occur to many of them that they could see
good friends die – or die themselves. Many times, the officers
were just as clueless as the enlisted men. It was hard for these soldiers, who had grown up in a society that valued individualism to
obey orders without question, especially when they had grown up
with the men who became their officers. There were all kinds of
names and descriptions attributed to officers; one Confederate
described his colonel as an ignoramus fit for nothing higher than the
cultivation of corn (The Civil War’s Common Soldier, 25). Some officers were highly disliked; when one such general died, one of his
men wrote, Old Landers is ded…. I did not see a tear shed but heard a
great many speaches made about him such as he was in hell pumping
thunder at 3 cents a clap (Common Soldier, 25).
William Black, wounded by an
exploding shell. Courtesy of the
National Archives, NWDNS111-B-2368
The majority of enlistees were white, American-born, Protestant males between the ages of
18 and 30 (Museum of the Confederacy, 2). Civil War enlistees ranged in age from very
young to moderately aged. The youngest Confederate enlistee was Charles Hay, who joined
an Alabama regiment when he was 11; William Black, who was 9, joined the 21st Indiana as
a musician but became the youngest soldier (Common Soldier 6). For the majority of the war,
the minimum enlistment age was 18. Boys who wanted to enlist but weren’t old enough
wrote the number 18 on a scrap of paper and put it in their shoes, so when a boy was asked
how old he was by the recruiting officer, he could truthfully say I’m over eighteen, and I stand
on my word (Library of Congress). Curtis King, who was 80 years old, was the oldest soldier
in either army. He served four months before being discharged for disability (Common
Soldier, 6-7).
194
TWO WEEK CURRICULUM FOR TEACHING THE CIVIL WAR
The Immigrant Army and Diversity
in the Civil War
The United States is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. At the time of the Civil
War, one out of every five Union soldiers, and one out of 20 Confederate soldiers, was foreign-born (Idiot’s Guide to the Civil War, 65). These numbers may seem high, but remember,
in the years before the Civil War, a huge number of immigrants settled in what would
become Union territory.
WHO FOUGHT
IN THE
CIVIL WAR? 2
✔SOME THINGS
TO CONSIDER
Why did so many
immigrants settle
in the American
Northeast and
Midwest?
Which immigrant groups served in the Union Army?
Irish
German
English
Canadian
Scandinavian
French
Italian
Hungarian
In fact, many nationalities served in the Civil War!
In a few instances, the immigrant groups formed their own regiments such as:
Swiss Rifles (15th Missouri)
Gardes Lafayette (55th New York)
Garibaldi Guard (39th New York)
Martinez Militia (1st New Mexico)
Polish Legion (58th New York)
In addition, a large number of Hispanics served both the Union and Confederacy.
At first, there were difficulties in using such a high number of immigrant soldiers. The
biggest problems were prejudice and language differences. Eventually, however, immigrant
soldiers proved their worth in battle and earned the respect of their fellow soldiers.
The Irish was the foreign-born group that gained the most fame, mostly for their overindulgence in whiskey and fighting – both the enemy and themselves!
For example, there was an Irish Confederate soldier named Burgoyne, who fought with the
9th Louisiana. He loved fighting so much that when the infantry stopped, he would continue to fight by helping to man the cannons. One time, he was manning a cannon while a captured Union Irishman was standing on the other side of the cannon. The Union soldier
could tell that Burgoyne was Irish by his distinctive accent.
The Union soldier shouted, “Hey, ye spalpane! Say, what are yez doing in the Ribil army?”
“Be-dad, ain’t an Irishman a free man?” said Burgoyne. “Haven’t I as good right to fight for
From The Union Soldier,
His Life and Times,
Michael A. Vasile
http://www.cwc.lsu.edu/
other/other/acw_inf.htm
C I V I L WA R P R E S E RVAT I O N T R U S T
195
WHO FOUGHT
IN THE
CIVIL WAR? 2
the Ribils as ye have to fight for the ****** Yanks?”
“Oh, yes!” shouted the Union soldier. “I know ye, now you’ve turned your ugly mug to me.
I had the plizure of kicking yez out from behind Marye’s Wall, that time Sedgwick lamed yer
brigade out there!”
“Yer a ****** liar, and I’ll knock yer teeth down your ougly throat for that same lie.”
The two started to brawl, until Burgoyne noticed that the Union man had lost two of his
fingers in battle. “You’re a trump, Pat,” he said. “Give me your well hand. We’ll fight this
out some other time” (The Common Soldier of the Civil War. Civil War Times Illustrated.
pp. 6-7).
✔SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER
Why would such a huge number of immigrants voluntarily serve in the army? What incentives would there be to fight? What reasons would there be NOT to fight? Do you think
their reasons would be any different from the average soldier? Why or why not?
Although not technically “immigrants”, Native Americans (including but not limited to
Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and Creeks) also served in both armies. In
fact, before Arkansas seceded from the Union, political leaders in that state decided to convince the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws to go with the Confederacy. People
in neighboring counties with these Native American tribes were very worried about raising
arms against the Union – which, supposedly, was supporting these particular tribes (Official
Records, Series IV, Vol. I). On one occasion, at the battle of Honey Springs (Indian Territory,
July 17, 1863), Native Americans fought for both the “Yanks” and the “Rebs” – meaning that
they, too, were fighting “brother against brother” (CWTI Common Soldier, 8). They had such
interesting names as Crying Bear, George Hogtoter, and Captain Spring Frog – but the
name that stands out among them is Stand Watie, a Cherokee from Georgia who rose to the
rank of General (CWTI Common Soldier, 8).
196
TWO WEEK CURRICULUM FOR TEACHING THE CIVIL WAR
African-A
American Soldiers
in the Civil War
African-American soldiers – both free men and escaped slaves – served the Union, despite
resistance on the part of the whites. Much of the problem was racism. In addition, Abraham
Lincoln feared that enlisting black soldiers would cause the Border States to secede (Idiot’s
Guide to the Civil War, 220). As the war dragged on, though, more and more whites accepted
the idea of black soldiers.
Did you know that, until July 17, 1862, it was illegal for African Americans to serve in the
army? On this date the Confiscation Act allowed African Americans to be employed by the
(Union) military and another law specifically allowed free blacks to be recruited. The first
black unit was the First South Carolina
(Union) Volunteers – mustered in on August
25, 1862. By the end of the war, there were
almost 179,000 African Americans serving in
166 regiments – about 10 percent of the
Union army (Idiot’s Guide to the Civil War,
221).
WHO FOUGHT
IN THE
CIVIL WAR? 3
✔SOME THINGS
TO CONSIDER
Why would the
Border States
secede if African
Americans were
allowed to fight
for the Union?
Getting the chance to fight was another
issue. At first, blacks were assigned to noncombat duties. They built fortifications, dug
trenches, served on burial detail, guarded
supply lines and forts, and so on. One terrible fiasco was the Battle of the Crater at
Petersburg, Virginia (July 30, 1864). The
“Afro-American Army Teamsters” The Ohio Historical
plan was for the 48th Pennsylvania (a regiSociety.
ment made mostly of coal miners) to dig a
tunnel, where four tons of gunpowder would
be placed under the Confederate line. Then, specially trained black soldiers would charge
through the gap. The black soldiers were eager to fight and prove their worth in battle.
At the last minute, however, the black soldiers were pulled from this task and an untrained
white regiment was sent in its place. The unit’s leader was incompetent – and stayed behind
in the trenches drinking rum. The Union WAS successful in making a great big hole – into
which a Southern infantry regiment and an artillery battery disappeared. But, without training or good leadership, the attack failed. The attacking units somehow charged into the hole
and were killed in huge numbers. And, the specially trained black unit got the worst of the
deal. They finally charged through the retreating white soldiers only to be massacred. Some
Southern soldiers were angered to see black soldiers in uniform – and they murdered several
who tried to surrender (Battle Cry of Freedom, 758-760).
So, why wasn’t the black regiment allowed to lead the charge, as planned? First of all, many
people felt that the black troops couldn’t do the job. Second, General Ulysses S. Grant was
afraid that if the attack failed, “it would be said … that we were shoving these people ahead
to get killed because we did not care anything about them. But that could not be said if we
put white troops in front” (Battle Cry of Freedom, 759).
✔SOME THINGS
TO CONSIDER
What would have
happened if the
specially trained
black regiment
had been allowed
to do its job?
Would the outcome of the battle be different?
Is it possible that
the outcome of
the war might
have been different?
C I V I L WA R P R E S E RVAT I O N T R U S T
197
WHO FOUGHT
IN THE
CIVIL WAR? 3
✔SOME THINGS
TO CONSIDER
In what ways did
prejudice cause
the failure at the
Crater?
Have you ever
watched the
movie Glory?
What difficulties
did the black soldiers face?
Being a black Union soldier was very hazardous. Not only did they have to deal with disease,
exposure to the elements, and poor food and sanitary conditions like the rest of the soldiers,
but they also had to deal with the lack of supplies and uniforms, half-pay, and abuse from
white soldiers – both Union and Confederate. Many black soldiers fought “to the death”
because they knew that surrender was not an option. If captured, they could be murdered or
“executed” for “outrages” against the Confederacy (Battle Cry, 566).
Towards the very end of the war, African Americans did serve the Confederacy because there
was such a need for manpower. However, they only served in small numbers and didn’t see
battle – because it was so close to the end of the war. There was huge public outcry at the
idea of arming African-American soldiers. Some politicians realized that arming former
slaves would change Southern perception of the black man: “The day you make soldiers of
them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our
whole theory of slavery is wrong,” said Senator Howell Cobb (The Civil War: A Narrative.
Vol. 3. 859-60).
In the north, when allowed to fight, black soldiers proved themselves to be just as brave and
skilled as any white soldier. They served in 41 major battles and many minor ones, and 21
received the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in action (Common Soldier, 21-22).
The first was Robert Carney, color bearer for the 54th Massachusetts, for bravery during the
assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina.
Note that in both armies, black men served from the very beginning, but in non-fighting
roles.
Despite all the difficulties in joining the Union army, free African Americans were never
prevented from joining the Navy. Unlike in the Army, they received the same pay that white
soldiers received. There were 118,000 sailors in the US Navy – and about 20,000 were
African Americans (National Civil War Naval Museum, 14).
198
TWO WEEK CURRICULUM FOR TEACHING THE CIVIL WAR
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
Conscripts and Substitutes
WHO FOUGHT
IN THE
CIVIL WAR? 4
After all the excitement wore down and more men were needed, the Confederacy enacted
the first conscription act in American history in April of 1862 (in other words, the draft).
The Union did the same eleven months later in the Conscription Act of 1863. These forced
soldiers were not looked upon with kindness by those who had volunteered. When one
group of new “draftees” was brought into battle, a veteran said “some of them looked like
they had been resurrected from the grave, after laying therein for
twenty years or more” (Common Soldier, 10).
The Union Conscription Act of 1863 also allowed anyone who paid
a commutation fee of $300, which was the yearly wage of a common
laborer, to be excused from the draft call. However, he might be
drafted in the next call (Common Soldier, 9).
Stop and Think: The median yearly income for a laborer, in the
year 2000, was $15,015 (Source: www.census.gov). If the
Conscription Act of 1863 occurred in the year 2000 – a person
would have to pay $15,015 to avoid the draft. Does this sound fair to
you? If your father, or brother, were drafted, could your family afford to come up
with $15,000 to keep him home? (Assume
you can’t go to the bank and get a loan for
this!)
Recruitment for men willing
to take the place of another
solider for money was common during the war.
Collection of The New-York
Historical Society
If a Northern man wanted to be exempt
from all drafts, he could hire a substitute to
fight in his place. Confederates also allowed
the hiring of substitutes. They also excused
state and local government officials and
men who owned a certain number of slaves.
A slave-owner could also pay a fee to keep a
white overseer on their land.
A recruitment poster urging
men to volunteer. Courtesy
of the Library of Congress,
Portfolio 158, Folder 4.
The Union also offered financial rewards to volunteers. Rewards
could also come from the state, county, or the town – as everyone
was competing for the remaining men who were willing to serve.
Town officials did not want to lose their productive citizens, so many towns paid the $300
commutation fee for their residents or paid for substitutes after the commutation fee was
eliminated. (If a town really needed a particular individual, such as a doctor or a prominent
leader, they could pay to keep him at home. Not bad, right?)
C I V I L WA R P R E S E RVAT I O N T R U S T
199