The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War

Larry Holzwarth - April 27, 2019

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The overwhelming majority of Civil War soldiers on both sides of the conflict served in the infantry. Wikimedia

33. A soldier from either side was most likely to serve in the infantry

In the Army of the Confederate States of America about 75% of the soldiers were infantrymen. About 5% served in the artillery and 20% in the cavalry. As the war ground down in 1864, much of the cavalry became unhorsed on the Confederate side, as animals died and could not be replaced. While the cavalry units retained that designation, many of them were indistinguishable from the infantry, forced to march on their feet rather than ride. In the Union army about 80% of the men served in the infantry and about 16% in the cavalry, though the Union army grew to be more than twice as large as that of their enemy and thus contained a larger cavalry contingent than the Confederates.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Field ambulances to move the wounded unable to walk were an innovation from Civil War battlefields. Library of Congress

34. The odds of being wounded in action were different for the troops

A Confederate soldier had a roughly 15% chance of being wounded in battle, with about 150 of every 1,000 men being hit. The men of the Union army had a little better chance of emerging unscathed, about 11% were wounded. Given the heavy volume of fire reported by participants in all of the major battles of the war it can be inferred that marksmanship was not exemplary on either side. Many troops of both sides fired over the heads of their enemies in battle. It was the massing of troops in the face of volleys of fire which led to the heavy casualties, as officers continued to use the tactics of the Napoleonic age despite the lethality of more modern weapons.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The destruction wrought by Union troops caused an increase of Confederate desertions by men who believed they should defend their home states from the Yankees. Library of Congress

35. The Confederates fought to defend their home state

While the Confederacy was formed over the issue of slavery most of the men of the Confederate army did not own slaves. For them slavery was an accepted fact of life, since it was the custom and law of the state in which they lived. Most of the men of the Confederate army were draftees after 1862, and served because their state compelled them to defend it from Northern aggression. Throughout the war the morale of the Confederate units was adversely affected by men being forced to serve outside of their home state, and the majority of desertions in the Confederate army were cited as being by men desirous of returning home to protect their property and families.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The many different uniforms worn by units on both sides of the war caused friendly fire incidents in the early years. Wikimedia

36. Before 1863 the troops of either army often couldn’t be distinguished from the other

The troops which responded to Lincoln’s call for volunteers in 1861 responded wearing the uniforms of their individual states, creating a Union army which was clad in blue, black, gray, red, and other colors as well. Later in the war, before the Gettysburg campaign, Confederate units often wore jackets taken from fallen Union troops, or captured from their baggage trains. Friendly fire incidents were frequent and deadly early in the war. Not until 1863 were the units of the Union army clad for the most part in the famed blue uniforms, while Southern units were for the most part in either gray or homespun butternut.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Samuel Clemens deserted from the Confederate Army after just two weeks of military service, which may have been a factor in his adopting a pen name in the west. Wikimedia

37. One Confederate deserter was Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s career as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi was interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War, an event which led him to joining the militia in his native Missouri. He remained with the unit for two weeks before he deserted, fleeing to the west. He later wrote a fictional account of his brief period of military service, but he was considered a deserter, by himself and by others, for the rest of his life. Twain described his two week military career as a period in which he was, “hunted like a rat the whole time” and defended his desertion later in his life by describing the war and slavery as blots on the national character.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Robert E. Lee’s final General Order to the Army of Northern Virginia, April 10, 1865. US Army

38. The Confederate Army simply dissolved at the end of the war

When Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant, the man known for demanding unconditional surrender granted surprisingly generous terms. The entire army was paroled and granted leave to go home. From Appomattox the army, or rather what remained of it, fell apart as the men looked for ways to return to their homes. There was no separation, no discharges, and though a few of the men may have headed off to join the remaining Confederate Army in the field, under Joseph Johnston in North Carolina, the overwhelming majority of Lee’s veterans returned to the homes from whence they came.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Within a year of the surrender at Appomattox, both the Confederate and Union armies exited the world’s stage. Wikimedia

39. The Union Army demobilized quickly after the end of the war

Grant and Sherman commanded huge armies at the end of the American Civil War, and there were arguments that they were still needed to contain the French intervention in Mexico, occupy the defeated South, and control the Native American tribes on the plains. The veterans of the war had other ideas, as did their families at home, and the Union army disbanded with startling speed, from over 1 million men in arms in April 1865, to about 54,000 in May of 1866. Many of the volunteers in the reduced United States Army were veterans from the Confederate Army, particularly in the cavalry units of the Western Plains.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
A stereopticon card depicting a sea of Union army tents in an encampment circa 1864. Wikimedia

40. The soldiers of the Civil War created the largest American Army to be seen until World War One

About two and three quarter million men served in the army on both sides of the American Civil War, roughly two million of them for the Union. Over 600,000 died from combat, disease, or accidents, and in the early 21st century estimates of the total deaths in the military of the Civil War continue to be revised upwards. Several hundred thousand more were maimed physically during the war, and thousands of the post-war veterans were plagued by what is now known as PTSD, undiagnosed at the time. About 6% of the Union troops had been draftees; a considerably larger percentage of the Confederate army was conscripted, a fact often ignored by history.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Leaders on both sides: West Point and the Civil War”. Stars and Stripes. August 17, 2017

“If the Civil War didn’t kill you, the food might”. April Fulton, National Geographic. April 14, 2016

“Breaks in the Action”. Sue Eisenfeld, The New York Times. February 7, 2014

“Life of the Civil War Soldier in Camp”. Gary Helm, American Battlefield Trust.

“Eat your (dessicated) vegetables”. Article, National Museum of Civil War Medicine. January 3, 2019. Online

“The Age of Shoddy”. Ron Soodalter, America’s Civil War Magazine. HistoryNet. February 16, 2018

“Who Fought? The Confederate Soldier”. Article, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Desertion during the Civil War”. Ella Lonn. 1998

“Military Pay”. Article, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Music of the 1860s”. Article, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Civil War Facts: 1861-1865”. Article, The Civil War. National Park Service. Online

“Industry and Economy during the Civil War”. Benjamin T. Harrington, National Park Service. Online

“Small Arms of the Civil War”. Article, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Who was the common soldier of America’s Civil War?” Article, HistoryNet. Online

“Twenty-slave Law”. Susanna Michele Lee, Encyclopedia Virginia. Online

“Did Religion Make the American Civil War Worse?” Allen Guelzo, The Atlantic. August 23, 2015

“Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper”. Article, Gateway Arch National Park, National Park Service. Online

“The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy”. Bell Irvin Wiley. 1979

“The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union”. Bell Irvin Wiley. 2008

“Mark Twain: A Literary Life”. Everett Emerson. 2000

“Homeward Bound: The Demobilization of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1865 – 1866”. William B. Holberton. 2001