6. The Confederate troops were worse off than their Union counterparts in matters of health
A member of the Confederate Army faced a 1 in 5 chance of succumbing to disease. The diseases which crippled the Confederate Army were of the same nature, and for the same reasons, as those of the Union. Throughout the war the Southern army was ill-equipped to deal with both disease and combat wounds. There were fewer doctors in the South when the war began, and many of the troops were treated by volunteer officers in cases of both sickness and injury. Those who became ill usually resorted to ancient folk remedies or those derived by their ancestors from the Native Americans, using bark, roots, and leaves of various plants to brew teas and create salves which did little against disease.
7. The Union issued a new form of vegetables to be eaten on the march
As Union authorities gradually came to realize the need for vegetables in the diet of their troops they adopted an innovative means of supplying them. Vegetables of all types, including greens, roots, and the edible skins of fruits were dried, compressed into cubes or cakes, and sent to the troops to be rehydrated by boiling in water. They were described as desiccated vegetables. Being troops in the field, the men irreverently called them desecrated vegetables. But they ate them, as much for the variation in their diet as for any other reason. During the last year of the Civil War the overall health of the Union Army was better than any preceding period of the conflict.
8. Southern troops made a soup from weeds, herbs, and inedible parts of vegetable plants
In the Confederate Army, particularly as rations dwindled to almost nothing near the end of the war, soldiers made soups out of whatever plant life they could find, including thistles, pokeweed, lambs quarter, tree bark, and anything else. Soldie’s retreating across Georgia before Sherman’s Army were in many ways better off than those in the trenches at Richmond, where the ground had long been stripped bare and offered little in the way of sustenance. The mixture of plants was often such that it induced violent diarrhea, further weakening the men who were already suffering from malnutrition and dehydration.
9. The Union soldier was often poorly equipped in the early years of the war
Because of widespread corruption among the government and its contractors, the Union soldier in the first year of the war appeared to be well-equipped but in many, if not most cases, he was not. Uniforms were of inferior material and quickly fell apart. The same was the case with shoes, which were issued in identical pairs, rather than distinct left and right. Overcoats were of such poor quality that they did little to ward off the winter chill. Clothing was nearly impossible to replace early in the war, since the highest priority of the quartermaster corps was the acquisition and care of horses and mules which moved the army, and the soldier who found his uniform falling apart had little recourse but to attempt to repair it himself.
10. The Confederate soldier was often self-equipped in the early years of the war
When the first news of war with the Northern States swept across the South, patriotic fervor led to a surge of enlistments, to the point that the Confederacy was forced to turn men away. There were simply too many men for the government to clothe and equip at once. Many Southern soldiers entered the field in clothes of their own supply, armed with personally owned weapons. Many were never issued uniforms at all. Their more durable clothing and footwear eventually wore out, but they were spared the morale shattering receipt of clothing which wore out in days rather than months or even years which their Northern counterparts were forced to endure.
11. Johnny Reb was far more likely to desert and go home
Over the course of the Civil War soldiers of the Confederate Army were more likely to desert, returning to their homes and refusing to continue to serve. In Appalachia some irregular units were formed from Southern deserters to defend themselves against the Confederate Army. Officially just over 100,000 men were listed as deserters in the Confederacy over the course of the war. Unofficially, President Jefferson Davis admitted in late 1864 that more than two thirds of the Confederate army were absent without leave, having abandoned their units and gone home to protect their families from Union raids and scavengers among the population of the South.
12. The North had a desertion problem throughout the war as well
Desertion of Union troops was a problem in the second half of the war due to an unpopular and unfair draft, poor morale as a result of how the war was going, and dissatisfaction with army life in general. About one third of Union deserters returned to their units, either voluntarily or after being arrested. Some deserted because they were paid substitutes for draftees who had been told they would only have to serve for a few months, and left at the end of that time. The rate of desertion in the Union army was less than half that of its Southern counterpart, which near the end of the war saw whole companies and even regiments simply dissolve as the men comprising them left for home.
13. Southern soldiers were paid infrequently and inflation meant their purchasing power decreased
At the beginning of the war, Southern troops were paid at about the same rate as their Northern counterpart’s, though Union enlistees received bonuses which the Confederates did not. Both sides paid their lowest ranks about $11 per month. In 1864 the lowest ranking privates of the Confederate Army were given a raise to $18 per month, but payrolls were infrequently met, and the inflation which affected the Confederate dollar throughout the war made it of little value. Confederate troops also had less to spend their money on even on the infrequent occasions on which they were paid. The same inflation affected the civilian population and by 1864 prices in the South had risen more than 9,000%.
14. Both sides kept up morale by singing in camp and on the march
Singing and music were recognized by both sides of the war as essential morale builders, and both sides paid enlistees who served as musicians a higher wage than an infantryman of the same rank. The Southern troops marched to the tunes of Dixie, The Yellow Rose of Texas, and The Bonnie Blue Flag. Their opponents also played and sang Dixie, as well as the Battle Hymn of the Republic and many others. On the eve of the Battle of Stones River the bands of both armies competed with each other until the Northern musicians began playing Home, Sweet Home, which the Confederate musicians joined in and the soldiers of both sides sang together. Over the next three days over 24,000 of them became casualties.
15. Both sides sang the other’s music, with modifications
Often as a means of mocking their opponents, both sides adopted and adapted the songs of their enemies. As Southern troops listened to their musicians playing Dixie, they were often treated to the sound of their Union opponents singing, “Away down south in the land of traitors, rattlesnakes and alligators…” Southern troops could respond with the American tune Yankee Doodle, though the hated word Yankee was used in a different context and the introduction to the song became rendered as, “Dixie whipped old Yankee Doodle early in the morning…” The Confederates designated a song as their National Anthem, God Save the South. The United States did not have an official National Anthem until the 1920s.
16. A Southern soldier was more likely to have been born in the United States
Immigrants served in both armies of the Civil War, but far more so in the Union armies than those of the South, largely because there were many more of them in the Northern cities when the war began. The typical southern soldier was from an agricultural background, born in the state in whose regiments he served, and owned little or no real property. Most of the southern soldiers were not large slave owners, and many had never owned any slaves at all. By 1863 the majority of the Confederate troops were conscripts, rather than volunteers, and were enlisted to serve for the duration of the war, a situation similar to that of their Union counterparts.
Most of the soldiers of the Civil War were American born citizens, but the Northern Army in particular was liberally supported by immigrants. About 25% of the troops which wore the blue of the Union army were foreign born, chiefly from Germany and Ireland. It was the second time large numbers of Germans fought in an American war, after the use of German hired troops by the British in the American Revolutionary War. Both the Irish and Germans were intermingled with state units and fielded units of their own, such as New York’s 69th Militia, which became famous as the Irish Brigade, fought with distinction throughout the war, and left behind the nickname, the Fighting Irish.
18. The agricultural South lagged behind the North in production
One of the enduring myths of the Civil War is that the South was an agricultural society which was beaten because of the industrial superiority of its foe. While the North did exceed the South in industrial capacity, it also dwarfed the agricultural production of the Confederacy. Southern states produced nearly all of the nation’s rice and cotton, but in all other major crops, such as wheat, corn, and beans of all sorts, the Union out-produced the Confederacy at the beginning of the war, and continued to do so throughout. For example, in 1861 the Union’s farms produced over 100 million bushels of wheat to the Confederacy’s 35 million.
19. The Union forces had more readily available livestock
The image of the Southern cavalier, mounted on fine horses and outriding his Union counterpart is another enduring myth of the Civil War. The Union held a clear advantage in horses, mules, and oxen, which was apparent both when the armies were on the march and in engagements. At the beginning of the war there were about 3.4 million horses in the states which comprised the Union, with less than half of that number in the states forming the Confederacy. Similar comparisons for other draft animals gave the Union a clear advantage, which only increased throughout the war as the South lost animals which could not be replaced.
20. The Union soldier was more likely to be a trained artisan than his Southern counterpart
In 1861 the number of factories in the Northern states exceeded those of the South by a factor of ten. While the majority of the troops in both armies came from farms, the Union army nonetheless held a core of trained manufacturers and mechanics which the South lacked for the most part. They provided a technical background which gave the Union Army an advantage in the field, and a superiority in the maintenance of equipment and facilities which the Southerners lacked throughout the war. The US Army’s Corps of Engineers (of which Robert E. Lee had once been an officer) outperformed their Southern counterparts, since the South lacked enough trained mechanics to carry out their projects.
21. The Union troops came to be better armed than their enemies
Both sides marched to war in 1861 armed for the most part with smoothbore muzzle-loading muskets, similar to the weapons carried during the Revolution. In some cases they were the same weapons, handed down through the generations. As the war went on, developments in weapons and the superiority of Northern industry led to the troops of the Union army carrying weapons which provided them with a greater rate of fire than the Confederates, as well as increased range and accuracy. Although the Confederates received some modern weapons via blockade runners and smugglers, by 1863 the army was thoroughly outgunned by the Union, in small arms and artillery.
Although there was a great deal of what can only be called unusual spelling and grammar evident in their letters home, the average soldier of the Civil War on either side could read and write. Much of what is known about life in the army comes from the surviving letters written, to wives, sweethearts, parents, siblings, and friends throughout the war. The Union had a more efficient postal system, and letters to and from the troops usually found their way to their destination quickly, while in the South the mail often languished for weeks and even months. Writing letters was a popular means of passing idle time, and thousands of men kept diaries and journals, many of them still in private hands today.
23. Johnny Reb was more likely to be a draftee early in the war
The first official government conscription of troops occurred in the Confederacy in April 1862. By then it was clear to the Confederate government that there was an insufficient level of volunteers available to defend the fledgling nation and allow it to survive. The Confederate draft later exempted men who owned twenty or more slaves, and wealthy slave owners divided their slaves among sons and other relatives and friends, protecting them from the draft. The burden of conscription thus fell overwhelmingly on the less wealthy, and the draft was thoroughly resented among the poor, particularly in the Appalachian regions of the South.
24. The men of both sides wanted their pictures taken
Photography was a relatively new art form during the Civil War, and the novelty of having one’s picture taken appealed to the men of both sides. Soldiers of the Civil War were accommodated by photographers which followed the armies on the march, and many posed in their uniforms, sending the pictures home to be displayed in the parlors of their families. Many of them were later photographed as they lay dead following the battles of the war, often in photographs which were staged by photographers working for Alexander Gardner, Matthew Brady and others, to be displayed in their studios revealing the horrors of the war as it unfolded.
25. Both sides sought relief from boredom in the long encampments
On average about one day in thirty saw contact with the enemy through the course of the Civil War. The remaining time was spent in finding ways to combat unceasing ennui. Drilling and the rudiments of military life led to boredom which the average soldier found oppressive. To fight it, Northern troops played baseball, held boxing matches, and fell back on the activity practiced by armies since ancient times, gambling. Their Southern counterparts did the same, as well as holding wrestling matches and footraces, as well as cockfights, though as the war went on chickens became scarce and when found usually became food as soon as a fire could be started.
26. Nearly all of the men of both sides carried a Bible
The overwhelming majority of the troops on the Southern side carried and read the King James Version of the Bible, since most were of Protestant faith. The same was true of the Union Army, though a fairly large contingent of Irish Catholics also were present. Sunday church services were mandatory in the Confederate Army, as they were in most of the Confederacy. Roughly 150,000 Confederate soldiers were converted to Christianity through revivals held among the troops during the years of the Civil War, most of them becoming Baptists. The Union Army also saw large numbers of men converted during the war, though their Commander in Chief, Abraham Lincoln, remains to date the only American president to have never joined a church.
27. A Confederate soldier wore no medals on his uniform
The soldiers of the Union Army were eligible for medals, including the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor, which was first awarded during the Civil War. Their counterparts serving the South were not. Although medals were authorized for the officers and men of the Confederate Army none could be obtained, and Robert E. Lee stated that the highest honor to be accorded the men under his command was to be “mentioned in dispatches”. Over fifteen hundred men of the Union army and navy were awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during the Civil War, but not one such award was issued for the men serving the Confederacy, though many men entered Southern legend through their efforts being recorded in the reports of their senior officers.
28. Both sides practiced illegal theft of food and supplies
While on the march, the troops of both sides were admonished by their officers not to steal the produce of civilians. Both sides ignored the orders. Officially foodstuffs taken from farmers and merchants was to be paid for; unofficially the troops of both armies simply took what they wanted. Besides food, items of value were looted by the men of both armies. As Sherman marched through Georgia and later South Carolina he found many farms and towns already looted by the Southern troops retreating before him. By that stage of the war neither side had any qualms about taking whatever they wanted, despite regulations in both armies prohibiting theft from civilians.
29. Union troops read of their exploits in newspapers and magazines
The men of the Union Army read the newspapers of the day in their encampments, no doubt with frequent howls of derision at the descriptions of their travails and the activities of their commanders. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper was a popular periodical in the Union camps, as was its competitor, Harper’s Weekly. Both carried often vivid descriptions of the battles fought by the contending armies, and both were staunchly pro-Union anti-slavery publications which often used words such as crusade to describe the war to end slavery. All of the Union newspapers and magazines of the day featured artwork, but not photographs.
30. Johnny Reb read newspapers and magazines as well
The most popular periodical in the camps of the Confederate Army was the Southern Literary Messenger, which was published in Richmond and which had in an earlier day been edited by Edgar Allan Poe. The Messenger continued publication until June, 1864, when it was forced to stop its presses, in part because of the situation in Richmond. The Southern Illustrated News was also popular. Also published in Richmond it was unabashedly favorable to the government of the Confederacy, and continued to publish until that government was forced to flee the capital in April, 1865, as Lee and the remnants of his army retreated towards Appomattox and surrender.
31. The majority of the soldiers of both sides had never been far from home before
Most of the men who fought in the Civil War had never been more than a few miles from their home when they entered the army. The open country through which they marched was an exotic, foreign land. It was the first time many of them had ever been on a train, or a barge, and for many men of the rural north the first time they had ever seen a black man in person. After the war nearly all of the troops on both sides returned to their homes rather than settle in lands which they had first seen during the war. The Civil War was a lesson to the men of both sides of the vastness of the country in which they lived, as well as the diverse nature of its settlement.
32. Nearly all of the troops on both sides saw combat
Unlike subsequent wars fought by the United States, in which armies developed large logistical tails of troops which never engaged in actual combat, nearly all of the men in the armies of both sides saw action during the war. The armies of the North and South were fighting armies, and the likelihood of an able-bodied soldier of either side avoiding combat was remote, up until the end of 1864. Garrisons and supply positions were usually taken up by men who had previously seen action and were no longer able, due to injury or age, to perform with the frontline troops. By the end of the war the South conscripted able-bodied men of all ages to place them with the remaining armies, up until the day Robert E. Lee surrendered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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