The American Civil War: Families and Youths


Figure 1.-- Here we have a Civil War camp scene. The unit was the 31st Pennsylvania Infantry camped near Washington, D.C. A woman is shown with sleeves rolled up holding a basket, posed in front of a tent with a soldier (possibly her husband) and three children.

Countless Ameeican families were touched by the Civil War. This was especially the case in the South where most of the War was fought. Husbands and sons enlised or were drafted and thus separated from the family. Many families were divided, especially in the border states with family members fighting on both sides. Civil War armies commonly had large numbers of youthful soldiers. Many of the soldiers and all of the younger ones were volunteers. Casualties in Civil War battles, however, were so enormous that the draft had to be introduced for the first, but not last time in American history. Given the lethality of Civil War battle, one has to ask why the average soldier, often a youth, on both sides fought. A emense number of letters survive which help answer that question and many Civil War historians have accessed this resource. [McPherson, Fields] Many boys and youths served in both the Federal and Confederate Army. One author has suggested calling the American Civil War the Boys' War. Both the Federal and Confederate armies had youthful soldiers. In addition to military personnel there were also camp followers. Some families followed their husbands and fathers into the War. Here there were both the families and officers. It was the fanilies of enlisted personnel that were most likely to be involved in camp life. Commonly they wouls support themselves by cooking, mending clothes, and doing laundry. We believe that this was much more common with Federal than Condfederate armies. This was in primarily because the Confederacy did not have the logistical capability of adequately supplying the soldiers, let alone camp followers. Also slaves flocked to the Federal lines and were at first used for labor associated with military operations.

Civilians and the War

Countless Ameeican families were touched by the Civil War. This was especially the case in the South where most of the War was fought. The most famous civilzn affected was ?? Mclean. The firt Battle of Mnasas was fought in and around his farm. To get away from the fighting he moved south. He chose a quiet backwoods community--Appomtox Court House. An in an accident of istory, it was here in his prlor that Lee surrendered to Grant. Quiet communities were overwelmed by the fighting. The small crossroad town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with a population of only 2,400 people was suddently inudated with tens of thousands of soldiers. After the 3-day battle there were over 27,000 Confederate and 31,000 Federal losses. The residents of Gettysburg were left to care for the wounded. The military did not have a medical serbice as is now the case. Wounded men filled private homes and the few public buildings. The people of Gettysburg also were left to bury the dead. There were dead men and horses every where. Some how Gettysburg was just shot up. Some southen cities fared much worse. Vickburg was shattered by shelling. Atlanta and Richmond were virtully burned to the ground.

Families Separated

The massive size of Civil Wararmies mean that many men were separated from their families. The United States had fought war before, but never on sych a scale and on continental basis. Before the Civil War, most of th populaton lived their entire lives wuthin about 50 miles of here hey were born. Husbands and sons enlised or were drafted and thus separated from their families, often over substantial distances. A huge photographic record exists of the family members back home. Most of the portraits are, however, are of individuals, in some cases all the children or the mother and children. The most famous portrait of a soldier's childen is an Ambrotype of the Humiston children of a Federal soldier killed at Gettysburg. But these are relatively rare compared to the number of individual portrait. We are archiving family fortraits when we find them as they give such a wonderful view of the folks back home with all kinds of historical abd soiologial information can be gleaned as well as fashion trends. The cost of photographs was coming down with innovaion of the CDV, thus we see an increasing wide soxial spectrum in the photograhic record. Full family portraits, especially thise taken outside the studio are, however, are mostly of well-to-do families. Thus we are archiving the family image that we have been able to find.

Families Divided

Many families were divided, especially in the border states with family members fighting on both sides. This even extended to the White House. he first lady Mary Todd Lincoln was from Kenticky. Many members of the Todd family fought for the Confederacy.

The Soldiers

Many of the soldiers were volunteers. Casualties in Civil War battles, however, were so enormous that the draft had to be introduced for the first, but not last time in American history. Given the lethality of Civil War battle, one has to ask why the average soldier, often a youth, on both sides fought. A emense number of letters survive which help answer that question and many Civil War historians have accessed this resource. [McPherson, Fields] Many boys and youths served in both the Federal and Confederate Army. One author has suggested calling the American Civil War the Boys' War. Thousands of children were directly involved in the Civil War. Older boys served as soldiers. Many younger boys were also invoved, some boys as young as 11 years old. The younger boys generlly served as drummer or bugle boys. Commonly the drummer and bugle boys were 13-15 years of age. Both the Confederate and Union soldiers tried to look after the younger boys. In major engagements they were often sent to the rear when charges into fortifications were planned. In some cases they had to be forced to the rear crying. Such a scene is portrayed in the movie Glory. In addition, over 1 million boys of 17 or under served in the Federal Army alone. Beyond the use of very young boys as drummer boys and bugle boys, about 1 million boys 17 years of age and under fought with the Federal Army alone. Almost surely very large numbers of similarly aged boys fought with the Confederacy, although actual records are less available. Another major contribution was made by Black soldiers. The most famous Black unit was the 54th Massachusetts. While the Confederates were outraged by the Federal use of Blacks, by the ebnd of the War they were considering the formation of their own Black units.

Camp Followers

In addition to military personnel there were also camp followers. Some families followed their husbands and fathers into the War. Here there were both the families and officers. It was the fanilies of enlisted personnel that were most likely to be involved in camp life. Commonly they wouls support themselves by cooking, mending clothes, and doing laundry. We believe that this was much more common with Federal than Condfederate armies. This was in primarily because the Confederacy did not have the logistical capability of adequately supplying the soldiers, let alone camp followers.

Runaway Slaves

fter the Civil War erupted, large numbers of slaves flocked to Federal lines. Federal troops also occupied substantial areas in the rebelious states, primarily in the areas of the South along the Mississippi River and Tenessee. This mean areas with substantial numbers of slaves, especially along the Mississippi. Thus slaves as the War progressed flocked to the Federal lines with the Federal armies moved deeper into the Confederacy. Men, women, and children arrived in large numbers. The slaves who ran away and began reaching Federal units were at first referred to as "contaband". Federal law at the time (before the Emancipation Proclmation became effective--January 1, 1863) required run away slaves to be returned to their masters. Most of their masters, however, were in rebellion and such an action would have alienated northern abolitionists who were strongly supporting the Federal war effort. It would have also hurt the Federal cause in Europe where diplomats were struggling to keep Britain and France from recognizing the South. Both countrues had strong economic ties to the South which was their primary source of cotton. And by returning the runaways it would in effect assist the Confederae war effort. Thus they were at first used for labor associated with military operations.

Orphans

The caualties from Civil War battles were horendous. The War was the nost costly conflict in American history. The losses were ebormous and the American population much smaller than in the 20th century. One of the consequences of so many losses were the children of the soldiers. Not only were large numbers of fathers killed, but many were ikncapcitated to gthe point that they found it difficult to support a family. The Federal Government instituted a pension system to help support widows. The states instituted a variety of programs to help help widows and orphans. Pennsylvania created a Soldiers' Orphan School System. An example was the Chester Springs Soldiers' Orphan School. The schools also provided employment for widows. The Chester Springs School had a female principal, the widow of a soldier. She was the only female principal in the system.

Sources

McPherson, James. BookTV C-Span, October 12, 2002.

McPherson, James. Fields of Fury: The American Civil War (Atheneum, 2002). This well written book is aimed at younger readers. It includes many excerpts from the letters and dairies of young soldiers, both Federal and Confederate, helping to understand why they fought.







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Created: 2:53 AM 11/19/2006
Last updated: 5:22 AM 2/27/2014