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 men who fought the Civil War in the ranks of the Confederate and Union Armies shared many similarities, while they also exhibited many differences. In both armies the men were usually between the ages of 19 and 29, white, of a Protestant faith, about 5’8″, and weighed just over 140 pounds. The overwhelming majority were born and raised on farms. Those from the South considered themselves to be Virginians, or Mississippians, or Georgians, while those in the Union Army identified as Americans. Though mostly farmers, the ranks of both armies were also filled with the tradesmen of the day, carpenters and wheelwrights, leatherworkers and printers, dentists and apothecaries. Here are some of the similarities and differences between “Billy Yank” and “Johnny Reb”.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Union troops on what was then called Mason’s Island (Roosevelt’s Island) in the Potomac. The large building on the hill in the center is Georgetown University. Library of Congress

1. They were for the most part trained in the same manner

The senior officers of both armies were for the most part trained in the military arts at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Besides the officers of the contending armies sharing that common bond, they also shared the training in methods of leadership and discipline over the men under their command. Men of the Confederate Army fell under regulations and a code of conduct which was all but the same as that of the Union, subject to similar discipline and military bearing. As the war went on, Southern troops found it more difficult to maintain regulation military appearance, as uniforms and equipment wore out and an inadequate supply system failed to replace them, a problem not often encountered by the Union troops.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The Union maintained a better supply chain to its troops using rail and naval vessels, and the Union army was better fed as a result. Library of Congress

2. The Union troops’ daily bread was hardtack

Soldiers in the Union Army were allotted three quarters of a pound ofsalt pork or a pound of salt beef daily. When fresh beef was available a larger portion was had. Most often the meat was salt preserved, and when the army was on the march during a campaign it always was. In camp they sometimes received fresh meat, including lamb. For bread they were issued 22 ounces per day, usually in the form of a hard, dry cracker known as hardtack. The bread was so hard that the troops often had to soften it by soaking it in their coffee or water in order to chew it. Those with bad teeth, a common complaint in that era of primitive dentistry, often had to do without any bread at all. Freshly baked bread in loaves was only available in long term encampments.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Private Japhet Collins of the Confederate States Army, circa 1861. Wikimedia

3. Johnny Reb relied on corn for his daily ration of bread

As the war went on rations for the Confederate Army dwindled to next to nothing. Early in the war Southern troops were issued either bacon or beef, both usually preserved with salt, and a ration of flour which they mixed with water to form flat breads, usually fried. As flour became scarce the Confederate authorities supplanted it with corn meal, and cornbread and corn meal mush became the main source of grains in the Confederate diet. Coffee soon became scarce in the Confederate Army, and the Southerners took to brewing a mixture of chicory and coffee, or chicory alone, as a substitute for the beverage. Coffee and chicory remained a popular beverage in the Deep South for more than a century following the war.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Troops of the armies traded with each other, with tobacco and coffee being valued commodities. Wikimedia

4. Both sides traded with each other, though it was against regulations to do so

The advance pickets of both armies, especially along the front lines in Virginia, communicated with their counterparts on the other side. Tobacco in the Union army was relatively expensive, available from the camp suppliers known as sutlers. Coffee on the other hand was rationed liberally to the troops. On the Southern side the opposite held true, with coffee a rarity but tobacco available in plenty. Soldiers of both armies exchanged tobacco for coffee, as well as trading other items, including alcohol. The trading was officially against regulations on both sides, but was so widespread that the officers of each army largely ignored the practice.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Union soldiers were generally healthier than their counterparts in the Confederate army. Library of Congress

5. The Union soldier was healthier, but only marginally so

During the Civil War a soldier of the Union Army had roughly a 1 in 8 chance of dying from disease contracted while serving. Many of the diseases were those resulting from poor diet and worse sanitation and hygiene, including dysentery, amoebic diarrhea, scurvy, and the like. Diets high in sodium and low in fresh fruits and vegetables were a contributing factor. So was foul water, which often became contaminated when the armies remained in one place for extended periods. Diseases spread by lice also were problems for the armies due to inadequate bathing and the failure to air or replace bedding regularly. Ensuring that their men practiced good hygiene was not a high priority for some officers, and their men suffered from it as a result.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Confederate Army winter quarters in 1862. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
An encampment of Union cavalry near Brandy Station, Virginia, during the winter of 1863-64. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Both sides established company kitchens when encamped, which prepared the meals for the full company. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The quality of clothing, shoes, and other equipment was often poor in the early days of the war, due to unscrupulous contractors. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
A well-equipped Confederate soldier in the uniform of the Virginia Volunteers, likely from very early in the war. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Compulsory service initiated by the Confederate government led to a high rate of desertion by 1863. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
In the North the perceived unfairness of the draft led to desertions and draft riots. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Confederate paper money included the depiction of slaves working on a hundred dollar note, while inflation ravaged its purchasing power. Wikimedia

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%.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Fife and drum units and regimental bands were important parts of both armies. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Patriotic songs and martial music were published on both sides during the war, and frequently sung by both armies. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Soldiers of the Confederate Army were nearly all native born Americans, as there had been little immigration to the South. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Officers of the 69th New York (the Irish Brigade) pose around a cannon in Virginia. Wikimedia

17. About 25% of the Union army were foreign born

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Northern farms outproduced those of the South and Northern railroads ensured better distribution of the products. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The number of draft animals and riding mounts were all in favor of the Union from the beginning to the end of the war. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Union General Phil Sheridan stands at the flagpole in this photograph which includes some of his officers. Sheridan’s cavalry was supported by army leatherworkers, saddlemakers, and blacksmiths. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
As the war went on the Union grew superior to the Confederates in all forms of armaments and weapons. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper was popular with Union troops throughout the war. Wikimedia

22. Both Yank and Reb were likely to be literate

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The Confederate government started conscription a full year before the Union, and extended it throughout the war. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The war was photgraphed extensively, and troops of both sides were only too happy to pose for the camera. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The game of baseball was so popular with the troops under Abner Doubleday’s command he became known as the inventor of the game, though he was not. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The Irish Brigade was largely Catholic, and as with their fellow units the Bible was carried by most of the men. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Joshua Chamberlain was one of more than 1,500 men who were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Foraging parties of both sides came under numerous regulations, which were widely ignored. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Throughout the war Union troops could read of their actions in newspapers and magazines. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
The Southern Literary Messenger was published from this Richmond building until 1864, when the impending collapse of the city’s defenses forced it to close. Wikimedia

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Boys who had never been more than a few miles from home experienced scenes like this one, after the Battle of Savage Station in 1862. Library of Congress

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.

The Daily Lives of Confederate Soldiers vs. Union Soldiers During the Civil War
Union artillery, Fair Oaks, Virginia in 1862, during the the fighting known as the Seven Days. Library of Congress

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.

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