Camp Life

Regardless of their motivation to enter the army, most volunteers had an overly romantic picture of combat and eagerly sought to enter into battle or as they phrased it, ''see the elephant.'' If men desired to participate in a grand battle immediately, they quickly became disabused of this notion as they discovered that soldiers spent more time in camp than on the battlefield. At first, camp provided its own excitement, for many men had never been so far from home before, nor had they ever met so many new acquaintances their age. Soldiers, especially Northerners, took the opportunity to

Engineers of the 8th New York State Militia, 1861. (National Archives)

have their pictures taken, most likely for the first time in their lives. A camp's early thrills soon disappeared as men settled into the monotony of army life. According to one Yankee's sarcastic description of a typical day at a camp of instruction, ''The first thing in the morning is drill, then drill, then drill again. Then drill, drill, a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly drill. Between drills, we drill and sometimes stop to eat a little and have roll-call'' (Robertson 1988, 48). Officers intended drills to prepare men for marching and fighting as a unit and to ensure that soldiers would follow orders during combat. Although the armies drilled to improve their cohesion in battle, they spent surprisingly little time practicing tactics or even shooting at targets.

Not only could drilling be dull—and frustrating for those who did not know left from right—but it also meant following orders. If volunteers on both sides fought for their own liberty, they quickly discovered that preserving their liberty in the long run meant sacrificing it in the short run. Soldiers had lived in societies that preached equality, independence, and a democracy of white men. When entering the army, volunteers did not easily give up their democratic leanings, and they initially followed them by electing their officers. Yet an army operated from the top down, and officers, whether appointed or elected, gave orders that had to be followed rather than debated. Soldiers in both armies united in their repeated complaints about officers who abused their power. Southerners had an easy reference point for men who lacked independence and were subject to the orders of another—slaves. These white men resented treatments that smacked of slavery, such as having to wake up to the sound of a horn at 5:00 a.m., facing corporal punishment for violating orders, and having to carry a pass to leave camp. Northern volunteers also recognized that officers' treatment of their men had a parallel with the South's peculiar institution, with one succinctly noting, ''yesterday a freeman—today a slave'' (Geer in Mitchell 1988, 58).

Despite these complaints, there was more to camp life than sacrificing one's independence and drilling all day. Soldiers had a significant amount of free time, and they took advantage of it. As young men asserting their masculinity, they enjoyed such sports as racing, boxing, and baseball, which saw its popularity grow as a result of the Civil War. Additionally, responsible young men attended religious meetings or wrote letters home, with the typical thousand-man regiment sending out hundreds of letters per day. Others spent their time running camp newspapers or participating in debating societies. More commonly, they sang many of the songs that have become synonymous with the Civil War, including ''John Brown's Body,'' the ''Battle Cry of Freedom,'' ''Home Sweet Home,'' ''When Johnny Comes Marching Home,'' and ''When This Cruel War Is Over.'' Young men with free time, however, did not limit themselves to engaging in worthwhile endeavors. Some soldiers showed their maturity by practicing self-restraint, but others enjoyed the opportunity to practice the masculine vices of drinking, gambling, and visiting prostitutes.

In camp, Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs alike discovered that military service not only struck at their autonomy, but it also struck at their health. In addition to introducing soldiers to new diversions, camp life introduced them to unfamiliar microbes. Soldiers, especially those from small, isolated

Frederick M. Osborne (1845-1923)

Although Frederick Osborne did not fight in as many famous battles as Samuel Watkins did, many of his fellow soldiers would have recognized his Civil War experience as more typical. In the summer of 1861, Osborne, a 16-year-old boy from Salem, Massachusetts, enlisted in the town's Union Drill Club, which soon became Company F of the Massachusetts Twenty-third Regiment. Osborne started the conflict auspiciously, participating in one of the Union's early victories, a successful amphibious assault on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, in February 1862. Despite spending four hours wading through waist-high water in a swamp, Osborne emerged in high spirits. This brief battle, however, represented the peak of Osborne's military career.

After Roanoke Island, Osborne's unit served mainly in a garrison function in North Carolina, building bridges, patrolling the eastern part of the state, and serving as a police force. Through letters, Osborne and his family kept in close touch, with Osborne surprisingly worried that they sent him too many packages. At one point, he sent part of a package back home to his mother, for he felt that he already communities, lacked immunity to many common maladies. Additionally, in 1861, volunteers did not face a medical screening before enlistment and as many as 25 percent of the men, according to a Union government report, should have been rejected as unfit for duty. Compounding this error, officers chose campsites based on strategic rather than health considerations, and widespread ignorance regarding the transmission of diseases led soldiers to drink polluted water, place latrines in bad locations, and practice poor sanitation and personal hygiene habits. Soldiers multiplied these mistakes by eating a diet deficient in vitamins and minerals. Epidemics of measles, mumps, and chicken pox debilitated many units in the early weeks at their camps of instruction. Many units lost more than one-third of their soldiers before entering into combat. The average regiment at Shi-loh in April 1862 contained only 560 men rather than the 1,000 originally recruited. More deadly diseases, including malaria, typhoid fever, and dysentery, decimated the ranks, with the Union Army reporting more than 1 million cases of malaria alone. The ever-increasing presence of fleas, lice, mosquitoes, flies, and other pests further exacerbated the problem. Overall, soldiers justly feared these diseases for they killed many more men than combat did. Of the 360,000 total Union deaths, an estimated 250,000 stemmed from disease, with dysentery alone killing 57,265. Poor Confederate recordkeeping makes it impossible to know how many Southern soldiers died in this manner, but some historians estimate that as many as three-fourths of the 260,000 Confederate deaths resulted from disease.

In considering their health, soldiers justly blamed their rations, which they regarded as inferior in terms of both quantity and quality, with the absence of vegetables being the most significant detriment to their health. In both armies, men generally ate in a ''mess'' with three to eight of their comrades. Northern soldiers subsisted primarily on coffee, bacon, and half-

had far too much to carry. Nevertheless, that rebuff did not mean that Osborne begrudged all items from home. He often made specific requests regarding clothing, especially footwear, which he needed. In return, he sent several photographs of himself home.

Though Osborne did not experience too many hunger pangs, he did suffer from both chronic dysentery and a severe knee injury that ultimately forced him out of his regiment and into the nonfighting Invalid Corps. Osborne was not alone in his inability to serve in the Massachusetts 23rd. In 1864, when the unit entered its most significant military engagement at Drury's Bluff, Virginia, only 226 men out of its original 1,000-man contingent took part. In his letters home, Osborne stoically did not complain about his health. He reserved his carping for the way the army treated enlisted men and for shirkers who dodged the draft. Having enlisted for three years, Osborne declined to accept a furlough and a bonus to reenlist and instead mustered out of the army on September 28, 1864.

inch thick crackers called hardtack, although they often referred to the latter by more creative names such as ''sheet iron cracker,'' ''tooth duller,'' or ''worm castle.'' Army regulations specified beans, rice, and potatoes, but these foods were less prevalent. Initially, the Confederate Army stipulated that it would supply the same rations as the Union Army. This goal quickly proved unobtainable, and by the spring of 1862, the army had reduced the standard ration, and it would reduce it again in 1864. Confederates lived on cornbread and pickled beef and considered captured Yankee coffee to be a luxury. Occasionally, Johnny Rebs cooked their meat and cornbread together in grease to form a concoction they termed ''cush.'' Living in a land of plenty, Southern soldiers' diets worsened as the war dragged onward, primarily because their army's supply system collapsed. In both armies, soldiers on the march or in combat received less food than those in camp with soldiers in besieged garrisons, such as Confederates in Vicksburg and Port Hudson in 1863, who were compelled to eat boiled weeds and, in rare cases, mules and rats.

Both sides tried to find ways to supplement their inferior diets. Some soldiers received food from home, and others purchased food from sutlers, civilians who followed the army selling a variety of goods to soldiers. Sutlers' exorbitant prices, however, made them extremely unpopular and made their wares inaccessible to many. Foraging represented the most common way that both Union and Confederate soldiers augmented their diets. Foraging ranged from picking berries and nuts to stealing chickens and hogs to taking food at gunpoint. Later in the war, soldiers from both sides expanded the pillaging aspect of foraging. Union soldiers had come to see taking the war to Southern civilians as a method of defeating the Confederacy, and consequently, the interests of their stomachs and their nation coincided. In contrast, Confederates felt that they deserved the full support of Southern civilians and that this support should include access to civilian food supplies.

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