Army life

Because Civil War soldiers were extensions of their local communities, they adopted symbols, uniforms, names, and flags reflective of these prewar associations that gave a unit an identity. Several Northern units adopted the Zouave uniform worn by French troops. It consisted of a red turban

Lew Wallace, famous after the Civil War as the author of Ben Hur, commented about the Zouave uniforms of the 11th Indiana Regiment, which bore his name as the 'Wallace Zouaves': 'There was nothing of the flashy Algerian colors in the uniform of the Eleventh Indiana; no red fez. no red breeches, no red or yellow sash with tassels big as early cabbages. Our outfit was of the tamest grey twilled goods, not unlike home made jeans - a visor cap, French in pattern, its top of red cloth not larger than the palm of one's hand; a blue flannel shirt with open neck, a jacket Greekish in form, edged with narrow binding, the red scarcely noticeable; breeches baggy but not petticoated; button gaiters connecting below the knees with the breeches, and strapped over the shoes,' (Painting by Don Troiani, www.historicalartprints.com)

with white band and orange tinsel, a short blue jacket with gold trimming, loose red trousers and yellow buckskin leggings. The 11th Indiana Zouaves, known as the 'Wallace Zouaves' in honor of their commander, Lew Wallace, wore a midwestern variation of the uniform. Still, whatever their specific unit identities, Northerners became known as 'Billy Yanks,' and Southerners became known as 'Johnny Rebs.'

In the tradition of their democratic heritage, soldiers were allowed to elect many of their officers, while some were appointed by politicians. Of course, this presented problems as friends or enemies-turned-soldiers could find taking orders from these persons awkward. The core of military life, however, was discipline and uniformity, both of which caused problems for the typical soldier. Disrespect for authority was the first and most common offense committed by men of blue and gray. Although both governments attempted to nationalize their armies, Northerners proved more amenable to adherence to regulations and nationalism than did Southerners.

Varied uniforms and equipment became a problem, and soon the governments enforced a standardized code in both. Because gray had been the popular color of militia and cadet uniforms in the prewar years, both sides initially marched off in variations of the same color. The Union would eventually adopt blue as the official uniform color, as that had been the color of uniforms in the professional army. Confederates would eventually adopt gray as their national color.

Because most soldiers marched through landscapes that were vastly different from their local communities, soldiers were initially awed by the grandeur of their surroundings. Camps were where soldiers spent the bulk of their time, and they became both homes and training grounds, filled with excitement at some times and endless monotony at others. The discipline of drill and training could prove the difference between life and death in combat, so soldiers spent hours each day drilling and preparing for the inevitable fight. Soldiers in the Western Theater typically slept in tents or huts, depending on the weather. The shelter tent or 'dog tent,' as it was commonly known for its small size, was the standard issue by 1862. Soldiers rose at 5.00 am, assembled, drilled, ate breakfast, then went to their assigned duties. The bugle sounded lunch at noon, and regimental drill followed for two to three hours. Soldiers then returned to their quarters until dress parade at 6.00 pm, followed by dinner and free time until 9.00 pm.

Soldiers spent their free time writing letters home, detailing their reactions to their new surroundings, politics, and emotions about missing home. When they were not writing, they were reading dime novels and newspapers from home or national newspapers, including the popular pictorial papers such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated, Harper's Weekly, and Southern Illustrated News. Soldiers frequently indulged in playing cards, horse racing, drinking, fist-fighting, storytelling, animal chasing, and other irreverent activities to escape the loneliness of army life.

When time permitted, theatrical productions gave the men immense pleasure. Bambasties Furioso, a farce staged by the Confederate 9th Kentucky, was the hit of the 1862-63 season in the west.

Singing was as popular as letter writing, and soldiers were just as expressive in song as they were in writing. Soldiers voiced their longing for home, their patriotism to the cause, and their sentimental feeling for the fight. Billy Yank and Johnny Reb alike sang 'Home, Sweet Home,' 'The Girl I Left Behind,' and 'When This Cruel War is Over.' 'The Bonnie Blue Flag' and 'Dixie' were popular with Confederates and Federals enjoyed 'Yankee Doodle' and 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' Northern soldiers passed the hours marching to the popular tune 'John Brown's Body.' At the beginning of the war, brass

Brass bands accompanied many units into the Civil War and soldiers came to greatly appreciate them. Here the 'Tiger Band' of the 125th Ohio Regiment poses for a picture. (Massachusetts Commandery Military Order of the Loyal Legion and the US Army Military History Institute)

bands accompanied many units into service, and they were constant sources of entertainment throughout the conflict.

The novelty of camp life soon wore off, however, and during the long indistinguishable days of boring life, preachers and camp chaplains attempted to maintain morale among the ranks. Religion proved to be the link between the home front and the battlefront. When all else failed, faith in God provided hope that life might improve. Army chaplains on both sides received officer status and substantial pay- $100 per month in the Union and $80 in the Confederacy. Still, they were forced to live a spartan life and, as the war continued, both sides suffered chronic shortages of qualified chaplains. Nonetheless, whether they attended Sunday service or not, Civil War soldiers relied on scriptures and faith to get them through combat. Pennsylvanian Milton Ray expressed a typical sentiment to his sister; 'I hope you may continue in earnest prayer for the preservation of my life if it is God's holy will that I should be spared ... Pray that I may be a faithful soldier of the cross and of my country.'

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment