The American Civil War was as a result of political disputes as well as conflicting cultural perspectives between the Northern and the Southern states. From 1858, there was a conflict between the two states concerning the issue of slavery, which resulted to the Southern leadership considering separation from the United States. In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln, representing the Republican Party which was anti-slavery, won the elections and the slave states made good their threat for secession. These states consisted of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas forming the Confederate States of America. The war started when the Confederate attacked Fort Sumter and later after 4 years, the Union Army defeated the Confederate army and a total of 620,000 soldiers from both sides lost their lives. Despite the soldiers fighting for different sides, they both went through similar experiences. They were driven by the same motivation to fight, and the hardships borne during the war were strikingly similar. 1 This paper sets out to analyze these similarities between the Union and Confederate States’ soldiers during the American civil war.
Most confederate and union soldiers voluntarily enlisted to participate in the civil war following strong moral as well as ideological convictions though some were driven by adventure. Both sides were thus motivated to fight because they were strongly patriotic with a greater sense of nationalism. They also had strong cultural values which inspired them with the desire to take part in the war. They felt that it was their obligation to participate in order to defend their personal honor and service to their community. Peer pressure, as well as religious beliefs, also played important roles in making recruits to enlist. All these acted as strong driving forces which made the armies from both sides to persevere despite the hardships experienced. 2
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Army recruits from the North joined the federal army because they wanted to save the union whose existence they thought was being threatened by the seceded states which were trying to unlawfully disintegrate it. They also aimed to defend the United States constitution to ensure that the principles contained therein were preserved. The Southern soldiers were driven by the same strong sense of nationalism and patriotism though they fought for a different cause. They swore their allegiance to the South, rather than the United States government. Their reason for fighting was to seek independence from the federal government. Their objective was to ensure that the South governs itself and not be subjected to the rule of the federal government. For both armies, their claim for the fight was liberty. Both groups had no clue as to the realities of battle and initially, they enlisted in large numbers because they thought it to be adventurous. During the war, however, their outlook changed. Courage was also a common element that kept the soldiers going despite the tough conditions that they faced in the battlefield. Through courage, these soldiers were disciplined, for it assured them of success, provided them a substitute for victory, cushioned them against battlefield trauma and tied them to their enemies. 3
Poor hygienic conditions
The North had better infrastructure in terms of factories and industries and as such, facilitated the union soldiers with better equipment and had better access to supplies due to the presence of railroads. The South did not have as many factories and industries and for that reason, confederate soldiers lacked equipment since they could not produce them. During the war, they had to survive through without the basic items. During winter, both armies constructed log cabins to help protect them from the wind though the federal army had the chimney which would help them make fires and the unions armies did not have. During warmer months in summer and spring, both armies used tents but for the southern ranks, they utilized make-shift shelters containing hay over two logs due to the scarcity of canvas for building tents. For an army to be efficient and effective, it requires a healthy, strong and energetic team of soldiers. 4
The issue of health presented a big challenge to both troops. Diseases were a big problem that affected both ranks mainly due to unhygienic conditions. More people died as a result of disease infestations rather than the actual combat. Death resulting from disease was twice as high as that caused by battle. The food was not well preserved and as such, food poisoning alongside other food related diseases became common. Other diseases included pneumonia, STDs, Malaria, Measles, Dysentery, severe diarrhea, chicken pox, colds, and mumps. At the time, people were ignorant of the importance of hygiene. They did not associate it with health. Even during surgeries, it was not put into the account and people died from infections. Personal hygiene was also a problem as they rarely changed their clothes and merely went for quick dips in cold streams without actually bathing. 5
When soldiers went for long marches or engaged in battle, it would take days before they ate. Their diet was poor, consisting of coffee, salted meat and pieces of dry bread which were not enough to their satisfaction and they thus had to supplement it with their meager wages by buying from peddlers and settlers. They even had to seek support from home though the process was long and seldom successful. Soldiers had to cook for themselves on a daily basis, rations that were provided by their armies. They even constructed the shelters that they used to stay in. 6 Death was always expected as so many people died during the civil war. Soldiers witnessed friends and foes dying and were constantly aware of the fact that they faced the same predicament on a daily basis. 7
In both camps, the nature of service was the same, characterized by irregular activities. There were prolonged periods of inactivity and soldiers would occasionally be forced to march under severe weather conditions; hot summer days and cold winter snowstorms. During periods of action, they would be subjected to intensive action with great danger and during combat, the same fighting strategies were used whereby, soldiers from both sides would just stand and shoot at each other. Soldiers experienced boredom in their camps as the life they lived was monotonous. There were too many hardships including illness, insufficient food supplies, and general discomfort. 8
In both the confederate and union armies, there were those soldiers who could not take the hardships anymore and decided to quit from their service. There are numerous causes that led the soldiers to desert 9 . However, more union soldiers deserted as compared to confederate soldiers. It was estimated that approximately 280,000 Union soldiers left while 104,000 confederate soldiers also quitted. Some were overcome by hunger and opted to go and look for food while others could not withstand the long marches and decided to go back to their units. Other soldiers, especially from the South, had to leave in order to support their families back at home. The consequences for deserting were severe as they faced serious punishment including reprimand, imprisonment, flogging and in some cases execution. The execution was not commonly used because the armies needed more soldiers and could thus not afford to lose them. It was only occasionally used in order to discourage other who were planning to escape. 10
The American civil war became the war of Black liberation 11 .In both armies, there were Black soldiers. In the Union Army, approximately 180,000 Blacks served in the battle. This number consisted of free men and slaves who had escaped from their masters. Initially, Blacks were not allowed to fight, following public prejudice and President Abraham Lincoln’s opposition as he claimed that accepting Blacks into the army would push Border States such as Missouri to the confederacy. Later, this changed due to the prolonged war requiring more soldiers as the number of Northern White volunteers dropped and Blacks were allowed to participate in the civil war. They were, however, segregated and placed in artillery, infantry as well as cavalry regiments. The foundation of Southern society was born on slavery and this led to reluctance in allowing the Blacks into the confederacy since it would end slavery. In 1865, the confederate army was facing greater danger from the Union armies who significantly outnumbered them and had thus to approve of Black soldiers.
Use of draft to raise soldiers
Both the Southern and Northern states saw the need to enact legislation to finance and also raise their troops 12 . During the civil war, the confederacy was faced by the urgent need to create, supply and transport armies. It thus raised its armies through conscription. Faced with the eventuality of expiry of volunteers’ enlistment, which was less likely to reenlist, the confederacy had to establish laws to ensure availability of soldiers. It passed a law that extended the enlistment term by three years which also mandated White male citizens aged between 18 and 35 years to undertake three years national military service. The Civil War Military Draft Act was passed by the United States Congress to enable the Union army to get fresh manpower as a result of the rising need for soldiers and the dwindling number of volunteers. This act required all male native as well as immigrant citizens aged between 20-45 years to be enrolled in the union army. 13
Both the union soldiers and the confederate soldiers used iron ships known as “ironclads”. When the war started, ironclad warships were not used but later, the confederacy saw the need to construct and purchase them to gain a naval advantage. The union soldiers also made use of ironclads as their army responded by building their own ships including the ocean-going Monitor class and City class.
Both utilized horses
Every account of the civil war basically makes references to horses or mules 14 . Horses played a very important role during the civil war both for the union as well as confederate soldiers. The horses literally facilitated all movements. The total number of horses killed was more than 1 million. More horses died as compared to men especially at the onset of the war. During this period, the union army lost more than 800 horses while the confederacy lost more than 600. 15
The American civil war saw armies from the Southern State and the Northern state fighting each other for different causes with Southerners pushing for independence from the United States of America while the Northerners seeking to defend the country’s constitution from dissolution. Despite their reasons for the battle, soldiers from both sides experienced more or less the same conditions ranging from poor hygienic conditions, diseases, insufficient food supplies among other difficulties. Their patriotism to their respective states played an important role in offering them with the desire to enlist as soldiers.
Armistead, Gene C. 2013. Horses and mules in the Civil War: a complete history with a roster of more than 700 war horses . McFarland & Company, 2013.
Warshauer, Matthew. Connecticut in the American Civil War: slavery, sacrifice, and survival . Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press, 2011.
Smith, John David. Black soldiers in blue: African American troops in the Civil War era . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Lonn, Ella. Desertion during the Civil War . Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1998.
Wiley, B. Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb: The common soldier of the confederacy . Baton Rouge & London: Louisiana State University Press, 1970.
Jarvis, Edward. The sanitary condition of the Army of the United States . Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862.
Linderman, Gerald.F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War . London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1987.
1 Linderman, Gerald.F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1987), 59.
2 Linderman, Gerald.F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1987), 59.
3 Linderman, Gerald.F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1987), 78.
4 Jarvis, Edward. The sanitary condition of the Army of the United States (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862), 13.
5 Wiley, B. Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb: The common soldier of the confederacy (Baton Rouge & London: Louisiana State University Press, 1970), 40.
6 Wiley, B. Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb: The common soldier of the confederacy (Baton Rouge & London: Louisiana State University Press, 1970), 40.
7 Lonn, Ella. Desertion during the Civil War (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1998), 47.
8 Lonn, Ella. Desertion during the Civil War (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1998), 48.
9 Lonn, Ella. Desertion during the Civil War (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1998), 47.
10 Warshauer, Matthew. Connecticut in the American Civil War: slavery, sacrifice, and survival (Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 53.
11 Smith, John David. Black soldiers in blue: African American troops in the Civil War era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 23.
12 Warshauer, Matthew. Connecticut in the American Civil War: slavery, sacrifice, and survival (Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 53.
13 Warshauer, Matthew. Connecticut in the American Civil War: slavery, sacrifice, and survival (Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 54.
14 Armistead, Gene C. Horses and mules in the Civil War: a complete history with a roster of more than 700 war horses ( McFarland & Company, Inc, 2013), 44.
15 Warshauer, Matthew. Connecticut in the American Civil War: slavery, sacrifice, and survival (Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 56.