The Union soldier was typically a man in his early 20s, in most cases, he was a farmer who had either enlisted to fight a war which he thought wouldn’t last more than a few months, or near the peak of the Civil War, someone who had been drafted. Those who were called to serve against their own will were often poor, since anyone who could pay the sum of $300.00 would be exempt from fighting. Still, many of the Union soldiers had ideals to uphold, and all of them were more than well equipped to do so, as opposed to their southern enemies. As the war progressed, even women joined the fight, dressing up as, and pretending to be men so that they could join the army.
Union soldiers’ uniforms were dark blue and made of thick wool. Their only relief from the hot and uncomfortable outfit was most often a cotton shirt sent to them by their families, as their army issued shirts were also made of wool. Why all that wool? The reason was that wool would not take in water, or remain wet like cotton in the event of rain, and it was also more durable. Union soldiers also wore woolen caps which had leather visors to provide shade when aiming in the blazing sun. Union soldiers not only had better uniforms, they also had better weapons, British made Enfield rifles were the norm, and they were the most accurate weapons on the battlefield.
In addition to heavy clothes, Union soldiers carried a heavy knapsack, a blanket, and a small protective cover called “dog tent”. Like the Confederates, Union soldiers carried a haversack filled with the usual set of eating implements, the canteen and frying pan being the most important. Unlike the southern Rebels, the Federals were required to groom themselves, and maintain a proper appearance, therefore their kit also included a comb, a razor, and other personal hygiene products.
Union Infantrymen wore belts on which there were cartridge boxes to carry multiple rounds of ammunition, a pouch to carry “percussion caps”; a17th Century equivalent of the hand grenade, and a scabbard which held their bayonets. Union Cavalrymen had similar accoutrements, but their belts included a pistol holster, and a special straps to hold their sabers.
While the Union troops were well fed, many died from ptomaine poisoning, the result of eating poorly canned meat and other tainted food items. Morale was generally high amongst the Federal troops, but desertion was a serious issue since many soldiers which had left their homes in the hopes of fighting a short war, would eventually feel the need to return to their families and farms. Since many of them had been drafted, they did not want to be where they were in the first place. Those who deserted for cowardice were mostly drummed out of cam with a sign around their neck that read “coward”, while others hung or executed by firing squad for more serious offences such as treason. Other, less draconian methods of discipline included tying a soldier to a large wheel for hours on end, and imprisonment.
There exist many photographs of the Union forces, as their army had greater funding. While they did win the war, it was not an easy battle, and many lost their lives, not to mention the thousands who returned home as amputees. It is also interesting to note that many freed slaves became fighters for the Union, no doubt motivated by Lincoln’s attitude towards human rights. He is after all, remembered as the “Great Emancipator”.
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the 20 free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the Confederacy. The Union has often been referred to as “the North”, both then and now.
In comparison to the Confederacy, the Union was heavily industrialized and far more urbanized than the rural South. The Union states had nearly five times the white population of the Confederate states (23 million to 5 million). The Union’s great advantages in population and industry would prove to be vital long-term factors in its victory over the Confederacy.
There was no shortage of enthusiasm as young men clamored to join the army in 1861. That was where the excitement was, and they were all volunteers. The decision was made to keep the small regular army intact; its officers could however join the temporary new volunteer army that was formed, expecting their experience would lead to rapid promotions. The problem with volunteering was a serious lack of planning, leadership and organization at the highest levels. Washington called on the states for troops and every northern governor set about raising and equipping regiments, with the bills sent to the War Department. The men could elect the junior officers, while the governor appointed the senior officers, and Lincoln appointed the generals. Typically politicians used their local organizations to raise troops, and were in line (if healthy enough) to become colonel. The problem was that the War Department, under the disorganized leadership of Simon Cameron also authorized local and private groups to raise regiments. The result was widespread confusion and delay.
Pennsylvania for example had acute problems. When Washington called for ten more regiments, enough men volunteered to form thirty. However they were scattered among seventy different new units, none of which was a complete regiment. Not until Washington approved gubernatorial control of all new units was the problem resolved. Allan Nevins is particularly scathing in his analysis: “A President more exact, systematic and vigilant than Lincoln, a Secretary more alert and clearheaded than Cameron, would have prevented these difficulties.
By the end of 1861 700,000 soldiers were drilling in Union camps. The first wave in spring was called up for only 90 days, then went home or reenlisted. Later waves enlisted for three years. They spent their time drilling. The combat in the first year, though strategically important, involved relatively small forces and few casualties. Sickness was a much more serious cause of hospitalization or death. In the first few months men wore low quality uniforms made of “shoddy” but by fall sturdy wool uniforms—in blue—were standard. The nation’s factories were converted to produce the rifles, cannon, wagons, tents, telegraph sets and the myriad other special items the army needed. While business had been slow or depressed in spring 1861 because of war fears and Southern boycotts, by fall business was hiring again, offering young men jobs that were an alternative way to help win the war. Nonpartisanship was the rule in the first year, but by summer 1862 many Democrats had stopped supporting the war effort and volunteering fell off sharply in their strongholds. The calls for more and more soldiers continued, so states and localities responded by offering cash bonuses. By 1863 a draft law was in effect, but few men actually were drafted and served, since it was designed to get them to volunteer or hire a substitute. Others hid away or left the country. With the Emancipation proclamation taking effect in January 1863, localities could meet their draft quota by sponsoring regiments of ex-slaves organized in the South.
More soldiers died of disease than in battle, and even larger numbers were temporarily incapacitated by wounds, disease and accidents. The Union responded by building army hospitals in every state. The hygiene of the camps was poor, especially at the beginning of the war when men who had seldom been far from home were brought together for training with thousands of strangers. First came epidemics of the childhood diseases of chicken pox, mumps, whooping cough, and, especially, measles. Operations in the South meant a dangerous and new disease environment, bringing diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid fever, and malaria. There were no antibiotics, so the surgeons prescribed coffee, whiskey,and quinine. Harsh weather; bad water; inadequate shelter in winter quarters; poor policing of camps; and dirty camp hospitals took their toll. This was a common scenario in wars from time immemorial, and conditions faced by the Confederate army were even worse. What was different in the Union was the emergence of skilled, well-funded medical organizers who rook proactive action, especially in the much enlarged United States Army Medical Department,and the United States Sanitary Commission, a new private agency.Numerous other new agencies also targeted the medical and morale needs of soldiers, including the United States Christian Commission as well as smaller private agencies such as the Women’s Central Association of Relief for Sick and Wounded in the Army (WCAR) founded in 1861 by Henry Whitney Bellows, a Unitarian minister, and social reformer Dorothea Dix. Systematic funding appeals raised public consciousness, as well as millions of dollars.
Many thousands of volunteers worked in the hospitals and rest homes, most famously poet Walt Whitman. Frederick Law Olmstead, a famous landscape architect, was the highly efficient executive director of the Sanitary Commission.States could use their own tax money to support their troops as Ohio did. Under the energetic leadership of Governor David Tod, a War Democrat who won office on a coalition “Union Party” ticket with Republicans, Ohio acted vigorously. Following the unexpected carnage at the battle of Shiloh in April 1862, it send 3 steamboats to the scene as floating hospitals with doctors, nurses and medical supplies. The state fleet expanded to eleven hospital ships. The state also set up 12 local offices in main transportation nodes to help Ohio soldiers moving back and forth.
The Christian Commission comprised 6000 volunteers who aided chaplains in many ways.For example, its agents distributed Bibles, delivered sermons, helped with letters home, taught men to read and write, and set up camp libraries.
The Army learned many lessons and in 1886, it established the Hospital Corps. In the long run the wartime experiences of the numerous commissions modernized public welfare, and set the stage for large—scale community philanthropy in America based on fund raising campaigns and private donations. Women gained new public roles. For example, Mary Livermore (1820-1905). the manager of the Chicago branch of the US Sanitary Commission, used her newfound organizational skills to mobilize support for women’s suffrage after the war. She argued that women needed more education and job opportunities to help them fulfill their role of serving others
The Sanitary Commission collected enormous amounts of statistical data, and opened up the problems of storing information for fast access and mechanically searching for data patterns.The pioneer was John Shaw Billings (1838-1913). A senior surgeon in the war, Billings built two of the world’s most important libraries, Library of the Surgeon General’s Office (now the National Library of Medicine and the New York Public Library; he also figured out how to mechanically analyze data by turning it into numbers and punching onto the computer punch card as developed by his student Herman Hollerith.
Discontent with the 1863 draft law led to riots in several cities and in rural areas as well, By far the most important were the New York City draft riots of July 13 to July 16, 1863. Irish Catholic and other workers fought police, militia and regular army units until the Army used artillery to sweep the streets. Initially focused on the draft, the protests quickly expanded into violent attacks on blacks in New York City, with many killed on the streets.
Small-scale riots broke out in ethnic German and Irish districts, and in areas along the Ohio River with many Copperheads. Holmes County, Ohio was an isolated localistic areas dominated by Pennsylvania Dutch and some recent German immigrants. It was a Democratic stronghold and few men dared speak out in favor of conscription. Local politicians denounced Lincoln and Congress as despotic, seeing the draft law as a violation of their local autonomy. In June 1863, small scale disturbance broke out; they ended when the Army send in armed units.
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