Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

The Civil War Soldier: A Historical Reader

Michael Barton
Larry M. Logue
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 515
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Civil War Soldier
    Book Description:

    In 1943, Bell Wiley's groundbreaking book Johnny Reb launched a new area of study: the history of the common soldier in the U.S. Civil War. This anthology brings together landmark scholarship on the subject, from a 19th century account of life as a soldier to contemporary work on women who, disguised as men, joined the army. One of the only available compilations on the subject, The Civil War Soldier answers a wide range of provocative questions: What were the differences between Union and Confederate soldiers? What were soldiers' motivations for joining the army - their "will to combat"? How can we evaluate the psychological impact of military service on individual morale? Is there a basis for comparison between the experiences of Civil War soldiers and those who fought in World War II or Vietnam? How did the experiences of black soldiers in the Union army differ from those of their white comrades? And why were southern soldiers especially drawn to evangelical preaching? Offering a host of diverse perspectives on these issues, The Civil War Soldier is the perfect introduction to the topic, for the student and the Civil War enthusiast alike. Contributors: Michael Barton, Eric T. Dean, David Donald, Drew Gilpin Faust, Joseph Allen Frank, James W. Geary, Joseph T. Glaatthaar, Paddy Griffith, Earl J. Hess, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Perry D. Jamieson, Elizabeth D. Leonard, Gerald F. Linderman, Larry Logue, Pete Maslowski, Carlton McCarthy, James M. McPherson, Grady McWhiney, Reid Mitchell, George A. Reaves, Jr., James I. Robertson, Fred A. Shannon, Maris A. Vinovskis, and Bell Irvin Wiley.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2515-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xi)
  4. Introduction: The Soldiers and the Scholars
    (pp. 1-5)
    Michael Barton and Larry M. Logue

    On the afternoon of April 12, 2000, South Carolina’s state senators were debating what to do about the Confederate flag flying on top of the state capitol dome. They were intense but courteous in their dispute. Democrats did not accuse Republicans of being callous for wanting to fly an emblem that could be offensive, and Republicans did not call Democrats traitors for wanting to haul down a symbol of southern “heritage.” Pro-flag, white senators spoke of their “love” for their African American foes on the floor, while anti-flag, black senators assured their white opponents that they did not consider them...

  5. PART I Who Soldiers Were

    • Chapter 1 What Manner of Men
      (pp. 9-32)
      Bell Irvin Wiley

      The men who marched under the Stars and Bars were impressively diverse in character. The full range of their variation can never be known, however, because one of the most fruitful sources of information—the original muster and descriptive rolls—is so incomplete. For some companies such rolls were not even prepared; for many, only a part of the required data was given; and for hundreds of others the records were lost or destroyed. But from rolls that are extant, from comments of travelers, from court-martial proceedings, memoirs, diaries and personal letters, a general idea of the South’s soldiery may...

    • Chapter 2 Have Social Historians Lost the Civil War? Some Preliminary Demographic Speculations
      (pp. 33-43)
      Maris A. Vinovskis

      A sizable proportion of military-age white males fought in the Civil War, and many of them died, suffered wounds, or deserted. But did the Civil War affect everyone equally, or were there large differences in the experiences of participants from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds? If it was a “poor man’s” fight, for example, as many contemporaries complained, then the human costs of the war would have been disproportionately borne by those in lower-class occupations.

      Since there are no detailed national statistics on the characteristics of those who fought and died in the Civil War, it is convenient to pursue...

    • Chapter 3 Who Joined the Confederate Army? Soldiers, Civilians, and Communities in Mississippi
      (pp. 44-56)
      Larry M. Logue

      There is no shortage of testimony explaining southerners’ decision to join the Confederate army. Civil War soldiers were as voluble about their reasons for enlisting as they were about their wartime experiences, and historians have found central themes in soldiers’ reasons for going to war. Soldiers on both sides often simply echoed their leaders’ justifications for the war, but beneath Confederate soldiers’ political rhetoric lay a deeper, more personal concern for their society’s racial equilibrium: the fear of life with the bottom rail on top echoes through southerners’ explanations of why they were in the army.¹

      This motivation for southerners’...

    • Chapter 4 Yankee Recruits, Conscripts, and Illegal Evaders
      (pp. 57-68)
      James W. Geary

      Historians usually agree on why Northern men volunteered for the army. Community pride, patriotism, a desire to participate in preserving the Union and to prove one’s manhood on the battlefield rank among the dominant reasons that motivated men in the early part of the war. High bounties were a primary influence for many of those who waited until later to enlist.¹ Little is known, however, about why so many men waited to be drafted. High wages at home dissuaded some men from enlisting. A reluctance to go to war combined with the visual effects of disabled veterans returning home was...

    • Chapter 5 To “Don the Breeches, and Slay Them with a Will!” A Host of Women Soldiers
      (pp. 69-81)
      Elizabeth D. Leonard

      Hundreds of women … dressed as men, adopted male identities, and enlisted in the armies of the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Needless to say, many women who envisioned a military role for themselves in connection with the war, particularly when wanting to defend their homes, did not ultimately enlist as soldiers, although some seemed to come quite close to doing so. A group of women in December 1864 wrote to the Confederate Secretary of War, James Alexander Seddon, requesting—probably not facetiously—that he sanction their organization of a “full regiment ofladies, between the ages...

  6. PART II How Soldiers Lived

    • Chapter 6 On the March
      (pp. 85-91)
      Carlton McCarthy

      Who does not know all about the marching of soldiers? Those who have never marched with them and some who have. The varied experience of thousands would not tell the whole story of the march. Every man must be heard before the story is told, and even then the part of those who fell by the way is wanting.

      Orders to move! Where? when? what for?—are the eager questions of the men as they begin their preparations to march. Generally nobody can answer, and the journey is commenced in utter ignorance of where it is to end. But shrewd...

    • Chapter 7 The Life of the Common Soldier in the Union Army, 1861–1865
      (pp. 92-107)
      Fred A. Shannon

      The lot of the private in the Union Army during the Civil War was established largely by two sets of conditions: first, those emanating from the policy of the government (federal and state) toward the army; and second, those resulting from the natural reactions of the soldier toward the unaccustomed conditions of army life.

      As to governmental responsibility, it is fair to say that the private in the ranks was the least considered factor in the prosecution of the Civil War. This was perhaps not because of a conscious discrimination against him, nor because his worth was underestimated, but a...

    • Chapter 8 From Finery to Tatters
      (pp. 108-121)
      Bell Irvin Wiley

      The Confederate private envisioned by Richmond authorities in 1861 was a nattily dressed person….

      But there was considerable difference between the clothing designated and that actually worn by the soldiers. This discrepancy came first from the inability of the Confederate Government to provide uniforms for the men who were called to arms. Captains who wrote in to Montgomery to inquire about equipment for companies in process of organization were informed that “the volunteers shall furnish their own clothes.”¹ The reason was obvious: Jeff Davis and company had none in stock, nor were any to be forthcoming until contracts with Southern...

    • Chapter 9 Fun, Frolics, and Firewater
      (pp. 122-140)
      James I. Robertson Jr.

      The Civil War was barely a year old when Adam S. Rader of the 28th Virginia wrote from camp: “there is some of the most onerest men here that I ever saw and the most swearing and card playing and fitin and drunkenness that I ever saw at any place.” Musician Henry E. Schafer of the 103rd Illinois voiced the same feeling more eloquently. “In our camps wickedness prevails to almost unlimited extent. It looks to me as though some men try to see how depraved they can be. Gambling, Card Playing, Profanity, Sabbath Breaking &c are among the many...

  7. PART III How Soldiers Fought

    • Chapter 10 The Negro as a Soldier
      (pp. 143-154)
      Thomas Wentworth Higginson

      There was in our regiment a very young recruit, named Sam Roberts, of whom Trowbridge used to tell this story. Early in the war Trowbridge had been once sent to Amelia Island with a squad of men, under direction of Commodore Goldsborough, to remove the negroes from the island. As the officers stood on the beach, talking to some of the older freedmen, they saw this urchin peeping at them from front and rear in a scrutinizing way, for which his father at last called him to account, as thus:—

      “Hi! Sammy, what you’s doin’, chile?”

      “Daddy,” said the inquisitive...

    • Chapter 11 Heroes and Cowards
      (pp. 155-175)
      Bell Irvin Wiley

      When an encounter with the Yankees was expected certain preliminaries were necessary. One of these was the issue of extra provisions, accompanied by the order to “cook up” from three to five days’ rations, so that time would not have to be taken for the preparation of food during the anticipated action. This judicious measure generally fell short of its object because of Johnny Reb’s own characteristics: he was always hungry, he had a definite prejudice against baggage, and he was the soul of improvidence. Sometimes the whole of the extra ration would be consumed as it was cooked, and...

    • Chapter 12 The Confederate as a Fighting Man
      (pp. 176-189)
      David Donald

      The Confederate soldier was, in most important respects, not materially different from one of Xenophon’s hoplites or Caesar’s legionnaires. He enlisted for a variety of reasons; he was brave or he was cowardly; he fought till the end of the war or he was killed, wounded, or captured. If it is hard to generalize about him, it is even more difficult to think of him as unique. His story is that of all soldiers in all wars.

      In basic attitudes he was very much like World War II GIs. The recent study ofThe American Soldierwould puzzle him by...

    • Chapter 13 The Rebels Are Barbarians
      (pp. 190-198)
      Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson

      It is significant that most of the Confederacy’s military leaders practiced in the 1860s the offensive tactics that they had seen work so well in Mexico in the 1840s, but the tactical preferences of a few men—even those in high command—could scarcely have prevailed if a majority of the southern people had opposed offensive warfare. The simple fact is that Southerners were aggressive.

      They were culturally conditioned “for offensive war,” explained a Richmond newspaper in August 1862: “The familiarity of our people with arms and horses gives them advantages for aggression, which are thrown away by delay. Ten...

    • Chapter 14 The Infantry Firefight
      (pp. 199-227)
      Paddy Griffith

      The characteristic mode of combat in the Civil War was the infantry firefight at close range. This was the usual result when an attacker had overcome his first fear of the enemy’s rifles or fieldworks and had marched into contact. Sometimes a decision could be reached before this by long-range fire, and very occasionally it could be reached entirely by cold steel. More normally, however, there were clear winners and losers only after a period of intense musketry.

      … One very influential Civil War theory—in fact the most influential of all—envisaged infantry sheltering behind fieldworks, delaying the attack...

    • Chapter 15 Leaving Their Mark on the Battlefield
      (pp. 228-259)
      Joseph T. Glatthaar

      Despite the outstanding performance of black soldiers at Port Hudson, Milliken’s Bend, and Fort Wagner, there was still a sense of uneasiness about blacks in combat. Their conduct had certainly not convinced everyone, and just because the Northern white population was coming around to the viewpoint that blacks in uniform could contribute to the war effort did not mean that they were willing to stand alongside black soldiers and slug it out against the Confederates. In addition to Rebel soldiers, black commands were battling generations of racial prejudice, and the lingering doubts were by no means easy to dispel. Thus,...

    • Chapter 16 The Nature of Battle
      (pp. 260-280)
      Earl J. Hess

      Having crossed the gulf of experience from the status of a green volunteer to that of a veteran, the Northern soldier was in a position to know and understand battle. That knowledge brought with it a deep appreciation of chaos, for that was one of the most pervasive aspects of combat. The sights, sounds, and emotions assaulted their senses, nearly wrecked their ability to perceive coherent patterns in the world around them, and forced them to confront an alien experience for which most of them had no prior reference points. Battle created an environment that most soldiers described with images...

  8. PART IV How Soldiers Felt

    • Chapter 17 Trials of Soul
      (pp. 283-311)
      Bell Irvin Wiley

      The South entered the war in the spring of 1861 with high spirit. The people were, with few exceptions, thoroughly convinced of the rightness of their cause—the defense of their homes against tyrannous and godless invaders. They were overwhelmingly confident of success. Men of the South, they thought, accustomed to an active outdoor life, were more robust than factory- and shop-bred Northerners. Southerners were also deemed tougher in temper than Yankees.

      Overweening certainty of Rebel superiority was shown in wartime textbooks for the common schools. Johnson’sElementary Arithmetic, published in North Carolina, proposed these problems for patriotic youngsters:


    • Chapter 18 A Study of Morale in Civil War Soldiers
      (pp. 312-326)
      Pete Maslowski

      Tolstoy wrote inWar and Peace:“In warfare the force of armies is the product of the mass multiplied by something else, an unknown x … x is the spirit of the army, the greater or less desire to fight and face dangers on the part of all the men composing the army, which is quite apart from the question whether they are fighting under leaders of genius or not, with cudgels or with guns that fire thirty times a minute.”¹

      This intangible entity, this x, is the heart of a military machine. Just as a doctor can understand a...

    • Chapter 19 Christian Soldiers The Meaning of Revivalism in the Confederate Army
      (pp. 327-353)
      Drew Gilpin Faust

      From the fall of 1862 until the last days of the Civil War, religious revivalism swept through Confederate forces with an intensity that led one southerner to declare the armies had been “nearly converted into churches.”¹ A remarkable phenomenon in the eyes of contemporary observers, these mass conversions have been largely ignored by modern scholars.² The attention recent historians have devoted to other manifestations of nineteenth-century Evangelicalism makes this neglect of Civil War religion seem all the more curious, for scholarly findings about the relationship between revivalism and the processes of social and cultural transformation suggest that an exploration of...

    • Chapter 20 From Volunteer to Soldier The Psychology of Service
      (pp. 354-385)
      Reid Mitchell

      The Civil War experience changed men; its subjective component matched its physical reality. Most men who were soldiers for any period of time underwent a psychological transformation. Those men who volunteered for an extended period—three years or the war—tended to lose their prewar identities. Citizens who had been volunteers turned into soldiers. And even if they escaped death, the volunteer soldiers could not escape feeling occasionally like helpless victims—more often than they admitted they were also killers. The wartime experience created new identities….

      Men had valued their autonomy so much that they went to war when they...

    • Chapter 21 Emotional Responses to Combat
      (pp. 386-395)
      Joseph Allan Frank and George A. Reaves

      The range of emotions that were engendered by battlefield stresses are as varied as the number of soldiers in any army (B. I. Wiley 1978: 29–30), but recent studies have concluded that the predominant emotion was fear¹ its “symptoms” in combat include a “violent pounding of the heart,” “a sinking feeling in the stomach,” “cold sweat,” “nervousness,” “shaking hands,” “repeating meaningless acts,” “losing control of bowels,” and “urinating in pants” (Stouffer 1949: II, 201; see also Woolridge 1968: 9). Fear—along with the enemy—had to be defeated. On the battlefield, the soldier is in a two-front war: on...

    • Chapter 22 “Dangled over Hell” The Trauma of the Civil War
      (pp. 396-421)
      Eric T. Dean Jr.

      In post-Vietnam America, the key word in considering the psychological state of returning veterans is “trauma.” Specifically, what hardships and trials did the veteran undergo during his service in the military? Was he placed in situations in which he experienced anxiety and fear? Was he exposed to combat, to the death and mutilation of his fellow warriors, or to the spectacle of enemy soldiers being slaughtered in battle or, as prisoners, being summarily executed? Did he encounter disease or discomforts that might have weakened his psychic defenses or exacerbated his sense of alienation and unease about being sent far from...

  9. PART V What Soldiers Believed

    • Chapter 23 The Values of Civil War Soldiers
      (pp. 425-435)
      Michael Barton

      This chapter will seek to discover whether Northern and Southern soldiers expressed moral values differently—making this search through a content analysis of the core values expressed in the published Civil War diaries of one hundred soldiers….

      A brief description here of the methodology should make the data which follow more immediately comprehensible.

      Content analysis is, in effect, a systematic method of sorting and counting written evidence. It makes explicit what many historians do implicitly. First, one selects the categories into which the content of the documents will be sorted. The categories for this phase of the study come from...

    • Chapter 24 Embattled Courage
      (pp. 436-455)
      Gerald F. Linderman

      A young private of the Richmond Howitzers, Carlton McCarthy, recognized immediately how the soldier was expected to bear himself in the Civil War: “In a thousand ways he is tried … every quality is put to the test. If he shows the least cowardice he is undone. His courage must never fail. He must be manly and independent.”¹

      Numberless other soldiers joined Carlton McCarthy in filling their journals, their letters home, and their memoirs with the moral values they knew to be at issue in the conflict between North and South: manliness, godliness, duty, honor, and even—among the best-educated...

    • Chapter 25 On the Altar of My Country
      (pp. 456-471)
      James M. McPherson

      The emphasis on primary group cohesion that emerged in studies of combat motivation after World War II had a significant corollary: the unimportance of patriotic or ideological convictions. The detailed analysis ofThe American Soldierquoted one G.I.: “Ask any dogface on the line. You’re fighting for your skin on the line. When I enlisted I was as patriotic as all hell. There’s no patriotism on the line. A boy up there 60 days on the line is in danger every minute. He ain’t fighting for patriotism.” A British officer said that “it would be foolish to imagine that the...

    • Chapter 26 Holding On
      (pp. 472-484)
      Earl J. Hess

      Most Northern soldiers stayed well within the acceptable definition of courage. They stayed in line of battle, followed orders, and contributed their small part to winning the war. They did not always perform their duties with enthusiasm and conviction, but they generally avoided the appearance of disobedience. If not for this stoic attitude, the Union war effort would have collapsed at its leading edge, the battlefield.

      What held these men to their work? There are as many answers to that question as there were soldiers, for each individual had his own set of reasons for carrying on even after he...

    • Chapter 27 The Civil War Soldier and the Art of Dying
      (pp. 485-511)
      Drew Gilpin Faust

      Mortality defines the human condition. “We all have our Dead—we all have our Graves,” Stephen Elliott, a Confederate Episcopal bishop, observed in an 1862 sermon. Every age, he explained, must confront “like miseries”; every age must search for “like consolation.” Yet in spite of the continuities that Elliott identified in human history, death has its discontinuities as well. Men and women fashion the way they approach the end of life out of their understandings of who they are and what matters to them. And inevitably these understandings are shaped by historical and cultural circumstances, by how others around them...

  10. Index
    (pp. 513-515)
  11. About the Editors
    (pp. 516-516)