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Document 1.1 Frank Bellew, “A Dangerous Novelty in Memphis” (1862)
This cartoon illustrates the rising tensions within Memphis, a city recently occupied by Union forces. A restaurant owner and a Union soldier argue over the availability of “mutton” featured in a window advertisement. Because of the scarcity of food in the South, the soldier warns of a riot if the public discovers this advertisement and bounty.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, June 21, 1862: 400.
Draft resistance was widespread throughout the Union and in some areas of the Confederacy. Midwestern resistance was especially fierce in counties with workers who earned lower-than-average wages, a high percentage of foreign-born residents, and those areas with high Democratic voting populations in the predominantly Republican states. Resistance to the draft took on a myriad of forms, some more violent than others. Some men hid out in the woods to avoid enrollment in the draft. Civilians and potential draftees frequently heckled draft officers or forced them out of town. Women threw eggs or other household products at enrolling officers, and crowds of women and children often blocked the entrance to towns or households. In June 1863, this newspaper article described the shooting of an officer who was attempting to enroll men into service in Indiana.
The most infamous rioting of the Civil War took place in New York during the week of July 13, 1863. The city had been filled with antiwar and antidraft sentiments for many weeks, and men’s fears of the draft only intensified when they received reports from the battle at Gettysburg. When draft lottery drawings began on July 11 the crowd grew hostile. The working-class poor of the city joined with Peace Democrats in declaring the draft a product of the “rich man’s war” and refused to fight. Workers were angry that rich draftees could purchase a replacement and avoid military service, and they resisted the idea of fighting to free African Americans. The lottery continued on July 13, and the crowd of mostly Irish and German immigrants decided to shut it down. Workplaces were nearly empty as workers gathered to resist. This letter to the editor of the New York Times illustrates the tensions created by the $300 commutation fee that became a major complaint in the draft riots.
Poor workers rioting in New York in July 1863 also feared that freed African Americans would take their jobs. The violence quickly became a bloody race riot, and African American homes, businesses, and individuals were common targets of the mob. The violence shifted from anger at the government to fear of racial mixing and economic competition. It took the intervention of Union troops on July 16 to return the city to order. More than 100 people, many of them African Americans, died during the week-long melee, and hundreds more were injured. In this newspaper article, a Philadelphian comments on the horrors of the riots, declaring them “un-American.”
Document 1.5 “The Rioters Burning and Sacking the Colored Orphan Asylum” (1863)
During the New York City draft riots, the Colored Orphan Asylum in the Nineteenth Ward was burned. The children barely escaped as the mob tried to kill them. Elsewhere in the city, black men and women were hanged from trees and lampposts, shot, and burned in their homes. This engraving in Harper’s Weekly depicts the burning of the orphanage.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1863: 493.
Document 1.6 “The Riots at New York” (1863)
During the New York City draft riots, the draft office was burned, and the mob moved on to destroy the homes of wealthy Republicans and abolitionists. They also targeted pro-Lincoln businesses and newspapers, such as the New York Tribune. Republican-owned factories were looted and workers’ entry blocked. This engraving in Harper’s Weekly includes illustrations of five scenes from the riots. Depicted are the ruins of a downtown office, a fight between rioters and military officials, a scene at the newspaper office, a riot scene at a drug store, and a lynching.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1863: 484.
Even journalists for scientific publications commented on the disgraces that occurred during the New York City draft riots. This article about mob behavior was sandwiched between an article about simple locomotive engines and another about experiments with boiling water.
In 1862 and 1863, bread riots erupted throughout the South, in Atlanta, Savannah, Milledgeville, Macon and Columbus in Georgia, and in Salisbury, North Carolina and Mobile, Alabama. Women and families bore the brunt of declining homefront conditions and with little prospect of raising crops by themselves, many rural women moved to cities seeking wage work. Burgeoning urban populations placed stress on food production and transport systems. Faced with food shortages and inflation, women and men rioted to express their dissatisfaction with the government and living conditions. The press frequently portrayed the protests as women’s riots, although men certainly participated. Below, a journalist describes the rioting women in Mobile, Alabama, who had recently protested the lack of available foodstuffs.
Anna Dickinson, who was active in the antislavery and women’s rights movements, wrote the following account of the New York City draft riots.
Chapter 2: Southern Dissent
Wartime disaffection among southern whites had solid roots in the early secession crisis. Most white Southerners, three-fourths of whom owned no slaves, made it clear in the winter 1860–61 elections for state convention delegates that they opposed immediate secession. For example, a few weeks before Virginia’s vote for delegates to the state’s secession convention, a mass meeting of working class men in Portsmouth drafted and unanimously approved the following resolutions to stand by the Union. Nevertheless, state conventions across the South, all of them dominated by slaveholders, ultimately ignored majority will and took their states out of the Union.
In 1861, James Bell had six grown children, all loyal to the Union except one son, Henry, who moved to Mississippi and joined the Confederacy with his cousin Andrew Lowrimore. Writing to Henry three months after Alabama left the Union, James expresses hope that he will cease to be a “Cecessionist”. The family never had an opportunity to reconcile. While Henry joined the Confederate army, four of his brothers enlisted on the Union side. Three did not survive the war. Henry succumbed to disease in Chattanooga. James died at home in September 1862.
Southern enlistments declined rapidly after the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. Men were reluctant to leave their families in the fall and winter of 1861–62, and many of those already in the army deserted to help theirs. The Confederacy’s response to its recruitment problems served only to weaken its support among plain folk. In April 1862, the Confederate Congress passed the first general conscription act in American history. But desertion became so serious by the summer of 1863 that Jefferson Davis begged absentees to return. If only they would, he insisted, the Confederacy could match Union armies man for man. But they did not return. In this excerpt, a preacher talks about his own attempts to evade conscription.
Many thousands of deserters joined antiwar and anti-Confederates organizations that had been active in the South since the war’s beginning. Some formed guerrilla bands, often called “tory” or “layout” gangs, that controlled vast areas of the southern countryside. They attacked government supply trains, burned bridges, raided local plantations, and harassed impressment agents and conscript officers. Writing from South Carolina in August 1863, one Confederate Major described the rising militancy of groups of deserters.
Writing from North Carolina in September 1863, a commanding officer and inspector complains to a superintendent of conscription about the rising numbers of deserting soldiers and highlights the difficulties of locating and capturing deserters.
Writing from Texas in October 1863, a Brigadier-General with the Confederate Army warned another military leader of the increasing problem of desertion that would surely end in more bloodshed. By 1864, the draft law was practically impossible to enforce and Jefferson Davis publically admitted that two-thirds of Confederate soldiers were absent, most of them without leave.
Writing from Tennessee in 1864, this general tells the Secretary of War that some of the locals in the South would prefer to join the Union Army if they were only allowed to form their own regiments. His letter illustrates the complexities that surrounded the recruitment of soldiers.
Writing from Georgia in February 1864, Samuel Knight complained to the Governor of Georgia, Joseph E. Brown, that few of his neighbors were loyal to the Confederacy, and in fact, seemed sympathetic to the Union cause.
In early summer 1864, as the Union army was advancing through northern Georgia toward Atlanta, Governor Joseph E. Brown issued a general call to arms. A newspaper in Milledgeville, then the state capital, published a poetic response from an anonymous Georgia farmer.
Even as deserters took up arms and formed posses, the southern home guard companies committed their own acts of violence against the deserters and Unionists. Dennis Haynes, a Louisiana Unionist who late in the war commanded a unit of federal scouts, recalled in his memoir that a home guard company, led by “Bloody Bob” Martin, terrorized anti-Confederates in western Louisiana.
Chapter 3: Women Soldiers
Writing in her wartime diary in Louisiana at the age of 20, Sarah Morgan wishes she were a man so she could “don the breeches” and slay the Yankee enemies. If there were only a few southern women in the ranks, they would set the men a good example, she adds, proclaiming: “there are no women here! We are all men!” Although Sarah did not disguise herself as a man to take up arms, numerous women shared her sentiments and entered the ranks of both armies. As for Sarah, she spent the early war years with her mother and sisters in the countryside near Baton Rouge, but they abandoned their home in August 1862 after the Union army sacked it. The women spent the rest of the war in occupied New Orleans.
Document 3.2 Winslow Homer, “Our Women and the War” (1862)
Although some women wanted to be part of the war in the most direct way possible—by fighting—women on both sides of the conflict also created a workforce that tried to outfit and care for soldiers. Aid societies for both the Union and the Confederacy made socks, gloves, pillowcases, sheets, undergarments and whole uniforms. Women organized supplies for the hospitals, which they packaged and sent on, and also prepared and packaged food for the armies. As well, more than 3000 women worked as paid nurses for the Union and Confederate armies. A select few also worked as military doctors and hundreds served as spies for both the North and the South. This engraving in Harper’s Weekly, published in 1862, illustrated some of these roles that women played in the Civil War.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, September 6, 1862: 568–569.
Sarah Emma Edmonds was one of approximately 400 women who succeeded in enlisting in the army (either Union or Confederate) during the Civil War. She succeeded in remaining in the army for several years and was successful as a Union spy. In two different episodes excerpted below from her autobiography, published soon after the end of the war, she disguises herself as an African American male cook and as a male rebel, and plays both roles convincingly. Disguised as a Kentucky boy, she shoots a Confederate captain in the face and is attacked by Confederate soldiers. In a foreword to the book, the publisher took the opportunity to make the case for women soldiers: “In the opinion of many, it is the privilege of woman to minister to the sick and soothe the sorrowing—and in the present crisis of our country’s history, to aid our brothers to the extent of her capacity—and whether duty leads her to the couch of luxury, the abode of poverty, the crowded hospital, or the terrible battle field—it makes but little difference what costume she assumes while in the discharge of her duties.—Perhaps she should have the privilege of choosing for herself whatever may be the surest protection from insult and inconvenience in her blessed, self-sacrificing work.”
In this excerpt from her memoir, Mary Livermore argues that women experienced the same feelings of patriotism as men and made parallel sacrifices during the war. She describes the work of nursing, supplying hospitals and making uniforms, as well as several occasions where women disguised themselves and joined regiments.
Susie King Taylor, a former slave, joined the all-black SC Volunteers, that later became the 33rd US Colored Troops. In her memoir, she recounts her experiences as a woman in the regiment. At first, she was secretary, due to her ability to read and write. Later, she traveled with her husband who soldiered with the 33rd, and then became a nurse and laundress.
Chapter 4: The Domestic Sphere
Caroline Cowles Richards was born in 1842 and lived in Canandaigua, New York, a farming village in the state’s Finger Lakes region, during the war. She kept a diary of her daily experiences. After the war she married Edmund Clarke and died in 1913.
Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut of Camden, South Carolina, was the wife of James Chesnut, Jr., a prominent state politician and a U.S. Senator between 1858 and 1860. The Chesnuts were close friends of Jefferson Davis and counted numerous other Confederate politicians and generals as their friends and acquaintances. James Chesnut defended slavery, was the first Southerner to withdraw from the Senate after Lincoln's election in 1860, and served as a Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army.
Document 4.3 “The Girl I Left Behind Me” (1863)
This decorative envelope, measuring 3 × 5 ½ inches, features a soldier bidding goodbye to a woman dressed in stars and stripes, the message “The girl I left behind me” and a verse from the song “A Soldier’s Tear” by Thomas Haynes Bayly. It bears a 3 cent stamp, is addressed to Mr. John F. Se[?], Eldersville, Washington Co., Pa., and postmarked Washington, D.C., June 7, 1863.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Dolly Sumner Lunt was born in Maine in 1817 and moved to Georgia as a young woman to join her married sister. She became a school teacher in Covington, where she married Thomas Burge, a plantation owner. When her husband died in 1858, Dolly was left alone to manage the plantation. She kept a diary of her experiences, including an entry about Sherman’s march through Georgia.
Document 4.5 Carte-de-Visite (1863)
This woman wears typical Civil War era dress: a contrasting collar (easily removed for laundering or replacement), wide sleeves and a wide hoop skirt, narrow waist. The center part in her hair and the simple flat hairstyle adds the dimension of width, emphasizing the width of her face. It was usual to stand supported by a chair, which helped the subject remain still for the long exposure time required.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Chapter 5: Labor Organizations
From 1846 through 1856, there were annual National Industrial Congresses of labor reformers of various sorts, hosted by different communities around the country. When radical spiritualists attempted to revive the practice in 1860, their timing could hardly have been more flawed. However, the proposal of the Commonwealth Association of New York City demonstrates the breadth of labor radicalism in the city among English-speaking, largely native-born American workers.
In an attempt to use sectional feelings to their advantage, cordwainers in the soon-to-be designated Confederate capital united in agreement not to finish the shoe work begun in Northern shops. Employers responded by claiming that the president of the unionists was, himself, a Northerner, and a sharp exchange followed, reflecting the tensions exacerbated by the disintegration of the Union. The union survived, publicly announcing a business meeting months later.
Remembered today largely as a prominent spiritualist, Emma Hardinge Britten was characteristic of the moderate middle class labor reformers who emerged after the war. However, she had been born Emma Floyd and came to the U.S. from the notorious slums of London’s East End, and took up residence with her mother among the antebellum utopians living in the community of “Modern Times” on Long Island. Spiritualism provided this plebeian woman with her opportunity to rise to take on the appearance of a middle class Victorian respectability, with appropriately more moderate politics, which make her prediction all the more an extraordinary reflection of growing sentiment within the movement. Significantly, though, after her prediction of a “New Republican Party” to emerge some years in the future, she campaigned for the reelection of Abraham Lincoln.
President Abraham Lincoln, who had defended the right of the shoemakers to strike in 1860, saw absolutely no role for the government, even in wartime, to act on behalf of employers as strikebreakers. Employers in the New York shipyards refused to accept union terms, confident that government concerns over meeting contracts with the Navy would force Federal intervention. A delegation of the striking unions went to Washington and met with Lincoln, who pleaded neutrality but promised the workers that the government would hold the companies to the contract, effectively forcing the bosses to settle with the strikers.
William H. Sylvis, long the secretary of the National Molders’ Union, undertook a broader effort to organizer workers during the Civil War, despite a brief detour taking a company of volunteers to Gettysburg. His efforts to foster cooperation among local unions and to establish standards of solidarity among the unions established the foundations for the National Labor Union he headed after the war’s end. These selections from an address delivered to organized workers at Buffalo, New York in January 1864 sounded the basic themes of his message: that workers needed to organize in self-defense and assert their common interests in opposition to that of their employers.
By the spring of 1864, the course of the war drove Southern newspapers and their printers into Atlanta. Facing a particularly acute cost of living, printers there asked for a wage increase. The employers replied to “the unreasonable demand made by the Typographical Union” by discharging the men, taking away their draft exempt status, and summoning the military to conscript them. In June, the authorities drafted the workers and placed them under command of Albert Roberts, the editor of the Southern Confederacy and one of the bosses with whom they had clashed. This printers’ company of “Robert’s Exempts,” included union printers from locals across the South and several from Northern locals that had evidently been in the South at the war’s outbreak. This was likely the first instance of an American government’s drafting of strikers and forcing them to return to work under threat of military discipline.
Military orders to break strikes became immediately controversial for several reasons. Workers supported the war effort and many were veterans who had returned to civilian life. These two orders, issued in the border cities of St. Louis and Louisville were not unique but became particularly obnoxious to the workers who were overwhelmingly one of the most reliably Unionist forces in local politics. William S. Rosecrans, whose headquarters issued the first, was openly allied with the most conservative faction of the local Unionists.
The spring of 1864 saw a wave of strikes in American cities from the east coast to St. Louis. The draft laws, which allowed for those who could afford it to buy their way out of military service had caused major rioting in several communities the previous summer. For obvious reasons, the army prudently sought to avoid a conjunction of those grievances with those that motivated unions to strike. In this case, General Dix suspends the draft as a massive strike wave hits New York City.
Chapter 6: Commerce and Industry
In this excerpt, a young Boston aristocrat describes his experiences on a New England merchant ship and characterizes the working life onboard a shipping vessel. After staple crop exports, shipping was another major driver of American economic growth in the antebellum period.
Originally published by a young Universalist minister, the Lowell Offering magazine soon picked up sponsorship from the Boston Associates, the owners of the mills. The magazine published only works and articles by the female employees of the mills.
John Brown was enslaved in Georgia and escaped to England via Canada, where he dictated a narrative to Louis Chamerovzow, the Secretary of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.
A British journalist reflects on the economic interconnections between the north and the south in a workingman’s journal.
On March 4, 1858, Southern planter James Henry Hammond delivered a speech to the United States Senate on the topic of the admission of Kansas to the Union under the Lecompton Constitution. His speech, best known as “Cotton is King,” exemplified the powerful role of cotton in the American economy and the blurred lines between Southern slave labor and Northern industrial work.
Written in 1860 and published in 1861, Rebecca Harding Davis’ novella was one of the first major critiques of industrialization. Davis believed that the industrial system created unacceptable class distinctions between white people and distanced man from nature. She criticized industrialization through the twin lenses of white egalitarianism and agrarianism – two ideologies that were rooted in the political culture of the years leading up to the Civil War.
Chapter 7: The Environment
Farmland took hits from all directions during the war. Because large armies prefer to fight in open spaces, farmlands and pastures became battlefields across the South; as men and animals moved into position they churned up earth. Fields were also optimal spaces for establishing camps. The presence of encamped soldiers compressed still-standing crops and killed them, unless foraging soldiers harvested them first. According to northern journalist Joel Cook, who traveled with Union troops during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, soldiers were often choosy when scouting for campsites, preferring grass or grain fields. Cook also describes the search in the surrounding wilderness for clean water from springs, a search often thwarted by the muddy or swampy water. Cook goes on to describe the impact of rainstorms that deluged camps and turned roads into impassable mire. These storms did not stir the stagnant swamps, however, as Cook explains—and the “miasm” from the swamps caused disease.
Document 7.2 Timothy H. O’Sullivan, “Troops Building Bridges Across the North Fork of the Rappahannock” (1862)
Civil War soldiers burned bridges in order to obstruct the enemy’s pursuit. Then they rebuilt them. Timothy O’Sullivan, a Union photographer with Mathew Brady’s studio, captured this building process in Fauquier Sulphur Springs, Virginia, as members of the Army of the Potomac’s Corps of Engineers rebuilt a bridge across the North Fork of the Rappahannock River in August 1862. Sometimes soldiers built bridges and roads from scratch, constructing some of the most impressive examples of transportation infrastructure in the nation at that time.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
As central constructive elements of earthworks, trees protected soldiers; they also shielded men from harm on the battlefield. Skirmishers and other soldiers under fire were likely to take up positions behind trees because even young saplings could provide protection against musket or rifle fire. Northern journalist James Julius Marks could not believe the damage that a “storm of bullets” did to Virginia’s trees along the Williamsburg road in 1862. Marks also describes the destruction of orchards by camping troops and explains the cyclical restoration of exhausted fields in the shelter of Virginia’s pines. In Marks’s account, even as forest and orchard trees are destroyed by soldiers, pine trees regenerate the land.
Both armies used hundreds of thousands of horses and mules for transportation and other forms of labor between 1861 and 1865. Their enlistment in the war effort impacted the northern and southern farms, plantations, and city streets from which they came. Their absence was felt especially in agricultural fields across the nation, which often lay fallow without the horses and mules to pull plows and haul crops and other materials. Just as horses and mules disappeared from the landscape, so did other domesticated and wild animals. Soldiers purchased or stole cattle, pigs, turkeys, and chickens to supplement their meager rations. Cattle drives, like the massive wagon trains that accompanied Union and Confederate armies, trampled vegetation along roadsides. In the winter of 1864 the poet Walt Whitman was amazed to see droves of cattle passing through the streets of Washington, D.C.
Document 7.5 Timothy H. O’Sullivan, “Camp Architecture, Brandy Station, Virginia” (1864)
Timothy O’Sullivan’s image “Camp Architecture,” taken in January 1864 and included in Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War in 1866, reveals the extent to which soldiers adorned their log huts with pine boughs and other greenery. This hut, built in winter quarters at Brandy Station, is a small one-room cabin with a portico in front; the portico’s “columns” and the gable end are festooned with pine boughs. In his caption for the photo, Gardner lauded the “ingenuity and taste of the American soldier,” which resulted in well-built and refreshingly decorated quarters. “The forests are ransacked for the brightest foliage, branches of the pine, cedar, and holly are laboriously collected,” he noted approvingly, “and the work of beautifying the quarters continued as long as material can be procured.”
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Document 7.6 “Cold Harbor, Va. View of the Battlefield” (1864)
In this photograph from the main eastern theater of war, showing the ground after the charges at Cold Harbor in June 1864, the aftermath of Grant’s Wilderness Campaign of May–June 1864 is apparent. Deep furrows mark the paths of shot and shell, and lumps of soil and rocks litter the ground. One lone shard of wood sticks up out of the earth.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
William Morgan was a Confederate Lieutenant and described in his memoir the harsh environmental conditions for soldiers, including the summer heat, the winter snow, the muddy roads, and the fear that nightime animal sounds in camp might be enemy soldiers signaling to one another. He describes the destruction of the environment, too, as the bark of pine trees is scraped off to reveal useful sap and trees are lit on fire by marching soldiers. But he also focuses on the beauty and mystery of the southern landscape, its hanging gray moss, wild woods and screaming nighthawks all like “scenes described in fairy tales.”
Chapter 8: Religion in the South
During the Civil War, Jewish Southerners tended to give their allegiance to the Confederacy and served in the government and the military of the Confederate States of America. There were large Jewish communities in the major cities of the South. Assimilated into Southern society and identified as white, Jewish Southerners frequently adopted proslavery opinion, for which Southern Christian apologists could find legitimation in passages of the Hebrew scriptures. This sermon, given at “National Fast Day” services at the Lloyd Street synagogue in Baltimore on January 4, 1861, proved so popular among the Jewish secessionists that Rabbi Illowy was invited to become the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Hassed in New Orleans.
Southern Jews enlisted in the Confederate cause for many reasons. In a racial caste system they enjoyed benefits that they did not have elsewhere, either in Europe or in the North. Jewish immigrants in particular were eager to demonstrate their loyalty to their adopted homeland. And many Jewish families had deeper southern roots and a greater cultural and economic investment in the region than some of its Gentiles. General Robert E. Lee’s correspondence with Jewish religious leaders indicates the respect that Lee had for Jewish soldiers but also the exigencies of wartime. In letters to the Rabbi Max Michelbacher of the Richmond, VA congregation Beth Ahabah, for example, Lee will not grant furloughs to Jewish soldiers in the Confederate Army during Jewish holy days. Letters from Jewish soldiers also convey the difficulties in attempting to observe kosher dietary laws and Levitical observances, particularly problematic in the South where salt-cured and sugar-cured pork was a staple of civilian and military diets.
Southern apologists for slavery frequently employed religious rhetoric to defend the institution. They could use proof texts (scriptural passages taken out of context) or make typological arguments (employing a past biblical precedent to make sense of a present circumstance). But although most religious institutions of the Old South accepted and often endorsed slavery, some religious whites in the South dissented from the mainstream view. White southern abolitionist Moncure Conway published his book The Golden Hour in 1862. The book is a plea for emancipation. Often addressing Lincoln directly, it argues that emancipation will cripple the Confederate war effort and hasten peace. Conway uses the Biblical imagery of Revelations to call for a holy war against slavery.
Southern Catholic priests and nuns served during the Civil War. Catholic nuns, notably the Daughters of Charity founded in Emmitsburg, Maryland, by Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton in 1809, served as nurses to both sides, without political allegiance. Even the South’s poet laureate was a Catholic priest, Father Abram Joseph Ryan, a native of Norfolk, Virginia, who also served as a military chaplain. His most famous poem, “The Conquered Banner,” became an anthem of the Lost Cause ideology.
African American slaves appropriated and adapted the liberation themes of the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures. By means of biblical typology, they imagined themselves to be the recapitulation of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, awaiting a Moses who would lead them to a new promised land, or they borrowed the apocalyptic language of the Book of Revelation and saw themselves as the Church awaiting the return of King Jesus. These consoling messages, and in some instances coded subversive messages, were employed in the classic spirituals. In 1867, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson published several of these songs. Higginson served as colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first federally-authorized army regiment to be comprised of former slaves, and here describes the all-black regiment singing spirituals while in camp, also interpreting the lyrics.
Religious opinion throughout the North was deeply divided during the months leading up to Fort Sumter, with many ministers and Christian reformers urging peaceful reconciliation or even acceptance of secession. Antislavery poet John Greenleaf Whittier, a Quaker and pacifist, expressed the views of many abolitionists when in the midst of the secession crisis he penned these lines below in mid-January 1861. But the firing upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, which Northerners regarded as a sign of southern aggression, ended all confusion and brought the vast majority of northern Christians solidly behind military force to suppress the rebellion.
Chapter 9: Religion in the North
The immense popularity of Julia Ward Howe’s famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic” suggests the consoling power of this optimistic millenarian message. First penned in late 1861 and published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862, then later set to music, it had become by the close of the war one of the most beloved songs in the nation. The song links the judgment of the wicked at the end of time with the American Civil War, and alludes to passages in Isaiah, Revelation, Daniel and 2 Corinthians.
In sermons, speeches and editorials, northern ministers and leaders assured Americans that a sovereign God was using both sides in the conflict to purge the nation of sin. Protestants increasingly came to see slavery as the root cause of the nation’s intense suffering, a blight that had to be removed if all the sacrifice of life was to have ultimate meaning. For example, on the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, William Henry Hall, a leader in San Francisco’s black community, spoke at Platts Hall on Montgomery Street in San Francisco and described the Civil War as punishment for the nation’s sin of slavery. Hall also pays tribute to the radical abolitionist John Brown, who was executed in December 1859 after taking up arms against slavery in his raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and had become a martyr to many abolitionists.
The Civil War must be understood as a theological as well as constitutional and political crisis. The war tested common American assumptions about divine providence and the role of the United States in God’s redemptive plan for the world. The failure of Church leaders to find common ground in the Bible on such fundamental issues as slavery and obedience to the government tested Protestant notions about the sufficiency of private interpretation of scripture. Americans of every stripe, as they surveyed the wreckage of their nation, were acutely aware of the irony that Abraham Lincoln voiced so poignantly in his Second Inaugural Address of March 4, 1865. Both sides, the President observed, “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.”
When Fort Sumter was returned to the Union and the flag was restored there in a ceremony on April 14, the famous Presbyterian preacher Henry Ward Beecher gave the speech below, which thanks God for the seed of liberty and peace that has come from the harvest of war. The rest of the ceremony to restore the flag at Fort Sumter included a passage of scripture read by a chaplain, prayers and a benediction. This sanctification of the flag at the ceremony, and in Beecher’s oration, revealed an unprecedented association of cross and flag: the Civil War had harnessed the energy and resources of countless northern Christians and channeled it into the cause of the Union.
Chapter 10: Reform and Welfare Societies
Black Americans not only worked to end slavery, they also championed the ideals of a reformed, truly non-racist American society. Figures like James Forten, Richard Allen, and Frederick Douglass all sought to end slavery and also pave the way for equal citizenship. For example, in 1862, Douglass addressed a reform group in Boston and discussed the end of slavery and the future for black Americans in the United States after Emancipation. He calls for honest wages and a new, respectful relationship between black and white citizens.
As the war progressed, civilians began to recognize the inefficiency of volunteer organizations rooted in the local level. While the efforts of local leaders and volunteers were appreciated, they often miscarried. One common complaint concerned the waste of resources, such as food, clothing, bedding and medical supplies, which were meant for the soldiers, but languished in railroad depots. Inspired by the thought of the men deprived of the basic necessities, a group of northern elites led by Henry W. Bellows organized the United States Sanitary Commission. At the height of its powers, it spread across the North and Midwest acting as a clearinghouse for soldiers and for medical supplies, becoming the largest and most highly organized philanthropic activity that had ever been seen in America. Addressing a large crowd in Philadelphia, at the Academy of Music, the organization’s president describes its work.
The United States Christian Commission began soon after the start of the war, in 1861, and a Ladies Christian Commission launched in 1864 as an auxiliary. Its purpose was to furnish supplies and religious literature to Union troops during the Civil War. It also collaborated with the U.S. Sanitary Commission in providing medical services and supplies, and it held fundraising events across the North. For example, in August 1864, a young Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) reported on the scene at the Ladies’ Christian Commission Fair in San Francisco. The fair proved a success, netting about $40,000.
The Freedmen’s Bureau, created in March 1865, sought to encourage economic self-sufficiency among the newly freed blacks by establishing farms and plots of land to be cultivated. In addition, it established schools, began to register marriages, provided as supervisors and inspectors for existing plantations, and worked to regulate the hours and wages of the freedmen. This excerpt from a Board of Education report describes the progress in setting up schools for former slaves in Louisiana.
During the Civil War, Mary Livermore volunteered as an associate member of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. She organized aid societies, visited army posts and hospitals, and coordinated the Northwestern Sanitary Fair of 1863, which raised $86,000. In this excerpt from her memoir, she explains the need for the U.S. Sanitary Commission and its beginnings.
Chapter 11: Higher Education
Southern faculty helped establish cadet corps units that formalized student preparation for combat. These corps grew out of student and faculty desire to do their part in defending the region, as well as reflecting the patterns of pride and honor characteristic of antebellum southern life. In this letter to a newspaper, published on May 4, 1861, Professor Robert Woodward Barnwell praises the conduct of South Carolina College Cadets who were stationed on Sullivan’s Island after the battle of Fort Sumter and guarded the beach against a night attack. Barnwell joined the company in camp as chaplain. He had been the third president of the South Carolina College (1835–1841), was a signer of the Confederate constitution and during the war he served in the Confederate States Senate.
Institutions of higher learning in the North were far less affected by the war than those in the South. The facilities, buildings, and purposes of Northern colleges and universities were virtually untouched by the ravages of war when compared with their southern counterparts. At many institutions, it was business as usual with fewer students, although some smaller ones closed due to lack of funding or very low student numbers. In general, Northern professors engaged in a rhetoric of suppression of rebellion and freedom for slaves, rather than an eagerness to defeat the South or to defend the glory of the North, while students on northern campuses held a wide range of sentiments toward the war. Many felt disengaged, distracted, or uneasy about it. For example at Yale, out of 400, a mere 13 students enlisted in the war in 1861. However, at Harvard, student James Savage, Jr. and his colleagues began drilling with local companies within days of Fort Sumter. They became a few of the 1311 students and alumni who enlisted and served in the Union Army. Ten percent of them never returned from battle. In this Harvard Magazine editorial dated May 6, 1861 and published in the magazine’s first issue since the battle of Fort Sumter, the editor proclaims that Harvard advocates war, is united against traitors, and that Harvard men will fight as patriots and heroes. He refuses to publish the names of students who have left to fight for the South, calling that a “Roll of Dishonor.”
In November 1861, Augustus Longstreet, President of South Carolina College and a slave owner, sent this annual report to the trustees of the college, explaining that students had left en masse for war. In response to this report, the trustees asked the college faculty to provide a list of members of the senior class who should receive diplomas, in spite of the war interrupting their senior year. Some diplomas did not reach the students or their families until years after the end of the war.
In 1862, Congress approved the Morrill Act (also known as the Land-Grant Act). The federal bill was hardly a new idea when it was passed, but it was one that did not gain traction until after the southern states left the Union. Vermont Senator Justin Morrill had talked for years about the need to establish federal support for agriculture and mechanics education. When Morrill successfully pushed the bill through Congress and received Lincoln’s signature in July 1862, the South was shut out of the first federal support for American higher education. The South’s resistance to the Act before the war and its inability to access the funds until after the war meant that northern campuses would receive unprecedented support at the very time southern campuses were under greatest duress. As mandated by the bill, states were granted 30,000 acres of land in western territories for each of their congressional representatives. Consequently, the formula favored the more populous states, which received larger appropriations. Morrill’s bill allowed for states to then sell, rent, or otherwise derive an income from the scrip to finance the establishment of a new institution or to support existing ones. The legislation, however, required that those institutions receiving the funds must promote the education of agriculturists and mechanics of the state. The Land-Grant Act ultimately distributed over 17 million acres to various states of the Union. It provided a significant source of stability for northern institutions of higher education, although it was not always clear which new or established institutions would receive funds from the Act. Established institutions became fiercely competitive with one another to assure their institutions would clinch a hold on the land-grant funds.
Irdell Jones was a junior at the South Carolina College (later the University of South Carolina) and the Second Lieutenant of the South Carolina College Cadets on the eve of the Civil War. The trustees of the college had resolved at a meeting on December 3, 1860, that it should be permitted for students to organize a military company under the direction and control of the faculty. In this account, which he published in The News and Courier in 1901, he recalls the student excitement on campus about the impending war.
In this letter written on March 25, 1912, John C. Sellers recalls the aftermath of the war at the University of South Carolina (the new name for South Carolina College from 1866 onward), including the presence of wounded students with missing limbs.
Chapter 12: Military Schools
The rising sectional tensions of the 1850s encouraged the establishment of even more military schools and civilian institutions began to teach courses in military studies and create drill companies among student bodies. Then on December 2, 1859, the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets served as the escort of Virginia governor Henry Wise at the execution of abolitionist John Brown in Charles Town, Virginia, with VMI Superintendent Francis H. Smith giving the final command at the gallows. The next month, Smith submitted a report to the Virginia Senate and House, summarizing the conduct of his cadets at the execution. Although the firing on Fort Sumter was still more than a year away, Smith quotes one Virginia mother’s statement that she would willingly give her sons to the southern cause during a civil war.
Document 12.2 “West Point Cadets” (1860)
The growing sectional crisis had a profound impact on America’s national military academy at West Point. Each state from the Union was represented in the cadet ranks and so, after the first states left the Union during the winter of 1860–61, the Corps endured numerous resignations as cadets left to serve their now seceded states. By the time of Fort Sumter, nearly all the southern cadets and professors had departed, drastically reducing the numbers at the Academy. Like southern military schools, it remained open during the war but had difficulties in maintaining full student enrollments and faculties.
Source: New York Illustrated News, October 27, 1860.
Document 12.3 “The Engineer Corps at West Point in Their Dormitory” (1861)
Graduates from West Point had the most impact on the leadership of both the Union and Confederate armies, with over 260 alumni serving the Union and 640 serving the Confederacy. But lack of qualified faculty and the allure of volunteer commissions led to a dramatic increase in failures and resignations during the war years. Academy administrators even thwarted a Congressional proposal to abolish the school in 1863.
Source: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, February 9, 1861.
Seventeen year old Thomas Rowland from Alexandria, Virginia was appointed as a cadet to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1859. He excelled as a cadet, ranking first in his class of 42 members. But he could not graduate with this ranking because he resigned his commission to join the military forces of Virginia after it seceded from the Union in April 1861. His correspondence with his family reveals the difficult decision that he and other West Point cadets had to make, as their loyalty to their friends and their institution often conflicted with their loyalty to their home communities.
Document 12.5 “Cadet of the Virginia Military Institute in Marching Outfit” (1864)
As manpower shortages ravaged the southern ranks and Union forces pushed deeper into the South, several Confederate commanders reluctantly called upon the services of local military schools to augment their undermanned forces. Most often, cadets functioned in the role of a “home guard” by either searching for deserters, escorting prisoners or guard detail. Cadet enthusiasm waned when they finally confronted the realities of life on the campaign: bad weather, fatigue duty and endless footsore marches across the countryside. This illustration of a Virginia Military Institute cadet in his marching outfit accompanied an account of the Battle of New Market, Virginia, on May 15, 1864.
Source: Battles and Leaders of the Civil War , Volume 4 (New York: The Century Co., 1884), 480.
By the later years of the war, the need for manpower within the Confederate forces became so great that military academy cadets were compelled to fight in pitched battle. The most famous of the instances occurred on May 15, 1864 when 257 cadets from VMI helped turn back a Federal Army under General Franz Siegel at the Battle of New Market. Ten cadets were killed during the engagement, which Brigadier-General Imboden describes below. Cadets from SCMA and GMI also distinguished themselves in fighting at the Battles of Tulifinny and Resaca respectively, while the corps of cadets from the University of Alabama contributed in smaller skirmishes during the latter campaigns of the war.
As the Federal Armies closed in around the Confederate stronghold of Charleston, home of the South Carolina Military Academy (SCMA), local commanders reluctantly called the South Carolina Corps of Cadets into service to protect the city. In December 1864, the cadets fought a brief but intense skirmish with Union troops at Tullifinny Creek near a critical railroad juncture. After a three hour-long battle with Federal troops, the cadets drove them from the field. Several cadets were wounded. The commander of the cadet detachment, Major James B. White, submitted this report, dated December 12, 1865, to the Chairman and Board of the SCMA, detailing the events of the campaign and the deportment of the cadets.
Chapter 13: Military Medicines
During the war, there was no love lost between sectarians (homeopaths and “eclectic” physicians were among the most organized and numerous) and allopaths, who were known for their tendency to favor drastic or “heroic” therapy—for example, bloodletting, inducing vomiting and defecation, and vigorous administration of harsh mineral drugs. Below, an eclectic physician attacks allopathic army surgeons. Sectarians wanted more of their members allowed into the military, so they tended to disparage the practices of allopaths.
Allopathic physicians considered the sectarians to be quacks. The leaders in the Union and Confederate medical departments were allopaths and so were most physicians who were allowed into the military as surgeons. Below, an allopathic physician attacks eclectic practitioners. Such constant and acrimonious bickering among allopaths and sectarians about which group provided superior treatment eroded the image of physicians as trusted and knowledgeable caregivers during the war. The preexisting doubts that troops had about the abilities of surgeons were exploited by each faction, each with its own agenda to press.
President Lincoln’s imposition of a naval blockade of the Confederate states became more efficient as the war progressed. Among the items classified as contraband were medical supplies. In response, medicines were smuggled into the South from the North—often by speculators who sold the goods to druggists or medical purveyors—or snuck into southern ports by blockade runners. Below, a northern newspaper describes the capture of southern drug smugglers.
After crossing the blockade, cargoes of smuggled drugs were typically auctioned to druggists or speculators from whom medical purveyors were then forced to purchase. At times, medical purveyors were authorized to seize goods from speculators and pay them only the cost price. Some drugs were imported for government use, but disputes over the price could lead to purveyors impressing the goods and the government determining a “fair valuation.” Below, a blockade-runner asks for a better price from the Confederate Medical Department.
The official military medical supply lists in use at the start of the war were developed by medical officers in the regular armed forces of the United States and reflected the military’s needs as seen by practitioners of regular (orthodox or allopathic) medicine. In 1862, the Union Army liberalized its practices to address the needs of its many physicians who had only recently left civilian practice for the military. But the standard supply tables still fell short in terms of overall selection. Below, a trade journal defends the supply table against its many critics and then two months later reports on the recent order by Surgeon General William Hammond of the Union Army, a progressive allopath, to remove certain drugs from the supply table on the grounds that they were being misused by surgeons.
Medical practice was largely unregulated in civilian life, such that practically anyone could claim expertise and treat patients. Lax standards accounted for a great many unqualified physicians entering the military as surgeons early in the war. Treatments at the time were not notable for their success, and many troops, especially those from rural areas where physicians were scarce, were accustomed to treating themselves. In an article from 1863, Harper’s Magazine mockingly narrates a story about a navy surgeon.
Like this Union chaplain, soldiers often commented that surgeons prescribed exactly the same thing for every patient regardless of the illness or gave different remedies for patients who had exactly the same symptoms. Quinine, calomel, and blue mass or blue pills were the usual medicines mentioned in such accounts. Troops sometimes made light of the situation by giving their surgeons nicknames like “Old Salts” or “Opium Pills” or attaching lyrics like “Come and get your quinine” to the notes blown by the bugler to announce sick call.
Particularly valuable drugs during the war included chloroform and ether, which were used as anesthetics for surgery or other painful procedures, and opium and morphine, which helped relieve pain, suppress cough, and reduce the severity of diarrhea. In this account, a wounded Stonewall Jackson receives chloroform.
Quinine—sometimes mixed with whiskey—was well recognized for its remarkable specificity and effectiveness in preventing and curing malaria (commonly called “intermittent fever” or “periodic fever”). But because the South had no preexisting large-scale drug industry, the unreliability of existing sources of medical supply and the ever rising cost of goods forced the Confederacy to commence the collection of native resources, especially plants, from which medicines could be made. Here a Confederate surgeon describes the treatment of malaria with tree bark.
Chapter 14: Civilian Healthcare
Civilian healthcare differed greatly to military healthcare during the Civil War era. For all its faults, the military paradigm had its advantages: sophisticated general and specialized hospitals, the emergence of the professional nurse, an improved ambulance service, surgeons trained and experienced in trauma and emergency surgery. For those Americans at home or the farm during the era, the state of medicine was less progressive. Nonetheless, in an editorial at the beginning of the Civil War, the American Medical Times appealed to their readers’ sense of patriotism, suggesting they become involved in the war effort for the public good and the good of their discipline.
Ailing soldiers were likely to treat themselves by relying on techniques they learned before their military services or remedies sent from home, or cures suggested around the campfire by comrades. And citizens did not hesitate to send newspapers their own recommendations for medicating soldiers, like this southern citizen who recommends a treatment for maggots in wounds.
Document 14.3 “Lincoln as Alchemist” (1861)
Patent medicine vendors took advantage of the Civil War and incorporated martial and patriotic symbolism into their advertising. Likewise, makers of patriotic items incorporated patent medicine motifs into their products, taking advantage of the popularity of the medicines in American culture at that time. Below, in the detail from a patriotic envelope, Abraham Lincoln is portrayed as a pharmacist/alchemist with the names of Union generals on the products that surround him in his laboratory. The products are meant to cure the illness of secession. Leading Confederate personalities are shown being hanged in specimen bottles.
Source: James M. Schmidt Collection.
Applications to the United States Patent Office for medicines increased significantly during the Civil War. Several of the “improved medicines”—as they were billed—were born of perceived wartime necessity, but most were for use in the home or on the farm. Letters patent did not endow the inventions with any more scientific merit than the secret nostrums and proprietary medicines of the era, as seen in the remedy below.
After the war, Americans in the North and South encountered quackery in the continued influence of patent medicines. Just as they had during the war itself, patent medicine firms marketed their wares specifically to Civil War veterans in the post-war years, and counted on testimonials from veterans to prop up their “snake oil” to the American public. The stakes were high: patent medicine sales grew to nearly $80 million by the turn of the century. Patent medicines were especially popular in the South, which did not have the same maturing base of pharmaceutical industry that the North enjoyed. However, one person, at least, believed that the long-lasting impact on the war was to show southern citizens that they could live without these quack medicines, having survived the blockade. Below, a former Confederate surgeon tries to explain this particular lesson of the war for all civilians and veterans.
Slaves were not completely dependent on their owners and overseers for their medical care, nor were they passive recipients. They retained beliefs and practices born of their African roots and were inclined to trust in their own remedies, including plants, herbs, and minerals. White orthodox physicians reported on the more successful slave remedies in period medical journals. Decades later, the narratives by former slaves gathered by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration often include descriptions of favorite remedies and opinions on practitioners.
Chapter 15: Slave Emancipation
Slaves took advantage of the intense disruption of war and by August 1861, more than 900 fugitives had sought and gained protection with the Union forces. But before the enactment of a new article of war on May 13, 1862, prohibiting army officers from returning fugitive slaves to their owners, soldiers were sometimes forced to act as slave-catchers. Below, Union soldiers despise the order to return slaves to their masters.
Early in the war, Major-General Benjamin Butler classified slaves who were used in the Confederate military effort as contraband. Here he describes at length the growing number of fugitive slaves, women and children among them, seeking refuge within his lines, and while declaring the men contraband of war and subject to confiscation just as cannon or horses, he is less clear about what to do with the women and children.
Slaves began to liberate themselves as soon as the fighting began, pouring into Union lines, seeking refuge, protection, and freedom. Many then took the next step in securing the liberty of their families as they returned south and brought out their wives, children and other family members. After fleeing slavery in Maryland, John Boston found refuge with a New York regiment in Upton Hill, Virginia, where he wrote this letter to his wife who remained in Owensville, Maryland.
On April 16, 1862, President Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. The following document outlines the available compensation to masters for the loss of their slave property, and also lays out the possibility of voluntary repatriation or colonization of former slaves. Over the next nine months, the Board of Commissioners appointed to administer the act approved 930 petitions, completely or in part, from former owners for the freedom of 2989 former slaves.
Document 15.5 “Contrabands Coming Into Camp On the Federal Lines” (1862)
In July 1861, Congress passed the First Confiscation Act, which provided for the confiscation, and de facto freedom, of slaves who were used in the Confederate military effort. In August 1862, it passed a second confiscation act that not only authorized the seizure of the property of persons in rebellion but also specified that all slaves who came within Union lines were captives of war and free. As Union armies moved into the South, thousands of slaves fled to their camps. This illustration depicts “contrabands” entering Union camps in search of freedom.
Source:, May 10, 1862.
Document 15.6 Timothy O’Sullivan, “Fugitive African Americans Fording the Rappahannock River. Rappahannock, Virginia” (1862)
The photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan shows a group of fugitive slaves crossing the Rappahannock River in search of freedom behind Union lines during the second battle of Bull Run in August 1862, just a month before the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Emancipation was not one of President Lincoln’s initial war aims – he had sought to save the Union, not destroy slavery. He had first tried to convince slaveholders in the border states to gradually eliminate slavery in return for compensation, but eventually came to see that Emancipation would weaken the Southern economy and so strengthen the war effort. Driven by military necessity and by political pressure, Lincoln released his preliminary emancipation proclamation in the fall of 1862. He read the first draft to cabinet members on July 22 and issued the preliminary version on September 22, which specified that the final document would take effect on January 1, 1863. Then, in finalizing the first General Order of 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln was careful to be precise in his wording. It was through his military powers as commander in chief, not through his executive powers as President, that he proclaimed slaves free, and only in areas that were in active rebellion against the nation and not currently under Union control, allowing slavery to continue in the border states and a large number of Unioncontrolled areas. But in spite of these limitations, the Proclamation gave the Union cause a moral force. The war was now a struggle for freedom.
In addition to printing the official Emancipation Proclamation when it was issued, newspapers carried accounts of the large night-watch celebrations held throughout the Union in anticipation and celebration of the impending Jubilee. For example, in New York City, black abolitionist and clergyman Henry Highland Garnet presided over an emancipation Jubilee. A crowd of both white and black congregants filled the Shiloh Presbyterian Church to capacity. They listened to numerous speeches and closed out 1862 with five minutes of silent prayer before ringing in the new year of freedom with singing and rejoicing. Similar descriptions of such celebrations appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Chicago Tribune.
As in many towns and cities, Harrisburg’s black community hailed the Emancipation Proclamation as a new era in the nation’s history even as they acknowledged its shortcomings and recognized that the document was a political move designed to aid the union’s war effort. As shown in these adopted resolutions, the community understood that freedom came with responsibilities, including military service in defense of the nation. In fact, the slave community often viewed military service as a key step in the process of emancipation. A majority of the roughly 180,000 African American troops who fought in the Civil War had been slaves. Their enlistment and service assured them of their freedom, and helped liberate others.
Document 15.10 Thomas Nast, “Emancipation Proclamation” (1863)
In its first issue following the Emancipation Day celebrations of January 1, 1863, Harper’s Weekly published a double-spread illustration by Thomas Nast. Below the rays of “Emancipation,” a scene of African Americans enjoying a comfortable home life is flanked by scenes of the past, including the sale and abuse of slaves, and scenes of the future, including education and fair employment.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, January 24, 1863: 56–57.
Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, freedom came about by degrees and the death of slavery proved to be agonizingly slow for many. The precise moment when slaves could safely think of themselves as free men and women was not always clear. Some only found out about their freedom after the war, and without mention of the Emancipation Proclamation itself. And freedom was often heavily dependent on the proximity of the army. Many slaves, even before the Emancipation Proclamation, assumed they were free when the Yankees arrived. And even after the Proclamation, many were cautious about exercising their freedom, realistically perceiving that the degree of their freedom often rested with the proximity of federal authorities. Below, a group of men and women reach Port Royal, South Carolina, occupied by Union troops.
Chapter 16: Black Troops
At the onset of the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederate Armies were reluctant to arm African Americans. Both governing military hierarchies were operating under the Militia Law of 1792 that specifically banned black enlistment. But both governing military powers changed their policies during the four years of the war. In August 1862, Congress pushed ahead with a Second Confiscation Act in concert with an amended Militia Act that emancipated slaves who were able to labor for the Union forces, and allowed for people of African descent to be mobilized into any branch of the military where they were deemed competent. Regiments of black soldiers also began to organize, with white officers in command. Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson (white officer) served as the commanding officer of the all-black 1st South Carolina Volunteers regiment. In this segment of his diary, he details the characteristics of black soldiers.
During the early years of the Civil War, most northern military officers did not want open enlistment for African Americans who might misconstrue the war aims as a strike against slavery. As the Union Army advanced along the coastline, hundreds of enslaved individuals took shelter in the Union camps and offered their services to the northern forces. These “contraband of war” were not to be utilized as fighting forces but could provide labor services to the Union defenses. This would strip the Confederates of the wage-free work force upon which they had become dependent. Below, this letter to the Secretary of War describes how “contraband” men and women will be utilized in the areas of the South administered by Union forces.
Two years into the Civil War, President Lincoln finally allowed for the enlistment of black soldiers. He hoped black participation in the armed forces would bring an end to the war more quickly. Frederick Douglass announced this opportunity for enlistment to his mostly black audience in Philadelphia on July 6, 1863. The speech also links the ideas of black citizenship and military service, and reassures the listeners that the federal government’s policy of open enlistment would take precedence over any state policies. African Americans flooded the recruiting stations, sometimes traveling to other states so that they could enlist. Douglass interpreted the Proclamation and military service as a positive advancement and he exhorted men to enlist immediately, even supporting his two sons when they joined the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.
In May 1863, the government established the Bureau of Colored Troops to deal with the issues of enlistment, pay and officer selection. One of the most glaring problems was the pay disparity between white and black enlistees. White enlistees were paid $13 per month with a $3 deduction for uniforms, while black enlistees were paid $7 per month after the $3 uniform deduction. Some black soldiers mutinied until the military finally equaled their pay. Below, a black soldier—Corporal James Henry Gooding—writes to President Lincoln about the pay inequities.
Finally, in June 1864, Congress passed legislation mandating equal pay for black and white soldiers in the Union Army. This revised the inequities and commutation fees from its earlier Conscription and Enrollment Act. Yet it continued with press gangs to bring men into the service against their will. And in regions like Georgia, Alabama, and Texas, Union forces were not numerous enough to provide safety, shelter and freedom to the individuals who wanted to serve.
In the South, the Confederate government and military officials studied whether to enlist and arm black men. But they only agreed to arm them when the war was in its last weeks. Writing on January 11, 1865, to Andrew Hunter, a member of the Virginia state legislature who had solicited his views on the subject of black enlistment for the Confederacy, General Robert E. Lee explains the advantages of enlisting black troops into the Confederate Army. He also professes to be willing to offer emancipation to black soldiers and their families as a reward for faithful military service.
By the end of the war, nearly ten percent of the men serving in the military were black. Overall, approximately 180,000 black men served in the armed forces as laborers or combat soldiers. The death toll of black men is estimated at around 38,000 people, from disease or injury in battle. Below, Lt. Colonel C. T. Trowbridge addresses the 33rd US Colored Troops (formerly the 1st South Carolina Volunteers), on February 9, 1966 on Morris Island, South Carolina. He highlights the numerous accomplishments of the black regiment.
Document 16.8 Alfred R. Waud, “African American Soldiers Mustered Out at Little Rock, Arkansas” (1866)
Most black soldiers left the military after the end of the war, and were mustered out—as depicted in this Harper’s Weekly drawing from 1866—although some stayed and joined the occupying forces of Reconstruction, and others continued on in all-black militias. Yet even by the end of the war, military officials were still apprehensive about arming black men, no matter the glowing reports and celebratory illustrations. Congress instituted a new federal policy that established permanent black military units as part of the Regular Army, but they choose to keep the units segregated, with white officers in command.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, May 19, 1866: 308.
Chapter 17: Immigrants
The Irish continued to arrive in the U.S. during and after the Civil War. Between 1861 and 1880, around 870,000 Irish immigrants settled in America. They accounted for 17 percent of total immigration to the United States. One of the most popular songs of the Confederacy was even written by an Irish-born immigrant, Harry McCarthy, who was the most famous entertainer in the South and proclaimed his dedication to the southern cause in “The Bonnie Blue Flag” (also known as “We Are a Band of Brothers”). He set the words to an old Irish tune, “The Irish Jaunting Car.”
Responding to the labor opportunities that accompanied the gold rush, Chinese immigrants arrived in the U.S. from 1848 onward. But economic instability and the growth of nativism meant increased anti-Asian sentiment and working conditions for the “coolies” (manual laborers) were harsh. In 1862, however, the U.S. Congress took action against the American abuse of Chinese immigrants and passed legislation against the excesses of the “coolie” trade.
By 1862, more immigrants were desperately needed to provide economic and military labor. Shipping companies actively embarked on recruitment campaigns. In Hong Kong, an immigration broker circulated this flyer below. To provide an even greater incentive, Congress passed the 1862 Homestead Act that offered 160-acre plots to any immigrants whose end goal was citizenship. Thousands of immigrants responded and climbed aboard ships to the U.S.
Document 17.4 “General Franz Sigel at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas” (1862)
Born in Baden, Germany in 1824, Franz Sigel journeyed to America in 1852. An active anti-slavery advocate, he joined the Union army and on August 7, 1861, he was commissioned as a Brigadier General. He was promoted to Major General in 1862. Sigel helped to galvanize German–American patriotism and rally German immigrants to the Union effort. In early March 1862, at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, over half of the Federal soldiers were German immigrants and Sigel commanded the regiments with these soldiers (the 1st and 2nd Division of the Army of the Southwest), as depicted in this lithograph published by Currier & Ives.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Born in County Antrim Ireland, St. Clair A. Mulholland emigrated to Philadelphia as a young man. During the Civil War, he was a Lieutenant Colonel with the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, which was part of the Irish Brigade—an infantry brigade consisting predominantly of Irish Americans. He was promoted to Major General in 1864. Below, he reports on the actions of his regiment to the Irish Brigade’s Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
Document 17.6 Sinclair Tousey, “Irishmen and Workingmen” (1863)
As casualties increased during the war, Irish and German communities expressed anger at mandatory military service. The 1863 Conscription Act allowed individuals to purchase their way out of the war for $300 but few Irish or German immigrants could afford the fee. For example, in the state of New York, as many as three fourths of the able-bodied men exempted from military service were American born, while three fourths of those drafted were foreign-born. German and Irish immigrants protested the presence of recruiting stations in their neighborhoods. In New York City, publicly displaying their displeasure at the draft, the Irish rioted and directed their anger at free African Americans. Responding to the New York City draft riots, Sinclair Tousey and W.O. Bourne produced at least nine handbills in an attempt to stop the violence. Below, one of the nine—produced by Sinclair Tousey and dated October 13, 1863—asks Irishmen and workingmen to vote for freedom over slavery.
Source: Library of Congress, Printed Ephemera Collection.
Throughout the war and even afterwards, immigrant soldiers and veterans were targets of discrimination and scapegoating. In response, immigrant populations worked to combat anti-immigrant legislation, stereotypes and violence. In editorials and articles, they championed immigrant soldiers’ efforts in the major battles such as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Scores of immigrant groups marked 4th of July celebrations by commemorating their countrymen’s service in the Civil War. And on December 8, 1863, in a well-received State of Union Address, Lincoln made the following remarks to Congress regarding the rights of recent immigrants to participate in the war and become naturalized citizens.
Joe English was an Irishman and Civil War era music-hall composer and performer based in New York City. His song, about Irish Union soldiers, was written to the tune of “The Irish Jaunting Car,” which was also the tune of the Confederate song “The Bonny Blue Flag.” With its pride in Irish identity and imagery of Irish homeland, the song reflects the war’s role in reinforcing immigrant identities. All-immigrant regiments exposed individuals to ethnic customs and languages, fostering a distinct cultural identity. As well, in response to discrimination and scape-goating during the war, immigrants defended and preserved their native languages and traditions.
James Dawson Burn, a well-known British author, included in his book about life during the war numerous descriptions of the laboring German and Irish classes—their urban living conditions, educational systems, and behavior.
Chapter 18: Native Americans
Native Americans from the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles, fought on both sides during the Civil War. Chief John Ross, who was first elected Cherokee chief in 1828, led the Cherokee Nation into the Confederacy at an August 21, 1861 council attended by almost 4,000 Cherokee men at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation. In this letter of September 19, 1861, he writes to Chief Opothleyahola and other chiefs and headmen of various tribes to convince them to not ally with the Union, but to join the Confederacy. Indian leaders from the Cherokees, Creeks, Senecas, Osages, and Quapaws signed treaties with the Confederacy on October 4, 1861, at Tahlequah.
In late 1861, Confederate Indian and white troops killed or captured many pro-Union Indians retreating toward Kansas. The surviving Union Indians in Kansas under Creek Chief Opothleyahola suffered tremendous hardships, as described in the following eyewitness report from a Union Army doctor to the Army Medical Director in Kansas. Chief Opothleyahola and many other refugee Indians died of diseases or hunger during the winter of 1861–62 in southern Kansas refugee camps.
Writing from Fort Washita in Oklahoma, which was held by Confederate troops until the end of the war, Matthew Leeper describes the reserve Comanches and wild bands of Comanches, requesting a military force to be stationed on the reserve. Leeper was a Confederate States Indian Agent, and he addressed the letter to Brigadier General Albert Pike, who became a Confederate Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in March 1861, and a Confederate brigadier general on August 15, 1861. He was trusted by many Native Americans and was the major influence in signing members of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory and many of the plains tribes into treaties with the Confederate States of America in 1861.
Document 18.4 “Agent C.S.A.” (1862)
On March 7, 1862, at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, Confederate Cherokees and Texas troops captured a Union battery, where several Union soldiers were scalped. With much controversy, the northern press reported the scalpings. Then, as the war progressed, Indian uprisings began to take place. A brutal Dakota uprising in Minnesota in August 1862 killed 737 whites and 40,000 American settlers fled to Wisconsin. Other Indian unrest occurred throughout the West. In September of that year, Harper’s Weekly published a cartoon about the recent violence that protested the Confederacy’s reliance upon Indian support.
Source: Harpers Weekly, September 13, 1862: 592.
In July 1861, Stand Watie raised a Confederate Cherokee company when the Cherokee Nation was officially neutral under Principal Chief John Ross. After Ross fled Indian Territory, Watie was elected principal chief of the Confederate Cherokees in August 1862. Watie, or troops in his command, went on to participate in 18 battles and major skirmishes with Federal troops during the Civil War. Watie was promoted to brigadier general on May 6, 1864, and given command of the first Indian Brigade. He was the last Confederate general to lay down his arms, finally surrendering on June 23, 1865. Below, he writes to his wife Sarah, who spent much of the war in north Texas, about a raid that burned down the Cherokee capital and John Ross’s home.
Chapter 19: Newspapers
The Civil War began in the newspapers as early as 1860, when the nomination of Abraham Lincoln as Republican candidate in the presidential election triggered alarm throughout the Southern press, which widely believed that Lincoln would end slavery, under force of arms if need be. Election came, and the South Carolina legislature announced an intention to secede. The editor of the Harrisburg Telegraph was not impressed: “Let the chivalry amuse themselves,” he wrote on November 10, 1860, “the farce will soon be played out.” Two days later, however, he reprinted the suggestion of “a sensible Kentucky editor,” to let them go their own way, after all.
In 1861, a string of security violations led both governments to work out cooperative agreements with journalists. The Confederacy urged southern newspapers to abstain from all specific allusions to the movement of troops, while the government of the United States called upon the northern press to cooperate in not publishing information about troops advances or reinforcements until after a battle had occurred. An open letter, addressed to the press by the Confederate secretary of war, appeared in in newspapers in the South and was reprinted in the New York Times.
In 1860, the London Times sent its Crimean War journalists super-star, William Howard Russell, to report on the sectional tensions in the United States. A skilled writer, forthright but pompous, Russell quickly earned the enmity of too many members of the government and military, was denied privileges, and was on his way home by April 1862. In addition to filing news reports, Russell kept a diary (published in 1863). The following is his entry for July 10, 1861, where Russell describes the restrictions placed on the American press during the war.
Much of the press material for the North originated in Washington, D.C. It was there that journalists parsed official reports, pursued government leaders and amplified rumors. On any given day, perhaps 30 specials made regular daily rounds of congressional and department offices, military headquarters, nearby army camps, the railroad station, hotels, bars, and restaurants—sending their copy to New York by the telegraph (up to 50,000 words a day). A reporter for the Cincinnati Daily Commercial offered his critique of these reporters.
Battles, skirmishes, rumors and rivalry did not provide enough copy to fill a newspaper (or justify the salary of a journalist in the field). But the more talented journalists found plenty to write about, adding color and poetry to their accounts. In 1861, correspondent Frank B. Wilkie (writing under his pen name “Galway”) offered this haunting vision of an October in southern Missouri.
Some newspaper coverage of the Union victory at the Battle of Shiloh/Pittsburg Landing (April 6–7, 1862) was seriously flawed. Tales of an unprepared army caught so off-guard that soldiers were bayoneted as they slept triggered public outrage, contributed to the summary relief of Maj. Gen. Grant by his superior, Maj. Gen. Halleck, and prompted Halleck to issue Special Field Order, No. 54, banning all “unauthorized hangers-on” from his army. The putative hangers-on, the members of the press corps assembled, appointed Whitelaw Reid of the Cincinnati Gazette to turn their outrage into words, and then issued this public statement below. General Halleck responded that he was required to exclude all civilians, no exception. “I have no objections to what you may write,” he declaimed. “I care nothing about what the newspapers publish.” No one believed him, but most journalists saw no alternative and accepted the expulsion order; a few of the more adventuresome borrowed army uniforms and stayed in the shadows.
The style of much mid-nineteenth-century newspaper writing was dense—a series of generally-related clauses strung together. For example, the lead sentence of a November 1863 Chicago Daily Journal report of the battle at Missionary Ridge contained 169 words. Many correspondents had a difficult time capturing the flair and flavor of combat. George W. Smalley’s account of the battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, the bloodiest day in U. S. history, written with input from three other New York Tribune reporters, was different. The six-column masterpiece was re-printed in almost 1400 newspapers and has been called the best piece of battle reporting of the war.
Chapter 20: Literature
Document 20.1 Winslow Homer, “News from the War” (1862)
Writers addressed larger political issues and historical events through themes that suggested the invasion of the domestic sanctuary by war news, for instance in the form of condolence letters or casualty lists in newspapers. This became a literary trope: the reader wounded vicariously by receiving written news about the wounding or death of a loved one. Poems and stories used this trope to explore the effects of war on the individual and the nation. Winslow Homer’s illustration “News from the War,” which appeared in Harper’s Weekly on June 14, 1862, provides a good visual representation of the trope. The figure of a lonely woman bows her head in sadness after reading the letter that is still in her hand. As the caption beneath Homer’s image suggests, the woman herself is “wounded” by reading a letter that relays news of a soldier’s injury.
Source: Harpers Weekly, June 14, 1862: 276–277.
Like newspapers, literary magazines quickly adapted to the change in their reading public’s taste, offering an additional venue for writers to publish literature on topical issues without the longer wait associated with book publishing. For example, the author of The Scarlet Letter travelled from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., to interview civil and military leaders. His account of the trip appeared in the July 1862 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Many northern readers of The Atlantic were offended by Hawthorne’s essay, because of its antiwar—and conceivably pro-Southern—sentiment. In the excerpt below, Hawthorne describes a visit to Fort Ellsworth, Virginia, and reflects on the scene of fugitive slaves heading north.
The Civil War produced a flood of politically motivated literature. For example, after the Union Army began recruiting the first African American regiments, the topic increasingly appeared in poems, essay, and fiction. In 1864, Harper’s Weekly published two short stories featuring escaped or freed slaves who joined the Union army, “Tippoo Saib,” set against the attack on Fort Wagner, and “Buried Alive,” focusing on the massacre at Fort Pillow. Often, the picture drawn of the black soldier in these texts was one of a physically strong man who performed well under the guidance of white officers and was willing to fight for the Union to his death. Like most Harper’s Weekly stories, the story did not carry the name of its author, which meant that most readers probably did not distinguish between fictional and eyewitness narrative as they read the first-person account of “Daniel Tyler.”
Inspired by his contact with soldiers during his hospital visits as a volunteer nurse in Civil War Washington, Whitman composed a sequence of 53 poems, which he published as Drum-Taps and in which he expressed his thoughts on the fate of the country and his emotional responses to the war. Poems such as “Beat! Beat! Drums!” and “Come up from the Fields, Father” demonstrate the wide-ranging scope of Whitman’s interest in the war’s effect on the soldiers in camp and field as well as the civilians waiting for news at home. One of the most important poems in the book, “The Wound-Dresser,” can be read not only as a poetic reflection on Whitman’s work in the military hospitals during the Civil War, but also as an expression of his hopeful vision for reconciliation and the healing of the nation’s wounds after the war. Questioned by young people long after the war about what it was like, an old veteran narrates his experience.
The themes and issues covered by poems and other works of literature during the Civil War were as diverse as the authors themselves. Many works took as their inspiration and setting major events and battles of the war. Herman Melville wrote many of the poems in his volume Battle-Pieces about individual battles and titled them according to the location of the respective battles, such as “Donelson.” This poem describes the southern surrender of Fort Donelson in Tennessee, and Melville made imaginative use of typeface and punctuation to communicate several different voices. A group of people gather around the bulletin board at a newspaper office to read the latest news reports, and the headline follows, with the report itself in italics, as a member of the crowd reads aloud the posted news. The poem shifts back and forth between the bulletin board and the battlefield itself, as Melville comments on the production and reception of news during the Civil War. In addition to battles, Melville also turned his attention to major political disturbances in other poems published in Battle-Pieces, such as the New York draft riots (“The House-Top”), and to major figures in the war, including John Brown (“The Portent”).
Influential political figures, as well as generals and other military leaders, loomed large in the American literary imagination, starting before the war with John Brown and continuing up to the war’s end with Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee. In addition to Whitman’s famous elegiac poems about Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain!” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” other poets took the assassination of the President as inspiration. William Cullen Bryant’s poem “The Death of Lincoln,” written immediately after Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, was read aloud by the Reverend Samuel Osgood to a crowd of mourners gathered in New York City’s Union Square as the casket bearing the President’s body traveled through the city on its way from the White House to his final resting place in Illinois.
Ten years after the end of the war, Whitman observed that the real war would never get into the books. Believing that the real war consisted of the personal stories of individuals, the unnamed participants and witnesses, Whitman doubted that conventional historical accounts would tell a true story. For Whitman, the heart of the war was the courage and suffering of young soldiers, the countless lonely deaths, the millions of personal reactions to the war, rather than the war’s generals, battles, campaigns and politicians. Only by recording ordinary people’s actions and feelings would the “real war” be represented, he believed. His own Civil War writing, including the collections Memoranda During the War, Specimen Days and Drum Taps, sought to preserve the memory of the real war—its sights, smells, sounds and emotions at the level of the individual soldier’s experience.
Chapter 21: Photography
War photographs, whether filed with pension claims, displayed in galleries or published in newspapers and magazines, offered Civil War-era Americans as close a look at the war as they could tolerate. One of the most prolific photographers of the war was Mathew Brady. His first popular photographs of the conflict were at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, and his photography exhibits in New York marked the first time Americans witnessed the carnage of war in their own land. This New York Times journalist reviews one such exhibition.
In September 1862, Mathew Brady photographed the aftermath at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. He displayed the photographs in his New York gallery as an exhibition he called “The Dead of Antietam.” Viewers were shocked by the images, including this journalist with the New York Times.
With a large staff of photographers, Brady’s studio produced 7000 images of shattered landscapes, bloated corpses, army camps, military personnel, and equipment during the Civil War. The wet-plate collodion negatives they used required an exposure of up to 20 seconds, so there were no action photographs taken. Observing Brady’s photographs, the author and intellectual Oliver Wendell Holmes described them as “terrible mementos.”
Document 21.4 “Brothers in Arms” (circa 1863)
This tintype image by an unknown photographer shows two unidentified African American union soldiers. Tintypes quickly became the most popular form of cased photographs after their introduction in 1855. Their popularity was due in large part to the Civil War, as thousands of soldiers—Union and Confederate—sat for their photographs in tent studios. Because they were inexpensive, durable and portable, tintypes were the most frequently used medium for soldiers who wanted to carry a piece of home into the battlefield, and family members who wanted to possess the image of a soldier. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Document 21.5 Alexander Gardner, “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” (1863)
In 1863, Alexander Gardner and his team traveled to photograph Pennsylvania in the wake of the Battle of Gettysburg, and used the corpse of a Confederate soldier in two different images. One image was staged after Gardner’s team moved the corpse to a different site. Findings in the 1960s pinpointed the original camera locations of these “Sharpshooter” images, taken on July 7, 1863, and revealed that the same body was used in two different shots.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Document 21.6 Alexander Gardner, “The Horrors of War” (1863)
Gardner and his team captured numerous images of the unburied dead. This stereograph—intended to be viewed in a stereoscopic viewer so that the photograph appeared three-dimensional—shows a Confederate soldier killed by a shell at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Document 21.7 “Interior View of Fort Sumter” (1865)
In 1865, photographers came to record the flag-raising ceremony at Fort Sumter, just four years after Civil War began there. Brady’s photograph shows an interior view of the damaged fort.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Chapter 22: Painting and Illustration
The Acting President of New York’s National Academy of Design, Charles C. Ingham, made the following remarks shortly after the outbreak of the war. Patriotic duty, he argues, can be manifested both through military service and by using the palette and pencil. Ingham had helped to found the Academy in 1825 with the mission to promote the fine arts in America.
In this essay, the author calls upon artists to produce great national art and capture the country’s “spirit” on their canvasses during the war. Although no famous history paintings emerged during the war, and although the war’s artistic legacy is not a series of monumental paintings with clear narratives of victory and defeat and a cast of identifiable heroes, well-known artists did paint war scenes—paintings of camp life, nameless soldiers, and freed, or fleeing, slaves. Instead of generals triumphing in glorious battle, their art showed a shift to a more realistic form of representation.
Document 22.3 “Jeff Davis Reaping the Harvest” (1861)
The North viewed southern secession as a bloody act of rebellion. Jefferson Davis became, in a Harper’s Weekly cartoon, a personification of death itself—reaping a harvest not of wheat but men’s skulls. A vulture is perched above a dangling hangman’s noose, both clear symbols of death. More skulls remain to be “harvested.” Yet camouflaged in the grass, curled up in the immediate foreground, is a small rattlesnake, tongue flickering up toward Davis. The snake takes a stand against Davis’s grim reaper, as if providing a warning: taking another step could mean death for Davis, and his cause.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, October 26, 1861: 688.
Document 22.4 Thomas Nast, “After the Battle—The Rebels in Possession of the Field” (1862)
Artists like Thomas Nast brought the war back to the home front for the subscribers of Harper’s Weekly. Images such as “After the Battle” serve as chilling reminders of the horrors and chaos of war. In this picture of the carnage following the second battle of Bull Run, Confederates bury Union soldiers in mass graves. Soldiers on horseback supervise the operation from above and assess the charred landscape. In the foreground, other soldiers strip the dead bodies of clothes, shoes, weapons, and any valuable possessions before dragging them toward the graves. One soldier appears to be pulling out a filling from a dead man’s mouth. At the margins, Nast includes the more tender casualties of war—a dead drummer boy, head still touching his drum, and a woman on the right edge of the picture, hands lifted in agony, her dead husband lying across her lap. Nash’s image aims to shock. The Confederates in the image show no signs of mercy; Nast turns a Union defeat into a commentary on the ruthlessness of Rebel soldiers and, by implication, the fundamental rottenness of their cause. But, above all, the image conveys the fatigue and the casualties on both sides. There is nothing grand or majestic about this warfare.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, October 25, 1862: 681.
Document 22.5 Winslow Homer, “The Army of the Potomac—A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty” (1862)
The most important artist to emerge from the illustrated news business during the war was Winslow Homer, who would become one of the most celebrated painters of the nineteenth century. Homer got his start at Harper’s Weekly as an artist and engraver in 1861, and his images manage to convey a visceral sense of the randomness and inhumanity of war, the endless waiting and exhaustion, the discomfort and brutality. In essence, Homer depicts modern warfare. His detached, journalistic style is exemplified by his print, “The Army of the Potomac,” which emerged from his observations and experiences while at the frontlines with the 61st New York Volunteer Infantry during the siege of Yorktown, Virginia. A Union soldier sits perched high in a pine tree, concealed by branches, his telescopic rifle resembling just another tree limb. But this “limb” is trained on the enemy, and this sharpshooter will pick off men when they least expect it. Rather than long lines of soldiers, led by their generals and their flags, converging upon each other in battle, the sharpshooter represents modern warfare, where enemies might never even see one another’s face. The telescopic rifle provided the technological ability to shoot a man from a vast, concealed distance.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, November 15, 1862: 724.
Document 22.6 “Scene, Fifth Avenue” (1863)
As men left to fight, and many never returned, women increasingly joined the wage-labor force to provide for their families and to help fill the gaps that men had left behind. The issue of appropriate gender roles is a recurring theme in images from the Civil War. For example, a cartoon titled “Scene, Fifth Avenue” published in Harper’s Weekly addresses the topic of class and the military draft by depicting a conflict between a man and woman. During the war, northern men from the upper classes paid “substitutes” to fight for them, but the cartoon suggests that the true man—the man that a woman would desire to marry—would fight in the war himself, or else his sweetheart might find herself a “substitute” as well.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 30, 1863: 560.
Document 22.7 Winslow Homer, “Army of the Potomac—Sleeping on their Arms” (1864)
The disposability and anonymity of men during war is clear in an engraving titled “Army of the Potomac” that Winslow Homer produced in 1864. This image of the Wilderness campaign depicts scores of beleaguered Union soldiers scattered across a stretch of rough and barren land, most of them, as the title indicates, “sleeping on their arms.” These men lack even the basic comforts of tents and encampments, sprawled out instead on the cold earth. A single soldier appears in the center foreground, presumably on picket duty. This sentry stands tall but looks worn and wane, his shoulders slumped, his cheeks sunken, his right hand clinging to his rifle as if to keep his balance. Around him, bodies appear in various states of sleep, lying huddled together against the chilly night or still seated, heads bowed over in exhaustion. Trenches stretch along the horizon and the few remaining trees echo the lean, scraggly quality of the soldiers, with their long muskets and sharp bayonets.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, May 28, 1864: 344-345.
Document 22.8 “A Man Knows A Man” (1865)
As the war came to an end, its costs had been catastrophic and deep uncertainties remained. How could the nation heal its wounds and become the United States again? What would the reality of emancipation be for former slaves across the nation? Images offered by such publications as Harper’s Weekly, which supported racial equality, gave hopeful accounts. In “A Man Knows a Man,” a white and a black veteran shake hands, putting aside racial differences to recognize their common sacrifice “for the good cause.” Men are defined and made equal by their deeds.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, April 22, 1865: 265.
Document 22.9 Thomas Nast, “Pardon/Franchise” (1865)
Thomas Nast illustrated the hypocrisy in the argument against the enfranchisement of black men after the war in his wood engraving “Pardon/Franchise,” published in Harper’s Weekly. Columbia—the female figure who symbolizes the nation—contemplates whether she should reintegrate the southern secessionists while denying rights to African Americans, including disabled black veterans, as much of the public wanted. Should she “trust these men” who had betrayed her, “and not this man” who had sacrificed a limb for the Union cause? In a rare reversal of typical racial characterization, it is the white men, including General Lee at the center, who supplicate themselves before Columbia, while the lone black man stands tall and proud.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 5, 1865: 488-489.
Chapter 23: Music
The most famous political songs of the period were sung by the Hutchinson Family Singers, a fiercely religious group who used four-part harmony to convey messages of abolition, temperance and women’s rights. The Hutchinsons were a sensation, inspiring rapturous devotion from their admirers and fierce antipathy from their detractors, and they toured constantly through the northern United States and made numerous successful trips to Europe. The group’s most well-known song, “Get off The Track!,” used an extended train metaphor to drive home its abolitionist message. According to an 1858 volume in which these lyrics were printed, the song’s railroad imagery acts in service of “illustrating the onward progress of the anti-slavery cause in the United States.” Although there are an impressive seven verses printed here, the song was sometimes sung with as many as twelve.
The 1860s saw an increase in the attention that white musical devotees afforded to the music of African Americans, not simply as it had long been counterfeited and lampooned on minstrel stages, but as it was actually created, performed and disseminated. One of the more famous passages from Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s autobiographical account of the war attempts to describe the music of his black troops. Despite its many problems of both reportage and interpretation, Higginson’s memoirs are a foundational document in the historiography of African American music.
One of the war’s most popular Union marching songs was about the abolitionist John Brown, who took up arms against slavery and attacked the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859, then was executed for treason on December 2, 1859. The marching song took its melody from William Steffe’s 1858 Methodist meeting song “Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us” and its parodic inspiration from a Scotsman in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia who shared the famous abolitionist’s name. The song was first printed in May 1861, copyrighted in July, and sold as a penny ballad in Boston and other northern cities. Numerous different versions circulated throughout the war, each with new verses. Abolitionist and Congregational minister William Weston Patton wrote the influential version printed below in late October 1861. Julia Ward Howe also wrote her own words to the tune, publishing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861.
Tragic war songs often trafficked in tropes and imagery borrowed from parlor ballads and the culture of sentimentality. “Mother” became a central figure, and children, those other stalwarts of sentimental culture, made frequent appearances as well, often in the form of the dying drummer boy. While the service (and not infrequent death) of young men remains one of the more brutal facts of Civil War history, in song the tragic drummer boy became a recurrent figure whose presence was often linked to that of the mother. The Kentucky composer William Hays wrote the most popular drummer-boy song, following the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863.
George F. Root of Chicago was a fervent supporter of the Union cause and the Civil War’s most famous and successful songwriter. “The Battle Cry of Freedom” was his most famous song and the war’s first truly monumental piece of original music. “Battle Cry” weds an exuberant and instantly unforgettable melody to a stirring lyrical text, eschewing the religious pomp of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” for a straightforward, rollicking populism. Its structure and content are simple enough to learn, and remain exciting after countless repetitions.
In 1867, William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware and Lucy Garrison, three northern reformers, educators and former abolitionists, published their volume Slave Songs of the United States. A landmark text in both American music and folkloric study more broadly, the book originally sprang from the work of Lucy Garrison, who in 1862, while working with freedpeople in Port Royal, South Carolina, began the first systematic attempt to transcribe African American spirituals. She was soon joined in her endeavor by fellow transplanted northerners Ware and Allen. Many of the spirituals collected in Slave Songs are still famous today. In this excerpt from the volume, the editors describe the value of slave songs.
Chapter 24: Theater
First premiered in 1858, Tom Taylor’s play would go on to become one of the most successful of the period, making stars out of Joseph Jefferson, playing Asa Trenchard, and E.A. Sothern, playing Lord Dundreary. In the present day, it is most well-known as the play performed in Ford’s Theater on the night that actor John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln. Prior to the action in this excerpt below, the Trenchard family has received word that an American cousin is coming to visit to claim his inheritance from an English uncle.
As the spaces and audiences changed in the late antebellum period, so did the material performed. Moral melodramas became popular as more women attended the theater. Morality plays like The Drunkard and Uncle Tom’s Cabin lured in spectators who previously would never have attended a theater for the sake of mere entertainment. Based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel of 1852, George Aiken’s script provided the basis for many of the thousands of productions staged from 1852 through the 1920s, including this version from 1858.
By the 1890s, 500 companies were staging productions based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and by 1912 Stowe’s son estimated there had been 250,000 productions of the play in the United States. In this review, a New York journalist praises the decision to revive the play in 1862. As the reviewer suggests, prior to and during the war the play helped to fuel abolitionist sentiments in a theatrical environment, reaching and influencing hundreds of audiences.
Document 24.4 “Newspaper Advertisement for ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’” (1862)
In advertising the theatrical production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in the New York newspapers in February and March 1862, the producers emphasized its resonance for the present moment, during the Civil War—for the play depicts life in those states currently "arrayed in arms" against the government. The play was performed by white actors in black face, demonstrating that minstrelsy, already popular by 1850, was now expanding its reach into stable, middle-class theaters. “Blacking up” allowed white performers to parody African Americans for audiences who, for the most part, had rarely met a black person.
Source: New York Times, February 28, 1862.
In 1863 Adah Isaacs Menken arrived in San Francisco prepared to take over the city with a month of performances of Mazeppa at Tom Maguire’s Opera House. One of her audience members was Mark Twain, who had headed west in 1861 Mark Twain to escape the war and mine silver but wrote so many funny letters to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise that the paper’s editor convinced him to try something writing professionally. Twain routinely escaped the rugged towns of the Comstock for a break of city life in San Francisco. By the time that Menken performed in 1863, Twain had already gained the reputation of being a fierce theater critic.
William Winter prided himself on writing true critiques rather than puff pieces subsidized by the theater. His review of Menken’s performance after her return to the United States was the most vicious of her career, and also the one most often cited alongside her name. But Winter’s review was as much about the audience and the state of modern theater as it was about Menken.
Chapter 25: Baseball
Document 25.1 Louis Maurer, “The National Game” (1860)
Using baseball to explain the war, or to lighten the day’s news, was a common literary tactic throughout the conflict, and baseball as political metaphor began in earnest during the 1860 presidential election. The German artist Louis Maurer drew on baseball for this pro-Lincoln political cartoon, which Currier & Ives published in September 1860, two months before the presidential election. Maurer created a parody of the four main presidential candidates (from left to right): Constitutional Union Party candidate John Bell, Northern Democratic Party candidate Stephen A. Douglas, Southern Democratic Party candidate John C. Breckinridge, and Republican Party candidate Abraham Lincoln. Each wield their own unique political “bats” in the hard-fought contest. Lincoln, who stands on the home plate, reminds his opponents that they need a “good bat” to hit a home run. Breckinridge admits defeat, holding his nose as he moves away from the skunk in the foreground. At the time, “skunk’d” was used as a baseball term to describe a large margin of victory.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Baseball players and club administrators proceeded with caution at the beginning of the war. The 1861 National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) convention opened with a declaration of support for the Union war effort and discussions about distributing any profits to support the soldiers. This discussion lost steam when it became clear that the prospect of profits was limited. Attendance at the NABBP conventions steadily declined from 60 clubs in 1860 to 34 in 1861 and 1862. Survival, rather than growth, was the NABBP’s early war focus. At the nadir of participation, only 28 clubs attended the 1863 convention. Baseball activity was tempered, it seemed, by the steady flow of bad news from the battle fronts. Here a journalist explains that the war had curtailed activity in the 1861 season.
Nineteenth-century baseball clubs existed as a part of a broader community of fraternal organizations. These organizations, including Masonic Lodges, insurance cooperatives, and abolitionist groups, sought to meet the needs of their own members and to pursue charitable ends.
In order to limit the movement of contraband supplies and information across the Mason Dixon line, the U.S. government restricted civilian travel during the Civil War. These restrictions affected baseball players, like all other citizens, when they wanted to travel across state lines for games.
Document 25.5 Otto Boetticher, “Union Prisoners at Salisbury, N.C.” (1863)
Civil War soldiers waited to fight more than they actually fought. To pass idle time, soldiers took part in a near-countless variety of games and contests while in camp. They also played baseball in prison camps: prison camp conditions varied widely but when allowed, many prisoners took to the ball field in order to fight boredom and depression. As the Northern prisoners played, their Confederate captives gained further exposure to the game of baseball. One of the most celebrated episodes of Civil War baseball among the fighting men took place in a Salisbury, North Carolina prison camp. Union soldiers held there, especially those from New York, passed some of their captivity hours by picking teams and playing baseball games. Otto Boetticher, an artist who served in the Union Army, preserved one such scene in a sketch before his release from the camp.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
For the first half of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia repeatedly embarrassed the Union Army. Although regularly undermanned, Lee ordered convention-defying attacks and inspired intense devotion from his men. Lee invaded Maryland in September1862, only to be repulsed at the bloody Battle of Antietam. In the spring of 1863, Lee again moved his men into enemy territory—this time into Pennsylvania. Lee met his first significant defeat at Gettysburg in July 1863, just as the Philadelphia Athletics made the “invasion” discussed in this article. The accompanying description of the movements of the Army of the Potomac make clear that tracking a baseball club’s movement was easier than gaining reliable military intelligence.
Baseball activity rebounded in late 1863. Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg turned the fighting tide and helped Lincoln win reelection in 1864. During the last two years of the conflict, many baseball clubs returned to their antebellum customs of hosting elaborate banquets and taking expensive intercity “tours.”
Many soldiers preserved their memories by taking relics from the field of battle. Also during this time, baseball was developing a rudimentary system of determining which club could call itself champion. This document reveals a coming together of these two phenomena. Occurring first locally and then regionally, clubs often played for a ball, trophy, or banner. There was no playoff or league standings, so clubs simply issued challenges to the holder of a baseball prize. If a club succeeded in defeating the champion club in a match, the challenger became the champion. Local newspapers played an important role in overseeing this process.
Abraham Lincoln’s death robbed the Union of its long awaited victory celebration. The nation mourned even as the fighting came to a conclusion. Questions over exactly when it was appropriate to resume club activities extended throughout the fraternal and social club community, including baseball organizations.
Chapter 26: Sacred and Secular Holidays
Laws governing the observance of Sunday were instituted within the United States almost as soon as the country began. These laws limited what was legally permissible activity on Sundays. But the limitations of these laws were tested during the Civil War, and in May 1861 the New York Times published this appeal by a Sabbath Committee to retain Sunday as a holy day of rest. The appeal also pointed to public reaction against any the loss of Sunday as a sacred day. But as even the Sabbath Committee had recognized, different standards must apply to the armed forces. Although there should be public outcry against working on Sunday, the appeal explained, most people recognized that troops were exempt.
George Washington’s birthday was a major holiday prior to the Civil War and during the war’s early years. It was celebrated each year following the American Revolution and that practice continued during the Civil War. In 1862 the United States Senate began a tradition of celebrating Washington’s birthday with a reading of his famous “Farewell Address.” Though this did not become an annual event in the Senate until 1893, it was a popular decision. Individual cities celebrated the day as well. St. Louis, Missouri, even created an 11-mile long procession to celebrate Washington’s birthday in 1862, as reported by this newspaper article. The procession started just after noon and included military regiments and military bands, for a total of 5000 participants with 3000 horses. The civilian portion of the parade also had bands, as well as 127 carriages of ladies, additional mercantile wagons, politicians in various conveyances, and regular citizens. Gunboats, howitzers, and cannons featured in the parade as well. Though other Civil War celebrations of Washington’s birthday might not have matched the drama of St. Louis, they were widespread.
Document 26.4 “The Sabbath in War” (1861)
Despite the fact that Thanksgiving was not a national holiday in the United States until 1863, many states had celebrated it much earlier. Before Lincoln’s national declaration of an official recurring holiday, each of the northern states had already independently established Thanksgiving as a yearly holiday. It was also celebrated in the army camps, even before Lincoln’s proclamation of a national holiday in 1863. The issue of Harper’s Weekly published on November 29, 1862, included an illustration by Winslow Homer that shows many soldiers gathered around the sutler’s tent, which has signs describing the Thanksgiving meal: pie, herrings and cider.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, November 29, 1862: 764.
Document 26.5 Thomas Nast, "Christmas Eve 1862” (1863)
As a festival of peace, rather than a commemoration of revolution and military victory (like July Fourth and Washington’s Birthday) or a chance to give thanks for war victories (like Thanksgiving), Christmas was harder to celebrate during the Civil War. The Northeast largely disavowed Christmas as a religious holiday to such an extent that December 25 was a school day. Numerous northern accounts depict Christmas during the Civil War as a sad and lonely time. For example, a Thomas Nast illustration titled “Christmas Eve 1862,” published in Harper’s Weekly on January 3, 1863, evokes despair. Each half of the illustration is a large circular frame. The left shows a mother, her children in bed behind her, kneeling and praying at the window; the right shows a soldier, sitting alone on guard duty and gazing at photographs of his family. Between the two is a smaller circle showing a row of newly filled graves.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863: 8-9.
Document 26.6 Thomas Nast, "Santa Claus in Camp” (1863)
In spite of his gloomy illustrations of Civil War Christmas, Thomas Nast did create a jollier symbol during the war: the modern Santa Claus. His depiction of Santa drew on his native German tradition of Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop, but inscribed a jolly, large man into the American perception of Christmas. The illustration “Santa Claus in Camp,” published on the cover of Harper’s Weekly on January 3, 1863, was his first published drawing of Santa and shows a chubby Santa in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, wearing a dark jacket with white stars and pants of light and dark stripes, handing out Christmas presents at a Union camp. The following Christmas, his illustration “Christmas, 1863,” published in Harper’s Weekly on December 26, 1863, developed the figure of Santa Claus still further. In these and his other Christmas illustrations, Nast created Santa as a secular symbol of gift giving removed from its Christian antecedents. Along with decorations, a tree and the stocking, it was this gift-giving Santa that endured in later authors’ and artists’ depictions of Christmas and became key to the modern American Christmas.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863: 1.
Both the North and the South celebrated the Fourth of July every year during the Civil War, and newspapers would detail a range of celebrations, including orations, fireworks, the raising of the flag and celebratory drinking. In July 1863, the most famous fireworks of the Civil War were created in New York for the Fourth of July, with a pyrotechnic show demonstrating the battle between the ships Monitor and Merrimac. Here the New York Times reports on the events of the holiday.
Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a federal holiday during the war’s third year, in 1863. Although proclamations of Thanksgiving were declared during the first two years of the Civil War both in the United and Confederate States, these were single days dedicated to prayer and thankfulness to God. For example, in 1862, Confederate president Jefferson Davis declared September 18 as Thanksgiving, but it was a single, unique day celebrating battle victories rather than a date intended to be perpetuated. Similarly, Lincoln’s proclamations of Thanksgiving in both April 1862 and July 1863 were also intended as singular days of thanks for victories in the war. In 1863, however, Thanksgiving became an official and ongoing part of the American calendar.
Across the North and South, African American communities celebrated Emancipation from 1864 onward. For decades after the Civil War, the black community commemorated freedom annually with Emancipation Day celebrations. Although not a legal holiday recognized by the government, it was a day to celebrate liberation and mark the progress of African Americans since the end of the war. Due to the different pace of liberation across the states, various days served as “emancipation day.” While in some locations, it was January 1, the date of the Emancipation Proclamation, other communities celebrated on September 22, the date of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and still others celebrated on July 4 (American Independence Day) or August 1 (West Indian Emancipation Day). Another common day of celebration was Juneteenth, June 19, marking the date of the announcement of slavery’s abolition in Texas in 1865. Most Emancipation Day celebrations were sponsored by black churches. Festivities accompanied such celebrations, including a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, sermons and speeches, music, barbeques, and parades. Below, a newspaper reports on the celebration held in Charleston, South Carolina, on March 27, 1865, after the Confederate Army fled. The black community organized a parade that numbered thousands of marchers and included dramatic tableaux, banners, and songs.
Chapter 27: Death and Dying
Abrupt death on the battlefield took with it the grieving traditions that generations of Americans had established. Since most of the Civil War’s battles occurred in the South, and means of bodily preservation and transportation had not progressed at the same rate at which men were being massacred in the war, soldiers were frequently left to deal with their own comrades’ corpses. This diary entry reveals one soldier confronting the new degradation of war death, with its rotting corpses and damaged bodies.
For many in the North, death symbolized the righteousness of the Union cause and evidence of Union patriotism. For many Protestants, the slaughter was also necessary to repent for the sins of the nation, including slavery. Civil War deaths functioned as redemptive or nationalist symbols, as captured in this diary entry by a northern woman whose southern husband resigned from the Union army to take up a Confederate command. Margaret Sumner McLean tries to believe that patriotism might justify the horrors of war.
During the war, grieving survivors were pushed beyond traditional boundaries of mourning. Survivors were now encouraged to account for the dead by imagining them in heaven, where they would all reunite someday. The new emphasis on an imagined reunion led to the reinvention of heaven. Antebellum notions of heaven focused primarily on the relationship between the deceased and God; in this pre-war heaven, familial ties were considered earthly and for the living. But newer renditions of heaven took on a more tangible, earthly appearance. In this letter, Lucretia Mott describes a sense that a loved one’s spirit might be closer than she has been taught to imagine—demonstrating the new belief that heaven might be near to the living world.
Shortly before the war began, both rural and urban Americans were extremely intimate with death, through the participatory rituals of what has come to be known as the good death. To die a good death essentially meant to die a prepared death at home. It was imperative that family members be present for the moment of loss. Witnessing death offered security that their relative would be accepted in the hereafter. Once the war commenced, however, the good death and the way survivors mourned and healed were revolutionized in the absence of the deceased’s body. Deaths no longer took place in the domestic safety of home and there was nothing families could do to prepare. This diary entry describes one woman’s experience of losing her soldier husband in the war, including a dream where she witnesses his funeral, only to then hear news in a letter of his death and burial far away. Denied access to the good death by war, the wife can only dream the scene of a family funeral.
Not witnessing the actual death robbed survivors of the security that their relative would be accepted in heaven. Part of a good death included, at the deathbed, reaffirmation of spiritual devotion and a wake where survivors could make sure the corpse was indeed dead. But the separation of family members by war meant there was often no physical proof for survivors to recognize and accept. Out of necessity, survivors began to rely heavily on their imaginations to help them move past this emptiness. Unlike before the war, when families were familiar with every aspect of death, they now knew next to nothing. Below, a homesick soldier uses his imagination to mourn his sister, whose death five months’ earlier he had not even heard about.
Writers were responsible for influencing the American imagination’s intimate deathbed scene and notions of heaven. The demand for and production of new literature specifically suited to the Civil War increased, as readers purchased literature with imaginative representations of death that felt most suitable as a response to the national crisis and individual heartache. For example, in Louisa May Alcott’s sketch, the Virginia blacksmith John Sulie (based on the real John Suhre) slowly dies over the course of a night while he awaits a letter from his mother. Alcott began publishing her series “Hospital Sketches” in the Commonwealth, a Boston-based abolitionist magazine edited by family friend Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, on May 22, 1863, and the final sketch was published a month later, on June 26. Alcott’s sketches present a fictionalized version of her experiences as a nurse at the Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown during six weeks in 1862 and 1863.
Chapter 28: Veterans
Taken from a farewell speech given by a regiment’s commander, Lt. Col. John H. Burnham, the excerpt below captures the mixed emotions felt by many veterans upon returning home. In the field, they had created a surrogate family and alternate social network that was abruptly dismantled with army demobilization. This speech reveals that homecoming for many veterans, even amongst the victors, was a bittersweet experience.
This editorial conveys the hope that soldiers will easily reenter civilian life after demobilization at the same time that it alludes to civilian concerns. Both themes appeared regularly in northern newspapers during the early post-war period as opinions wavered greatly not just about the fate of the nation but the fate of its soldiers as well.
Document 28.3 Winslow Homer, “Our Watering Places—‘The Empty Sleeve’ at Newport” (1865)
This Winslow Homer engraving appeared as part of a series in Harper’s Weekly magazine that examined different middle class vacation spots in the post-war United States. Showing a Civil War amputee at the seaside resort of Newport, Rhode Island, Homer captures in this image both the pervasive presence of the war in American life as well as the complex emotions experienced by former soldiers and civilians in its aftermath.
Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 26, 1865.
Although editorial exaggeration clearly is present in this article, the distinction made here between “worthy” veterans and “rogues” is notable. The article raises the important question of how the civilian populace can tell that someone was really a Civil War veteran and what exactly that identity should mean.
Below is an excerpt from a Confederate regimental history that illustrates the last days before that unit’s surrender. Even though the experience of Tunnard’s regiment was not repeated for all units, it gives one example of how Confederate soldiers experienced surrender. This passage also captures the ad hoc nature of the Confederate demobilization process.
This article in a veterans’ magazine, published monthly in Ohio, highlights the role played by editors in making veterans’ experiences understandable to non-combatants. It also raises questions about what exactly constitutes the “real” portrait of the war and if such a view is possible at all.
The recollection below describes the emotions of the 10th South Carolina upon evacuating Columbia, SC and leaving it open to attack by General Sherman’s army. Because this unit was fighting so close to home, tactical movements like this evacuation were demoralizing. The author uses this demoralization to explain the actions of those who deserted as well as to praise those who stood by the colors.
This selection from a speech by the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army, George Merrill, illustrates not only the exclusiveness of the Grand Army as an organization but also the growing sense amongst veterans that they were different from (and perhaps superior to) the general populace.
This call for membership in the Grand Army shows that not all veterans saw themselves as a group set apart or that if they did, joining a veteran’s organization did not seem necessary to them.
This passage from a regimental history illustrates the transportation difficulties faced by Union army units as they moved from their field rendezvous sites to the final mustering out points at the state rendezvous sites. Colonel Smith serves as advocate for his men in this instance. He throws a track switch in Bloomington that forces the passenger train to stop and thereby assures his men passenger cars for the remainder of their journey home. The Colonel is threatened with a lawsuit by the railroad officials, but perhaps fearing the publicity they let him get away with his actions and the unit returns home without further problems.
Desertion was not simply a problem for the southern armies. Many Union soldiers, impatient to go home, deserted in the last months of the war—which is what this author refers to as “French Leave.” This would have jeopardized their future claims towards back pay and bounties as well as land grants and pensions in later life.
In 1892, Confederate veterans met in Petersburg, VA, to share memories and stories of the war. Here, Private John R. Turner focuses on the precise details of the Battle of the Wilderness. These details may hardly seem worth recalling, but his desire to get the facts exactly right is a sign of the pressure placed upon narrative by veterans in the process of healing trauma. To know what happened became a crucial component in integrating past events into their everyday life.
Chapter 29: Competing Memories
After 1865, Union veterans began writing and talking about their experiences of the greatest event in American history since the Revolution. For the next half-century veterans and their supporters churned out a massive amount of material about the Civil War. Accounts of battles were numerous but many veterans also focused on other aspects of soldier life—camp life, marches, forms of recreation. One area that received close attention was how northern soldiers suffered in Confederate military prisons. Better than any other, this issue illustrated the northern cause as a great world-battle wherein moral and patriotic Northerners had triumphed over a truly corrupt and inhumane society, thus cleansing and strengthening the nation. Having heard from Southerners for at least a generation how much more chivalrous, noble, Christian, and gentlemanly they were in comparison to selfish, money grubbing, amoral Yankees, Northerners seemed to enjoy attacking that image using Andersonville terror tales for their ammunition. Allen Abbott, who had been a Union Lieutenant, published a book that describes prison life at half a dozen prisons, including Andersonville.
Northerners claimed that southern officials went out of their way to make captivity as horrible as possible during the war. Far and away the most common specific charge made against the South’s prison camps and officials after the war was that the guards routinely shot prisoners without provocation. Northern veterans frequently portrayed Confederate guards as trigger happy fiends who delighted in murdering Yankees for fun. Postwar northern accounts of life at places like Andersonville used alleged instances of guards murdering prisoners not as isolated events but rather to illustrate the depraved and immoral nature of the Confederacy. For postwar Northerners, the evidence of pure, cold-blooded murder of helpless prisoners of war proved that good had triumphed over evil. In his account, Robert Kellogg describes men killed as punishment for looking out of the window.
Most of the postwar terror tales confine themselves to demonizing the Confederate cause and the society that supported it, but many also take the extra time to remind (northern) readers that the precarious and often terrifying ordeal Union prisoners endured for their sacred cause stood in stark contrast to Confederate prisoners’ treatment in northern military prisons. A number of accounts portray Confederate prisoners as enjoying great kindness and care in Yankee prisons. That Union prisoners did not receive the same magnanimity that northerners supposedly showered upon lucky Confederate prisoners made southern policies, and through them the southern cause and society, seem more repugnant in northern minds. Exposing the “horrors” of southern prisons and juxtaposing them with pleasant prisons run by the Federals was a much-used method to control popular memory of the Civil War and assure that present and future generations of Americans knew exactly which cause had been wholly righteous.
In February 1864, 17-year-old John Lauffer joined Company F, 11th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He was taken prisoner in August 1864 and spent about nine months as a prisoner-of-war in several Southern prison camps. He was released from the notorious Andersonville Prison on May 2, 1865. His poem describes a host of cruelties and mocks the nostalgic image of sunny, chivalric Dixie. It was published in a book-length account of prison life during the war at several prisons.
White Southerners deeply resented Northerners’ manipulation of the prisoner of war issue to brand them, their region and their cause as immoral, barbaric and dishonorable. They reacted to postwar insults by turning them on their heads. If Northerners would use the treatment of prisoners as the litmus test to prove which side embodied noble, Christian characteristics, Southerners would do the same. Hundreds of writers in the 50 years after Lee’s surrender embarked on a mission to counter the tales of Union veterans and other Northerners regarding Andersonville and other Confederate prisons during the Civil War, and also prove that Confederate prisoners were physically abused and denied adequate food, clothing, and shelter as a matter of Federal policy throughout the war. A frequent theme, employed in the account below by Joe Barbiere, a Lieutenant Colonel in the C.S.A., was that Southerners were never given enough food to eat in northern prisons, even as the North was apparently overflowing with food (unlike the blockaded and battle-scarred South).
Like northern terror tales about Andersonville, southern prisoner of war stories contended that Confederate prisoners were routinely subjected to a variety of physical abuses. In these narratives Northerners beat and tortured helpless Southerners for pleasure. Guards were portrayed as regularly beating prisoners with sticks, belts and fists, and prisoners attempting to defend themselves were certain to be shot. Northern prison guards would apparently suspend prisoners by the thumbs entirely off the ground until they died or their thumbs exploded, and often engage in cold-blooded murder. In these descriptions below of northern prisons, published in a book by the former Chief Surgeon of the Confederate States Military Prison Hospitals, R. Randolph Stevenson, southern prisoners-of-war encounter starvation, the denial of medical care, torture and branding.
Former Confederates did not want to be remembered as traitors or as members of a degraded society who had been defeated by a righteous foe. Many Southerners feared that the victors’ version of history would become the official narrative of the Civil War. By publishing accounts of torture and murder in postwar accounts of the Confederate prisoner of war experience, they aimed to demonstrate how truly cruel and immoral the Yankees had been during the war and therefore reinforce the Lost Cause mantra that Northerners had refused to fight according the rules of civilized warfare. With an eye on the future judgments of history, the secretary of the Southern Historical Society compiled hundreds of pages of evidence that tried to refute northern claims that prisoners were ill-treated in southern prisons, and prove that northern prisons were far worse. At the end of the compilation, he sums up the debate, in the six points below.
In 1879 James Garfield (soon to be the 20th President of the United States) refuted southern arguments that Union soldiers were decently treated in Confederate prisons and insisted that prisoner abuse was an established Confederate war policy. Garfield was a veteran himself who had served as a general in the Union army during the Civil War. He gave this speech at a reunion event for Andersonville prisoners-of-war, held in Toledo, Ohio, on October 3, 1879, during his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in Ohio.
More than 20 years after the end of the war, prisoner-of-war were still publishing accounts of their Civil War confinement. Samuel Boggs had served as a Union sergeant and was captured and held in several Confederate prisons, including Andersonville, in 1863 and 1864. His self-published pamphlet seeks to prove that the Confederate prosecution of the Civil War, and therefore the Southern cause, was dishonorable. He expresses concern that survivors of the prisons are starting to pass away, and with them the true memory of the prisoner-ofwar experience. His account demonstrates just how critical it seemed for Northerners and Southerners to exert control over the memory of the Civil War, even decades after its conclusion.