Marching and fighting drill was part of the daily routine for the Civil War soldier. Infantry soldiers drilled as squads and in company formations, each man getting accustomed to orders and formations such as marching in column and in a "company front", how to face properly, dress the line, and interact with his fellow soldiers. After an hour of drill on that level, the company moved onto regimental level drills and parades. The soldier practiced guard mount and other procedures such as the Manual of Arms, which infantrymen learned for the rifle-musket. Veterans of the war often remarked how they could recite the steps of loading and priming for many years after the war, thanks to the continual drill.The drill was important for the infantry for they used tactics that had changed little since the time of the American Revolution or the age of Napoleon: infantry fought in closely knit formations of two ranks (or rows) of soldiers, each man in the rank standing side by side. This formation was first devised when the single-shot, muzzle loading musket became the normal weapon on the battlefield, the close ranks being a necessity because of the limitations of the musket. Yet, by 1861, new technology had made the old fashioned smoothbore musket nearly obsolete with the introduction of the rifle musket. By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, the rifle musket made up the majority of infantry weapons in both the Union and Confederate armies though it took much longer for the tactics to change. Even with the advance of the rifle musket, the weapons were still muzzle loaders and officers believed that the old-fashioned drill formations were still useful to insure a massing of continuous firepower that the individual soldier could not sustain. The result of this slow change was a much higher than anticipated rate of casualties on the battlefield.
Cavalrymen drilled with their sabers, both on foot and horseback, while artillerymen drilled with their cannons limbered up to the team of horses and unlimbered, ready to fire. Oddly enough, marksmanship on a rifle range did not take precedence over other drill the soldiers learned for several reason/ the military believed that each man would shoot accurately when told to and the war departments did not wish to waste ammunition fired on random targets.
Army camps were like a huge bustling city of white canvas, sometimes obscured by smoke from hundreds of campfires. Camps were considered temporary throughout the year until the winter months when the armies would establish winter quarters. The soldiers would construct log huts that were large enough to accommodate several men, made of trees taken from any nearby source. The logs were laid out on stones underneath the bottom log, in a rectangle and notched to fit tight at the corners and stones, brick, or mud-covered logs were formed into a small fireplace in one end. Mud filled the gap between the logs and inside of the chimney over the fireplace. A roof made from tents or sawn boards and wooded bunks built inside finished the hut. Soldiers often named their winter huts after well known hotels or restaurants back home such as "Wiltshire Hotel" or "Madigan''s Oyster House". The armies quartered in these small huts through the winter months and then it was back to the field and dog tents.
Leisure activities were similar in either army and most of it was spent writing letters home. Soldiers were prolific letter writers and wrote at every opportunity. It was the only way for them to communicate with loved ones and inform the home folks of their condition and where they were. Thrifty soldiers sent their pay home to support their families and kept only a small amount to see them through until the next payday. The arrival of mail in camp was a cause for celebration no matter where the soldiers were and there was sincere grumbling when the mail arrived late. The lucky soldiers who received a letter from home often read and re-read them many times. Packages from home contained baked goods, new socks or shirts, underwear, and often soap, towels, combs, and toothbrushes. Union soldiers often spent their free time at the sutler''s store, comparable to the modern post exchange, where they could purchase toiletries, canned fruit, pocket knives, and other supplementary items, but usually at exorbitant prices. A private''s salary amounted to $13.00 per month in 1863 and those unfortunates who owed the sutler watched as most of their pay was handed over to the greedy businessman on pay day. Confederates did not have the luxury of sutlers, who disappeared soon after the war began. Instead they depended on the generosity of folks at home or farmers and businessmen near the camps.
Free time was also spent in card games, reading, pitching horseshoes, or team sports such as the fledgling sport of baseball, a game which rapidly gained favor among northern troops. Rule booklets were widely distributed and the game soon became a favorite. Soldiers also played a form of football that appeared more like a huge brawl than the game we know today, and often resulted in broken noses and fractured limbs. Holidays were celebrated in camp with feasts, foot races, horse racing, music, boxing matches, and other contests. But while on active campaign, the soldiers were limited to writing, cleaning uniforms and equipment, and sleeping.
Soldiers often grouped themselves into a "mess" to combine and share rations, often with one soldier selected as cook or split duty between he and another man. But while on active campaign, rations were usually prepared by each man to the individual''s taste. It was considered important for the men to cook the meat ration as soon as it was issued, for it could be eaten cold if activity prevented cook fires. A common campaign dinner was salted pork sliced over hardtack with coffee boiled in tin cups that each man carried.
The southern soldier''s diet was considerably different from his northern counterpart and usually in much less quantity. The average Confederate subsisted on bacon, cornmeal, molasses, peas, tobacco, vegetables and rice. They also received a coffee substitute which was not as desirable as the real coffee northerners had. Trades of tobacco for coffee were quite common throughout the war when fighting was not underway. Other items for trade or barter included newspapers, sewing needles, buttons, and currency.
Religion was very important in the soldier''s daily routine. Many of the men attended church services on a regular basis and some even carried small testaments with the rest of their baggage. Union and Confederate armies had numerous regimental and brigade chaplains. These loyal officers also acted as assistants in field hospitals comforting the sick and wounded, and writing letters home for those who could not write. Chaplains held field services for their respective units and most accompanied the soldiers as they marched onto the battlefield. Father William Corby, the chaplain of the Irish Brigade, is best remembered for his granting of unconditional absolution to the members of the brigade before they marched into battle in the Wheatfield on July 2nd. Father Corby was immensely popular with the men and in the pos/war era became president of Notre Dame University.
Sickness and disease were the scourge of both armies and more men died of disease than in battle. Sanitation in the camps was very poor. Germs and the existence of bacteria had not yet been discovered, and medical science was quite primitive by today''s standards. Morning sick call was played in camp and ailing soldiers trudged to the surgeon''s tent where the "sawbones" examined the sick. Quinine or other stimulants were administered, including an elixir called "Blue Mass". Whiskey was universally given for most ailments as was brandy and other stimulants. Extremely ill soldiers were sent to brigade hospitals where most were further affected by disease. Thousands of men in both armies died without ever firing a shot in battle.
The singular purpose of the soldier was to fight a battle and win. There were a variety of small arms used during the Civil War. The average infantryman carried a muzzle-loading rifle-musket manufactured in American arsenals or one purchased from foreign countries such as England. The bayonet was an important part of the rifle and its steel presence on the muzzle of the weapon was very imposing. When not in battle, the bayonet was a handy candle holder and useful in grinding coffee beans. The typical rifle-musket weighed eight and one-half pounds and fired a conical shaped bullet called the Minie Ball. Bullets were made of very soft lead and caused horrible wounds which were difficult to heal. The artillery was composed of both rifled and smoothbore cannon, each gun served by a crew of fourteen men including the drivers. The role of the artillery was to support the infantry while the infantry role was to either attack or defend, depending on the circumstances. Both branches worked together to coordinate their tactics on the field of battle. Cavalrymen were armed with breech loading carbines, sabers, and pistols. Cavalry was initially used for scouting purposes and to guard supply trains. The role of mounted troops had expanded by the time of Gettysburg, with cavalry divisions acting as skirmishers and fighting mounted and on foot in pitched battles such as Brandy Station, Virginia on June 9, 1863. Other branches of the armies included the signal corps, engineers, medical and hospital corps, as well as supply organizations including the quartermasters.
The end of the war in 1865 brought a welcome peace, especially for the men who served as soldiers. Armies were disbanded and regiments mustered out of service. Former soldiers returned to the farms and stores they had left so long ago, but the memories of their service and old comrades did not disappear quite so rapidly. In the decade following the end of the Civil War, organizations of veterans of the North and South were formed. Northern veterans joined the Grand Army of the Republic and Confederate veterans enrolled in the United Confederate Veterans. For many years, G.A.R. posts and U.C.V. chapters met over reunion campfires retelling stories and recalling the friends who did not return. Many veterans wrote articles, stories, and poems for the magazines of both organizations. The G.A.R. and U.C.V. held powerful influence in political circles from 1878 through the turn of the century, but their influence faded as veterans in congress retired and passed out of politics. The last hurrah for both organizations came at Gettysburg in 1913 when 54,000 veterans attended the 1913 Anniversary celebration and Grand Reunion, and both organizations formally joined in a singular purpose of national unification and peace. America''s involvement in the Great War (World War I) four years later brought hundreds of aged "Yanks" and "Johnnies" out to march together in military parades for one last time before they quickly faded into the background as the nation''s attention focused on her "doughboys" serving in Europe.
Though the Civil War veterans faded away, the armies in which they once marched were forever honored by the parks they helped establish at Shiloh, Antietam, Vicksburg, Chickamauga and Gettysburg.
United States Department of the Interior