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Archive for May 27th, 2013

Since we’re celebrating Memorial Day today, I thought it appropriate that my Inspiration post should be a continuation of last week’s post about the daily life of an American Civil War soldier in camp.

During the Civil War, soldiers spent about one-quarter of their time served on the battlefield. Between engagements, a soldier’s day started at five a.m. during summer months and six in winter. The bugler sounded reveille as the call to wake up. The first sergeant took roll call, then the men ate breakfast and prepared for drill.

Drill sessions could be as many as five per day. Men learned how to shoot their weapons and perform military maneuvers. Each session would last for two hours. Most of the men found drill tedious. To quote one soldier: “The first thing in the morning is drill. Then drill, then drill again. Then drill, drill, a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly drill.” I think you get the picture.

In the time between drilling, soldiers were expected to clean the camp, build roads, dig trenches for latrines, and gather wood for cooking and heating. A constant goal for army camps was to find a source of clean water. Lack of fresh water led to widespread disease in both armies.

In 1861, both armies had the resources to feed their soldiers. The daily mandated ration for Federal soldiers included twenty ounces of fresh or salt beef. The alternative was twelve ounces of salt pork. They also received a pound of flour, a vegetable which was usually beans; coffee, salt, vinegar and sugar rounded out the ration. But as armies moved, supply trains weren’t able to reach them in the field, so rations had to be limited.

Because of limited rations, soldiers were forced to live off the land. Since the Confederate army was mainly fighting on home ground, they relied on donations from townspeople. Sutlers were also attached to both armies as a way to provide goods the army wasn’t able to supply. Tobacco, candy, tinned meats, shoelaces, patent medicines, fried pies and newspapers were among the goods a sulter provided. The downside was steep prices demanded for these good. But most soldiers desperate for cigarettes, sweets, and news from home, were more than willing to scrape up the cash for these treats.

Hunger wasn’t the only scourge plaguing both armies. Men also succumbed to boredom. Endless hours spent with nothing to do, weighed on soldiers. Men had to devise their own form of recreation. Games including baseball, cards, boxing matches and cockfights filled idle hours. Commanders strove to control vice in camps where gambling and drinking ran rampant. Confederate General Braxton Bragg said: “We have lost more valuable lives at the hands of whiskey sellers than by the balls of our enemies.”

Enlisted men were prohibited from purchasing alcohol by army regulations. Any soldier violating this rule was punished. Even so, men on both sides were able to find ways to procure liquor. Men in a Mississippi company carried liquor into camp inside a hollowed out watermelon. They buried it beneath the floor of their tent and drank from a long straw.

Those who couldn’t buy liquor, made it. A Union recipe called for “bark juice, tar-water, turpentine, brown sugar, lamp oil and alcohol.”

Another way to escape the tedium of camp life was to procure “horizontal refreshments”, in other words, prostitutes. Washington D. C. had 450 bordellos and about 7,500 full-time prostitutes in 1862. Richmond had an equal number. As a direct result, many soldiers contacted venereal diseases.

Men also suffered from homesickness. Soldiers wrote letters home in their spare time with the hope of receiving news from home and loved ones in return. Since furloughs weren’t readily granted, soldiers had little opportunity to spend time away from camp. No matter how bad, soldiers looked on camp as home over their years of service.

For more about Civil War soldier camp life: http://www.civilwarhome.com/camplife.htm http://www.civilwarhome.com/soldierslife.htm http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/14/notes-on-civil-war-camp/

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