Who Was the Common Soldier of the American Civil War?

Written on:October 5, 2012
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History.Net looks at the question: Who Was the Common Soldier of America’s Civil War? If you follow this website and the mother site Soldier Studies you know we have a webquest dedicated to the Civil War soldier that covers a lot of this information.

How Many Fought
About 2.75 million soldiers fought in the Civil War — 2 million for the North and 750,000 for the South.

The Average Soldier
According to historian Bell I. Wiley, who pioneered the study of the Civil War common soldier, the average Yank or Reb was a ‘white, native-born, farmer, protestant, single, between 18 and 29.’ He stood about 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about 143 pounds. Most soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 39 with an average age just under 26.

Making a Living
The majority of soldiers North and South had been farmers before the war. Union rosters contained references to more than 300 different careers, including accountant, surveyor, locksmith, teacher, carpenter, shoemaker, black- smith, painter, mason, teamster, and mechanic. Southerners who had not farmed included carpenters, mechanics, merchants, machinists, lawyers, teachers, blacksmiths, and dentists.

Rifle, Carbine, or Cannon?
In the Union army, 80 percent of the men were in the infantry, 14 percent in the cavalry, and 6 percent in artillery. In the Confederate army, 75 percent of the men served in the infantry, 20 percent in the cavalry, and 5 percent in artillery.

The Odds Against Them
Of every 1,000 Feder-als, 112 were wounded; 150 of every 1,000 Confederates were hit. A Yankee stood a 1 in 8 chance of dying due to illness and a 1 in 18 chance of dying in battle. A Rebel faced a 1 in 5 chance of succumbing to disease and a 1 in 8 chance of dying in combat.

360,000 Yankees died–110,000 in battle and 225,000 of disease. The South lost 258,000 men–94,000 in battle and 164,000 to disease.

Prisoners of War
Roughly 211,000 Union soldiers were captured and imprisoned in the South; 30,000 of them died there. 214,000 Confederates were imprisoned in the North, and 26,000 of them died.

Why They Fought
Men on both sides were inspired to fight by patriotism, state pride, the chance for adventure, or steady pay. Union soldiers fought to preserve the Union; the common Confederate fought to defend his home. Later in the war, increasing numbers of Yankee soldiers fought to abolish slavery, if for no other reason than to end the war quickly. Confederate soldiers sometimes fought because they feared Union victory would result in a society where black people were placed on an even footing with whites.

Army Melting Pots
The large majority of Civil War soldiers were native born. Nonetheless, large numbers of stout-hearted newcomers to the country also volunteered to fight–especially in the North. Nearly one quarter of the Union’s soldiers were immigrants, including 200,000 Ger-mans; 150,000 Irish; 45,000 English; 15,000 Canadians, and lesser numbers of French, Norwegians, Italians, Mexicans, and Poles. Exact figures for the South are sketchy, but tens of thousands of Irish, Germans, British, French, Canadians, Dutch, and Austrians entered Confederate ranks.

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