When the Civil War broke out in 1861, hundreds of thousands of men, as well as a number of women and children, put their lives on hold and signed up to serve as soldiers.
How Many Soldiers Fought in the Civil War?
Roughly 2.75 million soldiers fought during the Civil War. About 2 million of these soldiers fought for the Union and 750,000 fought for the Confederates.
According to the Civil War Trust, between 620,000 – 850,000 soldiers died from combat, disease and starvation during the Civil War.
Although the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that as many as 674,000 people were held as prisoners of war in about 150 Civil War prison camps.
It is estimated that around 200,000 Union soldiers and over 100,000 Confederate soldiers deserted during the war.
Around 35,000 soldiers who survived the war were left disabled and over 100,000 of them developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Civil War soldiers where mostly young white men but a surprising number of them were also women, children, African-Americans, Jewish people and Native-Americans.
According to the National Park Service, about 2,489,836 Civil War soldiers were white, about 178,975 soldiers were African-American, 2,530 were Native-American and approximately 400 soldiers were women in disguise.
A large number of children served in the war, mostly in supporting roles like drummer boys but some of them also fought as soldiers.
About 48% of Union soldiers and 69% of Confederate soldiers worked as farmers before the war, while 24% of Union soldiers and 5% of Confederate soldiers worked as mechanics and around 16% of Union soldiers and 9% of Confederate worked as laborers.
Fewer than 3% of soldiers on both sides worked as business professionals before the Civil War. This indicates that the majority of the soldiers were lower to middle class blue-collar workers.
Why Did Soldiers Fight in the Civil War?
Soldiers fought in the Civil War for a variety of reasons. According to Abraham Lincoln in a previously unpublished speech about the Civil War draft, these reasons were complex and greatly depended on the individual:
“Among these motives would be patriotism, political bias, ambition, personal courage, loved of adventure, want of employment, and convenience, or the opposite of some of these.”
The majority of soldiers who fought in the war were not professional soldiers or draftees and were instead volunteers. Therefore, their personal motivations for fighting in the war had to be strong enough to compel them to risk their lives.
According to Civil War historian James M. McPherson, in his book For Cause and Comrades, most Confederate volunteers stated they were fighting for liberty as well as slavery while many of the Union soldiers stated they fought to end slavery and preserve the union.
What Was Life Like for Soldiers in the Civil War?
Daily life for a Civil War soldier was grueling. The pay was poor, the food was meager and unappetizing, the soldier’s uniforms were hot and uncomfortable and living conditions were unsanitary and rife with disease.
Soldiers also had to cope with long stretches of boredom in camp as well as moments of sheer terror and horror on the battlefield.
In addition, they also had to learn how to deal with harsh weather, injuries, homesickness and the rigors of military life.
National Park Service: Civil War Facts: www.nps.gov/civilwar/facts.htm
Collectors Weekly: War and Prosthetics: How Veterans Fought for the Perfect Artificial Limb: www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/war-and-prosthetics
Our Great American Heritage: Civil War Vets and Mental Illness:www.ourgreatamericanheritage.com/2016/04/civil-war-vets-and-mental-illness-the-tragedy-after-the-war-3/
For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James M. McPherson
The Civil War in the West (1861-July 1863) By Dale Anderson
National Archives: Black Soldiers in the Civil War: www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war
The Shapell Roster: Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: www.shapell.org/the-shapell-roster/
Civil War Trust: Guerrilla Warfare: www.civilwar.org/education/history/warfare-and-logistics/warfare/guerrilla-warfare-during-the.html
Civil War Trust: Military Pay: www.civilwar.org/education/history/warfare-and-logistics/logistics/pay.html
Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: Civil War Deserters: Cowards or Heroes: www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/inline-pdfs/David%20Carr_0.pdf
New York Times: New Estimates Raises Civil War Death Toll: www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/civil-war-toll-up-by-20-percent-in-new-estimate.html