Who Fought in the Civil War?

Hundreds of thousands of people served as soldiers in the Civil War. The majority of these soldiers were young, mainly under 30 years of age, and they fought for a variety of reasons such as patriotism, pride, adventure, and money.

Although the vast majority of these soldiers were white men, a number of them were also women, children, African-Americans, Native-Americans and Jewish people.

The following is an overview of the types of soldiers in the Civil War:

Child Civil War Soldiers:

Many young children served as soldiers, musicians, messengers, nurses and scouts in the Civil War. It is estimated that at least 20 percent of all Civil War soldiers were under 18 years of age.

Although it technically wasn’t legal for children and young teens to serve as soldiers in the army, many of these minors lied about their age in order to serve their country and earn money.

Johnny Clem

Johnny Clem

Others signed up for supporting roles, such as drummer boys and messengers, but often joined the troops in combat in the heat of battle. About 48 boys won a Medal of Honor for their bravery during battle.

Women Civil War Soldiers:

Approximately 400 women disguised themselves as men and joined the army to serve as soldiers for both the Confederate and Union army.

The reason these women were able to disguise themselves so easily is because of the large number of young boys and men in the army at the time, who were often small, boyish-looking, hairless males who lacked deep voices and strong builds.

Many of these women were single, poor and deeply passionate about the war and joined in order to earn money for their families or fight for their side.

African-American Civil War Soldiers:

African-Americans weren’t allowed to join the Union army until 1863. When they were finally allowed to join, it is estimated that about 10 percent of all Civil War soldiers were African-American.

Two African-American soldiers at an abandoned farmhouse in Dutch Gap, Virginia in 1864

Approximately 179,000 African-American men served in the army and 19,000 served in the navy during the Civil War. About 40,000 African-American soldiers died in the war, mostly from disease or infection.

Jewish Civil War Soldiers:

It is estimated that between 8,000 to 10,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the Civil War. The majority of Jewish soldiers fought for the Union army. About 20 Jewish soldiers won a Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

Native-American Civil War Soldiers:

The exact number of Native-Americans who fought in the Civil War is unknown but is estimated to be as high as 6,000 for the Union and 12,000 for the Confederates, although the National Park Service estimates the number is closer to 2,500 soldiers overall. A few of the tribes who fought in the war include the Cherokee and the Seneca tribe.

Civil War Guerrillas:

Not everyone who fought in the Civil War was a soldier. When the Union army began to invade the south, it sparked a guerrilla war that consisted of ambushes, skirmishes and raids by Confederate guerrillas.

These guerrillas were secessionist civilians who wanted to defend the south but didn’t want to join the army so they organized themselves into guerrillas bands to fight Union occupation. Some famous Civil War guerrillas include Jesse James and William Quantrill.

Famous Civil War Soldiers:

Some of these soldiers later went on to become famous writers, performers or even criminals, in some cases. Others later became living icons after they lived well into the 20th century.

Civil War Trust: Who Fought? www.civilwar.org/learn/articles/who-fought
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

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