Life during the 1800s in America was already difficult for many people. Of course there were rich factory owners in the North and plantation owners in the South, but the average farmer and his family worked extremely hard just to survive.
When the Civil War started, living conditions became even more difficult for the average American. Many of the men joined the army or were drafted. The women were left at home to work the farm or to find jobs and support the family on their own.
Poor Men Went to War
Many poor men thought that fighting in the army was an opportunity for adventure and excitement. This seemed much better than the drudgery of the hard work of everyday life. They soon found out that war was both boring and terrifying.
Both sides of the war eventually instituted a draft. This was when men were randomly chosen to enter the army whether they wanted to or not. However, the rich were able to legally avoid the draft. In the North they could pay a fee of $300 or pay someone else to take their place. In the South, enslavers who owned more than twenty enslaved people, didn't have to fight.
Women at Home
With so many men gone to war, women had to take up new jobs. They worked the fields on farms and at factories producing goods for the armies. Some women served as nurses in the army, helping wounded soldiers recover. Women had to work very hard to provide for their families. Often not only their husbands were at war, but also their older sons and fathers.
War in the South
Life in the South during the Civil War was even more difficult than in the North. The Union had blockaded many of the ports of the South, causing shortages of food and other items that people needed. Also, most of the war took place in the South. Families lived in constant fear of getting overrun by an army. When General Sherman took the Union army from Atlanta to Savannah he burned and destroyed much of the land and farms along the way. It was a scary time.
A Refugee Family from the National Archives
Children in the Army
Although the Union army required that soldiers be at least 18 years old, many of the soldiers were under 18. Young boys often joined the army as drummer boys or bugle boys. They also helped to do chores around the army campsites. Officially these young boys didn't fight, but once a battle began many entered the fighting. One ten year old boy named Johnny Clem became famous when he put down his drum during the Battle of Shiloh, picked up a gun, and shot a colonel of the Confederate army.
Interesting Facts about Life During the Civil War
Kids still went to school during the Civil War. A lot of what they learned was propaganda aimed at instilling patriotism towards either the Union or the Confederacy.
Many groups worked to raise money for the armies and hospitals. Women and children held fairs and fundraising events and prepared care packages for soldiers they knew.
Newspapers were popular on the home front during the war as people hoped to find out news of loved ones who were in the army.
There were riots in New York City in 1863 over the unfairness of the draft towards poor people. By the end of the riots 105 people had died.
People in the South became so hungry there was a Bread Riot in Richmond, Virginia where people protested the lack of food.
There were around 30 million people living in the United States during the Civil War, 21 million in the North and 9 million in the South. Of these, over 3 million fought as soldiers in the war, 2.1 million for the North and 1 million for the South.