Soldiers enlisted in the Union Army from every state in the Union and the Confederacy. The initial volunteers were motivated to preserve the accomplishments of the American Revolution and save the world’s hope that democratic government could survive. They were influenced by their culture’s ideals of manhood and republican ideals of the citizen soldier. They served in regiments that retained close ties with their sending communities throughout the war.
Recruits faced a difficult adjustment period when their units were mustered into the US Army. The test of battle taught soldiers to value some drills and discipline, but many soldiers insisted that officers respect their independence and equality. Soldiers successfully resisted many aspects of formal military discipline. Army life exposed conflicts between soldiers who sought to create moral regiments and soldiers who displayed manliness through fighting and drinking. Establishing honor before peers was an important component of soldier life. Effective soldiering involved enduring the boredom and disease of camp, the rigors of marching, and the terror of battle. To survive, soldiers formed close bonds with their comrades, mastered self-care techniques to stay healthy, applied skills learned from their civilian occupations on the battlefield, and remained connected to their families and communities. Conscription changed the character of the Union Army. Officers tightened discipline over the influx of lower-class “roughs.”
Union soldiers generally demonized their enemies as inferior barbarians. Because of their interaction with slaves in the South, Union soldiers quickly shifted their support to emancipation. Although Christianity and ideals of civilized behavior placed some restraints on Union soldiers when they encountered southerners, they supported and implemented hard war measures against the South’s population and resources, and treated guerrillas and their supporters with particular brutality. In the election of 1864, Union soldiers voted to fight until the Confederacy was defeated.
Megan Kate Nelson
During the American Civil War, Union and Confederate commanders made the capture and destruction of enemy cities a central feature of their military campaigns. They did so for two reasons. First, most mid-19th-century cities had factories, foundries, and warehouses within their borders, churning out and storing war materiel; military officials believed that if they interrupted or incapacitated the enemy’s ability to arm or clothe themselves, the war would end. Second, it was believed that the widespread destruction of property—especially in major or capital cities—would also damage civilians’ morale, undermining their political convictions and decreasing their support for the war effort.
Both Union and Confederate armies bombarded and burned cities with these goals in mind. Sometimes they fought battles on city streets but more often, Union troops initiated long-term sieges in order to capture Confederate cities and demoralize their inhabitants. Soldiers on both sides were motivated by vengeance when they set fire to city businesses and homes; these acts were controversial, as was defensive burning—the deliberate destruction of one’s own urban center in order to keep its war materiel out of the hands of the enemy.
Urban destruction, particularly long-term sieges, took a psychological toll on (mostly southern) city residents. Many were wounded, lost property, or were forced to become refugees. Because of this, the destruction of cities during the American Civil War provoked widespread discussions about the nature of “civilized warfare” and the role that civilians played in military strategy. Both soldiers and civilians tried to make sense of the destruction of cities in writing, and also in illustrations and photographs; images in particular shaped both northern and southern memories of the war and its costs.