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date: 19 September 2017

The Northern Homefront

Summary and Keywords

During the Civil War, the entire North constituted the homefront, an area largely removed from the din and horror of combat. With a few exceptions of raids and battles such as Gettysburg, civilians in the North experienced the war indirectly. The people on the homefront mobilized for war, sent their menfolk off to fight, supplied the soldiers and the army, coped without their breadwinners, and suffered the loss or maiming of men they loved. All the while, however, the homefront was crucially important to the course of the war. The mobilization of northern resources—not just men, but the manufacture of the arms and supplies needed to fight a war—enabled the North to conduct what some have called a total war, one on which the Union expended money and manpower at unprecedented levels. Confederate strategists hoped to break the will of the northern homefront to secure southern independence. Despite the hardships endured in the North, this strategy failed.

On the homefront, women struggled to provide for their families as well as to serve soldiers and the army by sending care packages and doing war work. Family letters reveal the impact of the war on children who lost their fathers either temporarily or permanently. Communities rallied to aid soldiers’ families but were riven by dissension over issues such as conscription and emancipation. Immigrants and African Americans sought a new place in U.S. society by exploiting the opportunities the war offered to prove their worth. Service in the Union army certainly advanced the status of some groups, but was not the only means to that end. Nuns who nursed the wounded improved the reputation of the Catholic Church and northern African Americans used the increasingly emancipationist war goals to improve their legal status in the North. The Civil War altered race relations most radically, but change came to everyone on the northern homefront.

Keywords: Civil War, homefront, women, African Americans, mobilization, dissent, immigrants, families, veterans, memory

Civil War historians commonly note that there were only 16,000 troops in the U.S. army in 1861. By the end of the war, Union forces would have swollen to a million men. The statistic carries with it the import of how unprepared the Union was for the massive conflict it would fight. But civilians on the homefront were just as uncomprehending of the nature of the war that would overwhelm them. In a famous tale of the war’s early days, when federal troops retreated from the first battle of the war, at Manassas, Virginia in July 1861, they became entangled with dozens of civilians who had come out from Washington, D.C. to watch the battle. A New York congressman was even captured by the Confederates. Military historians have argued that the battle sobered northern exuberance about a quick war and gave Northerners their first test of the grim realities they would endure for four more years. No longer would northern civilians view a summer’s day as a fine one for a picnic and watching a battle. Even perusing the daily newspaper became fraught with tension as described by Pennsylvania poet George Henry Boker: “Blood, blood! The lines of every printed sheet / Through their dark arteries reek with running gore; / At hearth, at board, before the household door, / ’Tis the sole subject with which neighbors meet.”

Northerners Go to War

After the firing on Fort Sumter, a “ferment of excitement” as an Indiana man called it, swept through the country. Throughout the North, young men gathered at muster grounds in small towns and cities. Although spirits were high and the recruits willing to endure primitive conditions such as sleeping on the ground, it took time for state and local authorities to prepare for the influx of men and to provide proper accommodations. Community leaders led recruitment drives and volunteer regiments formed at such a rapid pace that the War Department was unprepared to accept them all. Women took part, sewing flags for the volunteers and designing uniforms. In some cases, mothers taught their sons skills necessary for army camp life including cooking and mending. Even after the enactment of a draft in 1863, the federal government relied on the community to produce soldiers. Each community was assessed a quota and could recruit that quota through bounties, a draft being resorted to when a locale failed to meet its quota.

Soldiers tended to be young; the median age was twenty-three years and six months. Herman Melville wrote that “Age finds place in the rear./All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys.” On the verge of manhood, they often had less of a stake in the community than men who did not serve; unskilled urban workers and farm laborers volunteered more often than men with businesses and land. There were exceptions including among the country’s elite. Robert Gould Shaw, who became famous for dying at the head of his regiment of black troops, the 54th Massachusetts, at the attack on Fort Wagner, was not the only Revolutionary War descendant, Harvard graduate, and Boston Brahmin to feel that honor and duty demanded his service. Charles Francis Adams Jr., grandson and great-grandson of presidents, explained his motivations for joining: “it would have been an actual disgrace if [our] family, of all possible families American, been wholly unrepresented in the field.” But as historian Larry M. Logue noted, “the backbone of the Union army were men for whom the dangers of war were not a bad trade for a tenuous future in a shop or on the farm.”

The War Department was, as President Abraham Lincoln phrased it, perplexed as to how to provide for troops that were arriving at a faster rate than the federal government was prepared to receive them. State and military officials complained of lack of transportation, arms and equipment, and officers to train the men. Clothing and arms that were received were often inferior (the term “shoddy,” the name of a type of fabric, became the sobriquet for inferior goods of all kinds). States and even local communities filled the void in an effort to provide for their troops. Historian James M. McPherson called it a “headlong, helter-skelter, seat-of-the pants mobilization,” that did not improve in efficiency until the end of 1861 by which time the War Department had become responsible for feeding, clothing, sheltering, and arming the troops. Nonetheless, local communities remained tied to the troops. Throughout the war, civilian organizations such as the Christian Commission and the Sanitary Commission coordinated local groups and funneled the supplies from those groups to soldiers on the front and in the hospitals. The work of collecting and producing clothing and foodstuffs was largely done on the local level by women while the agents of the commissions were male. Indiana governor Oliver P. Morton, a bare knuckles political fighter, earned the fond nickname of the “Soldiers’ Friend,” for his solicitude for Hoosier troops. He visited them in hospitals and at battle sites and tried to steer supplies raised in Indiana to that state’s soldiers.

The North was already “well launched into the Industrial Revolution,” by the time the war began. Rather than stimulating the northern economy, the war probably slowed industrial growth. Certain northern businesses such as shoemaking and the manufacture of other materials needed to provision the troops saw demand from the Union army. Mechanization increased because of wartime labor shortages. But some of this was less a growth in demand than a shift from supplying the South with cheap shoes and other goods for a slave economy. Iron that went into manufacturing arms during the war had built railroads before the conflict. Both war and crop failures in Europe stimulated agricultural production, and more farmers were pulled into the nexus of the market economy. The war proved a prosperous time for farmers and wages for farm workers rose as a large proportion of farm laborers enlisted in the army creating a labor shortage. Mechanization helped fill the gap. Over the decade of the war, the amount of capital invested in farm machinery increased 300 percent. Although the North did not experience the hyperinflation that occurred in the Confederacy, inflation was a problem. Wages rose, perhaps as much as 50 percent, but prices increased even more with an estimated inflation rate of 13 percent per year during the war. The Cincinnati Gazette in 1864 noted that “corn, oats and potatoes have commanded more than double the usual rates.”

Opposition and Political Dissent

Just as local communities participated in recruitment and mobilization, they were the backbone of resistance to the war. Although there were frequent calls for “no party now,” civil war did not eliminate partisanship. Many Democrats supported the war effort and the Lincoln administration but divisive issues quickly emerged. Anti-war Democrats, known as Copperheads or Peace Democrats, were often strong in communities such as those in the Midwest with kinship ties to the South. Trade down the Mississippi tied the interior North economically to New Orleans and the southern economy. Secession severed family and economic ties and many Democrats blamed the Republicans. Peace Democrats believed that abolitionists had fomented problems with the South in order to bring about black equality, and even supremacy. They objected to curtailments of civil liberties such as suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the trial of alleged Confederate sympathizers by military tribunals. Historian Mark E. Neely Jr. has shown that few Northerners were arrested for political reasons although arrests were made and the writ of habeas corpus suspended for military purposes. Overzealous military officers, however, sometimes overstepped the line between defending the war effort and stifling political dissent, giving ammunition to suspicious Democrats. General Ambrose Burnside arrested Ohio Peace Democrat, and former congressman, Clement Vallandigham for speaking against the war. There was sufficient outrage at Vallandigham’s trial and conviction by a military court that Lincoln commuted the penalty to exile to the Confederacy. In addition, Democrats opposed the Lincoln administration’s imposition of a Whiggish economic program of national banks, paper currency, a transcontinental railroad, a protective tariff, and high taxes to finance the war.

Republican calls for nonpartisanship in fact served partisan ends by stigmatizing criticism of their administration as treason. Vallandigham’s offense had been to give a speech. Even if such arrests and prosecutions were few, they had a chilling effect on political discourse. Military officers worked with state and local officials to identify and suppress dissenters. The phrase “no party now” was, in fact, the title of a pamphlet published by the Loyal Publication Society, an offshoot of the Union League. Union Leagues, secret societies that pledged to support the administration and combat treason, had spread across the North. They were supposedly nonpartisan patriotic groups but obviously served partisan purposes. Several northern states also passed short-lived laws disfranchising deserters which Democrats saw as another way of punishing anti-war opposition.

Republican policies received a rebuke in the 1862 congressional elections. Coming after the announcement of emancipation and the bloody battles of 1862, the election saw Democrats gain the governorships of New York and New Jersey. They took control of the state legislatures of Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey. Although McPherson points out that the Republicans gained seats in the U.S. Senate and did not lose as many in the House as normal for an off-year election, Democrats claimed the voters had struck a blow for “Constitutional liberty.”

Two issues especially sparked opposition to the war and the Lincoln administration: emancipation and the draft. Abolitionists might celebrate the end of slavery which Henry Ward Beecher called a “canker-worm” gnawing “at the heart of the republic.” Moderate and conservative Republicans, however, insisted that by rebelling Southerners had abdicated protection for slavery and that military necessity required an attack on an institution that provided labor and sustenance to the rebellion. Democrats predicted that the northern states would be inundated with blacks competing for white jobs and filling the poor houses, that intermarriage (“amalgamation” and “miscegenation”) would occur, and whites would be subordinated to blacks. They considered emancipation to be a violation of presidential power and a “disgrace” to a civilized age that would bring upon the United States the “execrations of mankind.”

The Union draft law, passed in the summer of 1863, provided that conscripted men could hire a substitute or pay a commutation fee of $300. Just as communities provided bounties to lure recruits, they might provide funds to help men buy themselves out of the war. Union men in anti-war communities often protested the use of tax dollars but the courts upheld the expenditures. Like the suspension of habeas corpus, however, conscripting men seemed a violation of a basic liberty. Free Americans had fought their wars with volunteer armies, unlike unfree Europeans. The ability of wealthier men to buy their way out of the draft by paying $300 caused charges of “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” In fact, Republicans intended the commutation fee to cap the cost of substitutes and keep them within the reach of working men. According to McPherson, studies of the draft show no evidence of class inequities. The perception persisted, however, and Congress repealed commutation in 1864. The price of substitutes then soared.

Many Northerners resisted the draft by force. Enrollment officers were threatened and shot at, had dogs set on them, or were mobbed by gangs seizing the lists of draft-eligible men. According to historian Jennifer L. Weber, the Provost Marshal General Bureau reported thirty-eight enrolling officers killed and sixty wounded throughout the North. Women participated in resistance to the war just as they did in mobilization. They threw boiling water or eggs at enrollment officials to impede the draft. About 10 percent of those arrested in the New York City draft riots were women, old enough to have sons liable for military service.

The July 1863 New York City riot, in which over one hundred people died, became the most famous example of draft resistance in the North. That week of violence was, to that date, the most deadly riot in American history, surpassing the anti-immigrant riots of the 1840s. The New York riot was marked by class, ethnic, and racial tensions, the latter evident when African Americans became targets of the violence. The mob attacked not only draft offices, but the homes of Republicans and the Republican newspaper. Most of the dead were rioters, killed by soldiers brought in to suppress the riot, but almost a dozen blacks were killed by the mob, which sometimes mutilated their bodies. The corpse of Abraham Franklin, a black coachman, was hung from a lamppost providing one of the most infamous images of the riots. The mob even attacked the Colored Orphan Asylum, although the children were taken to safety before the building was destroyed.

Local communities not only opposed the draft, but often provided support for the estimated 200,000 deserters. The federal government had little bureaucracy to track them down and punish them, so many returned home and were accepted by friends and neighbors. An Ohio provost marshal recalled searching houses and farm buildings for deserters without success. In Indiana, a man had his barn burned for helping to arrest a deserter. In the lumber region of Pennsylvania, residents resented the war’s threat to family survival when it took away their menfolk. They rallied to protect deserters and draft dodgers.

In 1864, the political stakes were even higher than in the 1862 election. Draft riots, emancipation, and sanguinary yet seemingly stalemated campaigns in Georgia and Virginia hurt Lincoln’s chance for re-election. Lincoln himself was so doubtful of the result that he wrote a memo predicting his opponent’s victory. The Democrats had nominated George B. McClellan, former Union general, on a platform that called for an armistice and negotiated peace. While the Peace Democrats who wrote the platform hoped these measures would lead to reunion, Lincoln believed—and Confederates hoped—that negotiations would result in Confederate independence. Union victories at Atlanta and Mobile Bay turned the tide of the election as much as of the war. Lincoln received 53 percent of the civilian vote against McClellan. Historian Jonathan W. White has recently argued that the Republican administration actively sought to prevent Democratic soldiers from voting. Seventy-eight percent of the soldier vote went to Lincoln, but 20 percent of eligible soldiers did not vote and many Democrats in the ranks complained of being harassed for their political views.

Ethnic, Religious, and Racial Communities

Irish Americans played a significant role in the anti-war New York City draft riots. Although an Irishman helped save the children at the black orphanage, the Irish were more conspicuous for their presence among the mob. Their participation in the riots indicated frustration with the war and Republican political policies, especially the economic inequities of the draft law, but did not necessarily mean that the Irish community was not making a contribution to winning the war. About a quarter of Union soldiers were immigrants, slightly less than their proportion of the northern population. Immigrants were more likely than native-born soldiers to be working class. An estimated 150,000 Irish Americans and 175,000 German Americans served in the Union army. Another 175,000 soldiers were born in other parts of Europe. In addition, between 6,000 and 7,000 Jewish Americans served in the Union army. Although much attention has been paid to famous Jewish Confederates such as Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary of State, the vast majority of American Jews lived in northern cities.

The participation of ethnic and religious groups was also community based. Ethnic groups formed their own army companies. Turnerverein, athletic and cultural institutions in German American neighborhoods, recruited and organized army units. In New York, they formed the 20th New York or Turner Rifles (Turnerschuetzen-regiment). There were also numerous Irish units, the most famous being General Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade, consisting of several New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania regiments. Certain regiments had large proportions of Jewish Americans. Half of the men of the 11th New York were Jews.

Despite their pride in what a German American Chicagoan called “Germanness,” ethnic soldiers hoped that service in the military would bring full acknowledgment of belonging to their new country. August Willich wrote in a German language newspaper that service would allow Germans to “really prove that they are not foreigners, and that they know how to protect their new republican homeland.” Christopher Byrne, an Irish immigrant, joined the Union army out of both the “excitement” that swept the country and a belief that the United States was “the best government that ever the sun shone on.” German Americans sought to prove the worth of their community by pointing to the accomplishments of prominent German American military men such as Franz Sigel. Some Irish Fenians hoped to help Ireland through military service in America. By fighting in the Union army, they might acquire martial skills that could be used to liberate Ireland from English rule. Jewish leaders protested to President Lincoln an “enormous outrage” when General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order expelling Jews from his military district in late 1862. Lincoln countermanded the order objecting to its proscription of “a whole class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks.”

As Grant’s infamous “Jew order” revealed, immigrant and religious groups faced both ethnic and sectarian prejudice. Germans, who often arrived with sufficient capital to buy a farm, were the “good immigrants.” But the impoverished Irish, crowding into eastern cities, competed with native-born workers for jobs and political power, exacerbating traditional Anglo prejudices against the Irish. Native-born Americans feared that Catholicism was inherently unfriendly to republican forms of government and accused Catholic immigrants of voting at the direction of their priests and the Pope. German and Irish drinking posed a challenge to the Protestant-dominated temperance movement. Jewish rabbis were initially unable to serve as chaplains in the Union army because the legislation specified chaplains must belong to a “Christian denomination.” The law was altered to “religious denomination” after Jewish organizations protested.

The reputation of ethnic groups rose and fell with the fortunes of war. Although many native-born Americans received their first exposure to German Americans with their army service, and this may have encouraged greater acceptance, when the largely German Eleventh Corps was surprised and routed at the Battle of Chancellorsville, their retreat reinforced stereotypes of the “Damned Dutch.” The large casualties suffered by Meagher’s Brigade discouraged recruiting and resentment grew in the Irish American community about the suffering endured by their soldiers. Many were particularly horrified by the “slaughter” at the Battle of Fredericksburg in which the Irish Brigade had an estimated 45 percent dead and wounded. Some Irish Americans objected to praise for the battlefield bravery of the 9th Massachusetts Regiment. Newspapers erroneously described the regiment as if they were “descendents [sic] of Puritans” when, in fact, the majority were Irish or Irish American. Jewish Americans could take pride in the color sergeant of the 57th Massachusetts, Leopold Karpeles, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Battle of the Wilderness.

While some of the Germans were fervent abolitionists, the Irish were considered more hostile to African Americans, with whom they often competed for jobs. No group was unified in its racial and political attitudes. Many German Americans did not support the Lincoln administration or emancipation, but there were those, such as Carl Schurz, who viewed the struggle against slavery as “the cause of my life.” Racism, however, was more mainstream among the Irish. An Illinois Irish American soldier lamented that “black abolitionism” was so politically powerful and complained that “the Negro and not the welfare of the country” absorbed attention. The Jewish community was deeply split by the slavery issue and included both committed abolitionists and those who argued that the early Hebrew patriarchs were slave owners and therefore slavery could not be a sin.

Such anti-black attitudes were not confined to these groups, but were common in the North. Even free blacks in the North faced restrictions both legal and informal. Only in New England were they allowed to vote without restriction and only Massachusetts had desegregated schools. State law often prohibited intermarriage, black jury service, black testimony against whites, and even migration into a state. Informal limits on job occupation and housing prevailed. Segregation existed not just in schools but in theaters, restaurants, churches, and public conveyances. Black lawyer John S. Rock observed, “We are oppressed everywhere in this slavery-cursed land.” Indeed events in the decade preceding the war worsened the condition of African Americans. The Fugitive Slave Law made it easier to recover runaway slaves and even kidnap free blacks into slavery. The Dred Scott decision declared that even those African Americans born free were not citizens of the United States. The Civil War did not immediately affect those conditions. Republicans asserted the need to emancipate the slaves as a means to win the war, but did not promise wholesale changes in black rights. Nonetheless, the acceptance of black men into the Union army allowed African Americans to assert their claim to recognition. An editorial in the Weekly Anglo-African asked, “What better field to claim our rights than the field of battle?”

Not quite 10 percent of Union soldiers were African Americans, many of them southern slaves recruited into northern regiments. Wyatt James escaped from slavery in the Deep South and enlisted in Indiana’s black regiment at the end of 1863. The 54th Massachusetts, the most famous black regiment, was unusual in being composed largely of free blacks, including sons of black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Black military service, especially in battle, helped lift some prejudices. An Illinois soldier, observing black recruits in Tennessee, pondered, “I can’t see why they will not make soldiers.” An Indiana editorialist, reacting to reports of blacks in combat, including the 54th’s performance at Fort Wagner, said they “gave the lie to the assertion that [the black man] is a coward.”

Wounded at the Battle of Fort Wagner, Sergeant William H. Carney, the color-bearer insisted, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!” For his bravery, he became the first black man to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Although African Americans were not supposed to become officers, Dr. Alexander T. Augusta was commissioned as major and served as surgeon-in-charge at Washington, D.C.’s contraband hospital. Wearing “the gold leaf epaulettes of a Major,” Augusta was applauded by the crowd celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia. But he was assaulted by three Baltimore men and, on another occasion, evicted from a segregated street car for insisting on his right to ride in the main car with whites. Both times he was wearing his major’s uniform. Martin Delany, also a medical doctor, abandoned his advocacy of black emigration and recruited black soldiers during the Civil War. He was commissioned a major two years after Augusta and became the first black field officer in the army.

In response to oppression, African Americans had long relied on community. Centered on the local church and often working with the antislavery cause, the black community challenged northern black laws as just a variant of the same racism that accepted slavery. A convention of African Americans held in Cincinnati in 1858 condemned not only slavery but the “partial freedom” offered them by the free state of Ohio. They could not vote, hold office, get a fair trial by jury, or serve in the militia. They were denied an equal education and taxed without representation.

Changing race relations led to tensions between blacks and whites. Most famously, African Americans were targeted during the week of rioting against the draft in New York City in July 1863. Another race riot in March had left two people dead in Detroit. In that city, a man’s alleged attack on two young women—one white and one black—caused a mob to attack the homes and businesses of African Americans, smashing property and setting fire to buildings. The rioters evidently blamed “the d—d niggers” for the war, evidence, according to an account of the riot, that “slavery and prejudice—twin relics of barbarism—will die hard.”

As Emancipation challenged slavery in the South, blacks and sympathetic whites challenged white supremacy in the North. In Boston, a long established black community pressed, as they had before the war, to give meaning to David Walker’s phrase “colored citizen.” In Washington, D.C., free black residents joined with migrants from the North and former slaves fleeing the South, to work for desegregation, jobs, and equality before the law. Black women refused to sit in segregated streetcars, asserting their status as ladies to ride in the cleaner, more congenial areas of public transportation. In response to Augusta’s expulsion from the street car, Senator Charles Sumner introduced a bill to desegregate the cars in Washington, D.C. According to historian Kate Masur, the national capital became the “laboratory” for Republican experimentation with racial policy from abolition to political equality. Black men received patronage posts such as mailman from Republicans and more occupations opened to them. Sumner presented Rock to the United States Supreme Court as the first African American to practice before that body. Moreover, the legal and constitutional gains made by African Americans during the war nullified state black laws. Prohibitions on black migration and testimony fell by the wayside and the Fourteenth Amendment established the principle of birthright citizenship which encompassed African Americans. Voters in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Ohio, New York, and Kansas, however, rejected measures to enfranchise black men. Although the Reconstruction Act gave black men in the former Confederate states the franchise in 1867, many black Northerners did not gain that right until the Fifteenth Amendment three years later.


In the aftermath of the Detroit riot, members of the black community pointed out the injustice of the attacks on their homes considering their “people’s willingness to do service for their country and their race.” Such service, however, created difficulties for black soldiers’ families. When African American soldiers refused to take their pay because it was less than that of white soldiers, their families suffered hardship. But even though their difficulties were unique, all families on the homefront experienced adversity during the war.

Inflation, labor shortages, and, most of all, the absence of the breadwinner created hardships for many families. Most Union soldiers were probably unmarried sons. Although an Ohio woman asked that “God bless and protect” her brother, his departure for the army did not pose the same problem as that of a married man who left behind a family. One Ohio wife feared her husband might be called to war, but also thought “we would not love him if he were not willing to fight for our Country.” But another lamented, “Oh how hard it was to let him go and how uneasy I feel not knowing one minit from another if I have a husband or my children a father.” During the war, women followed the news from the front. An Ohio woman wrote her husband in the summer of 1863, that every letter predicted Vicksburg’s fall within a couple weeks. “Think it is a very long two weeks.” This same woman described residents of Fremont, Ohio celebrating the victory at Gettysburg: the populace rang bells, fired a cannon, and marched through town with a band and flags.

Patriotism was not the sole motivation for enlistment. Once the initial fervor of spring 1861 faded, the government found it necessary to resort to bounties to lure recruits. Families often used these bounties to pay off debts or acquire some capital or the down payment on a farm. But once the bounty money was gone, irregular pay and the absence of the breadwinner could bring hardship to soldiers’ families.

Although communities avowed their duty to provide for soldiers’ families, support often fell short. Public pressure was brought to bear on landlords to lower rents for the families of the men gone to war. Residents might be asked to bring contributions of food and clothing to local merchants where agents would collect and distribute them. “Will you thus see them [volunteers’ families] suffer for the necessaries of life, while their own husbands are engaged in fighting to sustain this great government of ours?” went an appeal in an Indiana newspaper. Although framed as an obligation to the men who served, for the recipients the aid often felt like charity. When voluntary contributions proved insufficient, local governments often appropriated money but the sums were small. Commenting that neither her husband nor brother-in-law had been paid, Alice Chapin, noted, “truly we need the aid through the country of societies for relief of Soldiers families if this is to be the way Uncle Sam & Abe Lincoln pay their hirelings.” But she found the relief money insufficient as well and was “out of funds.” Malisa Row in northern Indiana remembered the promises that had been made to care for soldiers’ families. But when her husband was wounded, his pay stopped. She had sold livestock but faced having her children taken from her while she went out to work.

Women found more employment opportunities because of the absence of men. They moved into government clerkships, nursing, and factories, including the production of munitions. They also took over running farms, adding to their usual chores of housework, dairying, cooking, tending gardens and poultry, by working in the fields and caring for livestock. Lydia Peck, running the family’s Indiana farm, corresponded with her husband about shearing the sheep, milking, trading potatoes for other goods, and payments on a debt. Such additional responsibilities may have increased husbands’ reliance on and respect for their wives, although the correspondence revealing farm wives’ increased autonomy often ceases with the return of the husband, making it difficult to assess long-term changes in marital relations. The Cincinnati Gazette insisted that the “sturdy daughters of the farmers would lose no caste” in assisting with farm labor. Mary Hamilton in Fort Wayne, Indiana did not know how her father would manage on the farm without the labor of “his girls.” Even with help from kinfolk, wives found the increased farmwork exhausting, often both physically and psychologically. If the farm were marginal and the wife unable to keep it up, she might lose the property. Increasing numbers of women with young children began appearing at the Massachusetts State Almshouse during the war. These women had not always been abandoned or widowed. Often they had found their husbands’ military pay arrived irregularly and that relief for soldiers’ families was difficult to attain. Lydia Bixby, made the most famous grieving mother of the war by an eloquent condolence note, was not seeking sympathy but an income to replace the one provided by her five sons (perhaps not all dead, but missing or having deserted).

Children felt the impact of the war as well. Court Holliday attempted to console Lute Embree, writing, “I am sorry your Pa has gone to war, but hope he will make a good brave officer, help whip all the rebels, and come safe home again.” Although Court looked forward to enlisting if the war was still going on when he came of age, his mother preferred the boys to talk of college. Unlike Court Holliday, Sadie Bushman of Gettysburg was the rare northern child to have direct experience of the war. In the aftermath of that July 1863 battle, a surgeon asked nine-year-old Sadie to give a drink of water to a man whose leg was being amputated. She saw the entire procedure and, in the days that followed, helped nurse the wounded.

Even absent fathers played a part in their children’s lives. Fathers differed, sometimes by social class and sometimes by temperament, in the instructions they sent to children at home. John Applegate, a blacksmith before the war, merely wished for his daughter to be good and to go to school, principally so that she would be able to write to him. Lawyer Aden Cavins, however, sent his wife detailed instructions on forming their sons’ natures. In a Christmas letter to his children, he reminded them, “You are now forming your characters for life.” Cavins emphasized education, self control, obeying their mother, and forming “the character of a christian gentleman.” Some fathers justified their service as a necessary example to their children. Others feared that their children would be ashamed of them if they did not fight.

The Northern HomefrontClick to view larger

Figure 1. Photograph of Unidentified African American Soldier in Union Uniform with wife and two daughters. Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-36454.

But the loss of a father could be devastating. Many children had to go to work in mills or factories to replace incomes lost with the death of a breadwinner. Orphanages increased in number and size by twofold. Many northern states established orphans homes to care for the thousands of children left parentless by the war. Late in the war, Congress passed a small pension of two dollars per month for orphans.

No one could assuage the grief when a family member died. Indianapolis lawyer J.W. Gordon kept “my boy’s last letter to me, which I found in his coat pocket immediately over his heart . . . covered with his own innocent blood.” The letter explained his son’s motivations for enlisting. Gordon had hoped his son would put a monument on Gordon’s grave, but now he found himself performing that service for his son: “all my hopes are in the grave.”

Fathers such as Gordon, and even mothers and wives, made trips to battlefields and hospitals to find menfolk who had been reported wounded or dead. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes described one such journey in “My Hunt after the Captain.” His son, the future Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., had been reported as wounded in the neck after the Battle of Antietam. The elder Holmes journeyed south in the company of a friend on a similar errand. At the train station in Baltimore, his traveling companion received another telegram announcing that his son was dead and that the body was even then en route to Baltimore. “Sorrowfully” they parted and Holmes continued on his journey. At the battlefield, he confronted the “pitiable” sight of the wounded and dead. He roused an exhausted army surgeon to help look for his son. By chance, another doctor directed the father to where Captain Holmes of the 20th Massachusetts was housed, but arriving there Holmes learned his son had already been sent on. Following another lead, the father took the train to Philadelphia, asking at each stop if there were wounded officers at the station. At Harrisburg, Holmes learned that his son was not in Philadelphia but still in Maryland. When the northbound train arrived, Dr. Holmes reported, “In the first car, on the fourth seat to the right, I saw my Captain; there saw I him, even my first-born, whom I had sought through many cities.” Holmes learned that he had been within ten miles of his son in Maryland and then made a round-about journey of several hundred miles before they were reunited.

Holmes, fortunately, found his son alive. Like his traveling companion, many dealt not only with arduous travel, repeated applications for information to army officers and doctors, but then had to disinter a body and make arrangements for shipment home and burial. John Blinn’s mother arrived in Gettysburg in time to be with her son while he died. She brought the body home to Indiana, riding in the train car with the coffins, sitting on the one that contained her son. The smell nearly overwhelmed her, but she was determined to bring her boy home. Family members who had not been with the deceased when they died, often wished to open coffins and view the remains. A Union chaplain strongly advised a grieving mother against doing so: “It will be better for you to think of him as he was when he left his pleasant home for the purpose of fighting for his flag and country. It will always be sad to think as he appears now.” Some families continued searching for a loved one’s remains after the war. The Hamrick family was never able to bring home the body of their son, Simpson, killed at Chancellorsville. The body’s location was known, but continued fighting made it impossible to recover.

Religious faith helped many Northerners endure the loss of loved ones and carry on the war. Both Northerners and Southerners, according to historian George C. Rable, had a “providential interpretation of the Civil War.” The war was God’s will and, although Americans could only understand that will imperfectly, they remained convinced that the war’s unending bloodshed had a purpose. Northerners often believed that God was chastening them for their sins, especially their complicity in slavery, but would reward them with victory eventually for they could not doubt His special favor for the republican form of government the Union represented. Ministers used victories and defeats to articulate this sense of mission. Throughout the war, President Lincoln called for days of prayer and thanksgiving, eventually nationalizing the old Pilgrim holiday in November.

Community Will and Union Victory

Despite the sacrifices and suffering of the homefront, Northern civilians remained committed to restoring the Union through military victory. Abraham Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 signaled to an English journalist the Union “determination . . . to fight to the last.” Some historians have argued that the strong ties between those on the homefront and those on the battlefield explained northern commitment to the war. Local communities mobilized for war, continued to supply the troops during the conflict, followed the course of the war and the fate of loved ones in the newspapers and letters, and remained committed to victory. They visited the battlefield to be reunited with or tend to family members. They brought their dead home for burial. For those on the homefront, the Civil War might almost have been fought “in a foreign land,” but it was fought by men they knew and cared about. In their letters, soldiers attempted to instruct their families on the nature of the war and families, in turn, strove to understand the soldiers’ experience. The war provoked many family rifts, even within families that stayed within the Union. Iowa soldier William Vermilion repudiated his Copperhead family in Indiana as “no kindred of mine.” Although Vermilion’s family members did not change their political opinions, when they learned of William’s unhappiness with them, some of them attempted to make amends by kindness to William’s wife. There may have been a gulf between homefront and battlefield, but it was not always an unbridgeable one.

The war also created a national loyalty that bound the individual and community to the nation state. After all, when communities mobilized for war, they sent men and supplies to the national army and rallied in support of the national government. This nationalism transcended community, ethnic, or partisan loyalties and tied Northerners to the national government they had lost blood and treasure to save. Literature played a role in creating those ties. Historian Daniel Aaron argued that the war did not produce a suitable epic work, positing as one reason that the “seamy and unheroic” character of the common soldier’s experience was unfit for the sentimental taste of the predominantly female reading public. But popular literature produced by women explored themes of race and gender as well as the individual’s increased relationship with the nation-state. Female writers—primarily white, middle-class Northeasterners—gave a meaning to the war that sanctified its morality and claimed a place for women among its saviors. Northern intellectuals who had hoped the war would perfect the nation might be dismayed at the materialism and political corruption of the post-war Gilded Age, but popular fiction’s stories of daring female spies and valiant black soldiers demonstrated the liberating potential of the war.

The war expended the nation-state, but at its end, soldiers were welcomed home as returning members of the community. A reception for soldiers in Indiana featured speeches by local politicians and “returned warriors.” Captain Milton A. Osborn praised “the sustaining efforts of the loyal people at home” as well as “the self-sacrificing spirit” of the soldiers’ “wives and mothers and sisters.” The homefront support “had nerved the arm and strengthened the heart of many a soldier to give the blow which had turned the tide of battle.” Another returned soldier suggested that the women form a reception line and welcome each of the soldiers individually, after which “a charge upon the dinner tables was ordered.” The ceremony reasserted the ties between soldier and civilian as well as traditional gender roles in which women prepared the meals men enjoyed after male speakers finished their oratory.

Veterans feared, however, that war unfitted them for civilian life. Illinois soldier Charles Willis said “citizens are not like soldiers.” Leander Stillwell returned to his home in Illinois and went straight into the field to harvest corn. He felt as if he had picked up where he left off when he enlisted. But other adjustments were less smooth. Veterans, especially African American troops, found it difficult to find employment. Eventually many northern states built Soldiers’ Homes to care for indigent and elderly veterans. Approximately 100,000 Union veterans lived in such homes, which were racially segregated. Some veterans had substance abuse problems. Morphine addiction came to be called the “army disease” and authorities at soldiers’ home struggled to enforce temperance on their inmates. Divorce rates rose (as did the rate of marriages) and the post-war period experienced a crime wave.

Many soldiers came home maimed. The Civil War helped redefine attitudes toward the disabled who were no longer seen as unmanly but, by virtue of their disability, had proven their manhood in battle. Political candidates advertised their empty sleeves in their campaigns. New prosthetic devices were invented. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a hero of Gettysburg, died in 1914 from the re-infection of a groin wound which had caused him pain for decades, required repeated surgeries, and probably prevented marital relations with his wife Fanny. Those with psychological disabilities suffered as well. Historian Eric T. Dean Jr. used the records of the Indiana Hospital for the Insane to identify the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among Union veterans. Many veterans suffered from insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, delusions that they were in danger, and depression.

Post-war federal pensions were directly related to war-incurred physical disabilities. Veterans with psychological disabilities were less likely to have successful applications and alcoholism was seen as a disqualifying moral failure, a “vicious habit,” rather than as a form of self-medication. Although the pension laws were race neutral, African American veterans found it more difficult to get a sympathetic ruling from doctors and pension bureaucrats. Lacking education, they found navigating the pension systems—which required affidavits, doctors’ statements, and other paperwork—challenging. Men with wounds were more successful applicants. African Americans, having seen a shorter period of combat, had fewer wounds.

During the war, Union officials sought to encourage men to enlist by reassuring them that their dependents would receive pensions. Widows, as well as orphans and dependent parents, were covered. Once again, black women had greater difficulty making successful pension applications as many former slaves could not supply necessary proofs of their marriages. Pensions ceased if the widow remarried but for some women, a Civil War pension allowed them to live independently rather than becoming reliant on family members.

An 1890 pension law removed the requirement that the disability had to be war-related. An aging veteran population saw a surge in successful applications until, in 1893, 43 percent of the federal budget went to pay Union pensions to veterans, widows, and other dependents. Since black Americans suffered worse health than white Americans, black veterans became more successful in their applications. Irish Americans had been applying for pensions at the same rate as Anglo veterans, but German American pensioners lagged behind, catching up after 1890, perhaps because the German language press publicized the law. In the North, however, where a large percentage of men had not served and a nearly even balance of political power between Republicans and Democrats made veterans affairs a political issue, there was criticism of the pension system as overly generous and of veterans as “pension sharks.”

Union veterans’ political interests were ably represented not just by the Republican party but by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). All over the North, GAR posts met to celebrate the fraternity created by the war. The posts organized Memorial Day commemorations, held public presentations with tableaux of camp life and reminiscences by former soldiers, oversaw the placing of tombstones on the graves of soldiers in the local cemeteries, provided charity to their members, and lobbied on political issues such as monuments and pensions. The GAR’s female auxiliary, the Women’s Relief Corps, raised funds, cooked banquets, and generally played the supporting role expected of women during the war. Veterans’ organizations and their female auxiliaries helped keep alive a particular, northern, memory of the war for generations after Appomattox.

Through their post-war monument building, northern communities paid tribute to the soldiers’ heroism. Frequently these monuments consisted of the statue of a lone soldier standing at parade rest. In many cases, these common soldier monuments were erected in cemeteries emphasizing the war’s staggering mortality. The federal government, with the dedication of a national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, made the loss suffered by individuals and families the nation’s loss as well. Although the Hamrick family was not able to recover their son’s body after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Simpson Hamrick was eventually buried in the national cemetery at Fredericksburg. In addition to the dead interred at these new national cemeteries, every northern community possessed the graves of Civil War soldiers. But communities also erected monuments in the centers of civic life, the courthouse square or town center. In this way, locales paid tribute to the sacrifices made by those who fought and preserved their memory so that later generations would be continually reminded of the conflict by these stone sentries standing silent guard over the community.

Brigadier General Thomas C. H. Smith, dedicating a statue to the common soldier in Marietta, Ohio, a decade after the war, noted that families, neighbors, and local governments had supported the soldier from recruitment through the war. “And this community, in dedicating this monument, completes its course of duty performed for those who represented it in arms. The long series of mutual relations and sympathetic offices, which from enlistment onward, marked and illustrated the connection of the soldiers with their fellow-citizens, ends here.” Smith was wrong to consider these “mutual relations and sympathetic offices” at an end, but correct to understand the importance of the connection between “the soldiers and their fellow-citizens.”

Discussion of the Literature

Military and battle studies traditionally dominated the literature on the Civil War. In a 1989 Journal of American History article, Maris A. Vinovskis asked, “Have Social Historians Lost the Civil War?” Analyzing demographic data, Vinovskis raised questions about the balance of economic versus ideological factors in motivating enlistments, the meaning for the homefront of widespread death in a generation, and the economic impact of generous Union pensions. A wealth of literature on social and political history has expanded knowledge of these topics and many others. One starting place is Civil War History, published since 1955. A much more recent scholarly journal is the Journal of the Civil War Era.

Vinovskis wrote at a time when historians were just starting to explore the homefront through studies of important cities. J. Matthew Gallman, Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia during the Civil War (1990) argued that wartime change was rooted in pre-war institutions. Other studies of New York, Chicago, and Boston by Ernest A. McKay (1990), Theodore J. Karamanski (1993), and Thomas H. O’Connor (1997) followed. These useful studies, however, left out the three quarters of the Northern population that lived on farms and small towns. Nicole Etcheson attempts to correct this imbalance with her study of an Indiana county during the Civil War era, A Generation at War (2011). She argues that while there was much continuity between the pre-war and post-war eras, race relations changed profoundly.

Gallman followed his study of Philadelphia with an overview of the northern homefront, The North Fights the Civil War (1994), which restated his emphasis on continuity. Gallman finds that the war did not bring a full break with the past. Like Gallman, Philip Shaw Paludan covered topics such as mobilization, support for the war, and emancipation in “A People’s Contest” (1996), but Paludan concentrated far more on traditional political and economic history in this survey of the North during the Civil War. In addition, James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) is still the most comprehensive history of the Civil War, particularly the military events, but also ranges into such topics as the war economy and politics on the homefront. Patrick K. O’Brien provides a concise overview of The Economic Effects of the American Civil War (1988) while Heather Cox Richardson studies Republican economic policies in The Greatest Nation on Earth (1997).

Jennifer Weber’s Copperheads (2006)Robert M. Sandow, Deserter Country: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians (2009)Iver Bernstein’sThe New York City Draft Riots (1990)Frank L. Klement, had found in his The Copperheads in the Middle West (1972)Eugene C. Murdock, One Million Men (1971)Mark Neely’s The Fate of Liberty (1991)Adam I. P. Smith offers a recent look at the dynamics of party politics in No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North (2006)William A. Blair, With Malice toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era (2014)

The fullest accounts of anti-war dissent come from ; ; and . Weber grapples with the perennial question of whether the anti-war Democrats merely opposed the Lincoln administration on policy matters or crossed the line into treasonous support of the Confederacy. Her predecessor, , that the Copperhead menace was largely invented by Republicans for political advantage. Weber takes the anti-war Democrats more seriously as a threat to the Union. Bernstein details not only the savage brutality of the draft riots, but its class and race dimensions. In addition, an older work by , outlined not just the mechanics of the draft, but community resistance to it. is the comprehensive account of civil liberties in the Union. . On the many ways in which the Republicans sought to suppress what they defined as treason, see .

Although the Irish made up a significant portion of the New York City draft rioters, Irish, Germans, and other ethnic soldiers served with distinction. Ella Lonn’s Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy (1951) is the classic work on ethnic soldiers in the Civil War. Susannah Ural Bruce provides a closer look at the Irish experience in The Harp and the Eagle (2006). In addition, essays in Civil War Citizens (2010) edited by Susannah J. Ural address the experiences of Irish, German, and Jewish communities in both the North and South. Margaret S. Creighton provides not only a rare account of a Civil War battle that occurred on northern soil in The Colors of Courage (2005), but also an examination of the experience of German American troops who fought at Gettysburg.

Mary Elizabeth Massey in Bonnet Brigades (1966)Elizabeth D. Leonard’s Yankee Women (1994)Nina Silber and Judith Giesberg has challenged this conclusion. In Daughters of the Union (2005)Jane E. Schultz has modified the traditional topic of nurses in the Civil War by expanding her study on Women at the Front (2004)James Marten’s The Children’s Civil War (1998)

The literature on northern women is vast, centering on the question of whether the war subverted female subordination. argued that the Civil War enhanced women’s status, a theme continued with . More recently, work by , Silber points to how changes for Union women were constrained within the needs of the wartime state and, in Army at Home (2009), Giesberg chronicles the devastating economic effect that the loss or absence of the breadwinner could mean for women. to include all female hospital workers. The most comprehensive treatment of children is which explores how children were caught up in and politicized by the conflict.

The literature on the northern homefront currently lacks an overview of the experience of northern African Americans. There are, of course, numerous studies of emancipation and the overthrow of slavery as well as the experience of black troops. Syntheses such as those by McPherson, Paludan, and Gallman include the black experience in their accounts, and newer community studies by Janette Thomas Greenwood on Worcester, Mass. (2009) and Earl F. Mulderink III on New Bedford, Mass. (2012) demonstrate the impact of the Civil War on blacks, many of them southern migrants to the North. Stephen Kantrowitz, More than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829–1889 (2012); and Kate Masur, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. (2010) look at how African Americans pressed for a wider understanding of citizenship in Boston and Washington, D.C. But there is still much work to be done to understand the experience of northern black civilians.

George C. Rable, God’s Almost Chosen People: A Religious History of the American Civil War (2010)Sean A. Scott, A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War (2011)Melinda Lawson examines developments in northern nationalism in Patriot Fires: Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North (2002)Daniel Aaron, The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War (1973)Alice Fahs, The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature of the North & South, 1861–1865 (2001)Lyde Cullen Sizer, The Political Work of Northern Women Writers and the Civil War, 1850–1872 (2000)George M. Fredrickson’s The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union (1965)

On religion in the Civil War, see ; and . . On literature, see ; ; and . is the classic examination of how the war shaped the world of ideas.

Drew Gilpin Faust details how the war changed Americans’ experience of death and led to the creation of national cemeteries in This Republic of Suffering (2008)David W. Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001)Caroline Janney has recently challenged Blight’s emphasis on reconciliation, arguing that post-war Americans continued to disagree about the war, in Remembering the Civil War (2013)

Given historians’ recent interest in memory, there is a burgeoning literature on the effects of the Civil War in the post-war period. . The dominant synthesis on the war’s memory is . . More specialized works on post-war topics include Larry M. Logue (1996) and James Marten on veterans (2014), Stuart McConnell on the Grand Army of the Republic (1992), Eric T. Dean Jr. on post-traumatic stress (1997), Larry M. Logue and Peter Blanck on disability (2010), John F. Neff on commemorating the dead (2005), Theda Skocpol on widows’ pensions (1992), and Kirk Savage on statuary (1997).

The literature on the northern homefront has expanded considerably since Vinovskis pondered whether the social history of the war was being neglected. Yet there still remain areas for debate and further research on the lives of Northerners during the nation’s bloodiest conflict.

Primary Sources

Most archival collections from the Civil War concentrate on the experience of the soldiers. Families saved letters from soldiers while soldiers often found preserving the letters from home cumbersome. On the march, homefront letters were lost or destroyed by recipients who did not want to be burdened with carrying them or disliked the idea of their personal contents being read by others.

Nonetheless, a manuscript collection from the Civil War will often contain letters from those at home which indicate the experience of the northern homefront. Diaries and letters left by women are comparatively plentiful while those left by children are less common. Individual northern blacks, unless they were prominent, often left few records. Historians have relied on accounts of northern black conventions to discern African American opinion.

State historical societies from the Union States will have finding aids, often online. Searches will indicate the manuscript collections left by Civil War–era soldiers and civilians. In addition, searches can be done in the manuscript collections of state and local historical societies and university archives for the papers of the era’s politicians whose political survival depended on a keen appreciation of homefront sentiment. Since manuscript collections contain incoming mail, politicians’ papers are filled with letters from their home communities.

State archives contain military records such as muster rolls and regimental correspondence. Although primarily devoted to army affairs, personal letters sometimes ended up in regimental files. Even discussion of military matters, such as promotions, can contain accounts from the homefront as influential friends from civilian life write to advance a man’s military career.

Provost Marshal records contain a wealth of letters from individuals on the homefront, commenting on resistance to the draft and loyalty to the Union. The National Archives has distributed those records to its regional archives, so that, for example, records from the Great Plains states are at the Kansas City branch and records from the Great Lakes states at the Chicago branch. Researchers can search the National Archives website) as well as the online guides of the branch archives. Jake Ersland, archivist at the Kansas City branch, has written a guide to “Civil War Provost Marshal Records” which includes the location of the records from the different northern states. In addition, individual provost marshals often left their papers to state or university archives.

Civil War–era newspapers also contain a wealth of information about activity at home: accounts of recruiting and mobilization, pleas to aid soldiers’ families, news of draft resistance and local reaction to victories and defeats, information about soldiers’ aid societies, and editorials reflecting sentiment about political issues, race relations, and the course of the war. Northern black and ethnic newspapers also provide a window into the experience of African Americans and immigrant groups during the war. In the post-war period, newspapers reflected the memory of the war, publishing accounts of Memorial Day services, reprinting Memorial Day speeches, soliciting aid to build statues commemorating the war, and describing the dedication of such statues.

Studies of the homefront might also examine books and music about the war. Such cultural artifacts have helped to fill the gap in the manuscript record on issues relating to children, race, and gender. The University of Michigan Making of America website has a collection of approximately 10,000 books from the nineteenth century. The Library of Congress American Memory website, in addition to possessing numerous manuscript collections of Civil War–era individuals, has Civil War band music. The many songs written during the Civil War are widely available.

Primary sources on the northern homefront are thus numerous and widespread. The researcher must decide how to target his or her search according to geographical area, individual, or sub-topic. Library and archival catalogs can then be searched to find collections pertinent to the researcher’s topic. In addition to archival resources, Ohio University Press publishes a series, “The Civil War in Documents” which devotes a volume to each “interior” state. These volumes include documents highlighting the politics, homefront, and military experiences of that state. Volumes on Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, and Illinois are in print with future volumes forthcoming for Michigan and Wisconsin.

Links to Visual Materials

Civilians Watching Battles

Communities Support or Oppose the War

Ethnic, Religious, and Racial Communities


Community Will and Union Victory

Soldiers’ Homecoming at End of War

  • Illustration of the “Homecoming of the 7th New York,” from Frank Leslie’s weekly magazine. Caption: “The Soldier’s Rest—The friends of the Seventh and Eighth regiments, New York Volunteers, welcoming the return of their heroes to New York, Tuesday, April 28th, 1863.”

  • Winslow Homer. “Home From the War.” Harper’s Weekly. New York: Harper’s Magazine Co. 13 June 1863.

  • “Grand Review of the Union Armies,” May, 1865.

Post-War Monuments

Links to Digital Materials


  • The People’s Contest: A Civil War Era Digital Archive Project, Penn State University, Richards Center. “The People’s Contest” is a digital archive project created through the collaborative efforts of Penn State University libraries and the Richards Civil War Center. The site argues that its mission “is to promote research into the lived experience of Pennsylvanians between 1851 and 1874.” These institutions hope to bring more awareness to and promote research of the northern homefront during the Civil War. They argue that Pennsylvania is a good region to better understand those who lived through the Civil War in the North because it contained people with multiple experiences—a large black population in Philadelphia, deserters in the lumber region, laborers of the industrial revolution, and those regions directly affected by Confederates in their invasions of the region. The archive is extensive and contains many sources from all over Pennsylvania. The site has a large newspaper collection that has digitized images of papers from many different cities throughout the state. There is also a short description of newspapers during this period and their importance in influencing and reporting the war. The site also includes a Catalogue of Collections which is a searchable database of primary source collections throughout Pennsylvania as held by various intuitions. This collection is vast with all sorts of sources including diaries, letters, family papers, official documents, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and artwork. That being said, this catalog does not include images of the items or its content online, but does provide a fairly detailed description of each item and tells the viewer the repository where it is held. The site also includes Digital Facsimile Collections, which include images of family papers, photo albums, diaries, letters, and even a list of deserters. While most of these manuscripts are those of the soldiers, there are a few that are from people living in Pennsylvania during the war. These are interesting in their descriptions of everyday activities and social norms in the North. Along with this, a few diaries are those of women (including Emilie Davis, an African American woman in Philadelphia, and one of a woman living in an affluent Pennsylvania home) and there is a series of letters between two female childhood friends. Most of these manuscripts have been transcribed; however, the site is still in the process of transcribing them all. The site also includes a few scholarly essays discussing important topics, including one over the northern homefront as well as links to other online resources concerning Pennsylvania during the Civil War.

  • Civil War Diaries and Letters Digital Collections: Civil War Diaries Transcription Project, University of Iowa. “The Civil War Diaries and Letters Digital Collections” is a digital archive that exhibits the personal letters and diaries of Iowa soldiers and their families during the Civil War. While the majority of the sources are correspondence and diaries, there are also photographs, narrative accounts, and essays as well. These sources are useful in providing a glimpse of the northern homefront in their detailed descriptions of the daily life of these soldiers and their families. Along with discussing their day-to-day activities and experiences, major events and battles are discussed and the writers often share their views on the important issues of the day including the war. The sources are highly interesting; however, the site is still under development since the documents are still in the process of being transcribed by volunteers. Because of this, the documents are not narrowed down in any way (by region, topic, etc.) and there is no way to search through the documents yet; however, it appears that most of the sources are completely transcribed and that all will be done quite soon.

  • The Valley of the Shadow, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The Valley of the Shadow is a digital archive that provides an account of life in two American communities, Franklin County, Pennsylvania and Augusta County, Virginia, from John Brown’s Raid in 1859 to 1870. The archive is divided chronologically into three sections: Eve of War (1859–1861), War Years (1861–1865), and the Aftermath (1865–1870). Within each section, the archive is further divided by document type which includes maps, images, records, statistics, newspapers, and letters and diaries. The maps included in each section are political, military, agricultural, and infrastructural maps—all of which provide the viewer with a better understanding of the region. The section devoted to the War Years includes an Animated Theater Battle Map, an interactive map that shows through animation the movements of selected military units. Images, including photographs, illustrations, and paintings, are also provided in each section, which can be viewed through a search consisting of battlefields, persons, or subjects. A large portion of each section is devoted to records of the period including census, tax, and church records from before the war; soldiers’ records and official military records during the war; and census and veteran records after the war. A portion in each section is devoted to statistics including population breakdown, agriculture and farm values, churches, party activism and affiliation, and voting statistics in relation to various factors such as proximity, religious denomination, and agricultural production. Each section also includes articles from regional newspapers. The vast majority of space in each of these sections is devoted to the letters and diaries of individuals from or related to Franklin County, which can be helpful in studying the northern homefront. These individuals vary in occupation and status from government officials, church officials, merchants, farmers, and soldiers. Of particular importance are some from women living at home as well as many letters between soldiers and their families. The section devoted to the aftermath of the war also includes a section that provides documents demonstrating the Memory of War. These documents include newspaper articles written after the war discussing how it should be remembered and interpreted as well as memoirs of those involved (including families of soldiers). Along with this, there is a section devoted to popular culture that has been developed from the 1860s to 2001 that demonstrates how the war is remembered and depicted.

  • Emilie Davis Diary, Villanova University. This site is a digital archive of the diaries of Emilie Davis, a black woman living in Pennsylvania during the Civil War. The only sources included on this site are the three pocket diaries of Emilie Davis that recorded the years 1863, 1864, and 1865. These diaries have all been transcribed and the viewer of the site can see both the transcriptions and an image of the actual page (which they received from “The People’s Contest” archive mentioned above). The diary does not record each day but does provide a detailed account of the activities and events that she experienced for many of the days of these years. The vast majority of the documents record everyday activities of this woman in Philadelphia during this period, providing the reader with insight into the daily life of black women living in the North during the war. She also comments on issues and events that occur, such as her reporting the fears of Philadelphians of a Confederate invasion. Along with this, she mentions and comments on significant events including Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the assassination of Lincoln. This site provides a unique perspective—that of a black woman—of the northern homefront in a state that was often directly impacted by the war.

  • Northern Visions of Race, Region, and Reform in the Press and Letters of Freedmen and Freedmen’s Teachers in the Civil War Era, Assumption College. “Northern Visions of Race, Region, and Reform” is a digital archive of primary sources that concern northern perceptions of African Americans during and immediately after the Civil War. The goal of this exhibition is to demonstrate through primary sources related to this topic the stereotypes of blacks that were often presented by the northern press. The primary sources included demonstrate how these sources more often than not contradicted these generally accepted stereotypes. The site is not solely a digital archive, but also provides much information about this topic, the authors of the sources (freedmen, their teachers, and prominent figures), the press during this period, and other relevant topics. The sources included are divided into four sections: letters to and from freedmen’s teachers, letters from the freedmen themselves, letters from slave owners and traders, and a collection of relevant primary source documents. Although the letters to and from freedmen’s teachers provide more information about the situation in the South, they are resourceful as sources which provide descriptions of the North (usually the letters written to the teachers), military activities, the role that Northerners (in the North) played in fundraising for freedmen’s needs in the South, and northern views of blacks concerning their abolition and enfranchisement as well as northern political views of significant issues. The other two collections of letters are not as useful for reference concerning the North since they predominately focus on the South; however, the last collection of various primary sources is extensive and useful. The documents included in this collection are laws, newspaper and magazine articles, official reports (military, governmental, organizational), political pamphlets, memoirs, and illustrations. All of the sources on this site relate to African Americans—their emancipation, enfranchisement, status, and rights—and the views of Americans on these matters. Most of the sources are in support of their abolition, enfranchisement, and equality; however there are a few instances of documents demonstrating northern opposition to these ideas.

  • Civil War Resources from East Central Indiana, Ball State University. The Civil War Resources from the East Central Indiana collection from Ball State University contains many primary sources from this region and the regions surrounding it from the Civil War era. The majority of these sources are military records (rosters, enlistments, photographs of soldiers, official military documents, etc.). However, there are also some sources that can be a great aid for someone studying the northern homefront. This collection contains many sources that detail civilian relief during the war including affidavits and applications for families collecting the bounties of their family members who volunteered to serve and died. There are also official records detailing civilian relief including how much governmental money would be allotted to civilian relief as well as images of many checks made out and redeemed for civilian relief for families of soldiers. These records can help researchers better understand the economic status of the northern homefront in this region. This collection also includes a series of letters between General William Harrison Kemper and Hattie F. Kemper (relatives who later married) throughout the Civil War. These letters can be helpful in demonstrating the experiences and activities of the northern homefront through their accounts and descriptions of daily life (Hattie lived in Iowa, William varied in location but was in the North a great deal, Indiana and Michigan, during the beginning and end of the war), as well as courtship.

  • Indiana Magazine of History Voices from the Past: Civil War Soldiers’ Letters and Diaries, Indiana University. The “Civil War Soldiers’ Letters and Diaries Collection of the Indiana Magazine of History Voices from the Past” is a digital archive that contains many letters and diaries of soldiers from Indiana relating their experiences during the war. While the majority of these sources are letters and diaries from soldiers, there are other sources within these collections including newspaper articles, photographs, maps, and correspondence from family members of the soldiers. These sources provide great insight into the experiences and views of these northern soldiers, particularly their views on the issues of the day including the war, slavery, emancipation, the South and its actions, military leadership, and southern sympathizers in the North. The authors of these documents vary greatly with many being common soldiers, but others being surgeons, chaplains, band members, and even a spy. Because of this, this archive provides a rich sampling of the mindset and experiences of Union soldiers from Indiana. Some highlights of the sources include a few letters describing the hospital conditions and the letters of a Union soldier who was a Democrat and anti-abolitionist. As described, the majority of this site is devoted to the experiences of soldiers rather than those on the northern homefront however, this archive does include a collection of letters from Indiana civilians to the governor of Indiana (Morton) concerning what to do about southern sympathizers in their regions. Along with this, there are also letters from those on the homefront to the soldiers that provide descriptions of the homefront while they are at war. The site provides a background for each source that discusses the author, his history, and where he was from as well as a description of what his letters or diary discusses. Overall, this site is a good resource for studying the political opinions of soldiers from the North, for reading the accounts of the experiences of those on the homefront from the correspondence between soldiers and their families, and for better understanding the tensions between Northerners and southern sympathizers in the North.

  • The Crisis of the Union: An Electronic Archive about the Causes, Conduct, and Consequences of the U.S. Civil War, University of Pennsylvania. “The Crisis of the Union” is a digital archive that contains primary source documents related to the “causes, conduct, and consequences” of the Civil War. The documents were created between the years 1830 through 1880. Among the sources, those written around the period of the war include pamphlets, circulating letters, newspaper clippings, illustrations, speeches, organizational records, political cartoons, stationary, essays, and song sheets, most of which were from the North. All of these sources were political in nature either supporting or opposing the war or the abolition of slaves. Many of them were campaign paraphernalia that praised one candidate or demonized the opposing party. While most concerned the two major political parties in general, there were some that addressed minority groups including blacks, laborers, women, and, in one case, Jews. Overall, these documents are resourceful sources concerning the political activities of the period, particularly the 1860 and 1864 elections in the North.

  • Civil War Era Collection, Gettysburg College. The “Civil War Era Collection at Gettysburg College” is a digital archive site that, according to the creators, “offers a sampling of a broader collection.” This archive includes many primary sources that relate to the North during the war, particularly the Battle of Gettysburg. Among the sources included are images of artifacts (mostly items or military documents belonging to soldiers, but also some belonging to northern civilians), letters from Union soldiers to their family, maps (mostly of battles and the South), and one image of sheet music for the Battle for Freedom. The letters may be useful in studying the northern homefront in that the writers (most often soldiers) discuss their views on the issues of the day including the war and the Emancipation Proclamation, and, in the case of one soldier, his opposition to fighting. There are also letters written a few years after the end of the war discussing the commemoration of Gettysburg and the erecting of its monuments. The site also includes a couple of lithographs of Gettysburg, a collection of paintings created in 1866 illustrating the Battle of Gettysburg from multiple angles, and a few pamphlets containing panoramic views of the battle (c. 1866). There is also a nice collection of photographs, most of which are portraits of Union soldiers and some of the battlefield taken about three weeks after the battle. The most significant collection this site has as a resource for studying the northern homefront is its political cartoons. These cartoons come from multiple sources including Vanity Fair and Harper’s Weekly and demonstrate the various views Northerners held concerning the issues of the day such as the war, southern sympathizers, the Emancipation Proclamation, the actions of public figures, and international affairs. While the majority of these cartoons were pro-Union, there were some from the North that supported the South as well as some cartoons from the South. This site does heavily focus on the military aspects of the war; however, there are some significant sources that can be a great resource for those studying the northern homefront.

  • Making of America Books and Journals, Michigan University. The “Making of America” digital library of primary sources is an extensive collection of journals and books mainly from the 19th and early 20th centuries that primarily focus on the social sciences, education, religion, and science and technology put together by Michigan and Cornell Universities. Most of the works focus on the antebellum period until the turn of the 20th century. The site contains copies of both books and journals. The books included are from a myriad of genres including history, philosophy, science, manuals, advice, religion, finance, biographies, memoirs, addresses, and even cookbooks. There are over 10,000 books included in this library. There are far fewer journals included, however a few of them may be great resources concerning the northern homefront during the Civil War. Such journals include the Ladies Repository (Cincinnati), Vanity Fair (New York), and the Princeton Review (New York). One highly useful journal included is The Old Guard, a New York journal “devoted to the principles of 1776 and 1787” which was written solely to promote its Democratic, anti-war, pro-slavery views in the North. The articles in these journals vary from magazine articles and scholarly articles to poems and editorials. While this archive contains many sources, it is difficult to navigate the site and would be most beneficial to those who have a good idea of what they are researching since the only efficient way to use the site would be to do a fairly specific search, especially in the archive of books. That being said, this site can be a great resource in researching the northern homefront due to its extensive collection of works written during the war.

  • Making of America, Cornell University. This is Cornell’s site of this project. It contains mainly the same sources but also includes Civil War documents (military records) and is slightly easier to navigate. The Cornell and Michigan sites link to each other.

  • American Memory Collection, Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’s “American Memory Collection” is a digital archive that contains various types of primary source documents from United States history. The sources include written documents such as governmental records—laws, congressional records, presidential papers, correspondence—telegrams, organizational reports, newspaper articles, journal articles, and books written in the 19th century. There are also visual documents including drawings, etchings, historic photographs, maps, and modern pictures of material culture of the time period. While most of the documents concern prominent individuals, particularly state personnel, popular culture items can also be found including pamphlets, leaflets, calling cards, music, and even dance instruction manuals. The archive is vast and contains multiple source types; however, a few collections are included which are highly useful for studying the northern homefront during the Civil War. These include the collection of Civil War images (a large collection of photographs taken during the war), the collection of Hotchkiss maps (drawn by a topographical engineer of the Confederacy depicting mainly the Shenandoah Valley), and the collection of photos in Small Town Life of the Mid-Atlantic States (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut). This archive includes links to other archives, including the “Making of America” archive of the Universities of Michigan and Cornell (summarized above).

  • eHistory Archives, Ohio State University. The “eHistory Archives” at Ohio State University is a digital archive that contains information on the Civil War as well as some primary sources. Among the primary sources that relate to the northern homefront are maps of the region, of forts, and of battles as well as some books that are the personal accounts of Union and Confederate soldiers concerning their experiences in the war. The most important primary source collection this site has includes a series of letters and diaries. All of the diaries are those of Union soldiers (and a drummer) and the majority of the letters are from these soldiers to their families and friends. While these documents mainly relate the experiences that these soldiers went through, the writers sometimes wrote their views on issues of the day including the war and slavery. For studying the northern homefront, there are a few letters in these collections which were from family members living in the soldiers’ home states (Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, and New York) to those fighting. These may shed light on their own views and the conditions of the northern homefront. This site is an old site that has been left online but is no longer updated nor maintained. There is a new site, but it contains few primary sources, with only a collection of photographs, most of which are portraits of soldiers or pictures of battlefields, both before and after the battle.

  • Indiana, Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Indiana University of Pennsylvania has created a digital archive of primary source documents from the Civil War in order to demonstrate the experiences of those living in Indiana County, Penn. right before, during and immediately after the Civil War. Among the sources provided are letters, diaries, historical photographs, and modern photographs of objects from that period. The letters are written by both soldiers to families and friends as well as those living in the Indiana County to soldiers and other civilians all of which describe the daily activities and experiences of the writers. Many of the letters are part of the White family papers (Harry White was a state senator who fought in the war). There are also a few diaries, most of which are written by soldiers; however, there is one written by a civilian living in this county, that of Rhoda Stone Lowry, which describes her daily activities at home, most of which were church activities. There are also historic photographs of both people and places as well as modern ones of objects used in daily life during this period that have been preserved. Among the written documents are also other miscellaneous papers including bills of sale, certificates for memberships and congratulations, as well as advertisements. Overall, this site provides an extensive collection of primary sources that display what life was like in this northern county during the Civil War.

  • Wisconsin Historical Society. The Wisconsin Historical Society’s digital archive includes many primary and secondary sources concerning Wisconsin during the Civil War. Within this site, they have a collection devoted to Wisconsin during this period. Among these sources, there are letters, diaries (both of soldiers and civilians), memoirs, military documents, photographs, maps, newspaper clippings, and biographies. While many of these are the diaries and letters of soldiers in camp or battle, there are also many sources relating to the northern homefront including the accounts of those living in Wisconsin during the war. One such significant document is the diary of Emilie Quiner, a young woman (b. 1840) who lived in Madison and wrote in her diary from the surrender of Fort Sumter until 1863. The first part of the diary (130 pages) describes the homefront in Madison; however, she then discusses her experiences in Memphis, Tennessee as a nurse when she went there in June 1863 (forty pages). She returned to Madison in August 1863. After the war, she received a degree from the University of Wisconsin and moved to Chicago to teach. Along with this, there are many personal narratives and memoirs (mostly of soldiers) discussing their experiences of the war and their opinions about it. One interesting source included is an extensive scrapbook of newspaper clippings of letters written home by soldiers who were serving, as well as some from journalists and civilian agents living on the front. This large collection of scrapbooks (ten scrapbooks, 3,793 pages in total) was created by Quiner’s father, Edwin B. Quiner, who used this source to later write a 1,000-page book (Military History of Wisconsin: A Record of the Civil and Military Patriotism of the State, in the War for the Union . . . 1866). In all, more than 10,000 letters from Wisconsin Civil War soldiers are included. Along with this, this collection includes broadsides, photographs, and other images that were circulated in Wisconsin. There are other collections included within the site that focus on specific topics including the Wisconsin homefront. In this particular collection are letters and diaries of those living in Wisconsin during the period as well as newspaper clippings and photographs. Overall, this site has multiple useful sources (both primary as well as information for the viewer concerning the period) about the Wisconsin homefront during the war and links to other collections.

  • Digital Collections, University of Wisconsin. This site contains many primary source collections that range throughout all of Wisconsin history. Most are collections of images, documents, and writings of local Wisconsin regions as a means to preserve local history. In this, photographs of these towns during the Civil War may be helpful in getting an idea of the Wisconsin homefront during the war. One collection in this site, “Wisconsin Goes to War: Our Civil War Experience,” provides a small collection of primary source material on this topic. This small archive contains the letters and papers of Wisconsin citizens during the Civil War. Most of those included are the letters and diaries of Wisconsin soldiers, however, there are a few sources from women living in Wisconsin during the war including the papers of the Ladies’ Union League (Madison)—raising supplies and food for soldiers and correspondence between the members with soldiers—as well as the letters discussing the daily life activities of those living in Wisconsin by Sara Billings to her brother who was fighting. The sources in this site are limited and most of these documents can be found on the Wisconsin Historical Society site (above); however, this site provides a narrowed-down list of useful sources.

  • New York Heritage. This collection contains several collections of primary sources from New York citizens throughout its history. Many of these collections can be useful in studying the Northern homefront. One collection is the Geneva Civil War Collection. This collection contains letters written during the Civil War. While most of these are from soldiers, there are some from the soldiers’ families and friends back home, particularly in a grouping of “miscellaneous Civil War letters,” which provide the reader with a sense of what those living in the northern homefront experienced. Along with this, there are a few diaries, one which is highly useful is that of George Templeton Strong, a lawyer living in New York City. His diary and letters discuss in detail the events of the war and how they affected his hometown, particularly the reactions of the people to news of the war. He is described as “quotable, opinionated, and a careful follower of events.” The Taylor Civil War Letters contain letters written by a Union soldier from New York to his family. While the majority of his letters discuss his experiences in military camp, he does include his political views, particularly in relation to the execution of the war and its battles. He also has a few letters that he wrote from Detroit before he was sent South to fight. There is also an interesting item in the Women of Fayetteville Collection: a Civil War scrapbook by Matilda Joslyn Gage (suffragist, abolitionist, Native American activist from Fayetteville, New York). This contains newspaper clippings from the mid- to late 19th century related to the Civil War along with other primary source items including Confederate currency, correspondence, flyers, and other personal papers which discuss people, places, and events during and after the war. There are other collections containing letters and documents of Civil War soldiers and their families including the William Henderson Baird Collection, which contains mostly documents and letters concerning William but also has some documents of his brother, David, a merchant living in Geneva, New York. There are also a few collections of newspapers from this period including the Westfield (New York) Newspaper Collection which has the issues of the Westfield Republican from 1856 to 1927 and a collection of issues of The Liberator, a few of which were published during the Civil War. Along with this, there are other collections that contain various sources, including letters, pictures, official records, and diaries. There are many collections included on this site and each includes sources from all periods of American history with many focused on the 20th century, but others that contain valuable resources from the Civil War period that may provide a glimpse of the northern homefront through the perceptions and illustrations of those living during it in New York. Those researching this topic can either browse through these collections individually or search them for specific topics.

  • Harpweek. The Harpweek website is an archive of political cartoons from various publications—including Harper’s Weekly, Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, Vanity Fair, Puck, Judge, and the Library of Congress Collection of American Political Prints, 1766-1876—ranging from 1860 to 1912. These cartoons are divided into several collections. While many of these do not directly relate to the northern homefront during the Civil War, there are a few significant ones that can be great references. One collection includes political cartoons that relate to the presidential elections of 1860–1912, with those of 1860, 1864, and 1868 being the most helpful. The cartoons included are divided up by important issues concerning the elections, such as the progress of the war, Copperheads, the opposing parties and their policies, and how the northern (and southern) press depicted the candidates. There is also a small collection related to the northern homefront, with a few cartoons depicting such issues as the Sanitary Fair, the draft, those men of the Union who did not fight, and the youth of drummer boys. Along with this there is a small collection that depicts the issues of home life in the North during the war. The site does not have a lot of political cartoons (they have a larger archive that a user can subscribe to), but does provide enough to demonstrate the significant topics and events of the period and how they were viewed through the political cartoons. Along with this, the site provides detailed explanations of the events of the day, the importance of the topics, and the meanings and reasons behind the cartoons. This site is a good source concerning the political nature of the northern homefront and what those of the North viewed to be the most important issues during the war and how they viewed them.

  • IUPUI Governor Morton Telegraph Books and Slips. The IUPUI archive of the telegrams of Governor Oliver P. Morton of Indiana contains thousands of telegrams and slips of paper with correspondence to and from this governor as well as those officials around him. The majority of this correspondence deals with military movements and strategies as well as the opinions of northern governmental and military officials concerning the events and decisions of this period. This archive provides a unique look at the northern homefront from the perspectives and correspondence of those who made the political and military decisions.

  • Winterthur. This site provides a series of digital collections created by the Winterthur Museum and Library (Delaware). The collections vary in many ways, but all relate to art in one way or another. Two of the collections may be useful to a scholar studying the northern homefront: the Charles Magnus Imprints Collection and the Taylor Sketchbook of Philadelphia Buildings Collection. The collection of Charles Magnus Imprints includes the work of this lithographer, publisher, mapmaker, bookseller, and stationer living in New York City from 1850 to 1899. During this period, he created hundreds of items including letter sheets, maps, song sheets, envelopes, and prints. Many of these relate to the Civil War, particularly his envelopes with war propaganda and patriotic song sheets with illustrations. The collection containing the sketchbook of Philadelphia buildings by artist James Taylor (newspaper illustrator) may also be useful as a source on the northern homefront for its illustrations of these buildings at the very beginning of the war (1861) to get a sense of Philadelphians’ daily life. Among the buildings are included shops, businesses, a church, taverns, hotels, residences, and schools. Some images also include notes about the destruction of some of these buildings.

  • Letters from an Iowa Soldier. This site contains the letters from a Union soldier, Newton Scott, to his neighbor and future wife, Hannah Cone, as well as a few to his parents. While the majority of these letters discuss his experiences in the army while stationed in Arkansas, he does address some of the events that occurred in his hometown that his neighbor had related to him previously in her letters including social gatherings. In this, the reader gets an idea of daily life on the northern homefront as well as the perception of a man from Iowa concerning the war and other issues of the day.

  • The Civil War in Letters, A Newberry Library Transcription Project. This archive contains many letters of Civil War soldiers to their families and friends back home. This archive was created in conjunction with the Newberry’s Northern Homefront museum exhibit and, like the University of Iowa’s collection of Civil War letters, is in the process of having the letters transcribed by volunteers online. The letters and personal narratives included in this site are from individuals in Illinois. Most of the letters are from soldiers to their families, but in them the soldiers discuss their views and opinions about the issues of the day including Copperheads. Along with this, some of the soldiers writing were stationed in the Midwest. Newberry argues that their site’s “searchable transcription feature” lets the viewers “uncover common themes, conflicts, and emotions that exist across these narratives,” thus providing a good understanding of the mindsets and viewpoints of Northerners during the war.

  • Library of Congress Archives. The Library of Congress has several archive collections, a few of which may be helpful in research on the Northern homefront. One collection has been discussed—“American Memory.” Another collection that can be helpful is the “Prints and Photographs” collection that contains over a million images from all over the world, focusing primarily on those related to the United States. These images include photos, drawings, posters, and engineering and architectural drawings. While these images come from all periods of United States history, there are many that relate to the Civil War, mostly portraits of soldiers and civilians and pictures of battlefields. Along with this there are drawings depicting such things as homecomings, battlefields, and life at the army camp. Another resource that may be useful is the Library of Congress’s “Chronicling America” collection that provides information on historic newspapers and has several images of issues of these papers. These newspapers are from all over the United States and the viewer can see papers from 1836 to 1922. This site is useful in looking at the northern papers and their discussions of the issues of the day as well as their records of local events and people.

  • Internet Archive. This site contains a myriad of written texts from all over the world. It has over 5 million books and other written sources that have been collected into this site from over 1,500-curated collections. This archive is extensive and the viewers can find all sorts of primary sources from the Civil War period including books written during this time (both fiction and non-fiction) as well as illustrated prints including those directly related to the issues of the war in the North including the Sanitary Commission. There are also extensive census records included in the site that can be useful in studying the population of the north and its trends. Since this archive is highly extensive, it can be difficult to navigate for a novice studying the period, but an advanced search is included for researchers familiar with the topic.

Museum Exhibits

Annotated by Cortney Cantrell

  • Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North, The Newberry; Terra Foundation for American Art. “Home Front” is an exhibit that seeks to examine the connections between the northern homefront and the Civil War battle fronts in order to demonstrate that even those living far from the battlefield in the North were deeply affected by the war in their everyday lives. This exhibit is a collaborative effort which includes artifacts from both the Terra Foundation for American Art (paintings) and the Newberry Library (books, magazines, photographs, correspondence, sheet music, broadsides, and newspapers). Along with arguing that the war impacted those on the northern homefront (emphasis on Chicago), they also seek to demonstrate the impact that visual culture made on “shaping individuals’ understanding of the war.” The exhibit is divided thematically starting with an introduction that discusses the beginning of the war. The other sections focus on important issues of the Civil War including the slave economy of the South (“Cotton Kingdom”), contrabands, Native Americans in the West, Union patriotism, the role of women, the symbolism of autumn in war depictions, and the end of the war. There is also a section devoted to Chicago during the war. Within each of these sections, the viewer is given a detailed explanation of these issues. Primary source artifacts of all sorts ranging from maps, newspaper clippings, political cartoons, photographs, letters to paintings, illustrations, song sheets, significant literary works and their illustrations, and audio clips of songs are included and used to demonstrate how the people on the homefront were impacted as well as how these artifacts influenced their thoughts and actions. Each source is examined in detail and an analysis of its significance is included for the viewer. (This exhibit is currently on view at the Newberry Library, but may continue to be available online.)

  • The Civil War in Art: The Northern Homefront, Terra Foundation for American Art. “The Civil War in Art” is the Terra Foundation’s smaller online exhibit which focuses more on the artwork (paintings, illustrations, photos) of the Civil War period including its technicalities and depiction of this era. This exhibit has several sections that examine the significant issues of the war including the causes, battle field experience, emancipation, and Lincoln. Along with this, this exhibit includes a section devoted to the northern homefront. It includes more images from this period, explaining each source and its significance in depicting the Civil War on the northern homefront. Overall, both of these sites are exceptional virtual exhibits of the northern homefront during the Civil War and help those studying this period better understand the views and actions of those living at home while at war as well as how illustrations, literary works, and newspapers were used to evoke patriotic feelings and beliefs.

  • This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War, Maine Historical Society. “This Rebellion” provides a glimpse of the experiences and perspectives of Maine citizens during the Civil War. The majority of this exhibit focuses on the soldiers of Maine during this period including the recruitment of soldiers at the beginning of the war and their letters and diaries once in the South; however, one section is devoted to the Maine homefront. This section examines how the war, at times, came to Maine including in the attempted Confederate raid of Calais and the Battle of Portland Harbor. It also examines business in Maine during the war including the food and textile industries, and the organizations which raised aid for the Union war effort particularly in relation to medical supplies and the role of women. For each of these areas, an explanation is included as well as photos of material artifacts, illustrations, documents, historic photos, and a poster. This exhibit provides the audience with a depiction of the experiences of those living in Maine during this period.

  • An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War, New York State Museum. “An Irrepressible Conflict” virtual exhibit created by the New York State Museum focuses on the important role that the state of New York played in the Union victory and the termination of slavery. To do this, the exhibit provides an account of the role of this state through an examination of significant primary source artifacts (historic photos, modern photos of artifacts, documents, newspaper clippings, political cartoons, song sheets, and illustrations). The exhibit is divided into three sections: the antebellum period, the Civil War period, and the Reconstruction and legacy period. Of these sections, most of the focus is placed on the Civil War exhibit which is divided up by year. Each of the yearly exhibits provides a brief explanation of that year of the war, particularly in New York, and presents some (five to ten) primary source artifacts that demonstrate significant issues and events of that year with an explanation for the significance of that artifact. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the military aspects of the war; however, the exhibit also includes artifacts that demonstrate the experiences in the New York homefront, including the drafts, Sanitary Fairs, and the 1864 elections. This exhibit provides a nice overview of the war from the New York perspective and gives the viewer a useful sampling of artifacts that demonstrate New York’s role in the war and in ending slavery.

  • Home Front: Boston and the Civil War, Boston Public Library. This exhibit (on display in 2011 at the Boston Library and digitized for later viewers) examines the Boston homefront during the Civil War by looking at the significant figures of Boston who influenced the war and its outcome. In doing this, the library hopes to demonstrate the experiences and perception of those living in this significant city during the war. The exhibit looks at two prominent figures from five key groups: Abolitionists, military men, local leaders, activist authors, and women who aided the war effort. The exhibit provides a brief account of these figures and their contributions to their fields as well as primary source materials related to them including letters, documents, written works, photos, photos of material possessions, and sculptural depictions of them. Each person also has a short video that displays the artifacts related to them with information on them as well as images of what the physical exhibit looked like.

  • The Civil War in Missouri, Missouri History Museum. The Missouri History Museum has a virtual exhibit on its website entitled “The Civil War in Missouri.” This exhibit seeks to present an account of the Civil War from the perspective of those Missourians who lived it. To do this, the museum has divided the exhibit into five chronological sections: the history of Missouri before the mid-19th century, the immediate years preceding the war, the war, the period of guerrilla warfare, and finally the end of the war. Within each of these sections, the museum includes a brief explanation of the history and status of Missouri during the period as well as the significant issues that plagued the state at that given time. The exhibit is highly interactive with various links to explanations and illustrations (photographs) of certain important events and issues during that section’s period. Each section includes a link to “Thematic Collections,” a section of the site which displays the primary source artifacts, documents, photos, and illustrations that relate to each section in the exhibit. There is also a mini-quiz in each section for the viewer to gauge how much they learned from the section they are viewing. While the central focus of this exhibit is on the history of Missouri and only two sections relate to Missouri during the war (as opposed to before and after it), these sections do discuss the homefront. The section devoted to the war includes a highly useful link to an interactive map of the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair (1864) that allows the viewer to click on various booths of the fair and see photos and illustrations of that section to better understand what these fairs did and how they demonstrate the daily lives of the civilians living on the homefront. Along with this, the section about the guerrilla warfare has a link to a section devoted to the “Civilian Experience” which discusses how the war affected Missouri civilians, particularly the Union’s declaration of martial law in the state and the guerrilla warfare that occurred throughout the state.

  • Civil War@Smithsonian. This exhibition is a series of collections of artifacts from the Civil War. The Collections range from slavery and abolition, Abraham Lincoln, soldiers, leaders, weapons, and navies to life and culture, Appomattox, the first ones killed in battle, Winslow Homer and Matthew Brady. Within these collections, the site provides images of various artifacts including historic photos, illustrations, paintings, quilts, letters, written sources, maps, and images of the material objects of the period. This exhibit emphasizes the soldiers and military life of the period, but also includes some artifacts depicting the homefront.

Further Reading

Creighton, Margaret C.The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History. New York: Basic Books, 2005.Find this resource:

Dean, Eric T., Jr. Shook Over Hell: Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Etcheson, Nicole. A Generation at War: The Civil War Era in a Northern Community. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011.Find this resource:

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Random House, 2008.Find this resource:

Gallman, J. Matthew. Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia during the Civil War. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Gallman, J. Matthew. The North Fights the Civil War: The Home Front. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1994.Find this resource:

Greenwood, Janette Thomas. First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1862–1900. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Janney, Caroline. Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Logue, Larry M.To Appomattox and Beyond: The Civil War Soldier in War and Peace. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996.Find this resource:

Logue, Larry M., and Peter Blanck. Race, Ethnicity, and Disability: Veterans and Benefits in Post-Civil War America. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Marten, James. The Children’s Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Marten, James. Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Neely, Mark E., Jr.The Fate of Liberty: American Lincoln and Civil Liberties. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.Find this resource:

Paludan, Phillip Shaw. “A People's Contest”: The Union and Civil War, 1861–1865. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996.Find this resource:

Silber, Nina. Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Ural, Susan J., ed. Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America’s Bloodiest Conflict. New York: New York University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Vinovskis, Maris A. “Have Social Historians Lost the Civil War? Some Preliminary Demographic Speculations.” Journal of American History 76.1 (1989): 34–58.Find this resource:

Weber, Jennifer L.Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.Find this resource: