Saturday, December 19, 2015

Civil War Christmas Traditions


Seasons Greetings!

I hope you enjoy the holidays with your friends and family. 

It is only appropriate that we consider the Christmas traditions that began in the Civil War. The Museum of the Confederacy hosted a program presented by the Catherine Wright, the Collections Manager of the museum, on Civil War Christmas Traditions.

HistoryNet posted an article on Christmas in the Civil War that appeared in a 1998 Civil War Times feature. 

The Christmas carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is based on the 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among men.

With 2016 only days away, it's a good time to purchase your Civil War calendar. Amazon offers a number of versions. 

By now you are hungry and might want to put on your Civil War apron and start mixing up a batch of Confederate Shortbread, Johnny Cakes, Washington Pie, or Gingerbread. TotalGettysburg has the recipes on their web page.

After your snack, you turn on the computer to play Sid Meir's Gettysburg rated the top Civil War game by GamersDecide. This is one of my favorites. 

To keep you awake during your marathon gaming, you could try an authentic Civil War beverage such as coffee (North), coffee (South - chicory), or tea. 

Regardless of how you enjoy this time of year, we wish you a very wonderful season with your family and friends and a healthy and happy New Year.

Allen H. Mesch

Monday, December 7, 2015

Family Life in 19th-Century America

Last week I discovered a fascinating book by James M.Volo and Dorothy Denneen Volo called Family Life in 19th-Century America.

Union Troops
The authors have compiled an amazing amount of information about life in the 1800s that will be of interest to students of the American Civil War. The work was first published in 2007 so it taps into a great deal of recent research. Family Life in 19th-Century America presents some interesting statistics on the "Common Soldiers" of the Civil War.

  • The Federal Army contained about 2.2 million men and the Confederate forces were between 1.0 and 1.5 million.
  • About 75% of each army was composed of infantry, 15% cavalry, and 7% artillery. The remaining 3% were engineers, medical personnel, teamsters, and other ancillary personnel. Officers represented 10% of each army.
  • The average age at enlistment was just under 26 years in the Union Army and just over 26 years in the Confederate Army.
  • The average size and weight of Federal recruits was 5'8" and 145 pounds. This is a little taller than the 5'4" I have seen in other books.
  • Married men composed 29% of the Northern Army and 36% of the Southern Forces.
  • Northern soldiers were better educated than their Southern counterparts.
  • Most of the soldiers were farmers and the second largest group were skilled laborers. 
  • Officers came from the ranks of professional and white-collar occupations.
  • Foreign-born men composed between 20 and 25% of the Union Army but only 4 to 5% of the Confederate troops.
  • Germans were the largest group of foreigners (200,000) to serve in the Union Army, followed by Irish (150,000), and British and Canadian (50,000).
  • Boys under 16 were allowed to serve as soldiers in both armies. More than 40,000 may have served. The Federal Army contained 300 boys aged 13 or younger and 24 who were 10 or younger.
Confederate Artillery at
Charleston, SC in 1863

The data reveal some unexpected results. Unfortunately, information for the Confederate forces is not as complete as for the Union troops.

(Source: Volo, James M. and Volo, Dorothy Denneen, Family Life in 19th-Century America, 180-186.)