Civil War Soldier's Life

Soldier's In Camp

The average Civil War soldier was unprepared for what awaited him on the field of battle. Many combatants were young men in their 20s who signed up for service along with other family members and friends, expecting to return home after a great adventure.

Once in the army, the green recruits confronted the harsh reality of army life. They stood guard duty for long stretches, endured endless drills and forced marches of 30-40 miles a day in ill-fitting boots or barefoot. In camp, they learned how to build shelters, maintain their weapons and forage for supplies. They put up with maggoty food and ill-fitting woolen uniforms and sat around campfires singing, gambling, swapping stories, and reading and writing letters. They played games like baseball, raced lice or cockroaches and coped with debilitating illnesses.

They learned the meaning of discipline and unswerving obedience in the face of certain death. They displayed undaunted courage, witnessed unimaginable atrocities, and suffered wounds that often led to amputation, disfigurement as well as invisible scars.

For many veterans, the trauma of war did not end at Appomattox. In studying military records of the Civil War, researchers at the University of California-Irvine found extensive evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder. Among military companies with a larger percentage of soldiers killed, the veterans were 51 percent more likely to have cardiac, gastrointestinal and nervous disease. Also, the veterans who were youngest when they enlisted had a 93-percent increased risk of developing signs of combined physical and nervous disease, and shorter life spans.